Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Root of Fortune

Rama and Lakshmana serving Vishvamitra“In Kali Yuga, Shri Rama’s holy name is like a desire tree, devotion to Him is like a heavenly cow, and the dust from the lotus feet of the guru is the root of all good fortunes and auspiciousness.” (Dohavali, 27)

rāma nāma kali kāmatarū rāma bhagati suradhenu |
sakala sumangala mūla jaga gurūpada paṃkaja renu ||

Because of how the mind operates, complacency can set in regardless of the circumstance. We may have been in trouble during a previous time and been appreciative of the ensuing rescue, but after some time the mind starts to take for granted what it has. This is especially true with those objects which constantly supply us benedictions. The rain pours down its water in the middle of the night onto the field so that no one is bothered, but in the morning the farmer can only think that it has not rained enough, for he is always anxious about his next harvest and whether or not he will be able to eke out a living. The trees that constantly produce fruits for us to enjoy and the cows that provide us the milk that turns into many other preparations are the sources of supreme welfare in this world, but even they have a root cause, a sustainer of life. When the origin of all fortunes is remembered, honored, respected and never taken for granted, life’s necessities can be acquired without a problem.

Goswami TulsidasIn the above quoted verse from his Dohavali, Goswami Tulsidas brilliantly paints the complete picture for how anyone can find full auspiciousness in life, even those who are trapped in the dark age of Kali, the present time period marked by rampant hypocrisy and quarrel. Even if a person is inclined towards piety, virtue, spirituality and helping others to find happiness, in Kali Yuga they will be vilified for being outdated, stuck in the past on traditions that have lost their value. Man is more evolved now, don’t you see? He has learned how to become a slave to machinery and quick delights in lieu of building a better foundation for the future of the soul.

The forces blocking the proper education of the populace at large is just one aspect of Kali’s magic. There is also the issue of personal practice. Abiding by religious principles, irrespective of which particular faith they belong to, is very difficult, especially given the constant allures that attack the psyche and try to persuade the mind to abandon the ultimate reservoir of pleasure, the Supreme Person whom every individual is naturally inclined to serve. Due to the many impediments, there is a shortcut process for the people of this age that brings all auspiciousness and every desire imaginable, but in a purified form. Though this practice is not hard to implement and become attached to, taking the first steps is difficult. With any new task, the believability of the promises made by their champions is always in doubt, thus making it difficult to take to any new engagement with sincerity. Yet there is no reason to doubt that this singular method of salvation for the people of this age proves effective in every way.

Lord KrishnaAnd what exactly is this method? The chanting of the holy names of the Lord, especially those found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, brings the direct association of the Supreme Lord, as His name automatically evokes remembrance of His other names, forms, qualities and pastimes. As a distinct individual, though one having an inconceivable brilliance, God is ever given towards sportive exploits, and His land is full of variegatedness to a level unfathomable to the human mind. Therefore the wonderful qualities that correspond with these transcendental activities are limitless and the source of glorification. But the names “Rama” and “Krishna” best encapsulate the full breadth and scope of the Supreme Lord’s potencies. As Krishna, He is all-attractive and thus worthy of being worshiped by every single person. He has a beautiful body, a wonderful complexion, and emits sound vibrations with His flute that can mesmerize even the most dedicated fruitive worker, mental speculator, meditational yogi or grossly foolish servant of matter, one who completely denies the existence of God.

Rama is the name and form especially dear to Tulsidas. This wonderful name describes the Lord’s ability to provide transcendental pleasure to others, and it is also used to address His incarnation as the prince of the Raghu dynasty, Shri Ramachandra, who appears in each creation during the Treta Yuga to protect devotees, annihilate miscreants and reestablish the true principles of religion. Indeed, God even appears in the Kali Yuga, the present age, but in the form of the holy name to perform the exact same functions. With material advancement come new scientific theories and mentally concocted systems of maintenance. These are religions in their own right; except they have no authority nor have they passed any quality control tests. The authors of such theories are themselves wholly dedicated to matter, so they have failed to even surpass the animalistic mindset which bases identity solely off of bodily features which are ultimately subject to destruction. The body can never be used to form a lasting identity, because wherefrom did we get these material elements? Moreover, at what point did we become worthy of accepting the assigned identification? At the time of birth, a period in our life that we can’t even remember, our home was the body of a tiny infant. Yet would any of us go around today and refer to ourselves as babies? This means that the identity of the adult individual must be accepted at some point. But if something is accepted, it must also be renounced, as the nature of the interaction is asanatana, or not eternal.

Real religion must be eternal, for it is the discipline that corresponds with the nature of the soul, which itself is an eternally existing entity. The dharma of the soul, its primary characteristic, never changes, though the specific rules and regulations instituted to realize that characteristic may shift from time to time to suit the specific circumstances in society. The original system of dharma was passed down by God Himself at the beginning of creation through aural reception, but as time goes on, sometimes the system gets lost. Therefore the Lord personally descends to earth to reinstitute them, or sometimes He sends His authorized representative.

Sita and RamaIn this age, the holy name is the full incarnation, capable of performing the same feats that were enacted by the very personalities they address. This means that if we chant the name of Rama over and over again in a mood of love, we can get whatever we want. After all, if Rama is God, He can surely bring to us whatever we desire. But the name of Rama also reinstitutes dharma, for it allows the soul to gradually awaken its natural propensity, that of offering loving service to the Supreme Lord. In every sphere of life the serving propensity is witnessed. Even someone who is totally alone, without a wife or children, will purchase a dog or cat to take care of and give attention to. This shows that the inclination towards service must be acted upon, but that without knowledge of spirituality, the proper beneficiaries are never correctly identified.

“A living entity, by constitution, has the propensity to be attached to something. We see that if someone has no object of attachment, if he has no children, he transfers his attachment to cats and dogs. This indicates that the propensity for attachment cannot be stopped; rather, it must be utilized for the best purpose.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Lord Kapila, Ch 10)

Chanting the name of Rama over and over is a direct form of service, as it allows the loving propensity to be directed towards a worthy object, the Supreme Lord, who surpasses all sectarian and sentimentalist boundaries. Even if one is of a different religious persuasion, the chanting of the holy names of the Lord is still open to them. Tulsidas says that Rama’s name is like a desire tree, one that fulfills every wish of the chanter. This may seem to raise a slight contradiction, as some desires can clash with others. For instance, if we wanted to rob a bank or cheat on a test, can we treat Rama’s name as our desire tree that will grant our wish?

Lord RamaThe point to understand about desire is that it is always rooted in meeting the ananda property of the soul. Just like their supreme father, every living entity is blissful by nature, but in the conditioned state, one bereft of God consciousness, the search for bliss leads to activities which are neither authorized nor capable of securing that happiness. Chanting Rama’s name, on the other hand, is completely spiritual, so even if one has ill motives in the beginning, through steady chanting the true desire of the soul can emerge. More than anything else, the devotee of Rama asks to be able to continue their chanting, as the name itself brings association with the Supreme Lord. Whatever favorable conditions are required for meeting the true desire of the soul will be granted by the wish-fulfilling tree that is Rama’s name.

Tulsidas also says that devotion to Rama, or Rama-bhakti, is like a celestial cow, or suradhenu. The cow is the most respected animal in the Vedic tradition because of what it offers to society. We take milk from our mother, so we respect her for the rest of our life. Similarly, we take milk from the cow, so we should respect her in the exact same way, giving her a status equal to our mother. The cow is also very easy to maintain and provides tremendous output as a result of a little care and concern. Though its milk is produced for its children, the output is so great that milk can be taken from the cow with plenty still left over for the calves. In this way the cow proves to be an engine of economic freedom, as simply owning a small plot of land and having a few cows are enough to provide a steady supply of food.

cowsThe cows in the heavenly realm, the place where the demigods, or suras, reside, are wonderful in every way. Similar to the kamataru, or wish-fulfilling tree, the celestial cow can provide anything to its owner. This is because the owner takes great care of it, giving total respect and honor to the cow who doesn’t ask for anything except protection. There was a famous meeting once between the venerable Vashishtha Muni and the sage Vishvamitra while he was still a king. Vishvamitra was a guest at Vashishtha’s cottage, and seeing Vashishtha’s wonderful cow that provided everything for Vishvamitra and his troops, Vishvamitra insisted on taking it for himself. As a brahmana, Vashishtha couldn’t fight back against the force applied by Vishvamitra, so he pleaded to the cow to help. The cow then produced all sorts of weapons and military fighters that helped Vashishtha fight off Vishvamitra’s attempt at theft.

Devotion to Rama is like the celestial cow, because having undying love for God can provide all benefits in life, just as the cow that is well protected continues to produce commodities. Indeed, devotion to Rama is the pinnacle of all religious practice, as other systems of spirituality are meant to lead to the platform of bhakti, or devotion. The dharma of the soul is to serve the Supreme Lord in this mood of love and devotion. So one who has reached this high platform, who keeps the flame of bhakti alive by regularly chanting Rama’s name, never has to worry about being poor, starving to death, or being without life’s essentials.

Lord RamaYet, in this verse Tulsidas only sets the table with the first line. He opens by describing the end-goal, the tangible fruits that end up fulfilling desires and maintaining the flame of divine love within the soul. In the second part of the verse, however, the wonderful poet describes the source of these two boons. After all, the kamataru and suradhenu must come from somewhere. We can’t just will them to appear in front of us, nor can we mount an attack and steal these objects from some other place. There is only one way to find these fortunes, one method for acquiring the most wonderful fruits of life that then serve to meet the root desires of the soul. That path is to take the dust coming from the lotus feet of the guru.

The bona fide guru, or spiritual master, is himself ever devoted to Rama, or one of His non-different forms like Vishnu, Krishna, Narasimha, etc. The number of non-different forms of Godhead, which are referred to as vishnu-tattva, is so many that there are many avenues available to the sincere soul wishing to connect with God. Even those who worship a formless aspect of the Supreme Truth are devotees in one sense, though their interaction with the spiritual land is not personal. Therefore they too ascend to the spiritual realm after the present life is over, but they remain on the outskirts of the personal planets that make up the area known as Vaikuntha.

Shrila PrabhupadaThe guru spends his life devoted to Rama and preaching His glories. He never claims to be God, nor does he ever provide instructions aimed at furthering any end except full and complete surrender to the Lord, or sharanagati. In this way the guru can teach others by both instruction and personal example how to make the most out of life. The dust from the lotus feet of the guru is the most important reward in life, because by accepting such a gift, we can realize the proper mood with which to interact with spiritual guides. Challenging Rama’s devotees, arguing their every statement, and making their lives difficult are not pathways to success. Indeed, these tactics don’t work in any discipline of knowledge gathering. Just imagine what would have happened if we would have challenged every statement made by our math and reading teachers in our youth. We never would have learned anything. Surely as young children we would have thought that the teacher was crazy and unintelligent, but what did we know any way?

The conditioned soul similarly has no clue what it takes to break free from the clutches of maya, or material existence, especially in her empowered form in the Kali Yuga. Therefore through humble submission to the guru, wherein hearing is given the most stress, the pathway to freedom can be found. Tulsidas accurately notes that the dust of the lotus feet of the guru is the source of all good fortune, sakala sumangala, because the guru brings about the two rewards mentioned previously. Chanting Rama’s name and devotion to the Lord are achieved only through the instruction of the guru, who advises everyone in this age to remain committed to bhakti through the different processes of chanting, hearing, remembering, worshiping, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, and other engagements. The human mind, through esoteric analysis, field study, scientific research, and the concoction of mental theories is never capable of reaching on its own the conclusion of the need for worshiping Rama. Rather, the mind is geared towards looking for every solution except bhakti.

Rama and Lakshmana with VishvamitraWhat if we never meet a guru? What if we never get the benediction of the dust of their lotus feet? The guru doesn’t necessarily have to be an established or recognized saint. Rather, anyone who sincerely chants the names of Krishna and Rama and makes devotion to the Lord their life’s occupation can immediately be considered a guru, for they teach by their very example. In addition, the words of the spiritual master are equally as effective as personal association. And in recent times celebrated Vaishnava acharyas have produced volumes upon volumes of literature glorifying the Supreme Lord and devotion to Him. The very songs and wonderful verses passed down by Goswami Tulsidas represent perfect instruction, thus making his statement above applicable to his own writings. Tulsidas glorifies Rama and His holy name, and in this way he becomes the most wonderful teacher, a kind saint who imbibes the sincere listener with devotion to Rama, the source of all blessings in both this life and the next.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Right Ego

Radha and Krishna“What is ego? I am pure soul, but with my intelligence and mind I am in contact with matter, and I have identified myself with matter. This is false ego. I am pure soul, but I am identifying falsely.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna Consciousness: The Topmost Yoga System, Ch 5)

Under the model where self-realization is pursued through gradual steps, the first requirement is knowing that I am a spirit soul, or aham brahmasmi. This understanding is crucial, because without knowing who we are, we can’t take the proper steps in finding happiness. This should be a simple concept to grasp, as in virtually every field of activity the knowledge of one’s proper identity drives the activities. If a baseball player on a certain team incorrectly identifies with the opposing team, they will take the wrong actions in the game. They will work to further the chances of victory for the opposing side. Similarly, if we don’t understand the soul, we won’t know how to act. After learning about the soul, the next issue is ego, with mind and intelligence playing an integral role in determining whether further maturation is achieved. When ego is properly situated, everything else falls into place.

“Some look on the soul as amazing, some describe him as amazing, and some hear of him as amazing, while others, even after hearing about him, cannot understand him at all.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.29)

Lord KrishnaHow do I know that I am spirit soul? What is a soul anyway? Based on our perceptions, we identify with our body, but this form is actually just a collection of different parts. The human form consists of hands, legs, a stomach, eyes, ears and a face. Should one of these parts cease to function, the identity of the individual does not change. Moreover, the entire body morphs over the course of time. In our childhood we had a completely different body, one that was very small in stature. But as we grow older, the entire collection of parts gets replaced, yet the identity within does not. Therefore there must be an identifiable aspect, the presence of an entity who is immune to the temporary manifestations of matter.

The Vedas kindly reveal that this entity is the spirit soul, or atma. We can try to study the soul and its properties using blunt instruments, but this route will be very cumbersome. To use an example, we can never actually see the wind, but we know it is present because of its effects on external objects. If a flag is waving violently outside or if when we step out the door we feel a sudden burst of air hitting our face, we understand that wind is present. Similarly, through the autonomous workings of individual living beings - actions that are undertaken by choice and also those functions which operate involuntarily, like breathing and the beating of the heart - we know that the spirit soul is present. When these functions are absent, the living being is considered dead. The same elements remain visually manifest, but the difference is that the life spark has exited the residence. An abandoned home and one that is currently occupied are not the same. Based on the symptoms found within the dwelling, we can properly decipher which is which. In a similar manner, based on the visible functions of the gross body, we can understand whether or not spirit is present.

After understanding that we are spirit soul and aloof to the changes of the body, we have to understand why we have a body in the first place. Why are we subject to the influences of matter, when in fact it is determined that spirit is superior to matter? This is where ego comes into play. While the gross elements make up the body that is visible, the subtle elements of mind, intelligence and ego drive the activities that the individual living being takes up while residing within a particular body. When the mind and intelligence identify solely with the body, the ego is considered false. Understanding that we are a pure spirit soul is only the beginning, for if we still have a false identification that is indicated in the activities we adopt, our knowledge of spirit is only theoretical.

“One should engage oneself in the practice of yoga with undeviating determination and faith. One should abandon, without exception, all material desires born of false ego and thus control all the senses on all sides by the mind.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 6.24)

Lord KrishnaWhat are the symptoms of identifying with the gross body? Studying the behavior of animals and children gives us some nice clues. We know that animals have limited intelligence; they are not able to understand God, spirit, matter, or their imminent death. The animal is driven by instincts, its desires to eat, sleep, mate and defend. Similarly, the young human being only wants preyas, or instant satisfaction. When the child is hungry, it wants to eat something nice. It will complain to the parents about not having food available right away. “Mom, I’m hungry. What’s for dinner?” The child has a difficult time when their sense demands aren’t met right away.

When a little more intelligence is acquired, shreyas, or long-term interest, is sought after. The animals and immature children are unable to seek out long term gains. A typical example of a future benefit is a degree from a school or university. You can’t just will yourself to get an education, and neither can you just demand that others give you the respect that comes from being educated. Rather, hard work, through many years of schooling and studying, is required to earn a degree or diploma. Since studying is not typically done with enthusiasm, there is no instant satisfaction in the activity. The ultimate goal, shreyas, is what keeps the student disciplined and adherent to their studies.

When the identification turns away from matter and shifts towards spirit, the real benefit of human life can be found. Under the false identification with matter and the body that is ever changing, the human being behaves similarly to an animal. In fact, in many respects the grossly foolish human being is inferior to an animal, for the fears are increased in the human form. The animal doesn’t lament over losing its childhood, not seeing friends for so many years, having to go to the office every day, or its impending death. These fears are introduced in the human species because of the advanced level of intelligence. We know that our time on earth is short and that in the past we had many good times that seem so distant now. We also know that death will one day come and remove us from our current environment.

But the intelligence given to the human being is not meant to be a punishment or a tool that further increases fears and worries. Rather, the intelligence is intended to be used to adopt a purified ego, wherein one identifies as a spirit soul that is part and parcel of God. The individual spirit residing within the body is knowledgeable, blissful and eternal. The gross elements the soul is falsely identifying with are just the opposite in character. If there is full association with something that has undesirable attributes, the resulting consciousness will be inferior. On the other hand, when the soul identifies with something that is knowledgeable and blissful, the results are topmost.

Lord KrishnaSince I am a pure soul, I should identify with something else that is pure. Not surprisingly, that pure entity is the same object of worship for every single person. He is most commonly known as God, but in the Vedic tradition He is given thousands of names. These names not only describe His numerous features and attributes, but they also serve as increased outlets for glorification. It is said that a voter would much rather have someone or something to vote for than vote against. The sitting officeholders are easy targets for the angst and unhappiness of the general public. Depending on their opinion of the current person in office, if a citizen should encounter something as trivial as a flat tire, they will blame the sitting president, the leader of the country.

But when it comes time for the election, the forces of love typically triumph over hate. If people have something tangible to support, a candidate who provides hope for a better day, the opposing forces who can only rely on their dislike will be defeated. This speaks to the nature of the soul, as it is endowed with a strong loving propensity. Under the false ego, the individual associates with matter and the ability to increase the level of sense gratification in areas such as intoxication, sex, gambling, and meat eating. Thus when the loving propensity needs to be released, it targets other entities who are similarly driven by a false ego. If people should happen to be good at acting, playing sports, or making a lot of money, they get some of the praise and adulation that others are so desperate to give.

Lord KrishnaSince God, as the all-knowing, understands this propensity in man, He comes to earth from time to time to enact pastimes. With each pastime comes a new name given to the Lord. With each new name comes a new outlet for the pure love that naturally exists within the heart of every living entity. The most inclusive and complete name for God is Krishna, which is a Sanskrit word that means all-attractive. Krishna is also known as Bhagavan, which means one who possesses the attributes of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, knowledge and renunciation to the fullest degree. No one can be smarter than Krishna; hence His teachings are flawless. As He is all-knowing, He is never under the delusion of false ego, even if He should appear before us in a form that looks similar to a human being.

When under the purified ego, the soul constantly engages in kirtana, or glorification of God. The best and most practical way to glorify Krishna is to chant His names found in the sacred maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Those who recite this sacred formula are letting themselves and the higher authorities know that they are sick and tired of identifying with the gross body. The maha-mantra is the call to the Supreme Lord to allow the individual to love Him with full gusto, without any qualms or reservations. In every area of life not tied to devotional service, the loving propensity is checked. For starters, the objects of worship who are deluded by false ego immediately are limited in their ability to accept love and reciprocate properly. As soon as there is interruption or motivation involved in the worship, the mood of the devotee loses its purity.

Lord KrishnaWith Krishna, however, there are no defects, as He is Bhagavan. Therefore simply by chanting His names on a regular basis and thinking of Him at all times, the necessary knowledge and intelligence are acquired. The false ego doesn’t stand a chance with a devotee who is dedicated to glorifying Krishna. The glorifications are itself a reward, as the time invested directly corresponds with the natural qualities of the individual. Under the false ego, the activities adopted ultimately lead to misery, as real shreyas, or the most important end goal, is not found.

As long as the desire for steady kirtana does not surface, the influence of the false ego will continue. Whatever identification we adopt is what we will keep going forward. The soul exists eternally, but the ego determines where the soul will reside in the future. At the time of death, the desires of the living entity are measured by the higher authorities and a commensurate future body is crafted. When going by the identifications of man, woman, Indian, American, priest, worker, fighter, etc., the desires at the forefront of consciousness will remain impure. Purity is only found in Krishna and anything directly related to Him.

If we have difficulty believing that Krishna is God, we can stay focused on the path of study, wherein one starts at the mental plane and gradually works up towards the spiritual plane. Under the abstract conception of God, it remains difficult to keep the false ego from resurfacing. We may know that we are spirit soul and that our body is ever changing, but unless we have an active engagement that reinforces these thoughts, the tendency towards animal behavior can return.

Lord KrishnaOn the other hand, if we worship God in His personal form, the benefits are always there. The Vedic literature is full of instances of God performing wonderful activities and exhibiting His unmatched transcendental abilities. Krishna’s intelligence can be appreciated by reading His words of wisdom found in the Bhagavad-gita, the most celebrated and widely read work on spirituality in history. Krishna’s beauty can be appreciated by reading the Shrimad Bhagavatam and hearing the descriptions of His wonderful transcendental form put forth by His devotees, of which the gopis of Vrindavana are the topmost. They always swim in the ocean of spiritual nectar that is the vision of Krishna, who is blue like the dark raincloud and is opulently adorned with a flower garland, peacock feather, Kaustubha gem and other ornaments.

Krishna’s wealth can be remembered and honored by understanding that all the opulence we see in the world has God as its source. The Lord owns everything, so no one is richer than Him. Krishna’s renunciation can be marveled at by hearing of how He separated from the gopis. The cowherd girls of Vrindavana have the most beautiful external features, and their inner beauty marked by their devotion to Krishna stands out even more. If we had such wonderful devotees always thinking of us, we’d have a difficult time giving up their company. We would likely abandon our occupational duties and instead enjoy their association at all times. But Krishna had business to take care of in the neighboring town of Mathura some five thousand years ago when He roamed this earth. Thus He had to leave the gopis behind, showing that He is always fully renounced.

Radha and KrishnaKrishna’s strength can be appreciated by remembering how He defeated powerful demon after powerful demon, including the feared king of Mathura, Kamsa. Krishna is also the most famous, as He is worshiped by every single person in some way or another. Even the atheists worship Krishna, through His external feature of matter, which does not bring personal association. The flawed identification under the false ego also results in worship, but since the Lord has no direct interest in the workings of dull matter, the results of such worship are inferior; they bring neither a real ego nor the Lord’s personal company.

But most of all we can appreciate Krishna’s kindness. He comes to this earth and shows the exalted devotees His transcendental form so that they can remain forever devoted to Him. Since the celebrated saints are the kindest welfare workers, they share their knowledge with others. By learning of Krishna’s features, the differences between matter and spirit, and the proper identification, the purification of ego can come very soon. For one who is fully confident of Krishna’s position as God and His ability to deliver the fallen souls, the ego quickly becomes the best friend, leading to the proper identification of “I am a spirit soul, who is eternally devoted to God.”

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Kali Yuga

Prahlada Maharaja“Shri Rama’s holy name is like Narasimhadeva to the Hiranyakashipu-like Kali Yuga. For those who chant the holy name, the Lord offers them all protections and crushes their tormentors, just as He did for Prahlada Maharaja.“ (Dohavali, 26)

rāma nāma nara kesarī kanakakasipu kalikāla |
jāpaka jana prahalāda jimi pālihi dali surasāla ||

Kali Yuga, the last of the four time periods of creation as explained in the Vedas, is characterized by the rampant impiety that pervades society. In times previous to the age of Kali, deference to religious practice, which is the single engagement that best distinguishes the human being from the animal species, was at much higher levels; therefore man could be considered less fallen. But as more time elapses from the beginning of creation, which happens to follow growth cycles similar to the rising and setting of the sun or the coming and going of living beings, acknowledgment of a higher power and the need to serve Him dwindles. Therefore Kali Yuga is considered the dark age, one full of quarrel and hypocrisy. Nevertheless, there is still a chance for spiritual enlightenment, a way to gain salvation that breaks through the nescience of darkness. Though this method is specifically tailored for the dark age, it was actually practiced a long time ago when the inhibiting effects prevalent in Kali Yuga took on their greatest magnitude through the efforts employed by a powerful king, one who was insistent on ensuring that his young child not turn into a saintly character.

Prahlada MaharajaThough the tendency of the human being is to think in the here and now, taking its current life to be the only one it’s ever had, a more rational approach considers the eternality of spirit, and therefore also humbly acknowledges that man has lived before. When we say “man”, we refer to the spirit soul residing within a particular form, for life exists in all spheres of creation. A dog and a cat may not be able to speak or do quantum physics, but they nevertheless have spirit souls residing within them; otherwise they would not be capable of growing, performing action, leaving byproducts, or even dying. The event of death signals that life existed at some point; therefore through simple logic and deduction we can understand that spirit is not exclusive to the human form. The particular living being may grow for some time and then decay upon the exit of the soul, but the spiritual spark remains in existence for all of eternity.

In a similar manner, the entire cosmos, which consists of gross matter, exists perpetually, but it is not always manifest; it has cycles of creation and destruction. The shifts occur at the behest of the Supreme Ruler, that person most of us refer to as God. Based on His choosing, the material creation can come into existence or it can remain in a dormant state, wherein the matter doesn’t take any shape. When there is creation, the duration of existence is set on a timeline, operating like clockwork through management by higher authorities, entities that are godlike, but not God Himself.

Not surprisingly, the first time period, Satya Yuga, is the age of purity. Therefore it is also known as Krita Yuga. Satya means truth, so the people living in this age are very pious and highly aware of the Absolute Truth. The Vedas are so nice because they not only give details into the nature of the Supreme Lord, the eternality of spirit, our relationship to the Supreme Spirit, and what it takes to connect with Him, but they also provide information as to the reason for the material creation’s existence. Indeed, to the keen observer the path towards salvation simultaneously reveals the purpose of the creation.

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

Lord KrishnaAttaining salvation in spiritual life is quite simple. “Love God with all your heart, be always conscious of Him, and thus think of Him at the time of death.” Whatever state of mind the departing individual has at the time of death, that state he will attain without fail in the next life. Obviously it’s impossible to predict the state of mind one will have at this most difficult of life’s moments, when the vital force is about to forcibly exit the body the individual has grown accustomed to and called home, but the thoughts actually arise involuntarily at this moment, as they are shaped over the course of one’s lifetime, through the different events and desires. Therefore if one ensures that they are always thinking about God, serving Him, remembering Him, and honoring His devotees during their lifetime, the chances of being God conscious at the time of death greatly increase. Religion’s very purpose is to reawaken this dormant consciousness in the spirit soul, for the sparks of spiritual energy emanate from the original gigantic spiritual fire. Therefore there is an inherent link to the Supreme Person. Only through religion, which is the exclusive property of the human species, can the dormant love for the Supreme Lord be awakened.

The people in the Satya Yuga are very pure, but nevertheless they somehow made it to the material creation. This means that at some point unknown to them, they wanted separation from the graces of the spiritual land, where association with the Supreme Lord in one of His personal forms, including the original of Lord Krishna, was enjoyed. If Krishna is so attractive and beautiful, why would anyone want to leave Him? The spirit souls are endowed with free will and independence, and for these features to be valid in their implementation and existence, the avenues for their exercise must be multifarious. Therefore there must be a set of individuals who are given to using their independence towards advancing a bogus cause, one that seeks to imitate Krishna in His abilities at creating, maintaining and destroying.

Lord KrishnaSince these desires cannot be acted upon in the spiritual realm, a temporary land is required, one where forgetfulness of Krishna, His warm embrace, and His sweet vision is facilitated. Just as we cannot force anyone to love us, Krishna cannot compel anyone to take to His service, for there would be no enjoyment felt in the resulting relationship from either party. But the Satya Yuga is still very pure, since the spirit souls have just been placed in a newly created land, where knowledge of dull matter and activities not related to Krishna’s service is not very developed. Because of this, man in the Satya Yuga has a very good opportunity for returning back to Godhead through religious practice.

The Treta Yuga brings about a decline in dharma by one quarter in society; thus new social divisions are introduced as a way to manage affairs. The Satya Yuga sees everyone belonging to one class, one that is ever dedicated to spiritual affairs. In the Treta Yuga, brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas and shudras are assigned occupational duties. Similar to how a company will give specific tasks to different workers to ensure the success and profitability of the business venture, society is divided up to see to it that all the facets of material life are taken care of in an orderly manner. The brahmanas are considered the brains of the operation, for they guide everyone else in their prescribed duties. The kshatriyas are the arms; they provide protection and handle administration. The vaishyas take care of food production, so they are likened to the stomach. The shudras are important as well, as every engagement needs dedicated workers capable of performing basic tasks. With every person abiding by their prescribed duties, there is ample time left for spiritual advancement. Indeed, the very existence of dharma, or occupational duty, is to see to it that activities in maya, or material nature, can be accepted without attachment, while attachment to the Supreme Lord is fostered at the same time.

The Dvapara Yuga sees another quarter reduction of dharma in society; therefore the influence of the nefarious element then equals the presence of the pious. The number of wars increase, as conflict and struggle is always there. The miscreants don’t just sit back; they instead create their own dharmas, which by definition can’t lead to any benefit. Dharma is not something that can be concocted; it is a system of occupational duty tied directly to the soul’s intrinsic characteristics. A concocted dharma is one that is shaped by the illusory energy of the material world, one that seeks to cloud the natural intelligence and the knowledge of the Supreme Lord found within everyone.

Sita and Rama marriageThe Kali Yuga is considered the most fallen age, because dharma only exists at one quarter strength. Naturally this means that finding a truly religious person, one who is seriously interested in purifying their consciousness and remembering Krishna at the time of death, is very rare. There are many other such symptoms that highlight the disdain felt towards established dharma. We can think of the Kali Yuga as the “bizarro” age, where everything is done opposite to the way it should be. Men and women marry at their own whim, sometimes in defiance of the parents’ wishes, rather than through an organized arrangement made by the parents aimed at fostering a peaceful coexistence. The Vedas are so nice that even sex life, which is considered the antithesis of religious practice, is aimed at furthering one’s God consciousness. Through regulated sex in a marriage institution, the man and woman can live peacefully, abide by their respective duties, and make steady progress in life’s primary mission.

The other “bizarro” effects are plainly visible throughout society. Those with no understanding of the differences between matter and spirit, who identify solely with the gross body - a lump of matter that is subject to decay at the time of death - assume leadership roles, while the brahmanas, the priestly class who act by the brahminical principles, are considered extremists following ancient traditions which no longer apply. Indeed, even if you do find brahmanas, they probably don’t follow the principles enjoined them by the shastras, or scriptures. Taking their high family lineage as a license for behaving any way they see fit, they don’t make the best use of their birthright, as they forego taking spiritual instruction from one who knows the Absolute Truth.

At first glance, it may seem a little too easy for the spiritual leaders to claim that the current age, Kali Yuga, is the most fallen one. After all, doesn’t this make their preaching efforts easier? By saying that we’re suffering through Kali Yuga, aren’t they just trying to further their own interest of spreading religion? Could it be that they just witnessed the effects in society and then somehow claimed that it’s the Kali Yuga, an age that is so fallen? Actually, just by studying recent history we can see evidence of the dwindling influence of dharma as time passes. For instance, the population of men and women that grew up in America during the 1930s and 40s is considered the “Greatest Generation”, for they suffered through a Great Depression and two world wars. They are considered great because of their level of piety and dedication to their fellow man, not necessarily for their technological advancements or level of enjoyment. Indeed, they suffered through much more austerity and hardship than any generation that followed them.

World War IIAnd what happened as a result of their brave sacrifice? As time went on, the prosperity of the nation increased, so much so that the traumas today deal with things like eating too much food and not having enough tangible work to perform on a regular basis. Hardships have to be invented now because life is so excessively peaceful. In this way we see that in modern times deference to piety and religion has a direct correlation to the level of sense gratification available. Sadly, the linearity travels in the wrong direction, as the increase in opulence has led to an almost hatred for religion and anyone who even mentions the word “God” with any sincerity in public.

The Greatest Generation, though they may not have been aware of it, had higher levels of piety and respect for religion because of their simplified lifestyle, where they weren’t overly engrossed in sense pleasures. Their tapasya, or penances, brought on by harsh conditions actually helped them maintain a more pious way of life. If such drastic shifts in piety levels can occur over sixty years, just imagine what takes place over hundreds and thousands of years. Thus we see that the statements of the Vedas pertaining to the gradual diminishing of deference to religion are not merely hyped up mythology or self-serving statements aimed at bringing about a spiritual revolution. Man always thinks he knows better than God, for that is the very cause of his fall down to the material creation. As they drift further and further away from real dharma, the mental speculators and fruitive workers think they are making progress, finding a better way to manage affairs and society. Regardless, they will still have to abide by some rules and regulations, with the only difference being that the rules put into place by the Vedas are authorized and have passed every quality control test, while the modern day movements and their ideals are based solely on ignorance, with knowledge of the real identity of the individual as spirit soul completely removed from the picture.

Of all of Kali Yuga’s negative effects, the most formidable is its ability to squelch religious practice. Not only is deference to dharma not widespread in the least bit, but anyone who wants to take up service to the Supreme Lord is not encouraged to do so. So many impediments are thrown their way, with the strongest inhibiting influences coming from the allures of the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. But despite the impediments and the horrible conditions of Kali Yuga, just one simple practice, which when adopted in earnest, can save the sincere devotee from all perils. Indeed, the beneficiary of such service will take it upon Himself to rip apart the impeding influences, thus allowing for the seed of devotional service to grow into a full blown tree of transcendental love, one that produces fruits that others can enjoy.

Lord KrishnaThis singular process is the chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Lest we think this is a sectarian mantra or some formula concocted by the Hindus who worship many gods, the names “Krishna” and “Rama” are Sanskrit words that very nicely and accurately describe the features of the Supreme Absolute Truth. If there is a God, He most certainly must be attractive, and He must also be able to provide the highest transcendental pleasure to anyone who connects with Him in a mood of pure love. Therefore Krishna and Rama are two wonderful names that directly represent the Supreme Person that we are all inherently connected to.

Goswami Tulsidas, a celebrated Vaishnava poet, especially prefers chanting the name of Lord Rama, for the Supreme Person’s descent on earth as the pious and handsome prince of Ayodhya named Rama during the Treta Yuga is the highest source of pleasure for millions of devotees around the world. Since the name is a direct incarnation of the Supreme Person it addresses, all the potencies of the Lord are available to one who regularly chants it. Tulsidas says that Rama’s name is so powerful that it acts like Narasimhadeva to the Hiranyakashipu-like Kali Yuga. This comparison is wonderful because the thwarting efforts employed by Hiranyakashipu, the most powerful of demon kings, directly match up with the influences of Kali Yuga affecting the devotional efforts of sincere souls.

Prahlada with NarasimhadevaHiranyakashipu was a king ruling the world a long time ago. He was extremely powerful, but since he was born in a line of daityas, or demons, he was predisposed to hating the Supreme Lord. Lord Vishnu is another non-different form of Godhead. Worship of Vishnu, Krishna or Rama is all the same, for the three entities represent the same person, with specific spiritual traditions accepting one of the forms as the original. Hiranyakashipu hated Vishnu, for that is the nature of the atheists; they view God as their number one competitor. The demon had a son who was to be groomed to follow in his father’s footsteps. But unfortunately for the king, this little boy, who was named Prahlada, had divine qualities from birth. He was given to  worshiping Vishnu and no one else. He listened to everything that was taught to him about administrative affairs and how to conquer the world, but he nevertheless took bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, to be the primary task in life.

You would think this would be a cause for celebration. The aim of having children is to produce progeny that are God conscious, for otherwise the opportunity of the human form of life is not properly utilized. The human being that behaves like an animal will have to risk rebirth after the current life is over; so there is no telling what kind of species will be accepted next, for the workings of karma are very complicated, as the aggregate of all actions and reactions are taken into account. Hiranyakashipu should have been thrilled that his son was devoted to Vishnu without having to be cajoled. But just as the Kali Yuga is the “bizarro” era, so the atheists always act in a way directly opposed to how one should behave. Hiranyakashipu was so irate that his son was worshiping his number one competitor that he couldn’t stand to see his son alive. He ordered his palace guards to kill the five year old child by attacking him with weapons.

Narasimhadeva killing HiranyakashipuBut Prahlada was no ordinary devotee. When one’s consciousness becomes enveloped in loving feelings of devotion towards Vishnu, the effects of the material nature are drastically reduced. Therefore these weapons couldn’t harm Prahlada in any way. Indeed, it was the very same Vishnu protecting the young child, for the ability in man and the potency in weapons only come about through the Lord’s influence. Subsequent attacks, which increased in intensity, were perpetrated on Prahlada to take his life, but none of them worked. Being thrown off a cliff, put into a pit of venomous snakes and thrown into a raging fire could not get rid of the young child. Finally, the Supreme Lord had enough of these vile attempts, so He personally came and killed Hiranyakashipu. Death can be very quick and painless depending on how it is administered. Hiranyakashipu wasn’t so lucky. Vishnu came in the form of a half man/half lion to maintain the boons of safety previously granted to the king. This wondrous form took Hiranyakashipu - whose name ironically means a soft, golden cushion - and placed him on His lap. Vishnu, in the form of Narasimhadeva, then ferociously bifurcated the demon, thus giving him the most painful death. In this way the greatest impediment towards Prahlada’s devotional efforts was removed.

Lord RamaTulsidas accurately notes that Rama’s name has the same effect on the thwarting influences of Kali Yuga imposed on the devotees. Rama is the very same Narasimhadeva, so by chanting the Lord’s name, all perilous conditions can be avoided. The purpose of chanting the Lord’s name is also revealed through this one simple verse. While neophyte spiritualists may take to chanting to alleviate some distress, to receive a material reward, or to gain ascension to a higher realm, the bhakta only chants to be allowed to remain in Krishna consciousness. This wonderful attitude represents the height of purity and thought; therefore it is not surprising to see that the object of worship will Himself ensure that the impediments to such a sublime engagement are removed. Whether we find ourselves in the most pure circumstances or in the most rotten area not conducive to spiritual life, by following Prahlada’s example and remembering the Supreme Lord through chanting His name constantly, the forces of darkness will never stand a chance.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sensory Training

Krishna and Arjuna“One can obtain the results of renunciation simply by self-control and by becoming unattached to material things and disregarding material enjoyments. That is the highest perfectional stage of renunciation.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.49)

The day has finally arrived. The moment you were anxiously awaiting has come. The new laptop that you wanted - the one with all the new features, including the latest operating system, a huge bank of random access memory, a bright, new state of the art screen, and the fastest hard drive known to man - is lying in its box right in front of you, just waiting to be opened. You rummage through the packaging, grab the new device and marvel at its look and feel. You flip open the cover, fire the bad boy up and check out the new features. Now comes the time to plug the power source in, to make sure that the battery doesn’t get drained. This is just a formality, as the power supply is not paid any importance. You dig deeper through the packaging and find, to your surprise, a large, dark brick connected to a chord that has prongs at the end. But this isn’t just any ordinary brick; it’s the very power supply for your laptop that you need. Now you start to worry. “Is this going to fit in my laptop bag? I’m going to have to lug this giant thing around everywhere?”

laptop chargerThe senses weren’t expecting this sudden turn of events. If other aspects of the notebook computer have been streamlined and made more efficient, wouldn’t the power supply follow the same pattern? The specifications say that the battery life on this new laptop is much longer than on the previous one you owned, so why this monstrosity of a power supply? Regardless, the laptop must be used, so any minor inconveniences are necessarily tolerated. Yet an interesting thing happens after a few weeks: you get so used to lugging around the new power supply and plugging it in on a regular basis that you start to overlook its girth. Indeed, you still have your old laptop and its battery pack, and if you happen to look at its power supply, you’ll start to think, “Wow, I can’t believe how thin and small this battery charger is. Who would have thought you could make a power supply this size?”

The senses of the living entity are very powerful, but this doesn’t preclude them from being trained. They can grow accustomed to anything; a fact which gives an indication of the true potency of the human form of body. When the senses are shaped in the proper direction, when they are taught to remain detached from those things we don’t need and attached to those things we do need, success in life’s mission can be found.

Lord RamaHow do we determine what we need and what we don’t? Isn’t this an entirely subjective assessment? How can this ever be applied universally? Goswami Tulsidas, a famous Indian poet of the 16th century, shares his most profound revelation in the Dohavali, a collection of short and succinct, yet brilliant, poetic couplets describing the Supreme Absolute Truth in His form of Lord Rama. God is a singular entity, but since there is variety in spiritual enjoyment and differences in the way the tiny fragmental sparks emanating from the giant spiritual fire interact with Him, God can manifest in a variety of ways which are each equally as worshipable as the original, who is known as Krishna because of His all-attractiveness. Tulsidas was especially devoted to Lord Rama, the handsome and pious prince of Ayodhya, a warrior incarnation of Godhead who appeared on earth many thousands of years ago.

Tulsidas knows that Shri Rama is God because everything that we actually need in life is readily available and rather inexpensive, while those things we don’t need are rare and costly. Grains, water and milk fluctuate in price depending on government intervention and the habits of speculators, but these commodities still remain in great abundance throughout the world. A cow freely provides milk without requiring much maintenance. Water is found everywhere, and grains are the easiest crops to grow. Shelter can be found in a cave or by erecting a thatched hut in an area that doesn’t suffer through harsh winters. Even if there is no opportunity for growing food from the ground, man can consume the different fruits and berries that fall off of trees that grow through nature’s independent actions. Indeed, the sages of ancient times would take on the ascetic’s lifestyle by subsisting solely on fruits and roots while living in the forest.

“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 KrishnaGod supplies us everything we need, and He makes sure that the necessities are less expensive than jewelry and fine clothing, which are things we can live without. Since the human being has the ability to train the senses, he should take full advantage by using proper discretion. The animal species does not have the ability to think rationally in this area. A fish will eat whatever food is presented to it, even if the amount is more than it needs. The animal lives primarily off of its instincts, so if it wants to eat, it will eat. The human being has the ability to think rationally and train the senses through starvation.

This ability is there for a reason. After all, what is the difference between a man who survives off of eating three meals a day versus one who eats only twice? One person may be larger in stature while the other is thinner, but in the grand scheme of things their thought processes are pretty much the same, as advancement to the spiritual plane hasn’t been made. The true benefit of a human form of body is the ability to think of God and take the necessary steps towards serving and pleasing Him. In this regard, the objects of the material senses play no role, as eating, sleeping, mating and defending are only necessities aimed at keeping the body intact. Besides maintaining their existence within a particular body, the real business of spirit is to serve God. Lord Chaitanya, the preacher incarnation of Godhead, states that the real form of the living entity is that of servant of God. This form is also eternal, so once it is accepted it doesn’t have to be renounced.

“The real identity of the living entity is that he is eternally servant of Krishna.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 20.108)

Lord ChaitanyaOur real svarupa stands in stark contrast to the forms we accept when our consciousness is driven by the senses. If we fail to properly train our senses, the primary demands of the body will dictate our actions. Since material nature has no direct relation to the Supreme Lord, any activities undertaken to interact with matter will have a beginning and an end. At the end of life, when the body starts to decay and no longer serves a purpose, a new form is granted, which signals the beginning of the next life. The cycle continues perpetually until the living entity is wise enough to start directing its senses in the right direction.

We know from the laptop example mentioned above that the human being can pretty much get used to anything. If we grow accustomed to a certain lifestyle, what initially may have seemed to be unpleasant suddenly gets accepted as the norm, that to which we are familiar. Sensory training is required for success in virtually every endeavor. A marathon runner completes a race that is over twenty six miles in length, but do we think that they could run that far on their first attempt in the sport? For someone not accustomed to running or jogging, just finishing one mile without strain is very difficult. Yet pretty soon, through rigorous training, the body grows accustomed to the previously difficult task.

runningIn any notable field of endeavor, if we see someone doing extraordinary things, we should understand that it likely took them extensive training to reach their level of excellence. To understand God properly requires the same dedication, which should ideally start as soon as possible, even as early as childhood. If the human being starts to receive its spiritual education at the onset of adulthood, it would defeat the purpose. The young child can be molded, shaped and, most importantly, given orders that it will follow. The mature human being, on the other hand, thinks itself fully independent, so it’s difficult to get them to do anything against their will. More importantly, the mature adult has spent many years living in their body, so they have grown accustomed to a certain way of life. If this lifestyle isn’t streamlined and dedicated to austerity, the task of understanding God becomes even more difficult.

What are some of the austerity measures that can be adopted? Also, how will they enable the human being to better understand God? In ages past, the level of austerity adopted was quite severe. The sages in ancient times would spend years and years in meditation, living practically on nothing. Their dedication was so strong that they could survive for long periods of time without eating or sleeping. Because of their elevated inner strength, their minds could remain focused on the Absolute Truth, especially His unmanifest feature, which is known as Brahman. Beyond the dualities of life and death and the constant changes that take place around us is an all-pervading spiritual energy, a force which is immune to any defects that come from material contact. This force, when not fully understood, is taken to be a spiritual energy lacking any intelligence.

But through enough austerity and meditation, the fortunate souls are able to see that Brahman is simply the light effused off of the original transcendental body of the Supreme Lord. God is a person with spiritual attributes. His realm is full of matter that is not inhibiting towards the development of consciousness. Without full sobriety of mind, however, the fixed position of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna, cannot be comprehended. Therefore after these sages dedicated to austerity remained on the brahma-bhutah platform for quite some time, they would then take to devotional service, or bhakti-yoga.

“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 KrishnaFast forward to today and you have dramatically different external conditions. Finding a quiet place to meditate for years and years and actually knowing how to properly undergo the process are very difficult. But as Tulsidas revealed that those things we actually need in life are readily available to us, the most potent form of religious practice, that one tool that will bring us full satisfaction of mind and complete liberation from the effects of the senses, is available to everyone, regardless of their inability to accept severe austerity measures. The holy name of the Lord, which is a sound vibration representation of God, is the least expensive way to connect with God, as it doesn’t require anything except the devotee’s sincerity. By regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the same level of devotion attained by those on the brahma-bhutah platform can be achieved very quickly.

Though the holy name is inexpensive and abundantly available, tapasya, or austerity, is still relevant. The sages of the past did the hard work for us. They spent so much time in meditation and contemplation on the Absolute Truth that they passed down a tradition of spiritual practice that doesn’t require the same level of dedication. The Vaishnava saints, the pure devotees of Krishna, understood that future generations of mankind would find it very difficult to take to the same level of austerity; therefore they passed down literature that glorified the holy name of the Lord and His pastimes. Chanting the name of God is the best way to evoke Krishna consciousness, or purification of thought.

To increase the chances of accepting the chanting process as our life and soul and also to enhance the pleasure felt during execution of bhakti-yoga, there are four primary restrictions recommended for the transcendentalists of this age. If the human being can train their senses to refrain from meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex, the chances of becoming fully Krishna conscious through dedication to chanting and hearing about Krishna will increase all the more. These restrictions seem quite drastic upon first glance, for who do we know that actually avoids any of these engagements, let alone all of them? But if we tackle these issues head on, especially at an early age, prior to when we develop the habits that will remain attached to us for the rest of our lives, then the negative outlook on the restrictions will be soon removed.

The new laptop charger which was initially thought to be gigantic after a while is taken to be the normal size. The inconvenience slowly turned into something not even noticed; such is the power of the senses. Material nature is full of dull matter after all, so any attachment to it can be easily cut off through proper training and regulation. With the Supreme Lord, the effect is just the opposite. Since He is the very essence of spirit - which is immutable, unchanging and fully vibrant - attachment to Krishna only increases the more we remain in His presence. We can look at the same picture of the Lord day after day and still marvel at His beauty.

“My dear sir, Krishna’s form was most wonderful when He appeared on this planet and exhibited the potency of His internal energy. His wonderfully attractive form was present during His pastimes on this planet, and by His internal potency He exhibited His opulences, which are striking to everyone. His personal beauty was so great that there was no necessity for His wearing ornaments on His body. In fact, instead of the ornaments’ beautifying Krishna, Krishna’s beauty enhanced the ornaments.” (Uddhava speaking to Vidura, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.2.12)

Lord KrishnaIt is said that Krishna is so beautiful that He actually enhances the appearance of the ornaments that are placed on His body. Typically, the reverse is true, as we put on cosmetics, jewelry and fine clothes to make ourselves more presentable. With Krishna, the peacock feather in His hair, the flower garland around His neck, the Kaustubha gem adorning His chest, and the flute held in His soft hands become truly beautiful because of their association with His transcendental body. The name is the same as Krishna, and so is the picture and the deity. When the senses are trained to limit interaction with those things it doesn’t need and regularly swim in the ocean of transcendental nectar that is the holy name and the divine vision of the Supreme Personality, the Krishna conscious mind will settle for nothing less than Krishna’s association at all times.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Fields of Gold

Lord Rama“Devotion to Shri Rama is like the rainy season, the wonderful devotees the paddy fields, and the two syllables in Rama’s name the months of Sawan and Bhadon [rainy season], says Tulsi.” (Dohavali, 25)

baraṣā ritu raghupati bhagati tulasī sāli sudāsa |
rāmanāma bara barana juga sāvana bhādava māsa ||

The name of Lord – who is the jewel of the Raghu dynasty, the husband of Sita, the elder brother of Lakshmana, and the object of worship for Hanuman – completes the devotee; it defines their very existence. Without this sacred sound vibration they would be left to die with no savior, for without remembrance of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, of what use is there to advanced intelligence, the ability to speak, and the ability to ponder over the difficult questions in life? The devotees adore their beloved Lord so much that they will never run out of ways to glorify Him and make comparisons using their surroundings to accurately convey the beauty and wonder of devotion to Him. In this way the neti neti statements of the Vedas serve as the most wonderful boon for the poet-like bhakta, as the Supreme Absolute Truth’s indescribability allows for an eternal engagement aimed at glorifying Him in an infinite number of ways, each of which is guaranteed to fall short of perfection but still keeps the mind ever engaged.

Rama DarbarWhat does neti neti mean exactly? The Supreme Absolute Truth, that one entity who is beyond the dualities of heat and cold, gain and loss, and birth and death, remains impossible for the mind to fathom properly. Without expert guidance from one who is intimately acquainted with the true nature of the Truth, the best the mind can reach is a fuzzy conception of a beam of light or a void. Since everything around them is visibly manifest, the inquisitive transcendentalist may conjure up the image of the Lord as invisible, or alakshyam. But without the vision provided by Vedic wisdom heard from an authorized source, the true nature of this “invisible man” will remain unknown. The Vedas therefore describe the Absolute Truth as being neti neti, or “not this, not that”. We can look all around us, leave no stone unturned, but we’ll still never find the Absolute Truth. After studying every aspect of the creation, we can accurately conclude that the Supreme Truth must not be of this world.

According to the Vedas, the system of spirituality so ancient that no one can accurately date its inception, the person we refer to as God is indeed a person, but His potencies and attributes are inconceivable to the mind. The devotees, those who understand that God has a form and a personality, consider this limitation a blessing. Their mindset follows something like this: “Oh, so I can never fully describe the beauty and wonder of my beloved Lord, the owner of my life breath, the reason for my very existence? Wonderful. This means that I can spend the rest of this and many other lifetimes engaged in describing His glories and never reach the end. As such, I can always remain in the devotional mindset and never have to worry about exhausting my efforts.”

Hanuman chantingThe devotional attitude is one where the original Personality is acknowledged and worshiped on a daily basis. Inward worship can at best lead to the understanding of the Supreme Lord as an invisible force, and outward worship can at best bring one to worship within a temple or in the direct audience of the Supreme Person. But in both instances the outpouring of emotion is limited, because the Supreme Lord is actually both within and without. He is invisible while residing within the heart but ever visible through His energies that pervade the existence. Therefore the devotee takes to chanting the name of the Lord more than any other practice. This name is the very sound vibration representation of the Absolute Truth. The immature transcendentalist is eager to always see God, but hearing is just as important a sense as seeing. The sound vibrations found within the sacred mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, allow for God to be heard. This kind of hearing is the most effective at altering consciousness, which in turn keeps the divine vision permanently within the mind.

The impersonalist philosopher and the dedicated servant of the invisible aspect of the Supreme Truth will view the chanting process and the outward worship offered in temples as being reserved for the neophyte level, akin to the training wheels portion of learning to ride a bike. The dedicated servant at the temple, who regularly views the deity, will have a better understanding of the Supreme Lord’s personal features and His grand nature, but they may not understand that the deity also lives outside of the temple, within the hearts of every living being and also within every atom. The holy name, however, is so powerful that it automatically brings about recognition to man’s best ability of the Supreme Lord’s wonderful nature and His supreme power.

For the devotee who has given their life over to chanting the holy name, devotion to God can be likened to a life-giving herb to the dying man, the essence of existence. Without this dedicated service, the humble sage would be left to ponder over what God might be, what He might look like, and whether or not He is even a person. Through these doubts the loving energy of the soul would go untapped. On the flip side, those who do practice bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, can never run out of ways to describe the transcendental features of their beloved.

rain cloudIn the above quoted verse from the Dohavali, Goswami Tulsidas compares devotion to Rama - a name for the Supreme Person that describes His ability to provide transcendental pleasure- to be like the rainy season. This comparison shows the acute awareness of his surroundings that Tulsidas, who lived in the medieval period in India, had. In India there is an annual monsoon season that can be taken in different ways depending on your angle of vision. Obviously if it’s raining all the time there will be inconveniences in life, especially relating to travel. As far as food production goes, though, the rainy season is the most important time of the year. Without sufficient water, grains could not grow, and life on earth could not continue. Therefore the rain completes the cycle of life; it is vital for man’s existence.

The two months that make up the rainy season serve as the most auspicious and anticipated time for the crops on the field. Similarly, the two syllables in Rama’s name serve as the greatest boon to the grains that are the devotees. This wonderful comparison is very intricate and can be studied and appreciated on so many levels. The first requirement in bhakti is that one turn their back on material attachment. Under the animalistic mindset inherited at the time of birth, man takes himself to be the enjoyer of activities; therefore life becomes a frantic chase to hoard as many resources and delights as possible. Since every other living entity has an equal right to God’s property and the pursuit of sense gratification, collisions will surely result. Moreover, since man is limited in his capabilities, he will not be able to succeed in every venture, with the guaranteed delivery of death serving as the most obvious indication of his fallibility. Even the strongest person who has every amenity available to him, who has never suffered defeat, must succumb to the forces of nature at the time of death.

The devotee realizes that life is about realizing the Absolute Truth, for the lower potential for intelligence in the animal species doesn’t allow for a proper inquiry into spiritual matters. Indeed, even the mid-life crisis endured by adult aged human beings gives an indication of the flawed nature of sense gratification and the need to find a higher taste. The crisis towards the middle of life relates totally to the lack of enjoyment resulting from activities which have been chewed over and over again. “Is this all there is to life? Why can’t I find any more happiness? Maybe I’ll try to drastically alter my daily routine or find something brand new to break out of the doldrums.”

Fortunately for the bhakta, this disenchantment has already come, where they have abandoned the desire to repeatedly take part in activities that provide only flickering happiness. The bhakta identifies as a servant more than anything else, for there is service in every activity. Even the most independent and honored person, like the leader of a nation or the owner of a successful business, must take to serving someone else in order to feel pleasure. The leader of the country ensures that the citizens are always happy, and the leader of the company takes stock of their profit margin and the health of the company, seeing to it that the customers are satisfied and willing to part with their hard earned money.

Lord RamaThe bhakta wants their time spent serving the Supreme Lord, and since God may not be physically present before them, other methods of yoga are implemented. Hearing, remembering, worshiping, offering prayers, carrying out orders and other aspects of devotional life keep the bhakta’s mind fixed on the transcendental world. But more than any other tool, reciting the holy name is what keeps the devotees alive. Lord Rama is the Supreme Person in the form of a warrior prince, one who is kind and sweet in every possible way. Rama is an eternal figure, though according to our time calculations He appeared on this earth many thousands of years ago during the Treta Yuga. Tulsidas is especially fond of Shri Rama, for he doesn’t worship God in any other form. Rama is also Vishnu and He is also Krishna, so there is no difference between one who worships these other two forms and one who takes the delight of Queen Kausalya and Maharaja Dasharatha to be the ultimate reservoir of pleasure and strength.

During most of the year the paddy field just lays there in a dormant state. The crops anticipate that time of the year when they will be fed by the rain. And when the rain does pour down, it is all the more appreciated because of the long gap in between feeding times. Similarly, the bhakta has spent many lifetimes on earth in various species forgetting their beloved Lord. Yet the horrors previously endured, the defeats that left them wondering what the point to life was, get forgotten immediately once the downpour of transcendental nectar in the form of Rama’s name comes raining down.

The rain nourishes the field and ensures that the crops will mature to the point that they can meet their life’s destiny, that of serving as food to the hungry. Similarly, the name of Rama, chanted regularly and with pure love and devotion, allows the bhakta to mature to the point that they become completely enveloped in God consciousness. As is so nicely stated in the Bhagavad-gita, anyone who remembers the Supreme Personality of Godhead at the time of death no longer has to suffer through the miseries of material existence. No longer will they have to ponder over what God looks like and why He put us on earth. No longer will there be temporary gains that bear no relation to the dharma of the soul, or its utmost characteristic. No more will the dried up field that is the devotee have to suffer through many months of the year anticipating the steady rain to come down at the proper time to give life. The God conscious soul is transferred immediately to the spiritual sky after death, a place where time and space have no influence.

Lord RamaJust as Rama’s name acts as the life-giving rain to the dried up field, the personal presence of the Supreme Lord, His wonderful vision, and the display of His tremendously blissful sportive exploits keep the devotees in the spiritual sky always infused with transcendental loving emotions, desires to continue their service without interruption and without motivation. How can there be a lack of motivation when there is a fervent desire to serve? In the transcendental realm, there is no such thing as a personal hankering, for the service mentality takes on its true form when the intended beneficiary is Shri Rama. Hanuman proved through his exploits that the servant of Rama becomes the most exalted person in the world. With Rama’s name also come His wife Sita Devi, His younger brother Lakshmana, and His most exalted servant, the powerful and divine Vanara named Hanuman. With this group always residing in the heart, how could the devotee ever perish from starvation? The holy name irrigates the field of devotion, allowing for grains that sustain the entire world full of devotees to mature and take on their full use. Just as the rain completes the cycle of food production, the name of Rama completes the maturation of the devotees into full blown bhava, or transcendental ecstasy.