Saturday, July 23, 2011

You’ve Tried the Rest

Lord Krishna“According to the Vedic scriptures, the most perfect man surrenders unto the Lord after many, many lifetimes of culturing knowledge. The culture of knowledge reaches perfection only when the knower comes to the point of surrendering unto the Supreme Lord, Vasudeva.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shri Ishopanishad, 17 Purport)

When initially learning of reincarnation, or the transmigration of the soul through different body types, the mind may initially focus on just the future impact. “Okay, so if I’m overly sinful in this life I’ll be reborn as a rat or a dog in the next one? So reincarnation is sort of a punishment?” The chain of cause-and-effect is seen in many different activities, but for some reason it is difficult for the rational human being to believe that the effects can continue even long after the current life expires. The guaranteed delivery of death is wholly accepted, but what happens to the person residing within the body afterwards remains a mystery. The concept of reincarnation, which is so nicely presented by the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, is not only meant to inform the inquisitive mind about their future destination after leaving the human body, but it is also meant to serve as a wakeup call, a reminder that so much enjoyment has already occurred in previous lifetimes in forms lower than the human species. Therefore the advanced potential for intelligence gifted the human being is intended to be used for realizing the true purpose behind reincarnation and how to go about stopping it.

“I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who know this perfectly engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.8)

Lord KrishnaTo summarize the principle Vedic teachings, there is a God, who is accepted as the origin of all energies. Since He is Supreme it is difficult to accurately understand every single thing that He does. To make things easier, the Vedic seers, taking instruction from the original Person Himself, tell us that from God come three distinct energies. One is the spiritual force, which is non-different from the Lord Himself. Since He is referred to as a person, or entity, the Supreme Lord is personal, meaning He has transcendental qualities and features. He even has sportive tendencies which sometimes cause Him to make appearances before us in forms that retain their complete transcendence. The second energy is the material energy, which is considered inferior to God. This designation is there because the original Person’s presence is not directly felt in the material energy. We can liken the difference between the forces to the difference between our identity and our component body parts. The hands and legs are part of the body, but should they ever be separated from us, our individuality would not change. Similarly, the material energy remains apart from Krishna, but at the same time it is always under His control.

The third energy technically is the same as the spiritual force. The marginal potency, consisting of the individual spirit souls, is spiritual in quality, but since it is not equally as potent as God, there is a tendency towards association with the material energy, wherein the presence of the Supreme Lord remains temporarily forgotten. For the spiritual forces there is no such defect; there is never the chance of forgetfulness of God and the need to love and serve Him. When the marginal potency chooses in favor of the inferior energy, the spiritual sparks are sent to a temporary playing field, where they are provided different uniforms, or dresses, required for engagement in fruitive activity. When these forms cease to be useful, new ones are provided.

“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.22)

Lord KrishnaThis explains reincarnation in a nutshell. The desire of the marginal potency to remain apart from God’s personal presence keeps the engine of transmigration rolling. So from this basic information we can understand that coming under the jurisdiction of reincarnation is not ideal for anyone, for the natural home of the marginal potency is in the spiritual realm, where the association of similarly spiritual entities is found.

At this point the question may be raised as to why there is a variation in the species? Why are there dogs, cats, and human beings? Why not just have a uniform body type for everyone? The allure of material association is the chance to imitate God’s abilities in maintenance, creation, destruction and enjoyment. Since the imitation can follow a seemingly endless array of engagements, up to 8,400,000 different body types are awarded to the spirit soul, the marginal potency that chose in favor of the inferior energy. The human being is considered the most advanced because it is a form achieved after many lifetimes spent in inferior species, the fruit of spiritual evolution if you will.

From logical reasoning and direct perception, we can see that the dogs, cats, birds, beasts, and other animals enjoy eating, sleeping, mating and defending just like human beings do. In fact, that’s all that these lower life forms operate on; they have no other engagements. They don’t have to worry about going to school, holding down a job, making others happy, deciding on what movie to rent on a Friday night, or what to do during retirement. In this sense their ability to enjoy the senses is enhanced compared to the human species. From this information, we can understand that the human being must have a higher purpose, a mission to fulfill that no other life form is granted enrollment in.

The Vedas, which are the mouthpiece for the Supreme Lord, whose original form is described as all-attractive and thus referred to as Krishna, reveal that the human form of life is meant for realizing God. This is not that wild an assertion, as only the human being has the ability to make their choice to return to the spiritual land, the eternal home for the spiritual energy, known. Upon understanding the mission, the steps necessary for success need to be taken, with the first being limits placed on sense gratification. The life of unfettered and unrestricted enjoyment found in the animal species is not conducive to constructing a spiritual awakening. The true choice, the up or down vote as to whether the soul wants to return to Krishna’s company, is measured at the time of death. The consciousness, the mind’s contemplation, while quitting the body is measured by higher authorities. The predominant desires formed over the many activities undertaken during the days spent within the human form construct the consciousness. When the mind is pure and focused on the lotus feet of Krishna, liberation can be had.

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

Lord KrishnaIf the human being continues to imitate the animals, the opportunity for purification goes to waste. Indeed, there is no reason to continue unrestricted sense gratification, as we already know from our own remembered experiences that there is more to life than simply playing all day. As children, we enjoyed the same benefits that are found in the animal community. We got to play day after day, didn’t have to worry about the pressures of work, and didn’t have to maintain a family. But as we got older, we took on more important tasks, such as getting an education and learning how to master a skill that could help us to earn a livelihood. The independence of the adult human being is best utilized for choosing in favor of learning about God. Concomitant with this undertaking is the voluntary restriction placed on sense gratification. Since this restraint is initially considered painful, or a penance, it is referred to as tapasya.

Restriction on sense gratification is only viewed in the negative light in the beginning stages. This is because we don’t know any better. We have had so many lifetimes of unregulated sense gratification that we think that if we somehow starve ourselves of unrestricted enjoyment, we will end up the loser. But again, we can revert to our childhood memories to understand that this is not true. How many of us actually wanted to go to school for twelve years and then college afterwards? Speaking from personal experience, our humble self dreaded every single day of school we ever attended. But if the young child gets its wish, it will never be properly educated. The forced penance actually turns out to be a great boon, as the education received allows for a higher taste in adult life.

schoolSimilarly, if the mature human being puts restrictions on the activities driven by the impulses of the senses, there will be increased sobriety and a much greater chance for God realization. In fact, all of the inhibitions rooted in doubt of the existence of God, which is furthered by the preponderance of religious systems which each claim that theirs is superior, run away the more sober one becomes and the more they take to self-realization.

In addition to tapasya, there must be an active engagement. Sense demands are the natural instincts, tendencies which don’t have to be taught. There are cooking channels on television that show how to make delicious food preparations and where to grab the world’s tastiest burger, but the tendency for eating doesn’t need to be imbibed in anyone. Similarly, there are discussions on different sexual activities and what types of alcohol to drink, but these tendencies are also there in the animals, who have no education on these matters whatsoever.

Lord KrishnaTo the human being, what actually needs to be taught is how to connect with God, how to purify consciousness, and how to remain dedicated in transcendental service. The beginning point is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The holy name is the gateway to the spiritual world. Though sound vibrations are considered part of the material nature, when they are used to address and glorify the person to whom we are inherently attached, they become fully spiritualized. In this way we see that the human being has the choice and ability to associate with the spiritual energy even before the time of death.

“Why should I chant ‘Krishna’? Why not just worship God? I believe in God, shouldn’t that be enough?” Chanting the holy names is wonderful because it addresses God in a loving way. The term “God” is actually quite vague, as it fails to describe the Lord’s transcendental features. The key ingredient in attachment and dedication in service is attraction. If we don’t find something palatable, why would we continue servicing it, giving it attention and making sure we have enough time to connect with it? When an entity is attractive, however, every effort is made to remain always in its company. The words “Krishna” and “Rama” are beautiful not only in the way they describe the Lord, but also in their ability to bring transcendental pleasure to the person who repeats them in a loving way.

The animal cannot chant these words. They are fully attached to Krishna because of their similar spiritual nature, but due to the inhibitions placed on their body type, their consciousness does not have the ability to fully develop. The human being can not only understand reincarnation, but they can also take the necessary steps to stop it. The tendency of the tired worker is to seek relief, a permanent vacation. “I can’t wait until the day when I no longer have to work.” By following the Vedic prescriptions of tapasya and the sacrifice of chanting in devotion, these desires are revised and extended to say, “I can’t wait until I no longer have to suffer the influences of the material world. When will that day come when all I do is think about and glorify Krishna? I’ve had all the sense gratification I could handle, and it failed to provide me any lasting happiness. But with Krishna, I can’t seem to get enough of His association. I see His smiling face and how He gives so much pleasure to the cows, and I immediately forget my past experiences, which never brought me anywhere close to the thrill I feel by being alongside Krishna.”

Radha and KrishnaFor any human being, at any stage in their life, so much time has already been spent trying the hand at sense gratification. As there is always the new search for happiness, which is evidenced by the popular self-help books that line the shelves at major bookstores, why not try the ancient art of bhakti-yoga, or the religion of love. A key component, a starting point if you will, is the restriction on sense gratification, and more specifically, refraining from the activities of meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex life. Throughout their many lifetimes in the material land, the marginal potency expansions have travelled down so many avenues of sense gratification. As the human form brings the best opportunity for advancement of consciousness, when there is full sobriety now and the ability to decipher between right and wrong and good and bad, why not take a stab at austerity mixed in with regular chanting of God’s names? The secrets of devotional life are never revealed to those who refuse to advance past the animalistic consciousness. On the other hand, when even a small, yet fully sincere, effort is made towards finding Krishna, that person becomes fully endeared to the Lord, as their devotion is noted and recognized as an indication that a piece of the marginal potency is taking tangible steps towards returning to their natural home.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Home Sweet Home

Lord Shiva“The tongue and its taste are the husband and wife, the teeth are the relatives, and the mouth is the beautiful home. Lord Shiva’s cherished syllables [Ra + ma] are the children, and natural love for them is the wealth, says Tulsi.” (Dohavali, 24)

daṃpati rasa rasana parijana badana sugeha |
tulasī hara hita barana sisu saṃpati sahaja saneha ||

The key ingredients to a stable and secure existence are herein listed by Tulsidas, with the one exception being that no physical dwelling, outside association, or effort is needed to secure this wonderful lifestyle of peace and prosperity. After working very hard to educate oneself, the stable family life, full of the essential enjoyments, serves as the greatest comfort. Yet this lifestyle isn’t secured without much effort, pain and constant worry. Moreover, at the time of death, we must part company with the attachments and physical possessions. We can’t take our family relationships with us after death, only our consciousness. Therefore if the same ingredients that go into forming the happy home can be erected more easily and lead to a shift in consciousness, the greatest future benefit can be had.

Bhagavad-gitaThe Bhagavad-gita, the Song of God and arguably the most widely read treatise on spirituality in the history of civilization, reveals information well-known to followers of the Vedic tradition since time immemorial. Religion connotes an element of faith, wherein allegiance to a particular doctrine or spiritual personality is required for gaining a future condition that is deemed better than the one currently experienced. With sanatana-dharma, however, the essence of spirituality is presented in such a way that its properties can never change. Religion can change on a whim based on the belief system subscribed to by the follower, but with dharma, the characteristics of spirit and matter remain constant, though the acknowledgment of these features may not always be present. Gravity will apply on all objects when they are dropped, regardless of whether the person releasing the object is cognizant of the predictable outcome. In a similar manner, the eternality of spirit and its inherent relationship to the spiritual realm are inseparable from every individual spiritual entity. Differences are only present in acknowledgment and action. Therefore sanatana-dharma is the true system of spirituality that should be followed by every person spanning every time period of the earth’s existence.

The Bhagavad-gita provides the most concise review of sanatana-dharma, with topics like material nature, the nature of fruitive work, the properties of matter and spirit, the Supreme Person, and the actions necessary for rekindling the relationship to Him discussed within. “We get what we want”, is the broadest generalization that can be formed off of the teachings presented by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, in the Gita. We are spirit souls identified not by our bodies but by our relationship to the Supreme Soul, who is more commonly referred to as God. At the time of death, depending on the nature of our hankerings and the results of the work we have performed, a new specific body is crafted. The consciousness is developed off of the subtle elements of mind, intelligence and ego, which subsequently accompany the soul to the next dwelling. Since consciousness is the most important factor in determining future fortunes of the macro level, the temporary gains and setbacks of material life become of secondary importance.

But because life in a temporary realm is so fearful and ignorance envelops the soul at the time of birth, karma and the scientific basis for reincarnation go ignored or, worse, completely rejected as being sectarian beliefs or part of a mythological tradition. In lieu of a spiritually situated consciousness, aims shift towards material acquisition. Under this model, the goal is to procure a lifestyle that is never short of enjoyments. For the security of steady enjoyment to be present, key ingredients are needed, all of which are mentioned in the above referenced verse from the Dohavali of Tulsidas.

“Merely a house is not a home, for it is a wife who gives a home its meaning. If one lives at home with his wife, together they can fulfill all the interests of human life.” (Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 15.27)

Lord ChaitanyaLord Chaitanya, the preacher incarnation of Godhead appearing on earth some five hundred years ago, accurately remarked that the wife makes the home. Though some may take this as a sexist statement, if we remove all acquired prejudices, we can see that His assertion is most certainly true. Evidence of this can be seen in the lifestyle of the typical bachelor. Go to an unmarried man’s apartment or home and you will likely find a refrigerator stocked only with beer, soda and bare essentials. The place is also likely a mess, with minimal furniture and almost no attention paid to aesthetic detail. Take that same person after they get married and you’ll notice that their home is much more organized, with plush couches, carefully arranged decorations, and a fridge full of so much food that much of it will go bad because of not being eaten.

The marriage is seen as the source of steady material enjoyment because with it comes security in the form of a life partner. The institution of marriage comes from the varnashrama-dharma system of societal maintenance emanating from sanatana-dharma itself. In the householder stage of life, which is known as the grihastha ashrama, the husband and wife work together towards understanding God and being fully conscious of Him at the time of death. To further this end the couple is also responsible for giving in charity, feeding the Supreme Lord through offering prasadam, and graciously welcoming guests to the home.

Sita and RamaBut even when spirituality is lacking, the life partner in the form of a husband or wife is considered a great sign of security and wealth. Indeed, parents are the happiest when they can get their adult-aged children married off, for a great burden gets lifted when a partner is there to ensure the well-being of the now grown up child. With a devoted husband or wife, the individual can survive in tough situations. If they need to move, the spouse will come with them and offer support. Even if there is financial distress or sudden hardship, another person is there to help soften the blow.

After securing a life partner, the focus shifts to enjoying the company of relatives and friends. While it’s nice to spend time with your spouse regularly, it’s sometimes more enjoyable to have friends and relatives around, especially other couples who are married. The newly married couple desperately seeks a “go to couple” to hang out with on a weekend or to go on vacations with. Just as the spouse maintains security and gives protection from loneliness, the relatives serve as instant friends that share common interests and concerns.

homeWhat good are a spouse and relatives if there is no home to host them in? Thus in addition to getting married and having ample relatives around to spend time with, a nice home is required for the grihasthis. The home is tied to land, so if some nice property can be acquired, a home can be built. Even buying a prebuilt home is not an easy task, as every nuance must be considered at the beginning. The couple needs the proper number of rooms, a safe neighborhood, a strategic geographic location relating to retail stores and distance from work, and also a low cost of ownership. As they say, “home is where the heart is”, so after getting married, the home becomes the central point of focus, the field of activity that hosts the desired enjoyments in life.

Obviously the next step is having children. What is the use of getting married and having a home if you can’t have beautiful children running around bringing you tremendous delight with their childish sports? With the home secured, a spouse to help you in your child rearing, and relatives around to act as friends, the children are the next step to completing the puzzle. To maintain these key ingredients of a happy lifestyle, wealth is required. Therefore a nice job must be found, one that provides enough income to maintain everything at a satisfactory level.

While such possessions and relationships serve as sources of tremendous joy, they are not easy to acquire or maintain. Finding a proper match for a spouse is very difficult, especially in the modern age where most contact between men and women occurs voluntarily and prior to marriage. Therefore the covenant of marriage becomes more of a formality, a relationship where adherence to duty and the necessity to maintain the link at all costs are given secondary importance. Moreover, waking up next to the same person day after day for the rest of your life can be a little daunting. We may get into an argument with our friend and then not talk to them for a while, or we may have an argument at work and then go home to forget about it, but after disagreements with a spouse there is no escape route. Arguments must be resolved in a timely manner, otherwise life at home becomes miserable.

Maintaining relationships with relatives is just as difficult. Since the agrarian lifestyle is almost obsolete today, people must travel far and wide to secure occupations that match their field of interest. Therefore it is not surprising to see family members spread across hundreds of miles. This makes having relatives and close friends living near you a rarity. Moreover, once there is a slight disagreement with relatives - as there is sure to be from time to time - the distance of separation becomes more conducive to having extended feuds, wherein the arguing parties go months, maybe even years, without seeing each other.

The home and children become very difficult to maintain simply because of the fiduciary responsibilities. Wealth is required to keep up with the steep mortgage or rent payments and the monthly bills pertaining to food, clothing, electricity, heat and water. Each new child essentially comes with a price tag now, as concerns over space and bare necessities in life heighten with every new occupant in the house. All of this increases the burden on the donkey-like worker, who must bear every burden and continue to secure a decent enough living through his occupation. But with a donkey, there comes an eventual breaking point, where too much weight gets applied, causing the donkey to simply sit down and not move anymore.

Goswami TulsidasThe above referenced verse composed by Tulsidas is meant to alleviate the fears and concerns of those who either have failed to secure such material delights or are having difficulty in maintaining them. Though each of the above mentioned components serves as a source of enjoyment, the same level of delight can be had without ever having to acquire anything. For starters, we are all given a tongue and taste at the time of birth. These two items can be considered the husband-and-wife pair. The teeth can be considered the relatives, as they are many in number and surround the tongue. The mouth can be considered the home, for the tongue, taste and teeth are housed within.

But as we see with the stable and secure family life, the greatest source of enjoyment is the children. Therefore Tulsidas says to make sure to use all of the above mentioned God-given attributes to produce children in the form of the holy name of Rama. The two syllables that make up this name can be considered the two children, even one boy and one girl if that is the dream for the parents. These two syllables are especially preferred by Lord Shiva, who is also known as Mahadeva. In the Vedic tradition, Lord Vishnu is considered the Supreme Lord, the fountainhead of all forms of Godhead, the original source of matter and spirit. Sometimes Rama is taken as the original, or Krishna as well, but in any case there is no difference in the ultimate conclusion, as the Vishnu-forms all represent the same original person.

Lord ShivaLord Shiva is somewhere in between an ordinary living entity and Lord Vishnu. As the destroyer, Shiva annihilates this creation at the proper time, but his spiritual home does not undergo destruction. At the same time, he does not reside in the Vaikuntha planets, of which Krishnaloka, the home of Krishna, is considered the highest and most pleasurable. Lord Shiva’s most endearing quality is his devotion to Vishnu, with Lord Rama, the prince of Ayodhya, being Mahadeva’s most beloved form of the Lord. Lord Shiva spends all his time chanting the name of Rama, for the sound vibration representation of the Supreme Lord is non-different from Him.

We may not have a spouse, home and children, but by chanting Rama’s name, a delight and enjoyment of an even greater variety can be had, as direct audience with the Supreme Lord is acquired. Generally, the onus is put on seeing God, but the other senses of the body, such as hearing and tasting, are just as important. The tongue and taste, the husband and wife in this scenario, can create the children that are the syllables of Rama’s name and harbor a natural love for them to serve as their wealth. The love for the name of Rama means love for the Supreme Lord. Loving God serves as the greatest wealth because it allows for the loving home to remain manifest. We may have tremendous affection for our children with the purest of motives, but if our wealth should run dry, we will have a hard time supporting them. But in the spiritual world, the only requirement for service is spontaneous affection for the Supreme Lord. This serves as the only required wealth, as it guarantees that bhakti, or devotional service, will continue.

Lord RamaTulsidas, though living the life of a mendicant sannyasi, erected the most wonderful transcendental home by using the above mentioned formula. He treated the syllables in Rama’s name as his beloved children and held onto his love and affection for the name as his most valuable asset. Therefore he was never in misery or poverty, though outwardly he had no possessions whatsoever. Bhakti-yoga is the most sublime engagement and a direct representation of the Supreme Lord because it is universally applicable. Large amounts of money, education, prestige, high parentage, or affiliation with a particular organization are not required for changing consciousness. Just as the Supreme Lord is universally benevolent, so is the topmost process that delivers the highest spiritual salvation, that of eternal association with the Supreme Personality in the spiritual sky. By following the formula laid out by Tulsidas, if we are ever down in the dumps or feeling lost in our journey through life, we can always take shelter of the “home sweet home” that is the mouth that protects and loves the name of the Lord and delights in His pastimes which are continually taking place to give pleasure to the devotees.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Prabhupada discussing Krishna“In the course of traversing the universal creation of Brahma, some fortunate soul may receive the seed of bhakti-lata, the creeper of devotional service. This is all by the grace of guru and Krishna.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 19.151)

Through complacency and growing accustomed to viewing the same things over and over again, man develops the tendency to overlook the root causes to visual effects. The most obvious example of this comes with food, which we readily partake of to sustain our lives. But the different foods that we eat, including even animal flesh, share a common original source: the seed. Plant life sustains animal life, and the plant starts out as a tiny seed that needs careful attention and maintenance to grow. When there is maturity, there are resulting fruits which can then be either enjoyed or put to good use. The overlooked seed, or origin, has a vital importance not only in eating, but in so many other areas as well, including especially in spiritual life. The spirit soul residing within the body has a magnetic attraction to God, but unless the seed of devotional service is sown, tended and harvested, progression towards the ultimate destination will remain checked.

politicsSolely studying the results of action while overlooking the root cause is very easy to do. This oversight is especially prevalent in politics. If a large corporation plans to shut down one of its manufacturing plants or if it is about to apply massive layoffs, the politicians, those seeking popularity from the electorate, will jump on the opportunity to save jobs. The rallying cry for the proponents of the government intervention is quite simple: save jobs. “If we don’t do something now, thousands of people will lose their source of income, and they will be left destitute. We should do whatever we can to save these jobs.” The intentions are certainly noble, as massive layoffs are never a good thing. But what is obviously overlooked in the whole scenario is the root cause. How were the jobs created in the first place?

With any business, the seed, the impetus for action, is the desire for profit. The founder of the business has an idea to sell a product or service for a profit. This means that whatever it costs him to produce the good or service, he will charge more than that amount from his customers. This in turn will lead to a profitable venture. In the beginning, there is no concern given to jobs or employing large sectors of a particular region. If the explicit desire to hire workers is not there, how do we get jobs? Depending on the demand for the product or service, the business will want to expand production capabilities. This is where extra manpower can help. Ideally, the more hands applied to a job, the larger the output will be. If more output always means more profit, just keep on expanding, right?

profitAh, but there is a catch. The workers will not work for free; they need to be compensated for their effort. This immediately will cut into the profit margin of the business, as the cost to produce the good or service goes up. The employer must weigh the cost to hire the new employee against the increase in productivity that will result. If the profit margin is maintained, the new worker can be hired without a problem. Indeed, this is how large scale companies are able to employ thousands of people. The business owner may have been a nice person or a ruthlessly greedy mogul to start, but their personal characteristics played little to no role in the hiring of employees. Since the thousands of new workers were capable of increasing productivity and thus overall profit, they were hired.

Now let’s fast forward to when the layoffs happen. For some reason or another, either through downturns in the economy, shifts in the buying habits of the consumer, or an increase in the cost of a resource vital to the production of the business’ main selling item, the costs incurred by having so many employees becomes too much of a burden. In order to maintain their profit margins, the company owners will downsize the operation. They will either close down one or two plants, or they will lay off thousands of workers. Just as with any other aspect of the business, the decision is made entirely based on the effects on productivity and profit. Therefore when the politician intervenes to try to save jobs by offering subsidies or incentives, they are completely ignoring the seed of the company, the leading factor behind its formation and the hiring of the employees. Without an increase in profit and a tangible return on productivity from the employed workers, no amount of government intervention will do anything to stabilize the company’s health for the long term.

Rupa and Sanatana GosvamiBy only studying the results and ignoring the cause, the ability to repeatedly produce favorable outcomes becomes difficult. Spiritual life is a wonderful example of this. Many saints of the past became fully enlightened through devotional practice. In the Vedic tradition, the most exalted servants of God are known as Vaishnavas, or devotees of Vishnu, which is another name for God. The elevated Vaishnava spends his time engaged in bhakti-yoga, or the union of the individual soul with the divine consciousness through a mood of pure love. As a result of this dedication, the Vaishnava is humble, kind, sweet, benevolent, peaceful, honest, trustworthy, and fully in control of his senses. He can survive on very little food and remain completely satisfied within the mind. He can go without eating meat, drinking alcohol, engaging in illicit sex, and taking part in gambling. Indeed, simply from his religious efforts he stays happy.

Now let’s say that we want to acquire the same characteristics. We want to be always happy and not be taken off the righteous path by the maltreatment shown to us by others. Will the right way to go about achieving these goals be to simply imitate the Vaishnava saints? Can we just study the results of their action and somehow achieve an equivalent status? Just as we saw with the employees that were hired in the business and the fruits that emerged from the plants, there has to be an original cause to get results, which in this case is a seed implanted into the conditioned soul’s heart. Before there is any question of advancement in devotional life, the seed must be there.

Lord ChaitanyaWhere do we get this seed from? Lord Chaitanya, the preacher incarnation of Godhead who famously travelled throughout India some five hundred years ago, said that a truly fortunate individual is able to take up the most sublime engagement after receiving the seed of devotional service from a guru, or spiritual master. This should make sense. If we want to become a doctor, lawyer, or engineer, there must be a source to the initial spark of desire. That source will likely be someone who is already practicing in the field that we come to admire so much. Similarly, to attain true enlightenment, to make the most of the human form of body, one must have the benefit of receiving the seed of the creeper of devotional service, bhakti-lata-bija, from a spiritual master.

What will the spiritual master teach? What will be the benefit of connecting with him? The seed of devotional service starts off as something not very powerful, but it has the ability to turn into the most potent force. Just as food serves as our source of energy, allowing us to accomplish our tasks for the day, the seed of devotional service gives us the energy, enthusiasm and fortitude to continue in our march towards eternal freedom. The spirit soul remains in various body types for as long as this seed is either absent or not fully developed. Once the seed turns into a creeper and then ultimately into a full blown tree, the conditioned soul becomes liberated and free from the effects of the senses. Thenceforth all the results that were previously sought, such as peace of mind, calmness, and control over the senses, are achieved very easily.

Shrila PrabhupadaThe seed of devotional service is initially tended to by regularly chanting the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The guru advises the disciple to chant this mantra at least sixteen rounds a day on a set of japa beads. The chanting routine is the water, soil and sunlight for the seed of devotional service. Chanting alone provides the nourishment required for the seed to bloom into a creeper and then eventually into a beautiful tree. The secret to devotion through transcendental chanting is that the consciousness is altered. Through fruitive activity, the pursuit for profit, or the desire for the removal of distress, the consciousness remains steadily focused on the body. The service propensity of the soul, which is its most dominant feature, remains dormant in the absence of divine contact. If there is a God, why shouldn’t we love Him? If we love Him, why wouldn’t we chant His names all the time?

God is certainly without a name, but since He performs so many glorious activities, the devotees like to affectionately address Him with different titles. Since God is the most attractive, Vaishnavas refer to Him as Krishna. Since the Lord can provide immense transcendental pleasure to anyone connected with Him, He is also known as Rama. Since Krishna has full possession of the attributes of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, renunciation and wisdom, He is often addressed as Bhagavan. There are so many names the devotees have applied to Krishna because of His qualities, forms and pastimes. Reciting these names over and over again keeps the consciousness purified.

Lord KrishnaFrom the seeds distributed to the disciples by the spiritual master, trees of devotion get planted everywhere. But what’s even more remarkable is that the guru teaches his spiritual descendants how to distribute seeds themselves. This was especially the mission of Lord Chaitanya, who cut through the barriers erected by sectarian traditions and ignorance by traveling from town to town and inducing others to chant the names of Hari [Krishna]. Without the seed, there cannot be any fruit, so without the holy name being freely distributed to everyone, the ancient art of bhakti remains a secret known only to a select few. Since bhakti is the constitutional position of the soul, it should not remain hidden from anyone. All living entities are lovers of God; they just may not know it. Even the atheists worship the Lord; they just refer to Him as “death” or “nature”. The impersonalist philosophers see the Lord as a giant energy of spiritual light, while the yogis see Him as the sound vibration “om” that will grant them tremendous abilities.

But only through the seed of devotional service can God’s true nature be revealed. As the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna is the very object of service that everyone is looking for. When the loving propensity is matched with a worthy beneficiary, the energy and enthusiasm for service never wane. Imagine waking up every day and working on things that you love to do. This is how the devotees feel when they get to chant, when their seed of devotional service has matured to the point that the tree of devotion blooms abundantly beautiful flowers throughout every season. The lotus flower sprouts open when the sun shines and then shrinks back at night, but the spiritually infused transcendentalist connected with Krishna remains always in bloom, ready to accept the rays of spiritual sunshine that come from Krishna and the sound vibrations describing His pastimes, names and forms.

“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, Bhagavad-gita, 4.34)

Prabhupada discussing Bhagavad-gitaIn the Bhagavad-gita, the treatise on Vedic philosophy given by Lord Krishna Himself, it is advised to Arjuna, the Lord’s cousin and dear friend, that he should approach a spiritual master, one who has seen the truth, and then learn the art of devotional service from him. If there is to be progress made in the development of consciousness, the seed of devotional service must be acquired through contact with a guru. Those who are fortunate enough to receive the seed and care for it properly then go one step further by distributing as many of the same seeds to others. If the world turns into a garden filled with plants of devotion, which are regularly watered by the chanting of the holy names, there will be no scarcity of anything, save maybe ignorance and pain.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

From Beginning To End

Lord Rama“Chanting Shri Rama’s holy name with love, faith and according to regulative principles will be beneficial for you from beginning to end, says Tulsi.” (Dohavali, 23)

prīti pratīti surīti soṃ rāma rāma japu rāma |
tulasī tero hai bhaleā ādi madhya parināma ||

The wonders of the beautiful system of devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, are too comprehensive and intricate to accurately describe in just one lifetime. Since the discipline descends directly from the Supreme Person, who acts as the beneficiary to every action undertaken within the system, it possesses the same properties of wonder, amazement and bliss that belong to that ultimate reservoir of pleasure. With three key ingredients incorporated into the sublime engagement of devotional service, there is not only a benefit seen in the end, but there will be good fortunes in the spiritual sense accumulated at every step, even in the beginning. No other regulative system bears these properties. Therefore the wise take devotional service to be the topmost engagement, the one religious system to be acted upon exclusively with love, faith, and deference to the established procedures and guidelines. If there are even benefits to be had in the beginning, what need is there for any other type of meditation, yoga or physical effort?

Though many of the religious traditions popular today focus on sentimentalism directed at a specific spiritual personality, there is still a common trait exhibited by every worshiper: the offering of service. In the conditioned state, where the living entity identifies solely with the temporary body it has acquired at the time of birth - a form which subsequently takes on material elements, develops and then ultimately dwindles - service is offered to the senses and nothing else. Where man separates himself from the animal kingdom is in the area of religion. Only in the human form of body can the acknowledgement and appreciation of a higher power - a creator, maintainer and destroyer - be had and acted upon.

“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)

Krishna and ArjunaThe Vedas, the most prominent scriptural tradition of India, also recommend allegiance to the original Divine Being, who can take on many different spiritual manifestations. But with the Vedas there is also more tangible evidence presented to justify such worship and the need for turning away from material life. The basic understanding is that the living entity is Brahman, or pure spirit. Since every life form is equal, there is no reason to take one entity to be superior to another. Equality is automatically established based on constitution. At the same time, there is also a Supreme Absolute Truth, a person who is beyond the relative dualities of material existence. Birth and death, healthiness and disease, hot and cold, good and bad, etc. only affect the tiny sparks of Brahman mixed with matter, whereas Parabrahman remains above and beyond the dualities introduced in a temporary realm crafted to meet the desires of those individual autonomous sparks desiring to imitate the superior position and activities of the Supreme Person.

How that ultimate person is described and worshiped is where the paths diverge. Followers of the Vedic school generally fall into one of two categories: personalists and impersonalists. The impersonalist philosophy states that God is one giant sum of energy, and that since He has divided, the living entities are miniature versions of God Himself. The material world is governed by maya, or illusion, so the aim of life is to block out as much illusion as possible and merge back into the giant whole. The Supreme Absolute Truth is likened to a giant ocean which has flooded onto land. Each material body is akin to a container, or glass, that holds a tiny portion of the ocean water. When all the containers are shattered, the water can merge back together and make the Supreme Form of God whole again.

Lord VishnuThe personalists view the Supreme Absolute Truth as being a person who is full of form. Depending on the ascendency in education and the scriptural works taken as the highest authority, that Supreme Person is addressed by the personalists as either Vishnu or Krishna. Even the followers of Krishna acknowledge the existence of Vishnu as being the Supreme Person who is just a different manifestation of the beloved Krishna. All of Vishnu’s forms are considered non-different from one another, as they each fully represent the original person, from whom all matter and spirit emanates. The relationship between the individual sparks of Brahman and the Supreme Lord is likened to the relationship between the sunrays and the sun. The sun emits so many powerful rays each day, and yet its strength and potency do not diminish. In a similar manner, from one spiritual fire have come many sparks, but the original Person still retains His individuality and potency. Therefore there is simultaneous oneness and difference between the tiny living sparks and the complete whole. The fact that one person can expand Himself into an unlimited number of tiny fragments and yet remain completely unchanged defies every law of logic, mathematics, physics and biology. Any truth the human brain can conjure will never be able to fully describe and understand the nature of the relationship between the living entities and God.

The personalists therefore understand that simply merging back into the transcendental body of the Lord does not represent any true elevation. Since both entities exist eternally and always share similar qualities, the inherent relationship established is that of master-servant, wherein both parties derive tremendous pleasure by voluntarily being true to their respective positions. The personalists are devotees; so their main business is to think about and remember the Supreme Person in one of His non-different, fully qualified forms at all times. On the highest level of practice the aim is to constantly seek the Lord’s company and nothing else.

bicycle with training wheelsTo the impersonalist, the different forms worshiped by the personalist are considered imaginary, tools aimed at achieving the same end the impersonalist is after . The thought process of the impersonalist philosopher is that the devotees need tools akin to training wheels to get to the higher platform of consciousness. When learning to ride a bike, the balance required to remain steady is difficult to acquire right away. Therefore, in the beginning teachers add training wheels to the back of the bicycle to ensure that the student doesn’t fall off while practicing. The training wheels can be removed once the necessary balance is acquired.

The impersonalists feel they don’t need the training wheels of love and devotion to God, for they have already transcended the need to trick themselves into worshiping a form that is maya. What they don’t understand is that their desire for liberation and merging into Brahman itself represents a lower standard of consciousness. The devotees have abandoned the desires relating to the alleviation of distress, liberation from reincarnation, and the merging into an all-encompassing energy. The bliss the personalists derive from worshiping the qualified and original forms of the Personality of Godhead far exceed the happiness found in any other endeavor. Indeed, when the method of the personalists is practiced properly, there is a benefit at every stage along the way, not just at the end.

What does this mean exactly? For one who cannot fathom the inconceivably brilliant qualities possessed by the form of the Lord that has spiritual attributes, the only options available are to continue in material existence through activities in karma - which have accompanying good and bad results, some of which are difficult to predict - or take to meditating on Brahman. Neither one of these options are guaranteed to provide tangible results at every step. Meditation on Brahman is very difficult, especially considering that impersonal Brahman is not even an object. Void, or nothingness, is naturally lacking names, forms, qualities and pastimes, all of which are necessary ingredients in attracting the service mentality of the spirit soul. Activities in karma are even more dangerous, as there is much risk taken to acquire a reward which brings enjoyment that is destined to fizzle out.

Lord RamaIn the above referenced verse from his Dohavali, Goswami Tulsidas very kindly reveals the secret formula for attaining bliss and good fortune at every step in life. Though he is reminding himself of these benefits and the correct procedure, the lesson applies to everyone. Tulsidas’ object of worship is Lord Rama, who is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. In many circles, Lord Rama is considered the original Personality of Godhead, and since there is no difference between Krishna and Rama, there is no harm in having such a mindset. More than just an elevated form of Brahman or a historical personality who was adept at fighting off evil elements, Rama is Bhagavan; thus He is fully featured with the qualities of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, renunciation and wisdom to the fullest degree and at the same time.

Since the name of the Lord is non-different from Him, devotees make the recitation of that sound vibration their primary business in life. Tulsidas states that the key to chanting Rama’s name properly is to do it with love, faith and adherence to established guidelines and procedures. Love is the first requirement, as it will hold everything together while the devotee progresses on the path towards eternal felicity. Right away this requirement eliminates as candidates the non-devotees of all kinds, including especially the impersonalists. One may say that he loves Rama and that Rama is the Supreme Brahman, but if the Lord is considered formless, how can there be any real affection? Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati accurately notes that the prayers of the impersonalists are more offensive to the Lord than the insults hurled at Him from enemies.

Do we have any experience of loving something that is not even an object? This requirement of having love implies that the devotee taking to chanting understands the blissful nature of the Supreme Lord and His possession of undying, spiritually infused attributes. Maya, or illusion, works with ordinary matter, or prakriti, but in the spiritual sky there is the divine nature, or daivi prakriti. Manifestations are never absent; it is just that in the spiritual world matter is not inhibiting. Everything in the Lord’s realm is spiritual, including the bodies possessed by the liberated souls always engaged in bhakti.

Lord RamaThe second requirement is pratiti, which can mean faith or confidence. Chanting mantras like, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, with love is the first requirement for success, as that will keep the soul satisfied in its desire to act upon its loving propensity. Faith and confidence ensure that the chanting will continue. We may say that we love someone or something, but if we don’t take the necessary steps to maintain that loving relationship, our affection will be directed elsewhere. Faith is a requirement, as the mind is incapable of conceiving of and deriving bliss from the relationship with the Supreme Lord simply through logical understanding. Mathematics, or any practical discipline for that matter, becomes truly appreciated when the principles learned are acted upon in real-life exercises. Confidence in chanting the holy names of the Lord allows the love harbored for God to continue in an active state and only increase with time.

The third ingredient is devotion through adherence to regulative principles, wherein the chanting process is performed according to prescribed guidelines. The name of the Lord is so wonderful that it can be chanted at any time and any place and still provide benefits, but the devotional aspect must be present. Devotional service as a way of life indicates that there is some steady dedication to the practice. This ensures that the love and faith aspects of the chanting remain alive through regular recitation. Faith keeps the belief alive that the love offered to the Supreme Lord will not go to waste, and devotion allows the sincere soul to exhibit their loving feelings towards Rama regularly. If chanting is done without devotion or without adherence to prescribed rituals and regulations, the benefits will not be there. For instance, in many unauthorized traditions in India that claim to be following bhakti, there is all sorts of debauchery engaged in under the name of devotion. Since these practices are not authorized or even recommended, they cannot be considered devotion. While the loving sentiment exists naturally within the heart, the proper method of worship cannot just be conjured up within the mind. Chanting of the holy name is the most liberal in this respect, as it can be performed anywhere and everywhere, but the methods employed must always maintain the Supreme Lord as the ultimate beneficiary. In addition, the mood of the devotee must follow the devotional path, otherwise the practice takes on blind sentimentalism which can lead the sincere follower astray, down a road that doesn’t bring any tangible exchange of loving emotion.

“In this endeavor there is no loss or diminution, and a little advancement on this path can protect one from the most dangerous type of fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.40)

Hanuman chantingWhen there is love, faith and devotion, the practice of chanting Rama’s name will bring benefits from start to end. In any other area of endeavor, the beginning stage is the most painful. If one does not advance past the beginning, there is a loss. With chanting Rama’s name, however, there is no such defect. Even if one only chants with love, faith and devotion for one day, there is tremendous spiritual merit accumulated, benefits which carry over into the next life, as is confirmed by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita. Chanting the name of Rama just once with sincerity indicates a desire to associate with the Supreme Lord and derive pleasure from His company. In this respect there will be every attempt made by Rama and others to help the sincere devotee along.

Continuous chanting is beneficial in the middle stages because the consciousness gradually develops into always thinking about the Lord and His pastimes. In the beginning stages, there may be pain and discomfort from having to adhere to a strict regulative practice. In the tradition started by Lord Chaitanya, the preacher incarnation of God, the recommended guideline is that one chant the Hare Krishna mantra at least sixteen rounds a day on a set of japa beads. One round equates to one hundred and eight recitations of the particular mantra, therefore sixteen rounds will obviously take up quite a bit of time. If the tongue is not accustomed to reciting the names of Krishna and Rama, chanting this many mantras each day will be quite difficult. But as more and more progress is made, the devotee starts to see more and more benefits. In the middle stages, a high level of consciousness is found, and regular thoughts of Krishna and His different forms appear within the mind. In any other endeavor, quitting the job halfway through results in a total waste of effort, but the devotee who reaches the middle stage of their evolution towards pure Krishna consciousness has taken a great leap forward in their progress. Indeed, just the fact that the Lord can be remembered at all on a regular basis brings tremendous benefits in terms of lack of distress and pleasantness of mind.

Lord RamaThe end benefit to chanting with love, faith and devotion to regulation is the most obvious and easy to decipher. After all, every spiritual practice has some promise for an end-goal that is wonderful, a panacea of enjoyment. The result of steady practice in bhakti is the continued ability to remember and honor the Lord and His names. The taste of spiritual bliss is certainly present at every step, but the magnitude of the delights enjoyed increases as further progression is made. If we remember Tulsidas’ formula for success in bhakti, there is no chance of there ever being any difficulty in the end. And since Rama’s name is so wonderful, there will be boons received in the middle and beginning stages as well. Becoming familiar with these effects, the wise not only take to performing bhakti on a regular basis, but they also preach the glories of the Supreme Lord and His names to others, kindly begging everyone to find welfare from beginning to end by following the only dharma for this age, the chanting of the holy names.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Service and Compassion

Lord Krishna“Pure devotees, out of compassion for the fallen souls, are kripalu, very kind to people in general; they distribute this Bhagavata knowledge all over the world.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 4.12.51 Purport)

Two Sanskrit terms, seva and daya, very nicely complete the picture of behavior for human beings to follow. Seva means “service” and daya means “compassion” or “kindness”. But more important than knowing what the terms mean is understanding the position of the target beneficiaries. Service is meant to be offered to a superior entity, one who can show us the way and reveal the Truth in a manner that we can understand. Daya is applied to those who are suffering, the downtrodden that are in need of help. Thus compassion and kindness apply especially to inferior entities. But when seva is absent, or when the superior entity is not properly identified, the purity of daya suffers. On the other hand, when seva is directed towards the right person, that one entity who is always superior and forever worthy and capable of accepting service, the effectiveness of the compassion and kindness offered to the suffering only increases.

Lord KrishnaWhat are some examples of daya? The need for compassion and kindness towards the downtrodden is always discussed in society, especially in political circles. If ever a politician were to propose spending cuts to balance the budget or reduce inequities in the distribution of tax dollars, the opposition force’s best reply is to claim that the proposed move lacks compassion. “Without such and such money allocated to a particular project, people will be left destitute and without any source of food, clothing and shelter.” This line of argument works very well, because who would be against helping people that are in need? The average citizen has compassion for the poor and those who are in distressful situations, so anytime daya is attempted by a person of prominence, the action is well supported.

While daya is witnessed frequently, seva is not. Ironically enough, the penchant for service is built into the properties of the soul. The outer covering that we wear, which has accompanying characteristics, is not the basis for identity. We may take birth in a certain land and be labeled a certain type of citizen, but these circumstances could very easily have been altered. Higher forces, superior figures that we are dependent on, determined where we took birth and what type of parents we received. But we existed prior to birth, though in a different dwelling, or home. Just because the homes shift doesn’t mean that our identities get altered.

“Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.12)

Krishna and ArjunaIf I am not my body than who am I? The spirit soul, a tiny spark of energy that is so small that no blunt instrument can measure its size, residing within the heart of the living being represents their true self. If we can’t perceive the soul through microscopes and regular vision, how do we know it exists? Just as we see the invisible material element of the wind through its effect on visible objects, we can perceive of the soul’s presence by the autonomous functions of the living entity. The difference between a dull lump of matter and a living force is the presence of the spiritual spark within. When we see a seed turn into a giant plant or a tiny infant become a full grown adult, we can understand that the spiritual spark was responsible for the development. When a soul is inside of a particular body, we declare the being to be alive. Once the soul exits, once the autonomous functions and growth cycles cease, we deem the living being deceased.

To get more detailed knowledge about the properties of the soul and where it comes from, we must accept information from authority. This shouldn’t be that difficult to do, as we put faith and trust into the words of others all the time. The nightly newscasts describe events happening around the world, but these stories easily could be fabricated. We go on the authority of the anchorperson that the events they are describing are indeed occurring. In a similar manner, we can accept information about the soul given to us by higher authority figures as valid. More important than just accepting the information is acting on it. When knowledge of the soul is put to good use, to attain a tangible benefit, the authenticity and glory of the authority source is validated.

Lord KrishnaThere is no higher authority source than the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India. Meant to be understood by sincere beings of every persuasion, irrespective of their particular form of body, Vedic wisdom provides insight into the properties of the soul and how it is meant to behave. After all, when the soul is within a form, it takes to certain actions that are in line with the properties of the dwelling it occupies. When in an animal’s body the penchant is for eating, sleeping, mating and defending only. In the human life, however, not only can the presence of the soul be understood, but so can the glory and worthiness of service of its source. Not surprisingly, the Supreme Lord, or God, is the fountainhead of all energies, both material and spiritual. As we all come from God, we have a natural attachment to Him. When we are placed in a temporary dwelling, that love remains in a hidden state until extracted through knowledge and steady practice of religious principles.

Though we may be forgetful of our love for God, the service propensity remains there just the same. If we are given a brand new laptop computer but don’t know how to type or how to even open it, we will obviously not put the device to good use. If we are given a brand new car to drive but don’t have a license or know of any places to go, we might use the vehicle for storage, a place to put our extra stuff. When we are in ignorance we cannot properly utilize the objects that we have. Similarly, when we remain in the dark about our relationship to God, we misuse the service ability by giving worldly objects highest priority. Instead of serving God, we surrender to cats, dogs, spouses, life partners, employers, friends, citizens, etc. Man will basically offer its love to anything and anyone except God.

Is there a detriment to this aside from the failure to properly make use of the fully potent force of spiritual love found within the soul? There are actually many detriments to the misdirection of service. For starters, the soul continues to remain far away from its constitutional position. If there is no consciousness of the Supreme Lord and His blissful nature, another temporary dwelling will be granted the soul upon exit from its current body. This process is more commonly known as reincarnation, or the transmigration of the soul.

“The living being is eternal by nature, but due to his bondage in material existence he has to change his body over and over. This process is called the transmigration of the soul, and this transmigration is due to karma-bandhana, or bondage by one's work.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shri Ishopanishad, 2 Purport)

Shrila PrabhupadaThe other detriment is that the service itself becomes inferior. From the definition given of seva, we see that the service must be offered to a superior entity. But since every living being is equally a part and parcel of God, service to other people in the absence of God consciousness cannot constitute real seva. The living beings are Brahman, while God is Parabrahman. Moreover, when we adopt the service attitude based only on consciousness of the body, what we are actually serving is maya, or the illusory energy that governs the material world. Maya is that which is not personally God; hence the term applies to dull matter that is not used to further the purpose of becoming wholly God conscious. Without any knowledge of the soul and its relation to a higher power, seva equates to empty service.

Another side effect is that the daya, or compassion, offered also becomes second class. Let’s say that we see someone who is downtrodden and in need of help. If we give them a few dollars to buy clothes and food, we have temporarily alleviated their distressful condition. A compassionate person always feels bad for those who are suffering. But once the temporary pains of hunger have subsided, has the aided person’s consciousness advanced?

To use another example, we have compassion on our children for sure, as they are helpless and in need of constant guidance and attention. But if under the daya mentality tied to matter we provided everything for our children without giving them a proper education, have we really done anything worthwhile for them? The aim is to teach the children the proper knowledge that will allow them to grow up to be self-sufficient adults with a good moral standing. Hence the compassion we offer to the children, who are identified as inferior in stature, is meant to further a purpose, to reach an ultimate goal. All daya should follow this model; but unless there is real seva, the true benefits of compassion will never be seen.

Shrila PrabhupadaSo how do we offer true seva? How do we love God if we don’t even know what He looks like or where He lives? This brings us back to the issue of authority and trust. Just as we put faith in our teachers to provide instruction in mathematics and science, if we kindly submit to a spiritual master, a guru who understands the truths of life as espoused by the Vedas and their celebrated texts like the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam, our doubts and concerns can be removed. On the surface the spiritual master seems to be an ordinary living entity just like the rest of us; hence the seva offered to him is really just service to maya, no?

Since the spiritual master carries the message coming from the spiritual world, he is considered to be empowered, a figure who is to be treated as good as God. The bona fide spiritual master will never claim to be God. If he does, he lacks complete knowledge of the gradations of spirit. The spiritual master is Brahman realized, but that doesn’t mean that he has become Parabrahman. Rather, the guru is the greatest servitor of the Supreme Lord; his dedication to real seva is unmatched. Because of his benevolence, He instructs his disciples and others who kindly approach him how to perform the same service.

Lord KrishnaThe spiritual masters of the Vedic tradition recommend that we today chant the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, as often as possible to become spiritually enlightened. The misgivings we may have about God’s forms, pastimes, shapes, sizes, nature, kindness, anger, sectarian designations, etc. will be removed the more steadily we chant this sacred formula. The Vaishnava, or devotee of Vishnu [God], didn’t just come up with this chanting recommendation on a whim. Rather, it is authorized by the Supreme Lord Himself through the instructions He has provided to countless individuals throughout the course of history.

Chanting is the cornerstone of the discipline known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. This regulative system is only categorized as a form of yoga because it stands out from other engagements. In the constitutional position, the soul is fully immersed in bhakti, so it actually only has one engagement it is inclined to take up. When awareness of the soul’s direct link to God is forgotten, other systems of maintenance, or dharma, come into play. Below these systems are those concocted by man through his mental speculation. Since these “religious” practices are not authorized nor have they passed all the quality control tests already run by the exalted spiritual masters, they fail to deliver on their promises.

deity worshipThrough seva to the guru and other worshipable personalities like parents and elders, the human being gradually understands and realizes his constitutional position. When bhakti-yoga becomes a way of life, every second of the day is spent engaged in the service of the Lord. Sometimes the devotee is chanting the glories of Krishna, while at other times he is worshiping the deity manifestation, which is an empowered, carved statue or picture that accepts the kind obeisances of the humble soul. To offer service to someone personally, we have to interact with them, but since God is Absolute, He can hear our prayers and witness our prostrations before Him through the deity.

When there is real seva, daya automatically becomes fully potent. In fact, the instruction offered by the spiritual master is the most beneficial form of daya. The guru knows God and how to serve Him; he is self-realized. Armed with such powerful information, he could just sit idly by and not let anyone else in on the fun. But due to his compassion on the fallen souls, he kindly teaches others the same information he learned from his guru. Distributing transcendental knowledge on how to serve God represents true compassion, the offering of gifts to others that will really benefit them. When there is seva to Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead who is fully featured with the opulences of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, renunciation and wisdom, the compassion and kindness we offer our fellow man will be spiritually infused and thus lead them to the ultimate destination, that transcendental realm that is the natural home for the spirit soul. When in the Lord’s company, the distresses of the mundane world fly away.

Monday, July 18, 2011

See Not My Fall From Grace

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 ||

The easiest thing to do is criticize someone else. It doesn’t take much effort. You just look at someone and try to find faults. Every action they take can then come under further scrutiny. For the prominent leaders in spiritual life, who are preaching the glories of the Supreme Lord found in the sacred texts, the spotlight shines even brighter on them. If they are not up to the highest standard of ethical conduct, if they should slip just once, others will be ready to pounce and remind them of their transgression for the rest of their lives. Yet one formula is so potent that no matter how grievous the previous transgressions may have been and how often they were repeated, the negative reactions can be quickly erased. Such is the power of the holy name of Shri Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead in His manifestation as a warrior prince.

Lord RamaShouldn’t we criticize spiritual leaders who set a bad example? After all, if a person is preaching about the need to be devoted to God, to avoid sinful activity, and to remain forever fixed in consciousness with the Supreme Lord, shouldn’t they personally exhibit the traits they recommend others acquire? As an example, if I go on a speaking tour discussing the need for weight reduction and adherence to exercise, and yet I eat whatever I want and don’t properly maintain my weight, what gravity will my message carry? Obviously not much, for the personal lack of adherence to the principles expounded shows that the messenger either doesn’t believe wholeheartedly in the message or that the principles being preached are flimsy in their effectiveness. If even the greatest champions of the message don’t believe in it, why should anyone else?

While maintaining a critical eye is important in rooting out pretenders, it is still a fact that to ere is human. Every one of us is sinful, a truth that can be confidently accepted based on the fact that we took birth. The Vedas are the ancient scriptures of India, and they reveal truths of spirituality not found in any other discipline or philosophy. One of the more intriguing points of fact found in the Vedas relates to reincarnation, or the transmigration of the soul. How this works is summarily described in the Bhagavad-gita, the ancient discourse on spirituality sung by Lord Krishna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra some five thousand years ago. At the time, one of the leading warriors was leaning towards conscientiously objecting to the hostilities, not wanting to kill others to gain command over a kingdom.

To make sure that Arjuna, the hesitant warrior, made an informed decision, Krishna reviewed the basics of reincarnation. For the soul there is never birth or death. The soul never ceases to be, nor did it ever come into existence. The various forms it assumes are the result of past deeds and desires, and just as there is death, there is guaranteed to be birth. We also learn from this discourse that there is a way to stop reincarnation. If one’s thoughts and desires are fixed on the Personality of Godhead at the time of death, there is no more acceptance and rejection of bodies. After the current life ends, eternal spiritual existence begins.

“This individual soul is unbreakable and insoluble, and can be neither burned nor dried. He is everlasting, all-pervading, unchangeable, immovable and eternally the same.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.24)

Krishna and ArjunaFrom this information we can right away deduce that in our previous birth we failed to achieve perfect Krishna consciousness. It’s sad but true, a regrettable reality of life that we have to live with. In our previous life, and the many before that, we were focused on other things, like sex life, gambling, intoxication and overall sense gratification. We may even have performed some rituals relating to religion or avoided sinful behavior, but our primary thoughts were not constantly tied to God in a mood of love.

For the spiritualist sincerely searching for the truth, there are generally two ways to react to this unfortunate news. The first is to beat yourself up over it. Not only yourself, you can also criticize everyone who is presently alive. “Look at you, you karmi. You screwed up in your last life and that’s why you’re in so much trouble now.” But stepping back for a second, we see that every single life form is in the same boat. Is it wise to criticize someone else for transgressions that we also made? Is there anything to be gained by pointing to defects in others when those same defects are present in us?

“I am the only enjoyer and master of all sacrifices. Therefore, those who do not recognize My true transcendental nature fall down.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.24)

Lord KrishnaThe other option is to get over the fact that we screwed up previously and just find the path that will ensure that rebirth stops going forward. Arjuna, though he hesitated and was mistakenly attached to his body and the bodily welfare of his friends and family fighting for the opposing side, nevertheless did not punish himself for having made such a huge mistake. In one sense, his temporary lapse of judgment can be considered more egregious because he was in the presence of Shri Krishna. At the end of the discourse, Krishna revealed Himself to be the Supreme Lord, the object of all sacrifice and worship.

When there is a religious ritual, penance, or austerity, there must be a beneficiary. We wouldn’t just want to punish ourselves for no reason. The athlete arises early in the morning and runs many laps around the track not to inflict self-punishment, but rather to further a purpose. Similarly, every religious practice is meant for the satisfaction of the Supreme Enjoyer, Lord Vishnu. Therefore one of Vishnu’s other names is Yajneshvara. In the Gita, Krishna revealed Himself to be the same Vishnu, the all-pervading Lord. In fact, there is no such thing as one God for one set of individuals and one deity for another group. God is one, though He has different manifestations and energies that allow people to view Him in different ways.

Typically, the Lord is understood to be invisible, for we don’t believe that we’ve ever seen Him. In moments of trouble, the tendency is to look to the sky and address a person whose presence isn’t felt in our near vicinity. But before we actually understand what the Vedic statements describing the Lord as invisible or all-pervading actually mean, we should look at our own self. We have a bodily manifestation, and then we have our identity as spirit soul. The difference between the two is a covering of nescience, which is more technically known as maya, or illusion. Just because illusion is present doesn’t mean that we are not visible.

Lord KrishnaSimilarly, just because we can’t perceive of God’s presence doesn’t mean that He doesn’t exist. Neither does it mean that He is invisible. Rather, the covering of nescience separates us from seeing the Lord’s influence in every aspect of life. Krishna is the very same Lord but in His original, transcendental body. Yet many miscreants couldn’t understand who Krishna was even after seeing Him personally. Should they then believe that God is invisible, even when they saw Him standing before them? Obviously it is consciousness and the clarity of vision that determines how or if God can be seen.

Despite Arjuna’s temporary fall down from the spiritual plane of consciousness, which was marked by his decision to not fight based on concern over temporary bodies, Krishna did not hold the transgression against him. How could He anyway? Arjuna was a surrendered soul, one wise enough to place his issues and concerns before Krishna. Only the stubborn person with a poor fund of knowledge thinks he can solve every one of life’s problems without any guidance. If we didn’t have any control over where we were born and who are parents are, how much of life can we really control? We think we are independent because we choose how to interact with nature, but the results of the exercise of this freedom are completely out of our hands.

Since every person alive today took birth, it means that they made some past transgression. If they make more during the course of this lifetime, it doesn’t really change anything, as so many past errors were also made. From the above referenced verse from the Dohavali, we see that in one second, immediately, starting today, if we regularly chant the holy name of Rama, we can rectify all of our past mistakes. Lest we think this is a false promise, the aftermath of the Bhagavad-gita discourse proves that Goswami Tulsidas is correct in his assertion. Lord Rama is the same Krishna but in the guise of a warrior prince, so His name is equal to God. Arjuna had made the mistake of contemplating surrender in a war that he had every right to win. Krishna did not hold this against him; rather, as soon as Arjuna surrendered and kept the Lord within his thoughts at every second, all the past mistakes were immediately forgotten.

“I have in the past addressed You as ‘O Krishna,’ ‘O Yadava,’ ‘O my friend,’ without knowing Your glories. Please forgive whatever I may have done in madness or in love. I have dishonored You many times while relaxing or while lying on the same bed or eating together, sometimes alone and sometimes in front of many friends. Please excuse me for all my offenses.” (Arjuna speaking to Krishna, Bg. 11.41-42)

ArjunaTo dispel the doubts of future listeners, during Krishna’s conversation with Arjuna the Lord showed His universal form, or the virata-rupa. This awe-inspiring vision contained the numerous planets in the universe and their notable inhabitants. After seeing this wonderful form, Arjuna felt even more remorse. You see Arjuna was Krishna’s cousin during their time on earth together some five thousand years ago. They were also the best of friends. Now seeing that his dear friend was the Supreme Lord, Arjuna apologized for previously having addressed Krishna in friendly terms and not having shown Him the respect due God.

Among males especially, the friendships involve constant ribbing and joke-making. You can tell that someone is your friend if they are willing to jest with you, for otherwise there is a veil of formality creating a separation in the relationship. When male friends are placed together in a group, the joke-making almost turns into a competition, where one person tries to come up with even funnier jokes at the expense of one of the members of the group. These types of interactions are the source of great pleasure for the parties involved, as it was with Krishna in His dealings with Arjuna. In technical terms, interaction with God in a mood of devotional friendship is known as sakhya-rasa.

Though he really had no reason to feel bad over being friendly with Krishna, Arjuna did nonetheless. But he did not let his contrition get in the way of devotion to Krishna. Rather than harp on the past, Arjuna took the Lord’s advice and continued to fight on while keeping His beautiful friend’s words and form in his consciousness. Since the holy name is all-inclusive, reciting it is the best way for others to follow the path laid down by Arjuna. Despite our past transgressions, of which there are too many to count, if we take the plunge into devotional service and regularly recite wonderful mantras like, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the fruit of our existence will be tasted very soon.

Lord RamaThe accompanying recommendation put forth is that we avoid the company of those who are not devoted to God. This should make sense, for if we have intimate association with those who have divergent interests, those who continue to offend the Supreme Lord and don’t even know it, there is every chance of spoiling yet another birth. This seems like a harsh restriction, as we may know so many kind people who have no inclination towards spiritual life at the present moment. Yet when the first recommendation is taken to heart, the issue of bad association pretty much takes care of itself. If the devotee relishes reciting the name of their beloved Lord and thinking about His wonderful pastimes, why would they want to spend much time doing anything else? If we’re in the company of those who don’t want to think of God at all, how long will we be able to stand being with them?

Every single error committed in our many past lives can be rectified by bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Through the repetition of birth and death the conditioned soul sees not his fall from grace, his descent from the spiritual sky into the ocean of nescience. Yet if we have spoiled only one birth or one million, every mistake can be rectified by having love for Shri Rama and His holy name. This formula should be tried immediately, as the healing power acts instantly. We may not believe this promise or we may be leery of what it might do to us, but there is nothing to fear about cleansing all of our past transgressions, wiping the slate clean and beginning the building of our way back to something much better.