Saturday, August 20, 2011


Lord Chaitanya“Chaitanya Mahaprabhu recommends, kirtaniyah sada harih: one should go on chanting the glories of the Lord twenty-four hours a day. There is no question of becoming mauna, or silent.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.9.46 Purport)

The prescription given by Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the preacher incarnation of Godhead who kindly roamed the sacred land of Bharatavarsha around five hundred years ago, is that everyone should chant the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, as often as possible and with as many accompanying people as possible, to gain spiritual enlightenment and salvation. The benefits derived from fruitive activity with detachment, study of Vedanta philosophy, disengagement from any type of work, and mystic yoga come more easily through the chanting process. Yet there was more to this recommendation than just finding a way back to God. The sankirtana-yajna, the most recommended sacrifice for the people living in the dark age of Kali, is the best way to keep the individual occupied throughout the day. Other methods of religion may come close, but they don’t carry the same property. An active person stays away from the mode of ignorance and has an easier time coping with life. Moreover, an active person who can steadily ascend the planes of consciousness to the spiritual level will be even better situated. The secret in sankirtana is that there is simultaneous elevation, detachment and happiness, with the individual not remaining idle for even a second.

Shri Shri Nimai NitaiWhy is it harmful to remain inactive? Don’t we need our rest? To gain a better understanding, let’s work through a hypothetical scenario that most of us have dreamed about at one time or another. If an off-day is approaching, one free of obligations pertaining to school or work, where we don’t have to wake up at a certain time, falling asleep at night becomes a more involved task. After all, if it is “fun time”, what need is there for stopping? The relief from pressure results in a late night of having fun, whatever that “fun” may be. The next morning is where things get interesting. As Newton famously said, “a body at rest stays at rest”, after sleeping for so long during the night, it’s very difficult to break out of the comfortable state and get out of bed in the morning. On a typical day, there is a certain time that one must arise; otherwise they will not meet their obligations for the day. But what if we don’t have anywhere to go and nothing to do? This lack of pressure would be viewed as a good thing, no?

So, we end up staying in bed a lot longer in the morning. Maybe we just lie there or we turn on the television to watch some of our favorite prerecorded programs. Let’s extend the example out for the entire day. There is no responsibility whatsoever; we can do whatever we want. The body is telling us to remain in bed, so let’s go with that. The body in this case is simply the messenger for the senses, which constantly pull us in every which direction. Let’s say that we spend the entire day in bed watching television. Will this be beneficial or harmful to us in the long run? Will our state of mind be better at the end of the day or worse?

This pattern of behavior is almost never beneficial to the psyche. Why? Even minus the pressures and obligations, the individual soul, the instigator for activity, has a desire to perform work. The soul has an active propensity, which must manifest in one way or another. The consciousness indicates the primary desires of the soul, and since consciousness is even active while we sleep, we see that the soul and its active propensity always have an influence.

What’s interesting is that on days where we have to work or study for long hours, we probably feel much better at night. The ego is buoyed by a sense of accomplishment, thus the resting period at night is considered well-deserved. A day of silence and inactivity, on the other hand, doesn’t really lead to anything. At best, the body and mind get some rest, but the soul is left wandering for an active engagement, something to fill its time and meet its desire for service.

Mother Yashoda with KrishnaPrecisely because of these concerns, good parents try to keep their children as active as possible. Children have much more energy than adults, so if that enthusiasm can be guided in the proper direction, the levels of productivity can be very high. Adults would have great difficulty attending classes during the same hours that children do, but since they are young, kids can handle the rigors of school placed upon them. Even when they leave school to go home, children are given homework to complete and extracurricular activities to take part in. A lazy child sitting in front of the television all day will not mature very well. Moreover, they will be more prone to despondency, lack of motivation, and depression.

These same principles carry over to the realm of spirituality, where the spirit soul seeks a higher engagement, one that transcends the temporary enjoyments and pursuits already encountered in material life. Interestingly enough, the superiority of an active lifestyle over a sedentary one can be scientifically explained. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, reveal that material life is governed by three modes: goodness, passion and ignorance. Every body type assumed by a soul is made up of a specific combination of these modes, and hence the resulting activities also fall into these three categories. Laziness and inactivity belong to the mode of ignorance, which is also known as the mode of darkness. Not surprisingly, this is considered the lowest of the three modes and thus one that should be avoided. Ignorance is never beneficial towards advancement, so in spiritual life it leads to degradation of the consciousness.

“O son of Bharata, the mode of ignorance causes the delusion of all living entities. The result of this mode is madness, indolence and sleep, which bind the conditioned soul.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.8)

Lord KrishnaLord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead and origin of Vedic wisdom, kindly reveals in the Bhagavad-gita that a person’s future destination is determined by their consciousness at the time of death. We see that young children are not uniform in their behavioral characteristics. Some are naturally drawn towards music, while others are quick to pick up talking and socializing. These inherent qualities are determined by past karma, or fruitive activity. With every action performed on the material plane comes a commensurate reaction. Karma can be stopped when the activities adopted are of the purely spiritual variety, wherein the soul tries to understand its constitutional position and what type of behavior that encompasses. With respect to karma, the mode of ignorance is the most detrimental. The development of consciousness ceases when one is constantly sleeping and drawn towards inactivity. Moreover, at the time of death, the gift awaiting the departing soul is demotion to a lower species, one more conducive to the types of activities the lazy person wants.

Fervent activity seeking a fruitive gain belongs to the mode of passion. Therefore passion is considered better than ignorance, for at least there will not be demotion to a lower species. Moreover, the individual remains fully engaged and thus avoids permanent depression. The harm with activity in passion, however, is that it results in a neutral state. One of the reasons why people take to spirituality is that they grow tired of the same things repeatedly occurring in life. After securing a nice job and family, the bewildered spirit soul may ask, “Is this all there is to life? Is there not anything else?” With young children, deciphering the repeating patterns in behavior and enjoyment is difficult. A child’s life is constantly changing; nothing remains steady. Each new year is always different from the previous. But in adulthood, not only can the days repeat, but so can the years. A mature adult can live the exact same year over and over again. This is what results with life in the mode of passion. Even at the time of death, the body awarded for the next life is of the same type; thus causing the cycle to repeat again.

“That knowledge by which one undivided spiritual nature is seen in all existences, undivided in the divided, is knowledge in the mode of goodness.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.20)

Lord KrishnaWhen there is interest in getting out of the cycle of passion, enjoyment, pain and further pleasure seeking, the mode of goodness is accepted. The mode of goodness represents the most basic level of spirituality, wherein one understands that they are not their body. The soul exists eternally, and it has an active propensity. When the spark of energy finds activities aimed at understanding the equality shared amongst all life forms, the resulting behavior falls into the mode of goodness. There is still action in goodness, but everything follows the guidelines of scripture. For instance, instead of giving in charity for a specific purpose or to gain acclaim in society, money is donated to worthy persons and without any expectation of reciprocation. Instead of ignoring the existence of God and just going about your life, regular sacrifices are performed which help increase one’s God consciousness. By following the mode of goodness, the spirit soul can ascend to a heavenly planet in the afterlife, where the level of material enjoyment is much higher.

To fully transcend karma, one has to rise above even the mode of goodness. To accomplish this there are many recommended activities, all of which fall into the spiritual category. As consciousness is the main factor in determining an individual’s future, if it can remain tied to something non-material, something fully spiritual, the future reward will bear the same properties. Since material life is fully binding and fuels the engine of reincarnation, there may be the temptation to simply renounce activity. In this respect, one can chant the sacred syllable om, which is an impersonal representation of the Absolute Truth, go off to a distant mountain and not talk to anyone. Just meditate all day, live on next to nothing, and have hardly any interaction with the outside world. If one can think of Brahman, or the Supreme Absolute Truth, at the time of death, they can merge into a light of transcendence, wherein individuality is lost, but so is the chance at rebirth.

The Vaishnavas, devotees of Lord Vishnu, who is the personal form of the Supreme Lord, do not recommend this path of maunam, or complete silence. For starters, taking to mystic yoga, meditation, or secluded chanting of om is especially difficult in this age. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna details some of the requirements necessary for successfully practicing mystic yoga. The yogi has to find a secluded place, sit in a proper posture for a long time, and remain completely celibate. Nowhere does Krishna say that one should follow this yoga system for an hour a day and then do whatever they want the rest of the time. Rather, yoga is always a way of life, a way to link the individual soul with the Supersoul, or God’s expansion residing within the heart next to the individual soul.

Lord ChaitanyaThe sankirtana path recommended by Lord Chaitanya falls into the category of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. In this engagement, the soul remains fully active, never once settling for complete silence as a way of life. This doesn’t mean that one flies around from city to city to see the sites and catch the latest shows. Rather, the aim is to always glorify Krishna and His names. This is the main business of the soul anyway. In the absence of God consciousness, people will take to praising others they deem to be extraordinary or talented. And when there is no one to praise, the propensity gets flipped and results in hatred. One day the news media is praising someone and the next they are tar-and-feathering the same person.

With Krishna, the divine qualities are always present and so is the worthiness of worship. Therefore the living entity’s original position is that of servant of God. Since bhakti-yoga matches the natural propensity for service to the Lord, it is the highest engagement one can take up. With chanting the holy names of the Lord, the consciousness remains tied to God for a considerable period of time. Afterwards, the devotional mentality remains, as the consciousness becomes altered through the process. Therefore in bhakti one can be singing, dancing, cooking, eating, sitting silently, travelling, talking, or doing so many other things, while remaining in yoga the entire time. The same can’t be said of any other discipline of spirituality.

Lord KrishnaIf we are supposed to love God, we might as well do it all the time. From the rising and setting of the sun comes the tendency to divide up the different responsibilities each day and assign a specific time for them. “Okay, this time is set aside for enjoyment, this time for work, and this time for religion.” Since Krishna is our best friend, it is ideal if we set aside the entire day for enjoying His association. As the holy name is not different from the person it addresses, simply reciting the word “Krishna” at any time can bring us the association of the beautiful darling of Vrindavana, who always holds a flute in His hands and wears a peacock feather in His hair. Through sankirtana, others get to hear the holy name as well. Thus the Vaishnava ensures that through their own dedication to self-realization other sincere souls can also find their true calling in life. Even if there is nothing to do on a certain day, one can chant for hours on end. If there are friends around, a small sankirtana party can be formed. The maha-mantra is very powerful in this regard. It can be recited over and over again, sung in many different tunes, and remembered repeatedly within the mind without any exhaustion whatsoever.

The chanting recommendation passed down by Lord Chaitanya and His followers is not meant to be a punishment. If a student acts up during class, the teacher may ask them to write a specific statement of contrition over and over again on the blackboard. The punishment is meant to act as a deterrent for future deviant behavior. The words of the sentence written out many times will hopefully sink in with the student and keep them from repeating the same behavior in the future. Though sitting in front of a deity and chanting the names of Krishna and Rama may seem like a forced punishment, a way to keep the soul away from the dangerous behavior of the mode of ignorance and the futile efforts of the mode of passion, the activity is actually the most beneficial in steering us in the right direction. The active propensity of the soul gets used for the proper purpose, and what results is full enlightenment and a desire to love so powerful that no one can stop it. For giving us this most potent method of spiritual practice we are forever indebted to Lord Chaitanya. He is Krishna Himself, so anyone who remembers Him before, during and after their chanting will gain His divine favor.

Friday, August 19, 2011


Lord Rama“Shri Rama’s name is greater than Brahman, and it grants boons to even those who are capable of giving boons. Lord Shiva knowingly selected it out of the one hundred crore verses describing Rama’s acts.” (Dohavali, 31)

brahma rāma teṃ nāmu baḍa bara dāyaka bara dāni |
rāma carita sata koṭi maham̐ liya mahesa jiyam̐ jāni ||

Goswami Tulsidas very nicely addresses an important issue of contention amongst followers of the Vedic tradition who are unaware of the real nature of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and His relationship to other heavenly figures. What is today known as the Hindu tradition is filled with worshipable figures, gods if you will, so the tendency for those who are not wholly dedicated to the fountainhead of all forms of life is to equate their specific worshipable figure – whose supreme status was assigned through personal motive or a faulty ultimate conclusion in life - with the Supreme Person, declaring that there is no difference between any of the gods. “Just worship whoever you want. Whoever you see as God, that is who you should worship. The final destination of understanding Brahman is the same regardless.” Here, Tulsidas gives the correct explanation, one based on the authority of the Vedas, that Shri Rama, who is none other than the Supreme Person Himself, is superior to any heavenly figure, for even Lord Shiva, who is considered the greatest god, Mahadeva, constantly recites the Lord’s name. Shri Rama’s name is also superior to the all-pervading aspect of the Absolute Truth known as Brahman.

Lord RamaThe superiority over Brahman is very important to know because once you get passed sentimentalist feelings and sectarian boundaries, the differences of opinion between followers of the Vedic tradition ultimately come down to the issue of personal versus impersonal. The impersonalists believe that the ultimate feature of God is that of a formless energy, one that is bereft of any bliss, knowledge, and variegatedness. Rather, the variety we see in life is due to maya, or illusion, and once one is able to see past these allures, they can concentrate on the light of Truth. Practices such as chanting, going to church, worshiping a deity, and reading stories are aimed at understanding Brahman and gaining detachment from the false world. The soul is Brahman, so once all the individual souls combine together through release from the cycle of birth and death, the total Brahman can become whole again.

The impersonalist views the personalist, one who worships Lord Vishnu or one of His non-different forms like Shri Krishna, Rama, or Narasimha, to be on a lower platform of intelligence. “They’re having trouble renouncing the world, so they are tricking themselves into worshiping the saguna aspect of Brahman. Once they have enough detachment and self-control through this process, they can abandon their support system and spend their time meditating on the formless aspect of the Truth.” Under this model the ultimate goal is to stop activity, reach a state of mind opposite from that inherited at the time of birth. The grossly ignorant try to enjoy as much of material nature as possible, hence they essentially harbor a desire to exploit.

The Vedic version, however, does not favor either extreme. Material existence, wherein the spirit soul, the essence of life, is trapped on a pendulum that swings between bhoga and tyaga, acceptance and rejection, does not represent the soul’s constitutional position. Rather, as the marginal potency of the Supreme Spirit, the individual souls are given the choice between blissful life and a hellish existence with sparse opportunities for enjoyment, which is substandard. Material existence is the result of the wrong choice being made by the marginal potency. Since the individual souls are Brahman, they are beyond the duality of like and dislike, heat and cold, happiness and sadness. The soul is brimming with knowledge and bliss, and since it emanates from God, it is eternal. Nothing can kill the soul, not even the horrific death of the body can do anything to alter the constitution of the individual spirit sparks.

“Know that which pervades the entire body is indestructible. No one is able to destroy the imperishable soul.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.17)

Lord KrishnaThe impersonalist philosopher, through their own mental speculation, without consulting the authorized words found in sacred texts like the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam, assumes that the Absolute Truth divided up to create the innumerable sparks roaming the different worlds. They explain this using the analogy to a clay pot that breaks into pieces. When broken, the pot is incapable of being used, but once all the pieces come together, it becomes whole again.

This analogy can never apply to God, however, for the mundane laws of science and logic cannot even begin to explain the wonders of the Supreme Person. The living entities are Brahman, or Truth, but the Supreme Lord is Parabrahman, or the Supreme Truth. He is capable of expanding Himself into tiny energy fragments and remaining completely the same in quality. In the material world, one minus one always equals zero, but in the spiritual world one minus one can equal two or five or any other number that doesn’t seem possible. Such is the magic of Vishnu that His personal self never undergoes any diminution or suffers fault.

The personalists are not after Brahman realization, so they cannot even be accurately compared to the impersonalists. This is the point addressed by Tulsidas in the above quoted verse. The name of Shri Rama, who is a celebrated incarnation of Parabrahman, the original Personality of Godhead who is full of form and quality, is superior to Brahman. This immediately indicates that those who are simply after Brahman understanding are really the inferior spiritualists, as their object of worship is not the ultimate realization of the Supreme Person. A commonly invoked analogy used to describe the different realizations of the Supreme Truth is the viewing of a massive hill. When we are far away, all we see is the outskirts of the hill, so we are not able to truly understand it. When we get a little closer, we can understand the shape of the hill and its color. When we actually reach the hill, we understand that there are living beings residing there.

Brahman understanding is the equivalent of viewing the hill from afar. Unable to understand the blissful and wonderful position of Shri Vishnu, the Mayavadis, those who take everything in the perceptible world, including God’s names and pastimes, to be maya, speculate about what the light of Brahman represents and what its realization can bring about. The yogis, those who meditate on the Absolute Truth’s expansion found within the heart, understand that Brahman can be localized as the Paramatma; thus every single person has God living inside of them. But only the devotees, those who dedicate their life and soul to chanting the Lord’s names and worshiping His original, personal forms, understand Bhagavan, the Supreme Lord who is complete in every way. Brahman and Paramatma are simply different, less complete aspects of Bhagavan’s personal self.

Lord BrahmaThis also debunks the theory that the various gods are equal representations of Brahman and are thus the same as God. God is Parabrahman, and all forms of life are Brahman, even the celestials capable of granting boons. Tulsidas notes that even those who are capable of granting boons get benedictions from Rama’s name. This has been documented many times throughout history. Lord Brahma granted benedictions to demons of the past who worshiped him properly. When the miscreants started using their powers for evil instead of good, the same Brahma, representing the interests of the numerous celestials in charge of managing the different aspects of the material creation, approached Lord Vishnu and asked Him for help. In the case of Ravana, the evil king of Lanka aided by Brahma’s boons, Vishnu descended to earth as the warrior prince of Ayodhya, Shri Rama, the beloved of Tulsidas. On another occasion, Mother Earth and the demigods approached Vishnu to deal with the punishing influences inflicted by the evil King Kamsa. Vishnu then again came to earth, this time in His complete and original form of Lord Krishna.

The demigods would never claim to be on the same level as Vishnu, so why should anyone else? The celestials are living beings just like us, except they have been granted tremendous powers of authority by the Supreme Person. They can be likened to state administrators, people who work at the pleasure of the head of the state. Worshiping them can certainly bring wonderful benedictions like a long life, success in material ventures, money, and the ability to perform amazing feats. But as aspects of Brahman, the constitutional position of the individual spirit souls is to be in the company of the Supreme Lord in a mood of love and affection.

The impersonalist fails to understand this, therefore they need to first realize Brahman before making the leap into devotion. Understanding that God, or anyone for that matter, can possess mutually contradictory attributes is very difficult. That Parabrahman can be both formless and with form, with eyes and without, bluish in complexion and also white, at the same time, is unfathomable to the human mind. To properly understand the Supreme Person requires an element of faith, at least in the beginning stages. As the blissful exchanges continue, the Personality of Godhead, in His spiritual form, gradually becomes revealed to the devotee. The final reward is eternal association with Bhagavan, life after life, an unbreakable link in consciousness to the spiritual world. This sort of interaction is reserved for the devotees and not those who are stuck on a vague conception of the Absolute Truth.

Lord ShivaBeyond having faith, how do we actually practice devotion? Tulsidas addresses this issue as well. He states that Mahesha, Lord Shiva, can choose from a hundred crore of verses describing the glories and activities of his beloved Lord Rama, but he nonetheless settles upon the name itself. Lord Shiva, though in charge of the material mode of ignorance, is a wonderful devotee at heart, wholly dedicated to Vishnu. He especially prefers Vishnu’s expansion of Lord Rama to worship. And he practices his devotion by chanting the name of Rama over and over again. The Ramayana poem composed by Maharishi Valmiki has thousands of wonderful verses describing the glories of the jewel of the Raghu dynasty and the exploits of His friends and family during His time on earth during the Treta Yuga. Indeed, the entire collection of Vedic literature is dedicated to glorifying the Supreme Lord and His attributes. All the sacred texts contain wonderful descriptions of the forms, qualities and pastimes of the Supreme Person.

Even though such comprehensive information is available, Lord Shiva picks out only the name of Rama and cherishes it as his life and soul. Through the authority of Mahadeva, the holy name is thus revealed to be the most powerful aspect of the Supreme Person, as it directly represents God’s other aspects. This name, when chanted in a mood of love and devotion, reveals the jiva’s marginal position as being in between Parabrahman and maya. Without this understanding, the soul will always be bewildered as to what action it should take. When we understand that there is a God and that we should worship Him, the level of understanding represents a step up from the animalistic mentality adopted at the time of birth. Unless we know how to act upon that information, however, we will remain in the dark and thus continue to be open targets for the influence of maya, or material nature.

Lord RamaChanting the names of God, especially those found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, allows for spiritual cognition, along with an understanding of the bigger picture and the individual’s place in it. When chanting the names of God in a mood of love is absent, the tendencies towards impersonalism or its opposite extreme, pure material enjoyment, will increase.

Rama’s name is the most valuable jewel to be found in this world. It grants benedictions to even those who are seemingly capable of supplying everything to the world’s population. It is the one word that Lord Shiva takes as his life and soul out of a seemingly unlimited number of verses describing Rama and His glories. If the name is good enough for Lord Shiva, who is second to none in his level of devotion to God, then it should also be good enough for us, who are looking for pleasure every day. When seeking pleasure, it is best to shoot for the top, to find the highest level of satisfaction that will not leave any room for unhappiness or delusion. The Supreme Lord, as Parabrahman, is the all-pervading witness and the loving friend of every single living entity, large and small. Those who chant the holy name realize this wonderful mercy and bask in its glory for all of time.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

During Chanting

Lord Krishna“While chanting and dancing or hearing the holy name of the Lord, one automatically remembers the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and because there is no difference between the holy name and Krishna, the chanter is immediately linked with Krishna.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 7.83 Purport)

Question: “What should I concentrate my mind on during chanting?”

Answer: The path of self-realization most recommended for the people of the present age is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” Lord Chaitanya, in trying to convey the importance of this method and its superiority over all other means of self-realization, often quoted a verse from the Vedic scriptures that declares that in this age of Kali there is no other way besides chanting the holy names to find salvation. The “no other way” is stated three times for emphasis. While the need for chanting may not be fully understood in the beginning, many people do take up the process anyway, thinking it worthy enough to try. But after getting a set of japa beads and sitting down to chant, what should be done next? How do we know that we’re chanting properly? What is the best way to make this style of meditation fruitful?

japa beadsMeditation is the antithesis of work. With physical activity there is some task that needs to be performed. The effects of work done with attachment are long lasting, because even during periods of rest the mind remains fixed on obligations and what it has to do next. This explains why the nap produces some of the best sleep imaginable. The nap, which is an impromptu respite that can take place at any time of the day and for any length of time, is free of pressures that are encountered in practically every endeavor. When we go to sleep at night, there is pressure to wake up at a certain time the next morning. If we lie there in bed for a few hours while falling asleep, the tension will only mount. “If I don’t fall asleep right now, I’m going to wake up tired and the rest of my day will be ruined.”

With an ideal nap there is no pressure to fall asleep or even wake up at a certain time; hence the relaxation. In this sense meditation is similar to taking a nap, except the person remains awake and tries to block out negative thoughts, concerns over what needs to be done in the future and lamentations over what just transpired. Since chanting silently to oneself, which is the process known as japa, can be considered meditation, the person reciting the mantras expects some kind of difference, some kind of change. Meditation should be different from our daily activities, no? Otherwise, what is the point to chanting? Isn’t concentration on a sequence of words supposed to have a positive influence?

cloud coverWhile meditation can be done for different reasons, such as for the removal of distress or achieving a peaceful state of mind, the tradition of japa, especially in the realm of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, has a singular purpose. A person’s active propensity is just a reflection of the soul’s inherent characteristics, especially its tendency to love. When the clouds fill up the sky during the daytime, natural light does not completely vanish. We know that the sun is shining brightly but that the clouds are partially blocking its rays. Similarly, the soul trapped in a material body still retains its active propensity to serve, but since the nescience formed through association with gross matter acts as an inhibiting force, that service gets directed to every area except the proper one.

How does one decipher what the proper outlet for service should be? How can anyone know this with certainty? In the beginning, we have to accept this information from authority, as it is passed down from the spiritual masters of the Vedic tradition, who have Lord Krishna as their original teacher. Krishna is God, the same person the entire world worships, honors, loves, scorns, tries to forget about, or vehemently denies the existence of. Not just a folk hero specific to a region in India, Krishna is Bhagavan. He is the wisest, strongest, most beautiful, smartest, most famous and most renounced. These are the opulences necessary to be labeled as God. Since Krishna has these features in full supply, He is worthy of our worship.

The soul’s essential characteristic, its dharma, is to love God with full faith and confidence. In the constitutional state, the love is offered without motivation and without interruption. This stands in stark contrast to the pattern of behavior we are familiar with. Motivation must be there, otherwise what would drive sincerity? Interruption must also be present, otherwise how will we know when to stop? Since we have no way to grapple with the paradoxical combination of an absence of both motivation and interruption, even bhakti-yoga is adopted in the beginning with a purpose. In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna states that four different types of devotees approach Him.

“O best among the Bharatas [Arjuna], four kinds of pious men render devotional service unto Me—the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.16)

Lord KrishnaThere are the desirers of wealth, the inquisitive, the distressed, and those who are knowledgeable. The knowledgeable are considered the best of the four because they are already situated in a position of intelligence. If a smart person takes to worshiping God, they have the best opportunity for remaining committed to the task and eventually following it with steady devotion. Nevertheless, the initial motivation isn’t that important, especially if the processes adopted are effective. Chanting is the most recommended process of service to God because it can lead to lasting benefits for the most number of people. Moreover, other methods of spirituality are not only more selective in their list of eligible candidates, but the benefits achieved are also narrow in scope.

How can benefits be judged for completeness? Whichever methods can extract the natural qualities of the soul the best would have to be considered superior. Think of a pile of gold covered with dust. We have several different ways to clear the dust off. Some ways work better than others, but the one that can fully remove the dust and allow the gold to shine in all its glory would have to be considered the best.

goldIn the realm of spirituality, bhakti-yoga is that superior method, allowing the golden spirit soul to transcend the effects of the dust-like material existence. In bhakti’s arsenal of tools, the chanting of the holy names is the most effective. It must be stressed that the specific names recited are very important. The effectiveness is not so much in the process, but in the beneficiary. The holy name is non-different from God. Since He has unlimited qualities and performs so many wonderful activities, He has thousands of names assigned to Him in the Vedic tradition. Of these names, Krishna and Rama are considered the best. “Krishna” is the most complete address because it describes God as being all-attractive. “Rama” says that the Lord acts as the supreme benefactor by giving transcendental pleasure to His devotees.

Chanting the maha-mantra is more than just meditation, for it is part of loving God. Bhakti is divine love, so in order for love to shine while we recite a specific name, we have to hear it. Thus the secret to success in chanting is hearing the names you are reciting. Chanting the maha-mantra does not have any hard and fast rules. This stands in stark contrast to other Vedic rituals and their component mantras. If during a formal sacrifice, or yajna, the brahmana doesn’t say every syllable in a specific mantra perfectly, the effort will be a waste. Whether the sacrifice is for bringing auspiciousness to a home, curing a disease, or asking for general prosperity, the mantras must be recited by a qualified brahmana, or priest, and enunciated perfectly, irrespective of how complex the Sanskrit words might be.

Lord KrishnaChanting Hare Krishna is an act of love, so how can the parent in this case, Lord Krishna, not recognize a sincere effort? Material opulence, peace of mind, alleviation from distress, and other rewards tied to a temporary existence are just nice side effects of chanting. The primary aim is to remove the dust covering the individual’s natural brilliance. A golden soul is one who constantly thinks about Krishna, loves Him, loves His devotees, and never remains satisfied in their own devotional efforts.

While chanting the maha-mantra doesn’t have any specific rules, the effectiveness of the process is increased when offenses are removed. There are nine general offenses listed, with one of them being “inattentiveness”. This is the issue many people deal with, for how can we curb the restless mind? Even Arjuna, while talking to Krishna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, compared controlling the mind to trying to control the wind. Just try to sit down for a second and not think. It’s impossible.

“For the mind is restless, turbulent, obstinate and very strong, O Krishna, and to subdue it is, it seems to me, more difficult than controlling the wind.” (Arjuna, Bg. 6.34)

!B-Qq)f!!mk~$(KGrHqV,!hcEze(RE2G7BM8P(F11g!~~_3Each devotee has their own realizations on how to chant perfectly, but the key component to success is hearing the words that are recited. From hearing the holy name the mind merges into pleasant thoughts about Krishna. If the mind should wander off again, just bring it back by hearing the names recited. Unlike with other types of meditation, there is no state of maturity that one is trying to reach. Rather, as more time is spent in bhakti, attachment to God will increase. More attachment leads to more eagerness to serve, and thus an increased desire to chant. Talk to someone who chants the maha-mantra for sixteen rounds daily on a set of japa beads for years on end, and they will tell you that nothing can get them to stop their routine. Not even millions of dollars thrown their way will coax them into giving up the practice for even a single day.

This level of dedication can only come from steady practice in chanting and also a focus on hearing. The secret in chanting is that the conditioned soul remains active while simultaneously taking in Vedic wisdom through the ear. The holy name carries with it Krishna’s pastimes, forms and qualities. The mind takes pleasure in hearing about activities, so when this tendency is matched with someone whose pastimes are the most sublime, there can only be lasting benefits. Remaining active is important, because without a steady engagement, the tendency towards lethargy will increase. If we are tired, how will we remain eager to serve? On the other hand, if we are active, regularly using the tongue to produce incarnations of the Supreme Lord, the eagerness for hearing will increase all the more. With increased hearing there is a greater chance of awakening from our slumber and finding the comfortable arms of the spiritual world, where Shri Krishna’s smiling face can be seen every day and the sounds of His wonderful flute can mesmerize us at every second.

Lord KrishnaFor those who are hesitant to follow a formula that seems specific to a foreign tradition, just do a quick review of the different methods of maintenance promoted around the world and see if they lead to the same position of pure love for God. Chanting is never imposed on anyone, and neither is love for God. In a realm where misery is rampant, the absence of God consciousness must be the norm. As soon as the face is turned away from the smiling image of Shyamasundara, Shri Krishna having a dark complexion like a raincloud, the shelter of the material energy is used. This only brings an illusory protection, as no one can fully prevent the loss of body, injury, pain and suffering except the Supreme Lord.

Even if there is trouble concentrating during chanting, the process shouldn’t be interrupted. We don’t follow bhakti to get blanket amnesty from sinful behavior, but this doesn’t mean that setbacks should deter us in our pursuit. A failing grade on a test doesn’t necessarily mean we are going to flunk the course. The mind’s roaming away from Krishna consciousness during chanting shouldn’t stop one from continuing to recite the holy names. Slow and steady wins the race, so only those who can tolerate the bumps and bruises on the road to the imperishable spiritual sky will reach their intended destination.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Sun Will Shine

Sita Devi“But Hanuman did not see Sita, who had the highest family lineage, took birth in a royal family always situated in the virtuous path, resembled a fully blossoming and well brought up creeper, and had a form seemingly sprung from the mind of the creator.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 5.23)

na tveva sītām paramābhijātām |
pathi sthite rājakule prajātām |
latām praphullāmiva sādhu jātām |
dadarśa tanvīm manasābhijātām ||

Shri Hanuman, the faithful Vanara warrior, the eternal servant of the Supreme Personality of Godhead Lord Rama, the most arduous surveyor making his way through the insides of the majestic city of Lanka, herein remembers the person he was sent to look for. Though the area he was observing had tremendous opulence and was filled with beautiful women, the person he was sent to find, the princess of Videha, the wife of the prince of the Raghu dynasty, could not be found. Despite the grandeur, opulence, and beauty Hanuman did see in Lanka, his mind was never taken off the mission.

HanumanWhy was Hanuman looking for this princess? Who is Hanuman? When did these events take place? The immortal tale of India, the Ramayana, documents historical events taking place in the Treta Yuga of each creation. The Vedas, the original scriptural tradition of India, note that just as the spirit spark within each life form exists perpetually, so does the inferior energy of the Supreme Lord. God is the fountainhead of all energies, but when there is not a full understanding of Him, distinctions are made that separate the energies into different categories. The superior energy is that which directly relates to the Lord, whose original and most blissful form is known as Krishna. This isn’t to say that God is limited to one form; but in His complete and original spiritual body He is ever blissful, eternal and knowledgeable.

Anything directly relating to Krishna is part of the spiritual energy, which is thus considered superior. There is also an inferior energy, which earns its tag from the effect it has on the superior energy’s separated expansions. While Krishna is not prone to bewilderment, illusion, birth, death, old age, disease, death, loss of rationale and so many other defects, His separated expansions don’t have the same potency. As spiritual sparks, they retain the same qualities as Krishna, but the reservoir of these attributes is not the same. Unlike Krishna, the expansions have the ability to become deluded; they do this by thinking that they can enjoy without the Supreme Lord.

Lord KrishnaTo grant their request for separation, Krishna uses His inferior energy, material nature, to create a temporary playing field. This realm, known as the material world, constantly goes through cycles of creation and destruction. Even the inferior energy is eternal, but its manifestations are not. In fact, for as long as the spirit souls remain bewildered by this energy and consider it to be separate from Krishna, the manifestations continually appear and dissipate.

Within each creation, the duration of time for its manifestation is divided into four periods, with the second known as Treta. This age is marked by the frequency of sacrificial offerings. Think of a giant assembly of priests and worshipers pouring oblations into a large, central fire while reciting hymns and mantras. In the Treta Yuga this type of sacrifice, which is known as a yajna, is especially prominent, as it is the recommended religious practice for the time.

The other nice thing about the Treta Yuga is that Shri Krishna, in a spiritual body, one that is a direct internal expansion of His original self, appears on earth. Known as Lord Rama, this incarnation of Godhead is fully featured with the opulences of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, renunciation and wisdom. Yet God is not alone; He has friends, associates, well-wishers, and dear servants. The incarnations essentially act out a dramatic play, one which enchants the pious souls looking for a way out of the misery created by their attachment to matter.

ram-darbar-DG92_lThis real-life play doesn’t always follow the same script, but the cast of characters is always the same. Shri Hanuman has a prominent role in this production, as he is Rama’s dear servant in the form of a forest-dweller, or Vanara. Hanuman is also described by Sanskrit words like hari and kapi, which both can mean “monkey”. We still shouldn’t confuse Hanuman with an ordinary monkey or some imaginary figure belonging to a mythological tradition. The Treta Yuga takes place early on in each creation, so the human beings and other species are quite advanced. The Vanaras residing in the Kishkindha forest during this time are very intelligent monkeys, as they have many human-like characteristics.

Why would Rama associate with monkeys? In any good play, conflict must be inserted, some issue that needs resolution. Without a central issue introduced, there is no reason to pay attention to the story. Since Krishna is the cause of all causes, when He introduces an issue into His real-life dramatic performances, it simultaneously takes care of many other problems as well. The central resolving point of the Ramayana, the Sanskrit poem which describes the life and pastimes of Lord Rama, is the rescue of Rama’s wife, Sita Devi. From reading the Ramayana it is revealed that while residing in the forest for fourteen years, serving out an exile punishment handed down to Rama by His father Maharaja Dasharatha [the king of Ayodhya], Sita was kidnapped by a powerful Rakshasa demon named Ravana. It was for the destruction of this very villainous character that the demigods, the celestials in the sky, petitioned the Supreme Lord to descend to earth in a human form. By Ravana’s taking Sita away through a backhanded plot, Rama gained the excuse He needed to take out Ravana.

Rama had to first find Sita. For this He joined forces with the monkeys living in Kishkindha, who were headed by Sugriva. Sugriva’s most trusted warrior was Hanuman, who also happened to be deeply devoted to Rama. Taking the prince’s instructions as his life and soul, Hanuman eventually braved his way across a massive ocean and reached the shores of Lanka, the island where Ravana lived and where Sita was being held. Initially, a large monkey party had been sent to search for Sita, but when it was finally learned where she was, only Hanuman was capable of reaching her. Hence he was in Lanka all by himself.

HanumanHanuman doesn’t need anything more than his deep love and affection for Rama to find happiness. He had not even met Sita up until that point, but he knew who she was. He also knew that she was Rama’s wife; hence she was the most important person in the world to him at the time. Ravana’s city was filled with opulence and populated with members of the Rakshasa race, a species similar to human beings but especially prone to sinful activities such as eating human flesh and drinking wine. Assuming a diminutive form, Hanuman roamed the city. While searching from dwelling to dwelling he saw many things typically found in a royal city. He saw so many beautiful women getting ready to enjoy a night with their husbands. In fact, he pretty much saw every type of beautiful woman one could imagine.

Through it all, however, Hanuman didn’t find the person he was looking for. In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Sita’s wonderful qualities are listed to juxtapose her divine nature to the character of the women Hanuman had seen thus far. It is said that Sita was of the highest lineage. These queens in Lanka were all beautiful and obviously fit to be married to powerful fighters, but Sita’s lineage was supreme, the highest you could possibly find. She was the daughter of King Janaka of Mithila. There were actually many Janakas following in that line, but this particular Janaka, who was also known as Shiradhvaja, was very famous for his piety and mastery over mystic yoga. Janaka was Rama’s father-in-law after all, so it was not possible for him to not have divine qualities in high order.

Sita DeviSita always abided by righteousness, or dharma, for that was the standard set by her family. The queens that Hanuman saw in Lanka were dedicated to their husbands, but since they were married to evil figures, ghoulish creatures who were accessories to the horrible crime of taking another man’s wife and holding her captive, even they had to share in some of their husband’s demerits. In the Vedic tradition, which is the oldest system of societal maintenance known in the world, the institution of marriage is meant to serve as a tool to help a person eventually reach God consciousness. Marriage is not about attraction, finding a soul-mate, or enjoying to your heart’s content. Rather, it is intended to allow for a peaceful coexistence between the genders, a solid basis for family life, and a way to perform your religious duties through a partnership. It is much easier to take up a difficult task and see it to its completion if you have someone there to support you, to help you through the tough times. The wife is meant exactly for this purpose, as the husband’s duty is to remain on the path of righteousness, wherein he develops a pure and unadulterated love for the Supreme Lord by keeping a steady link to Him in consciousness.

As a reward for keeping her husband dedicated to piety, the wife shares in his merits. Yet, at the same time, if the husband is sinful, the wife must share in his punishment. Karma is only fair after all, so the results of any fruitive activity must come to bear at some point in the future. Sita Devi, as the wife of Lord Rama, was the most virtuous woman in the world. Hanuman was well aware of this, so this is why he wasn’t so impressed by the character of the queens he had seen in Lanka. He knew that these queens had nothing on Sita as far as dedication to piety and adherence to the duties of a wife went. The queens were enjoying opulence in a royal kingdom, while Sita had renounced safety in Ayodhya to remain alongside her husband and support Him. She was not ordered to leave the town, but when she heard that Rama was forced out, she refused to allow Him to suffer alone.

Sita DeviIt is also said that Sita’s form was sprung from the mind of the creator. Every person’s qualities at birth are derived from their parents. Hence there is an inherent limitation to the attributes that one can possess. But if you are born from the creator, Lord Brahma, the highly exalted demigod in charge of populating the different worlds, your good qualities can have no limit. Lord Brahma can create anything that he wants to, as he is born from the stem that grows out of the lotus-like navel of Lord Vishnu, who is a non-different form of Krishna residing in the spiritual sky. This reference to Lord Brahma is often cited when trying to describe the beauty of the Supreme Lord, His incarnations, or His close associates. Goswami Tulsidas used many similar comparisons in his poetry when describing Sita, Rama and Lakshmana, the Lord’s younger brother. Saying that Sita must have been made by the mind of the creator is similar to saying, “she was one of a kind”, or, “they broke the mold when they made her.”

“Since he was childless, and due to affection for me, he placed me on his lap and said, ‘This is my child.’ Thus he developed feelings of love and affection for me.” (Sita describing how Janaka felt when he found her, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 118.30)

Though Sita Devi belonged to a famous royal family, she actually did not take birth. Janaka found her one day while ploughing a field. Even though he was videha, or immune to the effects of his body, Janaka still felt tremendous attachment to the young child, so much so that he brought her home and raised her as his own daughter. This presented some difficulties later on for Janaka because he did not know who Sita’s parents were. When the father arranges the marriage of his daughter he looks for an ideal match based on the qualities of the children determined by astrological signs at the time of birth. Since Sita was found in the ground, her astrological signs couldn’t be determined. She was of such a high character that Janaka decided that only the man who could lift the famous bow of Lord Shiva given to him previously would earn Sita’s hand in marriage.

Though it is said here that Sita must have been born from the mind of Lord Brahma, she is actually an eternally existing personality in the spiritual sky. She is Lakshmi Devi, the devoted wife of Lord Vishnu. So, even when she comes to earth, she always remains with Vishnu. Rama was thus destined to break Lord Shiva’s bow and marry Sita in a grand ceremony in Mithila, Janaka’s home.

Hanuman meeting SitaIn beauty, Sita was like a fully blossomed creeper, a flower that had reached its full potential. The beauty of the residents of Lanka couldn’t even compare to Rama’s beloved wife. Hanuman knew this, and his remembrance of Sita showed just how focused he was on the mission. Though he had seen practically everything in the city, nothing was going to excite him, lift up his spirits, or give him hope except seeing Sita. From this steady determination, he would indeed succeed and perfectly play out his role in the wonderful drama scripted by the origin of life, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Hanuman searched through Lanka during the nighttime when the moon was shining bright, but not until Sita was found would the divine servant’s eyes be fully illuminated.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

This Thorn In My Side

Radha Krishna“Your business is to elevate yourself to perfect Krishna consciousness and nothing more. If you deviate from this law, if you don't accept this principle, if you want to enjoy more, then you have to suffer more.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna Consciousness The Topmost Yoga System, Ch 9)

The big game is on tonight. You’re really excited to watch it. The team you can’t stand might lose, so this makes your anticipation increase even more. You can’t wait to get your work for the day done beforehand so you can sit down, relax and enjoy the thrill that comes from watching sporting events. Though the matchups are broken down on paper and the commentators give their analysis and predictions, the games never pan out the way they should. This brings an air of uncertainty to every game, the potential for a desired outcome to happen. When the time arrives, you watch the game, and though it seems like the team you hated would lose, they come back to win in the end. Now you are dejected. “I can’t believe they won. This stinks.” Yet with this trivial experience comes the potential for learning a great lesson. The distresses that we encounter on a daily basis are actually rooted in our desires not related to the interests of the soul. There is only one business for the human being, and anything done outside of this scope eventually results in misery. Those who notice the pattern can make progress in fulfilling the mission of life.

rose bushTo see the same concept in a larger scope, let’s say that we want to grow some crops in a field that we have. The crop can be anything, even something as simple as a rosebush. The first step is planting the seed, putting the potential crop into the ground. The wonders of nature are too great to count. Who would have ever thought you could get a fully blossoming tree just by placing a tiny object into the earth? Yet this is precisely what happens when the seed is planted and regularly maintained. With the maturation comes the desired object, the fruit of your labor. You now have the nice rosebush that you wanted. However, to traverse through the field that was previously barren and now filled with flowering objects, you must watch out for the thorns in the bushes that resulted from your hard work. To reap the fruits you have to suffer so much, you have to withstand every thorn that tears into your sides and causes you to bleed.

Fruitive activity, or karma, works this way every time, even if we don’t notice the pattern. The desire for sex life carries the result of a newborn child, who must be taken care of for at least the first eighteen years of its life. Can we imagine taking on a full-time job that doesn’t end until eighteen years later? This is a lot of pressure to assume, so in this respect parents deserve the highest praise and sympathy for their hard work and dedication. At the same time, the responsibility came about through a planted seed, which was rooted in a desire. The joy of watching your children grow up is tempered by the constant worry over their future health and safety. In the end, you’re left with an empty house and a lot more hair lost over the stress applied to the body and mind over the many years of care.

“The living entity, thus taking another gross body, obtains a certain type of ear, tongue, and nose and sense of touch, which are grouped about the mind. He thus enjoys a particular set of sense objects.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.9)

Lord KrishnaThe Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, are unique in that they provide detailed guidelines on how to live during every stage of life. These recommendations are tied together to meet the ultimate mission in life, that of becoming God conscious by the time of death. As soon as there is birth, death is guaranteed. Since we don’t know the exact date of the soul’s future exit from the body, the event tends to get overlooked. Regardless of our acceptance of its inevitability, death will occur. Therefore the wise and the fortunate live their lives in just the right way to guarantee that their consciousness will be situated on the permanent while exiting the body. One must be both intelligent and lucky to have this happen, for mental scholarship will not be able to conjure up the need to remember God, as thinking power is limited by time and space. Since the Supreme Lord is sanatana, or eternal, there is no way for the mind to realize His properties on its own. One must be fortunate enough to accept the dust of the lotus feet of someone who was previously fortunate enough to approach a spiritual master, a teacher following a line of instruction descending from the original Person Himself.

Thinking of that which is permanent, or sat, is difficult when the entire time on earth is spent in the association of asat, or the nonpermanent. The spirit soul is fixed in its position, but when it seeks enjoyment through the senses and association with matter, consciousness drifts further and further away from God. It is not that enjoyment should be denied or that activities required for the maintenance of the body should be ignored. Everyone gets their allotment of fortune from material nature, which makes these measurements based off past karma, or activities performed for a desired result. The key is to not overstep your bounds; otherwise the thorns will increase in number and so will the bleeding caused by the puncturing of the sides.

The need for moderation in ambition shouldn’t be very difficult to understand. Greed is generally frowned upon in any civilized society. Greed is rooted in desires that are never fully satisfied. The animal kingdom, which is much less intelligent than the human community, doesn’t even have this defect in them. If there is a large collection of food somewhere, the animal will come and take what it needs. It will not think, “Let me grab as much as possible before the other animals come. Let me store this somewhere so that I never have to worry about food.” In the human community, hoarding is very common. From something as simple as downloading heaps of music and movies illegally to more involved practices like buying excess land to extend the reach of ownership, greed can take over the otherwise sober mind.

moneyGreed should be avoided because it does not lead to any benefit. If we have every single album of music ever produced, are we any better off? There are only a certain number of hours in a given day. Hence there is no way that the music hoarder will be able to listen to all of the songs they have collected. Similarly, the wealthy man can only enjoy so much. The rows of expensive cars he has in his garage will likely sit idly for the rest of his life, thereby serving as unused furniture more than anything else.

Greed can only arise when the proper destination for the soul is not known. When desires are successfully met, the resulting happiness is short-lived. Therefore new desires must crop up. The mind has a difficult time remembering the labor that went into the previous work and also the fact that the newly met desires will fail to provide happiness in the same way that the just met desires did. But if we are fortunate enough to take up bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, peace and calm can be found very quickly. Yoga studios are popular today because they teach a method of exercise that bears no resemblance to anything else. Yoga means “plus”, or “addition”, so it is really a spiritual activity. When the influence of the senses is too strong, a person can sit in quiet meditation and contemplate on the expansion of the Supreme Lord residing within the heart. This expansion is known as the Supersoul, or Paramatma. Anyone who is able to successfully practice yoga through this method will diminish the influence of their senses, and thereby gain tremendous health benefits.

In today’s fast paced world, the interest in yoga focuses primarily on the ancillary results, with the main purpose of the discipline ignored. Nevertheless, yoga practice will still have some benefits; hence its popularity. But if you break down the practice even further, you see that peace, calm, and control over emotions and the senses are required. Even if a person does yoga for an hour a day, they at least get to have some escape from the seeds of desire that continually sprout up.

Lord KrishnaIf we take the same principles of yoga and apply them perfectly, the benefits are further enhanced. With bhakti-yoga, the same concentration and focus is there, but the target of thought is the Supreme Lord. Instead of sitting in different postures that can be difficult to perfect, one simply has to chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. It is best to chant this out loud with friends and family, but even reciting it to oneself on a set of japa beads is highly effective. If the same yoga studios were filled with instructors reciting the maha-mantra and getting their students to follow along, there is no question that peace would no longer be a scarce commodity.

This is a bold assertion, but its validity lies in the potency of the names recited. Krishna and Rama are Sanskrit words that describe the Supreme Absolute Truth’s features of all-attractiveness and having the ability to give transcendental pleasure to His devotees. The young girl in school who has a crush on a classmate will write the boy’s name many times on a piece of paper and draw hearts around it, and the boy will similarly derive pleasure from thinking of his beloved’s name. Since the spirit soul is naturally a lover of God, the more times a living entity can recite God’s name in a loving way, the more their consciousness will be purified.

If on a hot summer day we were to turn on the fan in the room, we would feel some relief from the scorching heat. But a fan has limitations because it can only cool the area that is directly in contact with its airflow. Moreover, once the fan turns off, the room returns to being as hot as it was previously. With an air conditioner, however, the entire room cools, even if the occupants aren’t in the direct line of the machine’s output of air. Even when the machine is turned off, the room stays cool for a considerable period of time. The benefits of bhakti-yoga, and especially chanting the holy names of the Lord, can be thought of in the same way. Prayer, meditation on void, and even study of the differences between matter and spirit can be beneficial for the time of the engagement, but only bhakti keeps the benefits rolling in. Bhakti’s aim is to change consciousness, which represents the predominant thought processes of the mind, so its practices have lasting effects.

“He who is satisfied with gain which comes of its own accord, who is free from duality and does not envy, who is steady both in success and failure, is never entangled, although performing actions.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.22)

Lord KrishnaFor misery coming from fruitive activity, the seeds of desire are actually the root cause of the distress. These take birth within the mind, which constantly works, irrespective of what the body may be doing. If somehow or other we can learn to control the mind, to keep it focused on something beautiful and bliss-evoking, then the unwanted seeds can be eliminated. This is precisely what occurs with devotional service. Therefore it is not surprising to hear Lord Chaitanya declare that the living entity’s original form, or svarupa, is that of devotee of Krishna. God is God; He is not sectarian or the exclusive property of anyone. Thus chanting His name is open to every single person. Yoga practice may be difficult to perfect, but chanting is not hard at all. Even a child can do it. Bhakti-yoga plants seeds of spiritual desires, hankerings to please Krishna, see His wonderful face, and hear His glories throughout the day. The plants that grow from these seeds are thus free of thorns. The fruits on the desire tree that is Shri Krishna’s holy name only carry positive consequences.

Monday, August 15, 2011

With Your Heart

Sita and Rama in Hanuman's heart“For those who have merged in the transcendental mellow of devotion to Shri Rama, being free of all material desires, their minds are like fish that swim in the nectar made of supreme love for the holy name that rests within the heart.” (Dohavali, 30)

sakala kāmanā hīna je rāma bhagati rasa līna |

nāma suprema piyuṣa hada tinhahum̐ kie mana mina ||

The heart is where the individual’s reservoir of love resides. In addition to keeping the blood flowing within the living human being, the heart acts as the resting place for the strongest emotion that can possibly be exhibited. With a higher potential for intelligence, the human being can use their heart to strategically distribute love to a host of different objects. Whenever there is an exhibition of pure love, or prema, the release of the emotions is a thing of beauty, something wonderful to behold.

If this weren’t the case, people would never cry at weddings. A marriage is just the union between a man and a woman after all, so there is nothing incredibly unique about it. Millions of people have been married since the beginning of time, yet once the sacred vow of trust is taken in front of the many onlookers, the unique exhibition of devotion can bring tears to the eyes. “Just see how much they love each other. What a wonderful sight. To only be able to find your one true love in life and dedicate yourself to them fully, without deviation. Never let them go, always honor and cherish them, and love them no matter how they treat you.” Such lofty ideals are surely difficult to live up to.

Mother Yashoda with KrishnaThe parents of newborn children are swelling with affection. Just seeing their beloved child fills their heart with sweet love, which then directs them towards activities that will maintain the happiness and well-being of their new dependent. Along similar lines, the romantically involved lover will feel they need to do whatever it takes to keep their beloved happy. When actively involved in the highest exchange of loving emotions, even being reproached is not enough to stop the lover from pushing forward. “If I love you with conditions, my love is not pure.”

Those devoted to the supreme loveable object, the entity from whom everything in this world emanates, have a difficult time accurately describing their emotions. Rather, the greatest transcendental lovers always doubt their position, taking themselves to be inferior. As an example, when Lord Rama, the Supreme Lord’s incarnation as a warrior prince during the Treta Yuga, was forced to leave the kingdom of Ayodhya because of a series of unfortunate events, the king of the city, Maharaja Dasharatha, couldn’t bear the separation. Rama was the king’s eldest son, the one he had the strongest attachment to.

Lord RamaRama had previously left Dasharatha’s company, but not for very long. During ancient times the kings were members of the fighting class, so they were trained in the military arts from a young age. Things were no different with Dasharatha and his four sons: Rama, Bharata, Lakshmana and Shatrughna. That God can come to earth and appear in a royal dynasty is not out of the realm of possibility. Shri Ramachandra, the jewel of the Raghu family line, the maintainer of the dedication to dharma found in the Ikshvaku dynasty, is not a sectarian hero who can only be worshiped by those in India. Rather, during His descents to earth the Supreme Lord is identified by His remarkable possession of divine attributes.

There is no equivalent term for “God” in the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India. The word “deva” can mean a god, but it typically refers to a godly entity. “Ishvara” also can mean a god, but it is generally equated with a chief or ruler. The word “Bhagavan”, which means the “most fortunate”, is the best matching term. Whoever has the most wealth, beauty, strength, fame, knowledge and renunciation is the Supreme Lord of all creatures. Rama showed that He had these opulences as well as the association of the most wonderful divine figures.

Sita and RamaRama’s wife was Sita Devi, the princess of Videha. This world has never seen a woman more beautiful than Sita, nor will it in the future. She is the embodiment of dharma, dedication to religious principles, and devotion to God. Lakshmana, Rama’s younger brother, was so attached to Rama that he couldn’t eat or sleep without his beloved brother by his side. Lakshmana was also a great bow warrior, and his stature cannot be compared to anyone else’s. Rama’s most dear servant was Hanuman, who also is one of the most respected living entities to have ever appeared on this earth.

Even if we are hesitant to accept Rama as God from the statements of the Vedas and the Lord’s exhibition of different divine qualities, we can take it on the authority of Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman that Rama is the Supreme Lord. The trio is sinless and lacking nothing in knowledge. If they dedicate their lives to bringing pleasure to the most merciful Shri Rama, why shouldn’t we? Rama is the same God that we all either accept, deny, or pretend doesn’t exist.

Vishvamitra with Lakshmana and RamaDuring His youth, Rama was asked to accompany the venerable Vishvamitra Muni for a brief period of time in the forest. When the sage arrived in the kingdom to take Rama, Dasharatha promised to give him whatever he wanted, but when the king heard that Rama was leaving, he regretted having made that promise. Nevertheless, Rama had to protect the innocent sages residing in the forest, for they were being attacked by Rakshasas, man-eaters looking to stamp out religiosity in its most potent form. Rama returned shortly after travelling with Vishvamitra, thus allowing the king to see the lord of his life breath once again.

But when Rama was later ordered to leave Ayodhya for fourteen years, Dasharatha couldn’t handle the separation. He waited until he knew for sure that Rama was indeed going to carry out the exile sentence, and then he quit his body. Though it seems like a sad death, we know from the Bhagavad-gita that thinking of God while dying represents perfection in life. Whatever state of being one remembers at the end of life, that state they will attain without fail. With God on the mind, the living entity achieves the Lord’s association in the afterlife, company that never has to be renounced.

Mother Kausalya with Lord RamaRama’s mother, Queen Kausalya, later lamented that her heart must not have been filled with love, for she didn’t die upon Rama’s leaving Ayodhya. Her husband was so attached to Rama that he gave up his life upon separation, while she remained alive. She cursed herself for having a heart made of stone. Though she felt this way, her heart was indeed pure, for she never forgot about her son for even a moment. The avataras, or incarnations, don’t just randomly pick people to act as their parents. Rather, only those who have committed many pious acts in previous lives get the rare opportunity to engage in the transcendental mellow of vatsalya, or parental affection, with God.

For those who try to follow in the standard of devotion set by the residents of Ayodhya, the comparison to the behavior of the fish is often invoked. Just like Dasharatha, the fish is so attached to something that it will renounce its life upon separation. For the fish the attached object is its habitat, the water. The practicing devotee hopes to have the same attachment to God. Therefore in the above referenced verse from the Dohavali, Goswami Tulsidas compares being immersed in bhakti-rasa, or devotional service, to having the mind swim in an ocean of nectar.

First, there is the engagement in the transcendental mellow of devotion to Rama, or God, coupled with renunciation of material desires. A way to understand this is to think of the behavior of a good spouse. For a person romantically involved with someone else, the understanding is that the partner will love them no matter what, that they will never try to please another person in a romantic way. The more devoted they are, the more they will abandon outside attachment. Similarly, in bhakti, the aim is to have a loving relationship with God. The joy of the relationship is relished more fully when desire for personal satisfaction, be it through sense gratification or the accumulation of fame and money, is stamped out.

Krishna with cowWhen the devotee is fully merged in the bhakti spirit, the heart begins to swell up with love, similar to how the cow begins to pour forth milk when it hears its newborn calf crying. God is meant to be our eternal loveable object, the corresponding life partner to constantly remain by our side and give us comfort and pleasure. When engaged in acts of devotion, the heart increases its love for God. More specifically, love for the holy name is what fills the heart of the bhakta, for the Lord is not different from His name.

Chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, is the most effective method of spiritual practice, because it can be instantiated anywhere, and by any person. No need to visit a temple or sit down for a formal ritual. These tools may help in the progression towards a purified consciousness, but they are not requirements for merging into the bhakti spirit. Chant spontaneously and without material desires. The more you chant, the stronger your love will be. In full God consciousness, the heart swells with nectar produced of love for the holy name. The mind then swims in it like a fish.

The analogy made by Tulsidas is important because it says that once the mind finds a suitable habitat, it becomes so attached to it that it dies upon separation. The fish swimming in the ocean of transcendental nectar refuses to live without its beloved holy name, the central component to bhakti. It is every lover’s dream to be able to have the same attachment for their beloved object that the fish has to water. Tulsidas gives us the formula to find that level of devotion. Follow Rama-bhakti, eliminate material desires, and have supreme love, or suprema, for the holy name.

Can we practice bhakti towards someone else besides Rama? God is a singular entity, though He has different visible manifestations tailored for different moods of worship. Bhakti is meant for transcendental love, so it can only apply to the one person who is beyond the temporary material existence. Though God can take many forms, this doesn’t mean that His personal presence is everywhere. We can’t just pick up a rock and think that we have found God. Moreover, we can’t just speak gibberish and expect the words to be equivalent to God.

Just as the mother cow understands the calls of its beloved calves, the Supreme Lord hears the cries of His devotees when they chant the holy names. The different names are listed in the Vedic scriptures. Aside from having Sanskrit meanings, the holy names are meant for addressing God in His original form. Only if they harbor material desires are the worshipers advised to worship someone who is not God. Since bhakti does not mix well with kama, or desire, untainted love is meant exclusively for the Supreme Lord, whose original form is described as being all-attractive. Hence one of His primary names is Krishna.

Sita and Rama in Hanuman's heartBask in the sweetness of Shri Rama’s smiling face by holding a profound love for His name. Form the one attachment that will best define you; say that you are Rama’s and that Rama is yours. You will never be the loser. In fact, every beneficial attribute will arrive in the palm of your hand, ready to be used in furthering your service to your beloved. Find a way to love God with all your heart, so that you don’t have to find temporary habitations, places which you can never be fully attached to, anymore. The temporary manifestation will be destroyed eventually, thus leaving even the most dedicated worshipers of matter bereft of their partner. Rama, on the other hand, never abandons the fish swimming in the nectar of divine love. As a reward for their dedication, the pure devotees are transferred to the spiritual realm, which is overflowing with waters of devotion.