Saturday, August 27, 2011

First Pick

Hanuman“(Hanuman did not see Sita) who was firmly situated on the eternal path of devotion to her husband, had her gaze always fixed on Rama, was always possessed by love for Rama, had entered the glorious mind of her husband, and was always the most exceptional of women.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 5.24)

sanātane vartmāni samniviṣṭām |
rāmekśaṇāṃ tāṃ madanābhiviṣṭām |
bharturmanaḥ śrīmadanupraviṣṭām |
strībhyo varābhyaśca sadā viśiṣṭām ||

Sita Devi, the beloved wife of Lord Rama, is endowed with too many good qualities to count. The Ramayana, the poem penned by Maharishi Valmiki, in certain sections describes some of her features to provide a glimpse into the nature of the one person who provides Rama more pleasure than anyone else. Rama is no ordinary prince; He is a spiritual manifestation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the person to whom everyone is beholden and indebted. God is one, but He can have different forms and thus many corresponding names. Lord Rama is one of the most celebrated divine incarnations of the Vedic tradition because of His qualities, which are further enhanced by His closest associates, of which Sita is one. With every notable attribute possessed by Sita comes a further appreciation of the person who was tasked with finding her and giving her the news of her husband’s quest to find her. This person was none other than Shri Hanuman, the most faithful, dedicated, courageous and qualified of divine servants.

HanumanWhy did Hanuman have to bring news to Sita? Why was she separated from the company of her husband? As a dramatic actor knows how to perfectly play their role on stage, so the Personality of Godhead takes part in seemingly ordinary activities scripted to perfection when He appears on earth. Part of the real-life play that was Rama’s life involved His search for Sita after she had gone missing in the forest of Dandaka. Rama was a royal prince by worldly estimation, and His residence in the forest was caused by family infighting. Sita insisted on accompanying her husband, as did Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana. Sita was the most beautiful woman in the world, so others were always eyeing her. This was especially true of the powerful king of the Rakshasas residing in Lanka. Ravana by name, this nefarious character hatched a plan to take Sita away from Rama’s side using deception.

After Sita went missing, Rama joined forces with the forest dwellers in Kishkindha. Described by the Sanskrit term “Vanara”, these living beings were human-like monkeys, having tremendous fighting abilities while being able to somewhat mimic the civilized behavior of human beings. To look for Sita, Rama didn’t return to His kingdom of Ayodhya for help because that would have violated the edict handed down by His father, Maharaja Dasharatha. The Vanaras were very eager to undertake Rama’s business, but the success of the mission assigned to them was not guaranteed by any means. Amongst the Vanaras residing in Kishkindha was Hanuman, the trusted aide to the chief of the community, Sugriva. Hanuman was replete with divine qualities, with his most prominent feature being his undying love and affection for Rama, whom he had only known for a short while.

Hanuman carrying Rama and LakshmanaWith the truly keen observers it doesn’t take long to spot the presence of God. Hanuman first met Rama and Lakshmana through some trepidation, as Sugriva had thought the two brothers were approaching his part of the forest to kill him. By sending Hanuman down to greet the two princes, Sugriva figured he could find out what was going on. Hanuman first assumed the garb of a mendicant to signal to Rama and Lakshmana that he came in peace. Through this famous meeting Hanuman immediately could notice the wonderful features that can only be found in the Supreme Personality of Godhead. After a short conversation, he went from having a disguised mendicant form to assuming his natural monkey shape. After revealing his real identity and talking things over, he even expanded his size and carried the two brothers all the way to the top of Mount Rishyamukha where Sugriva was staying.

When it came time to look for Sita, success in the mission was entrusted to Hanuman. Both Sugriva and Rama knew that Hanuman had what it took to find the missing princess. While the above referenced passage from the Ramayana details some of Sita’s qualities, it also sheds some light on why Rama put so much stock in Hanuman’s abilities. After he had braved many strong impeding forces, including the doubts that had arisen in his own mind as to his abilities to find Sita, Hanuman made his way into the enemy territory of Lanka, which was Ravana’s home and the place that Sita had supposedly been taken.

Hanuman scoured the outskirts of the city while in a small form. Though he saw all sorts of beautiful princesses, Hanuman was dejected over the fact that he couldn’t find the one woman he was looking for. To make sure that Sita was not lumped in with the other women he had seen, who were all married to vile Rakshasas, the qualities of Rama’s beloved are herein reviewed.

Sita DeviWe see that Hanuman was dejected because he couldn’t find Sita, a woman who was firmly established on the path of devotion to her husband, which was her dharma. The occupational duties that maintain a primary characteristic constitute a dharma. For the wife, the foremost duty is devotion to the husband. Though this may seem unfair, when the marriage relationship is viewed from the perspective of a partnership aimed at meeting an end goal, the purpose behind the duties assigned to each party is better understood. Someone has to steer the ship, which means that the other party must provide unflinching support. Since the male is naturally stronger, he is given the task of providing protection, with the wife serving his needs to ensure that the partnership remains steady.

Sita’s dedication to Rama went further than the ordinary duties of a wife. Sita exists eternally, as she is the wife of Lord Narayana, the four-handed form of Godhead residing in the spiritual world. Hence Sita and Rama are always together, even when physically apart. A link in consciousness is all that is needed for connecting with the Supreme Lord. To hear a song, we need a connection through sound. To relish the taste of a food dish, we need its association on our tongue and in our belly. To enjoy the comforts of soft fabric, we need association through touch. With the Supreme Lord, the link in association is not limited to only one sense, and neither is it reserved exclusively for personal contact. Thinking of God and hearing His names are just as good as being with Him.

Sita DeviSita Devi always thinks of Rama. This is her foremost dharma. In fact, there is no better way that anyone could serve another person than to always think of them within their minds. If we meet a friend, paramour, or well-wisher and they tell us, “I always think about you. I always worry about your well-being, and I’m always missing your association.”, such statements would represent the highest compliments, for there is no better way to offer service to someone else. With the Supreme Lord, maintaining a link in consciousness with Him pleases Him supremely. Those who think of Him in this way are forever endeared to Him and remain in His association at all times. Every other relationship that we have must be dissolved at some point, but the divine consciousness never has to be broken. If there is a sincere desire to maintain it, the Lord will ensure that it continues perpetually.

It is also described that Sita always had her gaze fixed on Rama. Again, if we are in someone’s company and all they do is look at us and no one else, there is tremendous satisfaction felt. One of the most common complaints volunteered by wives and girlfriends is that the men in their lives constantly gawk at other women. This does occur quite frequently, as the sex drive is particularly strong in males. The staring that takes place is a sort of quick survey, an observation to accurately gauge the attractiveness of the woman. The significant other is justified in being bothered by this, for if there were full dedication in love there would be no need to assess the beauty of any other person. Sita, by always keeping her eyes fixed on Rama, even within the mind when He wasn’t around, showed that she had no desire to be with anyone else.

Sita’s character was so exemplary that she had entered into Rama’s mind. The Lord always thought of her just as she always thought of Him. Yogis, mental speculators, and religionists try their hardest to connect with the Absolute Truth, but despite their efforts they still come up short. Meanwhile Sita, through exclusive dedication and transcendental love, not only always gazes at Rama, but the Lord always thinks of her. This unique characteristic was duly noted by Hanuman. This feature is only found in Sita, as she can please Rama better than anyone else can.

Sita and RamaSita is also described as being the most exalted woman. Forget the gender distinction, any person with such divine qualities and dedication would have to be considered the most exalted. Hanuman was not overly impressed by the women he had seen in Lanka thus far. He held nothing against them, as they were very beautiful as well, and they too were dedicated to pleasing their husbands. But Hanuman was working for Rama, his life and soul. Naturally, he would only find characteristics that pleased Rama to be appealing.

Hanuman, by his dejection over not seeing Sita, offered the divine princess the highest praise. These specific passages of the Ramayana are especially meant for praising Sita, but since Hanuman never takes his thoughts away from Rama and His family, the glorification of Sita actually enhances Hanuman’s stature. On the one side we have this beautiful princess who is so wonderful that one would be tempted to think that she didn’t really exist. On the other side we have this mission that Rama is ready to hand out. Sita needs to be found, so Rama needs to choose someone who is worthy of meeting such a wonderful lady. One not influenced by the divine consciousness would never appreciate the princes of Videha for who she was. Up until this point, Sita had spent much time in the company of enemies and those who had no appreciation for her real beauty. Ravana was attracted to her external features, but if he really understood her internal nature, he would never have dared try to separate her from Rama.

HanumanHanuman’s being sent to Lanka shows that he was the most qualified to meet Sita. He had never met her but he was still fully anxious to find her location and give Rama’s sacred ring to her. Sita would be in a troublesome situation, so she would surely be suspicious of anyone who would come to meet her. With Rama’s ring in hand, Hanuman would be able to prove the authenticity of his mission. Since Hanuman knew Rama very well, he was also aware of the wonderful qualities belonging to the Lord’s wife. In this way nothing was going to please Hanuman except finding Sita and allaying her fears.

With each successive feature listed above, Sita’s stature is further elevated. And at the same time, the standing of anyone who is supremely anxious to see such a wonderful woman is also enhanced. Hanuman was so eager to meet Sita that nothing else in Lanka could give him any pleasure. He saw the greatest opulence known in the world at the time, but to him this was completely insignificant. The real jewel in Lanka was Sita Devi, and due to his being fully qualified to see her, his meeting with her would soon become a reality. Hanuman was Rama’s first pick for carrying out the difficult task of finding Sita, and through his keen awareness of her wonderful qualities, Hanuman proved to be ever worthy of the trust invested in him.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Baffling Plans

Elevation to Krishna Consciousness“We are all trying to achieve peace and freedom from these miseries, at least unconsciously, and in the higher intellectual circles there are attempts to get rid of these miseries by ingenious plans and designs. But the power that baffles all the plans and designs of even the most intelligent person is the power of Maya devi, or the illusory energy. The law of karma, or the result of all actions and reactions in the material world, is controlled by this all-powerful illusory energy.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Elevation to Krishna Consciousness, Ch 2)

When the adult reaches a mature stage in life, when life’s necessities are accounted for and there is a seemingly secure existence, the point of focus often turns towards redressing social ills, the miseries and pains endured by others. Indeed, it is seen that during times of economic downturn polling firms who ask citizens what they think of the economy get answers like, “I’m doing fine, but I’m really worried about my neighbor. I’m managing okay, but I know there are so many people suffering out there.” The compassion resting within the heart can be so strong that groups and commissions are formed to try to solve problems causing distress in local society and around the world. Yet, since no planning commission takes into account the all-powerful energy governing this world, who behaves without bias and prejudice, every remedy put forth will fail. On the other hand, for one who directly approaches the controller of the all-pervasive energy, the one person to whom material and spiritual distinctions don’t exist, all of life’s remedies can be quickly found, dissolving every type of misfortune, personal struggle, and unwarranted pity.

“End poverty now; save the poor; help the downtrodden”. These are the rallying cries for the popular activist groups. These movements are rooted in genuine compassion and heartfelt emotions, but we know that good intentions are not enough to earn success. Young children hope for success and happy things to come in the future, but if not for the actions of grownups, nothing would ever manifest. In a similar manner, simply wishing that everyone lived happily and in a peaceful condition cannot make the utopian view a reality.

Let’s look at a simple example to see where the planning commissions go wrong. As poverty is the primary focus of attention in the largest number of activist groups, let’s review some of the more common solutions applied towards ending it. Poverty is defined as a condition where opulences are lacking. Either income is very low, or material possessions are in short supply. Since there is little to no money, the person in poverty lives in essential squalor, conditions that the person on the planning commission couldn’t ever imagine enduring. The poverty stricken man must eat meats of poor quality, shop in stores that the plan maker wouldn’t be caught dead in, and live in a house located in a poor neighborhood.

image-on-money-5Since poverty is a condition where essential items are missing, the most obvious solution is to distribute money. Transfer wealth from those who have too much to those who don’t have any. Seems like a logical enough solution, no? There are some members of society flying around in corporate jets and sailing on their many yachts over the weekend. Surely if they just gave a little bit more of their money to the right people, the entire world could be fed and poverty could be eliminated for good.

Continuing with the example, let’s say that we have five millionaires step up to the plate. We’ll use small denominations of money just because they are easier to work with, but the principles will carry over even to the largest scale. Each of these millionaires has generously agreed to donate one million dollars to help a single person victimized by poverty. Thus we have five million dollars we are giving out to five different people. The expected result is that every one of the aided will have all of their problems solved. They will no longer be in poverty, and they will have no reason to feel bad about themselves. No more worrying over how to put food on the table and whether or not they will have a place to live.

lottery ballsThe keen observer, however, will accurately predict that in the majority of circumstances the five million dollars will do absolutely nothing to solve any problem. Just because we give someone money doesn’t mean that they will know what to do with it. This is in fact a common issue encountered by lottery winners, who are so known for wasting away their money very quickly that think tanks like the Sudden Money Institute had to be created to help people cope with coming into large sums of money. Think of the irony in that. Coming into a large sum of money is supposed to be a boon, the receiving of grand opulence, but there is nevertheless a support group established to help such people. Just as there are groups to help drug addicts, habitual gamblers, and those with anger problems, there are organizations to help those who get too much money too fast.

Of the five newly crowned millionaires, one may blow all of their money on cars and houses, another may waste it away on drugs, another on gambling at the racetrack, and another on opening a business that eventually folds. Even if one person actually uses the money to ensure that they never have to work again, there is still the issue of activity. If we place someone into a room and tell them they have nothing to worry about all day, that their food and drink will be provided for them, would they be happy? Actually, this is how prisoners are treated, and we know that the prison house is meant to be a punishment, a sort of rehabilitation center. Similarly, just having enough food to eat and a roof over the head is not enough to provide any sort of lasting satisfaction. If it were, the people running the planning commissions and activist groups would have been satisfied with their own material success.

Lord KrishnaThose on a higher level of thinking understand that every one of us starts off with everything. As God is the creator of this land, He is the original proprietor. Just because someone finds a piece of land and plants their flag on it doesn’t mean that they own anything. This earth and its bountiful fruits belong to every single person to utilize in their progressive march towards a purified consciousness. The planning commissions and the bleeding hearts concerned over poverty and social ills fail to realize the influence of maya, which governs the laws of karma. With every action, there is a reaction. This is quite easy to understand. If there is drug dependence and alcoholism, there will be negative consequences. The homeless often suffer from these problems. Just imagine, someone can become so fallen that they live on the streets, even when there is a significant portion of the world willing to help them. This shows that there are other factors involved in poverty that go unnoticed.

Studies in America have shown that if one graduates high school, waits until they get married to have children, and at least tries to find a job, they will have virtually no chance of finding poverty. These conclusions are not presented from the moral perspective either; they are just common sense. If you have children out of wedlock, you have to spend your time supporting them. If you haven’t graduated high school, you shut yourself out from the majority of high paying jobs. Similarly, if you have children to take care of by yourself, there is no time to invest in advancing your career, such as through going to college or attending specialized training schools.

Simply giving money to someone will not solve their problems, as there is no control over what they do with the money. This concept also applies to peace, as just asking that war be stopped will not make it so. One side may agree to stop their violence for a while, but if their desires are not altered for the better, they will inevitably stir up hostilities again. These factors are lost on the planning commissions because there is no concern given to maya, who manages karma.

Bhagavad-gitaThe Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, contain complete information, all the knowledge one could ever need. Every condition, favorable and unfavorable, is due to karma, or past deeds. Deeds are driven by desire, so as long as desire is not pointed in the proper direction, the dualities of poverty and wealth, distress and happiness, and cold and heat will continue. What’s more is that no one person or collection of individuals can control how karma works. Parents have firsthand experience of this on a smaller scale. A parent may try their best to get their child to grow up to be successful in life, to be a good person who is inclined to follow a certain direction, but since the child has their own nature and desires, there is no control over the outcome. Sometimes the children just don’t end up growing up to be like what you wanted them to be.

How do the Vedas tackle the problem of poverty? How do the Vedas deal with war? If we know the nature of the playing field we are dealing with, it becomes much easier to find the answers to life’s common problems. As karma is driven by desire, once desire is shifted in the proper direction, the resultant actions become purified. With pure activity come pure results. Human life is meant for awakening God consciousness and nothing else. Poverty and wealth are two extremes that are actually not different in the grand scheme. One person may sleep on the bare ground while another has a plush mattress, but the activity of sleeping is the same. One person may go through life worrying about money while another has too much money to know what to do with, but inevitable death will arrive all the same.

Lord KrishnaThe real problem facing the human being is figuring out how to stop birth, old age, disease and death. None of these events are welcome, but they take place regardless. Maya, the governing agent of the material world, works under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna. Maya manages karma, which ensures that results are distributed fairly and at just the appropriate times. As long as one operates under maya, they will be forced to live by karma’s rules. Shri Krishna, on the other hand, is above maya. One who takes directly to His service by regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, gradually purifies their behavior.

What is the difference between activity in karma and activity in Krishna consciousness? On the surface they appear to be the same, but the initial desire is what is different. When given a million dollars, the person operating under karma will think about their own enjoyment or the pleasure of some other entity that is not God. The person operating under Krishna’s direction will use whatever fortune they acquire for the Lord’s satisfaction. Krishna is described as atmarama, which means “self-satisfied”. Therefore He doesn’t need money or donations from His countless expansions residing in the innumerable universes. Yet, since the constitutional position of the living entity is that of servant of God, the sacrifices made for Krishna’s satisfaction actually provide pleasure to the performer first. Even chanting is a sacrifice, as it takes time to sit down, concentrate on the Lord’s beautiful form, and recite His name repeatedly each day. But this investment is the most worthwhile, as it brings the greatest benefits. Investments in ending poverty, stopping war, curing diseases and the like don’t carry much of a return. Without God consciousness, the aided living entities will remain fully under the grip of maya, thereby never finding a permanent peaceful condition.

Radha and KrishnaThe little faith invested in bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, can ensure that the devoted person purifies their thoughts and activities. In addition, whoever they come into contact with and explain Krishna to will also be benefitted immensely. There is no shortage of wealth in this world, for the animals are supplied their necessities by nature, which also operates under maya. With the animals, however, there is no such thing as sin, as they do not know any better. The human beings have the added bonus of being able to make incredibly poor decisions and suffer the negative consequences for them. Therefore all of life’s ills that we see in front of us are attributed directly to negative karma.

As the only way to redress the karma issue is to bypass its leader maya, the only remedy worth adopting is Krishna consciousness, which can be fostered by any person at any stage of life. Maya baffles every single plan made by the material enjoyer, but Krishna Himself can directly command maya to do whatever He wants. For the sincere bhakta, He transforms the material energy from an illusory one into a purely spiritual force that blows a fierce wind that elevates the spiritually conscious person back to the eternal land after death. One who reaches that majestic realm inhabited by Krishna and His nitya-siddhas will never have to take birth again, thus ensuring that karma will no longer leave them bewildered.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Power of the Holy Name

Lord Rama“Shri Rama personally gave liberation to Shabari, the vulture Jatayu and those who performed wonderful devotional service, whereas the holy name has liberated countless wretches; a fact well-established in the Vedas, which sing of its glories.” (Dohavali, 32)

sabarī gīdha susevakani sugati dīnhi raghunātha |
nāma udhāre amita khala beda bidita guna gātha ||

The benefit of the human birth is the ability to understand religious principles and then utilize that information for attaining the supreme and most auspicious destination, sugati. Activities are meant to further a purpose, to lead the individual towards a destination. Even in the most rudimentary understanding of religion, it is known that if one behaves improperly their future destination will be in a hellish place, whereas if there is a proper acknowledgment of a particular spiritual figure then the next destination, the one following the current life, will be in the heavenly realm. Though only in the human form of body can this information be understood and properly acted upon, one aspect of the Supreme Lord, the person to whom all service activities in spirituality are devoted, is so powerful that it can grant an auspicious destination to even those who are unaware of religious principles. This wonderful feature of the Personality of Godhead has delivered more individuals than the Supreme Lord Himself has.

maha mantraWhy is religion the highest benefit to a human birth? This is established from the study of consciousness and its development. We know that in the animal community there is rampant participation in things like eating, sleeping, mating and defending. No one has to teach the dog how to have sexual intercourse, nor does it need to be reminded of the need to eat. A tiger, though not properly versed in economic theory or the current price of gold, can manage to find food for itself, even if the meals don’t come very often. Base behavior is referred to as animalistic because it doesn’t need to be taught.

From observing the animals, we see that the human being has a more developed consciousness. This advantage is there for a reason, and it should be used to further a purpose. If an advantage is not used, it ceases being advantageous. If the human being copies the animals in behavior, it has not made the best use of its advanced intelligence. If the human being spends its time only on contemplating what kind of meat it should eat, how to enjoy sex life, and what type of bed to sleep on, how is their mindset any different from the lowly animal? Indeed, the animal has a leg up in this lifestyle because they are free of any hankerings and lamentations. The animal’s consciousness is so undeveloped that it doesn’t even have any shame in its activities, nor does it have to worry about losing everything at the time of death. It doesn’t even know that death is imminent.

The regulations provided by scriptures, irrespective of which tradition they come from, are meant to create a level of detachment from the senses. Since the strongest urges relate to eating and sex life, various types of animal sacrifices, accompanied by fasting days and periods of penance, are recommended. To those unfamiliar with the ultimate objective of life and the advantage that an advanced consciousness brings, these restrictions and regulations can be misunderstood. Driven by the urges of the senses, the conditioned living entity will take the animal sacrifices as an open license to eat as much meat as possible and to open slaughterhouses that regularly kill innocent and sweet animals like cows. As previously mentioned, animals already know how to eat meat without being taught, so why would the authors of religious texts waste their time teaching human beings how to do the same thing? Obviously the recommendations for animal sacrifice are meant to curb the tendency towards unnecessary violence; otherwise there would be no purpose to the instruction. The animal has no ability to curb its senses or take to austerity as a means of furthering their condition; only the human being has these abilities. The recommendations for penances and fasts are there to lead the human being to the highest destination.

Ironically enough, the concept of tapasya, or austerity, is present in virtually every venture in life. The medical student must undergo years of rigorous training and intense study before they can start to practice medicine. In the absence of this dedication, which most people could not follow, the desired outcome of being a doctor cannot be reached. The austerity measures are not meant as a punishment but rather as a way of increasing the dedication to the task at hand, and thus increasing the chances of meeting the end goal.

“According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me. And, although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.13)

Lord KrishnaThe more advanced the consciousness, the greater the chances of adhering to the regulative principles of religion, which help further the march towards the final destination. The human form of body, especially one possessing the quality of goodness to the highest degree, is considered the greatest boon. The four divisions of social standing instituted by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, are built around this principle. This system, which is known as varnashrama-dharma, is commonly misunderstood to be a caste system determined by birth, but it is actually a division based on inherent qualities and the work that goes with them. As the levels in the system are ascended, the chances for achieving liberation increase.

In virtually every sphere of life we see a caste system. Within a classroom there is a distinction between the teacher and the students, in an airplane there is the pilot and the passengers, and within a nation there is the government and the citizens. All parties are equal constitutionally, but based on training and understanding of information specific to the realm, the parties take on different roles and are thus treated differently.

The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, consider birth as a male to be more advantageous than birth as a female. On the surface this seems like discrimination, but with an honest assessment, we see that the power of intellect is generally more pronounced in the male, while the power of emotion is predominant in the female. Surely there are exceptions to this rule, but the general tendency is put forth, revealed and worked around to provide society the best opportunity for escaping the clutches of material existence, which continues through reincarnation, which is fueled by the desire of the spirit soul to enjoy material nature. Within the males, birth and training as a brahmana, a member of the priestly class, is considered the most beneficial, as it leads to the most developed consciousness, one that understands the equality shared amongst all species. Regardless of the specific body type accepted and its composition in terms of the material modes of goodness, passion and ignorance, every form of life is equal at the core. We are all Brahman, aham brahmasmi. This means that we are equally part and parcel of the Supreme Lord, similar to Him in quality and vastly inferior to Him in quantitative powers.

“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)

Krishna and ArjunaThe brahmana, who receives his designation based on his qualities and the work he follows, lives in the mode of goodness. He studies the Vedas, follows their prescriptions and teaches others about the uniqueness of the human birth and the need for following one’s dharma, or occupational duty. Since we are all spirit souls, our eternal engagement is known as devotional service, or bhakti-yoga. Yoga is the linking of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul, the addition of two distinct entities. Through regular adherence to regulations put forth in the Vedas, one can gradually progress towards achieving a permanent union with the Lord in terms of consciousness. At the time of death, the spiritually conscious individual gains release from the cycle of birth and death, and thus frees themselves from all designations pertaining to body and material qualities.

For those who cannot directly take to bhakti, which is pure devotion to God enacted through a variety of processes, there is the system of varnashrama-dharma, or occupational duty specific to body type. This level of dharma can be compared to the delegation of duties performed by an office manager. On a particular project or within a specific office structure, the leader will delegate specific tasks to different individuals. One person may be charged with sales, while another has to do menial work like cleaning the floors and ensuring that copies are made and sorted. Regardless of the specific task assigned, the end goal is the same, to meet the stated objective of the leader and thus satisfy him. In a similar manner, the brahmana, by judging the qualities of each person, assigns specific tasks, which are delineated in the Vedas, to the members of society. One who performs their duties properly, even if they are unaware of the blissful nature of the Supreme Lord and the need for developing consciousness, will make tremendous progress towards acquiring God consciousness. It is for this reason that there are different dharmas given to men, women, merchants, priests, administrators, warriors and laborers. These designations are not created to punish or to foment dissension through class discrimination, but rather to allow everyone’s natural qualities to be used for furthering the highest cause, that of reaching the supreme destination.

“O son of Pritha, those who take shelter in Me, though they be of lower birth - women, vaishyas [merchants], as well as shudras [workers]—can approach the supreme destination.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.32)

Lord KrishnaAs Lord Krishna so kindly reveals in the Bhagavad-gita, participation in bhakti and the resulting benefits are open to every single person, regardless of their social stature. As mentioned before, the designations between species and the considerations relating to higher and lower birth are made in terms of consciousness and its potential for development and purification. But these distinctions don’t preclude any person from attaining liberation through dedication to the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord, who is always blissful, knowledgeable and full of form.

To prove that His mercy secured through devotion is open to everyone, irrespective of their assigned dharma corresponding to their body type, the Supreme Lord descends to earth every now and then, particularly when there is a sharp decline in religious practice, and grants His darshana, which is the most auspicious vision, to those who are desperately seeking it. During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, God, who is described by thousands of names including the Sanskrit word “Krishna” [which means all-attractive] in the Vedic tradition, roamed the earth as a warrior prince named Rama. Though spending many years in the forest in the garb of an ascetic due to restrictions imposed on Him by His father, Rama was nonetheless the same Supreme Lord, the most fortunate living entity known the world over. Rama was especially dedicated to dharma, or virtue and piety established in the Vedas, but His mercy was still open to everyone, as He was a complete incarnation.

Lord RamaGoswami Tulsidas, a devotee of Lord Rama and a wonderful poet, remarks in the above quoted verse from the Dohavali that Rama granted the most auspicious destination, sugati, to the female ascetic Shabari and the bird Jatayu. Shabari was living in the area of the forest near the Pampa Lake. Lord Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana made their way to her hermitage during their search for Sita Devi, the princess of Videha and wife of Rama. Sita had been taken away by a Rakshasa king named Ravana to an island called Lanka. This was part of the sequence of events necessary for Rama to defeat and kill Ravana in an open battle. The wonderful events of Rama’s life are nicely described in the Ramayana poem penned by Maharishi Valmiki. Valmiki was a contemporary of Rama’s, as the Lord visited the sage’s ashrama during His initial days in the forest.

Shabari welcomed Rama and Lakshmana hospitably, feeding them the nicest berries that were in the forest. As a reward for her kind dedication, Rama granted her liberation from the cycle of birth and death, bestowing upon her the fruit of her religious practice. She was dedicated to the instructions offered by her spiritual masters, or gurus, and she always controlled her eating and made sure to live by austerity. An ascetic without penances loses their stature, similar to how a general must have a mission to have his title mean something. Though she was born a woman, which is considered a lower birth due to the lesser potential for the development of consciousness, Rama nevertheless showered His mercy upon her. Shabari was so fortunate that she met Rama directly, proving that God is not the exclusive property of the priestly class or those born into a high family.

Rama and Lakshmana with JatayuRama’s benevolence is also open to the animal community, who are considered even lower forms of life than human beings. When Sita was first taken away from the forest through a backhanded plot by Ravana, the demon was met with opposition from the vulture Jatayu. Ravana had an aerial car that he had many years prior taken away from his brother Kuvera. Ravana was using this car to fly back to Lanka with Sita, who was trying her best to escape from the king’s clutches. Had Rama or Lakshmana been around, Ravana would not have been able to escape alive, but because of the distraction created by his Rakshasa friend Maricha, Ravana was able to ascend the car with Sita and fly away in the air.

Jatayu was very good friends with Maharaja Dasharatha, Rama’s father. So he immediately put up opposition and valiantly fought with Ravana, trying to save Sita. Unfortunately, Ravana would defeat Jatayu in battle and then fly away. While lying on the ground about to die, Jatayu was visited by Rama and Lakshmana. Though in the form of a lowly vulture, Jatayu was still a pure devotee of God. For this he received the most wonderful benediction, one that hadn’t been received by anyone up until that time: seeing the Lord’s face directly at the time of death. Quitting his body while being held in the arms of the Supreme Lord Rama, Jatayu immediately received liberation. This is the promise made by Krishna Himself in the Bhagavad-gita, that anyone who quits their body remembering Him alone never has to take birth again.

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

ValmikiThese two events illustrate Rama’s mercy and His ability to grant liberation to anyone, regardless of their social standing. Tulsidas sets the table by referencing these two notable souls, whose stories are difficult to top in brilliance. But then the poet reveals that the holy name, which is glorified in the Vedas, has been known to liberate countless wretched individuals, the worst of the worst. This fact is well established in the Vedas, so one who is familiar with the voluminous literature describing the glories of the Supreme Lord understands that there is no exaggeration in this assertion made by Tulsidas. We know that Valmiki Muni was delivered by the holy name. In his early days he was a violent thief by trade, but through the good graces of Narada Muni, Valmiki took to chanting the name of Rama, albeit indirectly in the beginning, and then subsequently found enlightenment. He gained liberation while in his present body, and he was thus able to author the wonderful Ramayana.

The deliverance of the brahmana Ajamila is another wonderful example of the power of the holy name. In his youth Ajamila was a dedicated brahmana and devotee of God, but through association with a prostitute he fell down from his high position. Through this woman he begot a son, who was named Narayana due to Ajamila’s God consciousness that still happened to remain. Narayana is another name for Vishnu, or God, which means the source of all men. When he was on his deathbed, Ajamila called out to his son Narayana out of attachment, and because of this he was saved from going to hell.

Ajamila being saved by the VishnuduttasNarayana is the Lord’s name after all, so anyone, even those deserving of punishment due to past sinful activities, who chants it at the time of death cannot possibly be slated to go to the hellish realm. The servants of Vishnu immediately stepped in and declared that Ajamila was a devotee who had chanted the holy name. He was therefore destined for attaining the supreme destination.

These are only two examples out of countless others where the holy name saved even the most wretched person. If the holy name can deliver the sinful, we can just imagine what effect it has on those who are pure at heart and always think of the Lord. In the current age, which is known as Kali for its dark influence on dharma, rare is the person who takes full advantage of the potential for a fully developed consciousness that is exclusive to the human species. The benevolence that is available even to the wretched and low born is extended to every single one of us. We may or may not have the opportunity to see Rama personally like Shabari and Jatayu did, but if we regularly chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, we can be assured of liberation. The Vedas have well established the power and potency of the holy name, so if we hold onto these sound vibrations as our life and soul, the Supreme Person they address will never leave us.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Valmiki writing the Ramayana“The Vedic process does not involve research work. In mundane scholarship, we have to show our academic learning by some research, but the Vedic process is different. In the Vedic process the research work is already done; it is complete, and it is simply handed down by disciplic succession from teacher to student.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Elevation to Krishna Consciousness, Chapter 1)

To be considered an outstanding philosopher, you have to come up with a new theory or postulate that is not currently in the field. This is what “outstanding” means after all, for if you simply copy what other people are saying how would you distinguish yourself? In the field of self-realization, however, the more appreciated scholars are those who best soak in and describe what they have learned from their predecessors. While the philosopher has to present groundbreaking research or prove a brand new theory that has been painstakingly concocted and tested, the sincere student of a bona fide guru, or spiritual master, just has to show that he has learned from his guru and not deviated from his teachings. Since the subject matter is fully encompassing, there is nothing that needs to be added on, subtracted, shaped, molded, or interpreted. Whoever is fortunate enough to meet such a philosopher - a sincere student who keeps the chain of information transfer rolling on schedule - will be benefitted in every way.

“The word muni means one who can agitate his mind in various ways for mental speculation without coming to a factual conclusion. It is said that every muni has a different angle of vision, and unless a muni differs from other munis, he cannot be called a muni in the strict sense of the term.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 2.56 Purport)

Shrila PrabhupadaIn material science, wherein the existence of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna, is either fully ignored or wholly rejected as being just a myth concocted by the less intelligent, the starting point of information is nothing. That’s correct; without establishing a base of knowledge rooted in information of how God created the earth and why He did so, man will start with a blank slate. Therefore the first scientist must put forth theories based entirely on personal observation. To the sober man, this will immediately cause some light bulbs of thought to turn on within the mind. “The first person on earth knew nothing then? They didn’t know what the sun was, how to eat, why there should be sleep, how to maintain the body, etc.? How could they even survive then? How could they live life and avoid danger?”

Living in ignorance is possible, otherwise animals, insects and fish couldn’t survive. Based on the atheist theory, the first generation of mankind would have had to have made observations of the world around them and then steadily built upon that foundation. Yet, based on how we treat our own children, we know that this method is flawed. From the very beginning of life, the young child starts the discovery process. They play throughout the day and find things they have never seen before. Little by little they add on to their knowledgebase.

Would a sane parent allow their child to continue discovering in this way, perpetually? Would they say, “Okay, son, you just go on discovering and noting down your observations. Pretty soon you’ll figure out how to live.” We send children to school to learn higher information, to be instructed on concepts and given tools that will allow them to grow into mature, self-sufficient adults. In a similar manner, the Supreme Lord, the fountainhead of everything, didn’t just leave us residents of the material world without an intellectual support system. He gave us the Vedas, the original scriptures for mankind, which provide guidelines and recommendations on how to make the most out of life. The keepers of the faith were the original spiritual masters, who passed on the same instruction through the hearing process. In this way papers, books and pencils weren’t even required. Simply by hearing one could acquire perfect knowledge.

Shrimad BhagavatamWhen the authority of the Vedas is denied, man must methodically add to their knowledgebase that originally started from nothing. Therefore, as each new person comes along, they must come up with new theories to describe the nature that is so difficult to explain. In this respect man has made tremendous advancement, or so he thinks. By noticing the sun’s rising and setting at periodic intervals and the life cycles of the various species, so much information has been gathered. As this knowledge is accumulated, it is passed on and taught to young students who are shielded from the high wisdom that is the Vedas.

Since the original knowledgebase is itself insufficient, or at least incomplete, future scientists must do research work and prove their theories that add new points of information. Since the human being, due to the limitations on the gathering of sense perceptions and the short duration of life, can hardly witness anything significant in one lifetime, the opportunities for new research work are endless. One person cannot possibly see all that there is to see, for they couldn’t live long enough to properly take everything in. Indeed, as soon as there is birth, automatically so much of past history is missed out on. Furthermore, even if we were given a guided tour of the universe, there is no way we could remember everything that we saw or even properly understand how everything works. This defect in man indicates that he is inferior to the superior person, the supreme person in charge of creating the nature that He is not even interested in.

“And yet everything that is created does not rest in Me. Behold My mystic opulence! Although I am the maintainer of all living entities, and although I am everywhere, still My Self is the very source of creation.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.5)

Lord KrishnaIn the field of science, if one wants to become a PhD, a doctor of philosophy, they have to come up with a new theory or idea, research it for years on end, and then come up with a doctoral thesis, or dissertation, that proves their theory. This work is then presented before a panel of scientists, who review the theories and grill the scientist presenting them. The presentation required to get a PhD carries with it tremendous pressure, more than a person could imagine. If the research work presented isn’t unique, if it doesn’t further advance the particular field of science, if it doesn’t show that new ideas and theories have been thought about and validated, the doctorate cannot be granted.

With Vedic science, however, the starting point is completely different. Though the Vedas and their different branches don’t take up volumes and volumes of journals that line the library bookshelves, the knowledge necessary for fulfilling life’s mission is presented in full detail and without ambiguity. As brevity is the soul of wit, the greatest poet of them all, Shri Krishna, has nicely condensed brilliant philosophical points and recommendations into short, concise verses that can be sung, remembered and implemented in everyday life. The Vedas are so brilliant that they explain why material science exists in the first place. Every theory of life, every religion to have ever come into existence, and every type of idea that will ever be born in the future is explained in the Vedas, for its knowledgebase is complete.

“…Due to the great variety of desires and natures among human beings, there are many different theistic philosophies of life, which are handed down through tradition, custom and disciplic succession. There are other teachers who directly support atheistic viewpoints.” (Lord Krishna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 11.14.8)

Lord KrishnaHow can we make these claims if the human mind is limited in its ability to think? If someone gives you the proper tools that allow you to make full use of your brain power, then surely you can understand a lot more than you did before you received those tools. Since the starting point of Vedic instruction is information that remains far above the theories concocted by the scientists and material enjoyers, the result is supreme enlightenment. Students of the Vedic tradition are taught that they are spirit soul, aham brahmasmi. From this it can be understood that the body is just a temporary covering, a sort of outfit conducive for play on a field that is temporary in nature. To try to understand the field and use knowledge to exploit both it and the people residing on it is a faulty endeavor, for the outfit must be given up after a certain amount of time elapses. Despite the best efforts made at prolonging the duration of play, an end point must arrive. Even Lord Brahma, the first created living entity and the person charged with populating the material realm, must quit his body, though he lives for billions of years.

If the outfit is temporary and the field not meant to be exploited, what is the point to human life? Why are there even varieties in species? Why is there a field? The spirit soul, the essence of individuality, has full freedom in its choice of association and pursuit for enjoyment. Just as no two individuals are exactly the same in their tastes, no two spirit souls will follow the exact same path for enjoyment. Though there is full freedom, the exercise of it generally follows one of two paths. One roadmap lines up with the soul’s constitutional position, while the other does not. Therefore one path is eternal in its manifestation and the enjoyments that result, while the other brings numerous, temporary endeavors resulting in flickering happiness. Since we know that the outfits assumed in the material realm must be renounced at some point, it’s obvious that life on earth represents the latter choice, the one that doesn’t correspond with the soul’s constitutional position.

The very desire to reject Vedic wisdom and accumulate a knowledgebase formed exclusively off of sense perception is itself indicative of the choice made towards following the improper path, the one leading to inferior happiness. At its core, the soul is a lover of God, who is its life partner. When the freedom of association chooses in favor of God, there are no defects in anything, including knowledge. When the choice is made in the other direction, cycles of birth, old age, disease and death result. Imperfect knowledge that needs to be continuously compiled, researched and proven is required. Celebrations over temporary increases in the duration of life and the ability to enjoy occur, while in reality no further progress is made towards fulfilling life’s ultimate mission.

Lord Krishna and His pastimesIf the right choice is to act in God’s interests and love Him to the hearts’ content, then the real mission in life becomes obvious: use the advanced brain power of the human body to figure out how to reenter divine service. If one loses their driver’s license through revocation or gets kicked out of a school they were attending, the subsequent rehabilitation process is aimed at getting their prior privileges reinstated. Driving still takes place and the school remains in session even if we are not participating. Similarly, the divine pastimes of the Supreme Lord take place constantly in the various universes. To reenter these wonderful engagements, to get reinstated into our natural position, all that is required is a sincere desire to do so.

This is easier said than done, however. Concomitant with birth in the material realm is association with ignorance that envelops the otherwise knowledgeable soul. The proper path in the human form of body, therefore, is to slowly but surely dissipate this nescience and return to the original position of desiring to be with Krishna. The more knowledge that is acquired in this regard, the better the chances of being committed to the eternal path of devotional service, or bhakti-yoga. Instead of accepting new research work and showing how you have further advanced the cause of material science, it is more beneficial to simply accept a spiritual teacher, one who has already chosen in favor of service to Krishna.

Lord Krishna and His pastimesTo earn the doctorate, the research work must be compiled, presented and substantiated. On the spiritual side, however, to earn reentry into Krishna’s pastimes, one simply has to show what they have learned from their spiritual master. The original knowledgebase is perfect, so what could a paltry living entity contribute anyway? This doesn’t mean that the student acts like a robot and repeats everything verbatim without understanding the concepts. Though repeating word for word what the spiritual master has said is beneficial, when the student explains the same concepts in their own voice, showing how they have assimilated the information into their own journey through life, the true indication of enlightenment is given. Furthermore, through this outpouring of sublime wisdom countless other people can be rescued from the ocean of nescience and taken back to the imperishable land, the home of the Supreme Godhead, the fountainhead of all energies.

Another factor to consider is that as more time elapses from the start of creation, mankind’s brainpower and adherence to spiritual principles diminish. The field work in spiritual science has already been completed, by those who were much smarter than we are and who lived a life more conducive to contemplation on the Supreme Absolute Truth. The hustle and bustle of city life, the constant struggle to maintain one’s family and bare necessities, greatly inhibits the ability to accept spiritual wisdom and forge a change in consciousness. Nevertheless, simply accepting the foremost recommendation of the acharyas, the regular chanting of, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, is enough to shift our desires to the spiritual world. At the time of death, the governing body headed by Shri Krishna Himself will see that since our consciousness is fully fixed on God, we obviously took the words of the spiritual master to heart, that we didn’t get distracted by the temptation to supersede the guru’s authority or show that we are smarter than him. Krishna’s welcoming arms reward those who accept without reservation what has been handed down to them.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Meeting Saints

Sita Devi“(Hanuman did not see Sita) who was firmly situated on the eternal path of devotion to her husband, had her gaze always fixed on Rama, was always possessed by love for Rama, had entered the glorious mind of her husband, and was always the most exceptional of women.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 5.24)

sanātane vartmāni samniviṣṭām |
rāmekśaṇāṃ tāṃ madanābhiviṣṭām |
bharturmanaḥ śrīmadanupraviṣṭām |
strībhyo varābhyaśca sadā viśiṣṭām ||

In a field devoid of God consciousness, another person’s rise to prominence is taken in the competitive spirit, viewed as an affront to our own progress. In a fruitive endeavor, the aim is to rise to the top, to become the most respected and successful person in a particular venture. Therefore if others are already on the superior position or on their way to the top, there is a feeling of insecurity, that the path to our own success is being threatened. But when the endeavor shifts to the spiritual arena, where the aim is to form a permanent connection to the Divine consciousness, seeing others who are already on the highest platform of thought is the most humbling experience. It also serves as an important tool in making progress. Not only is the mental picture of such persons worth the effort, what follows is a great eagerness for having a real-life meeting, personal association with a saint. If perchance the reunion with the saints does not happen, despondency results. Such was the case with Shri Hanuman many thousands of years ago.

$(KGrHqQOKjgE1tMeZ5u,BNnyR(y1gg~~_3Hanuman can never be properly described with words. In Sanskrit his body type is described by terms such as vanara, kapi, and hari, which can translate to “monkey”. But people who are familiar with his attributes and divine nature take great offense when he is thought of in this way. A monkey is a lower animal after all, so to consider Shri Hanuman to be anything like a monkey is not a valid viewpoint. For people who follow Vedic traditions from their childhood, Hanuman is always referenced with the suffix “ji” to indicate that he should be given the proper respect. More than anything else, Hanumanji is a Ramadutta, a messenger of the Lord. Lord Rama is an incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, say that we should worship and honor God, and in order to increase the taste that results from such a connection, the Supreme Lord makes divine appearances on earth every now and then. His original presence in the spiritual sky is also a personal one, as the divine material substance is nothing like the matter we are accustomed to playing with here on earth. Since the original Personality has a spiritual form, so do all the personal expansions that appear on earth, which are thus known as avataras, or “those who descend”.

The Rama avatara is celebrated especially throughout India, but Rama’s mercy is open to all, even those not belonging to the human race. This fact was validated through Rama’s activities, which are nicely documented in the Ramayana of Maharishi Valmiki. Rama’s meeting with Hanuman came in the forest of Kishkindha, which was where Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana went after the Lord’s wife Sita Devi had gone missing. Rama and Lakshmana were of the princely order, sons of the King of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dasharatha. Through a series of unfortunate events, Rama was banished from the kingdom for fourteen years. Sita and Lakshmana were not ordered to go, but they insisted on coming along. While Rama was lured away from the group’s cottage by a golden deer, Sita went missing. Lakshmana went looking for Rama, so when the two brothers returned to see that Rama’s wife was not there, they immediately began to search for her.

Rama meeting HanumanIn Kishkindha, Shri Hanuman, the chief minister to the Vanara-king Sugriva, met Rama and Lakshmana and took them to Sugriva. An alliance was then formed, with Sugriva agreeing to help Rama find Sita. When the time came for the search, countless monkeys were dispatched to scour the globe, but it was well known that only Hanuman was capable of finding Sita. Through intelligence gathered from a bird named Sampati, the monkeys in Hanuman’s party learned that Sita was being held captive on an island called Lanka, which was ruled by a Rakshasa king named Ravana. This Ravana was notorious, as the very mention of his name instilled fear in others.

The monkeys were set to go to Lanka, but there was one small problem. A massive ocean separated the island from land. Hanuman was the only one capable of jumping far enough to reach the city, so he did just that. Prior to entering Lanka, Hanuman assumed a diminutive stature so that he could search the city unnoticed. Making his way through the majestic city, Hanuman saw pretty much everything. There was tremendous opulence, beautiful queens, and people enjoying in so many ways. Though he saw things he had never seen before, though he had gone on a wonderful site seeing tour, Hanuman was nevertheless dejected. He still had not found the person he was looking for.

Sita DeviThe above referenced verse from the Ramayana provides descriptions of Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama. The listing of these attributes is meant to praise the wonderful princess and also juxtapose her qualities and behavior with those of the women Hanuman had just seen in Lanka. Even though Hanuman first met Rama in Kishkindha at Sugriva’s behest, he was nevertheless fully devoted to the Lord. Born with the divine qualities, Hanuman knows no other business except bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. He was given the task of finding Sita and delivering to her Rama’s ring as proof of the genuineness of his mission, but he was eager to see the princess more because of her qualities.

Hanuman’s temporary dejection is easy to understand, provided that one knows the nature of the great servant and the divinity of his eternal master. Hanuman loved Rama so much, and he knew that Sita loved Rama even more. That’s at least how he thought. He had seen how saddened Rama was at being separated from His wife, so Hanuman wanted to meet this person who had such an effect on the jewel of the Raghu dynasty, the man who is Himself above fear, sorrow, pain, and deviation from the path of righteousness.

Sita and RamaThe Vedas describe God through thousands of names that also praise His many attributes. He is known as atmarama because He is self-satisfied. Atma can refer to the body, mind, or soul, and rama refers to giving transcendental pleasure. An atmarama can derive total peace and happiness simply from their own self, the soul, the identifying aspect within every form of life. Therefore one who is self-satisfied has no need to indulge in sorrow, lamentation, anger, grief, lust, or so many other negative emotions brought on by attachment to sense objects.

Sita Devi is the energy of Rama. She gives Him more pleasure than anyone else can; therefore in some respects she is even greater than God. Hanuman was also in the business of pleasing Rama, so instead of being jealous of Sita, he was very anxious to meet her. When practicing devotional service - which is the eternal occupational duty for everyone, even if they don’t know it - the quickest way to make advancement is to witness the devotional efforts of others. This sort of progress is further sped up when the devotee being observed is persevering through difficult circumstances. It is one thing to always chant the holy names of the Lord found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, when times are good, but it’s a different story when you are facing the punishment of death and the prospect of never seeing your beloved again. These were the circumstances facing Sita; yet her devotion to Rama never wavered.

Sita DeviIf someone else is practicing devotion in this way, with their consciousness connected to God at all times, others who are similarly engaged in serving the Lord take great pleasure from such exhibitions and become fully humbled by them. Sweethearts like Hanuman always think that they are not anything special, and they feel internal satisfaction seeing others who are on a high level of practice. Sita was famous throughout the world for her devotion to Rama, so Hanuman was thrilled at the prospect of meeting her. It is said that she was fixed on the eternal path of devotion to Rama and had her eyes always focused on Him. This fixing of the eyes on the lover is initially intended for the benefit of the object of worship. Those who are on the highest platform of understanding know that simply remembering God and worshiping Him are the greatest boons one can ask for. Sita Devi wanted nothing from her husband, as His company was beneficial enough for her in both the current life and the afterlife, where the two live eternally in the spiritual sky as Lord Vishnu and Lakshmi Devi.

“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)

Sita remained devoted on the path of chastity, not even looking at any other man, for Rama’s benefit alone. This is the hidden secret to devotional service. In the beginning stages, there may be a desire to alleviate distress, find material wealth, learn about the Absolute, or satisfy one’s inquisitive nature, but these desires eventually cease through steady devotional practice. The paramahamsa, the topmost transcendentalist, has no need to even chant the names of the Lord, for they think about God at every second, seeing His presence in even the insignificant grass. Nevertheless, the paramahamsas of the bhakti school redouble their devotional efforts, as they know that gazing upon the wonderful form of the deity representation or even the personal form of the Lord standing before them gives great pleasure to the Person they are devoted to.

It is said that Sita had penetrated deep into Rama’s mind. This means that just as the devotee always thinks of the Lord, God always thinks of those who are always thinking of Him. The beauty of this wonderful relationship is seen in the behaviors of Sita and Rama. Though she was far away on a distant island, Sita was right there in Rama’s mind. The Lord never forgets even just one call to Him that is made in full purity. The chanting regimen passed down by the Vaishnavas calls for at least sixteen rounds of daily mantra recitation. The benefits of this practice are manifold, but the ultimate aim is to be able to say God’s name purely just one time, for doing so keeps the Lord’s attention. Even though Rama is never in need of anything, because Sita remains forever devoted to Him, He always keeps her in His mind. Their relationship best illustrates the potency of bhakti-yoga.

Sita and RamaIt is also said that Sita was the best of women. Hanuman had seen many wonderful princesses, all of whom were fit to be married to the most pious princes. But still, at least in Hanuman’s estimation, they were no match for Sita. How can any woman ever compare to Shri Rama’s eternal consort in qualities? Hanuman knew Sita’s nature even though he had not met her up until this time. Due to his strong dedication to Rama’s interests and his deep love and affection for all of the Lord’s family members and well-wishers, Hanuman would not have to wait long. He would eventually meet the princess of Videha and successfully carry out his mission. Just as Hanuman is humbled by Sita’s level of devotion, so we are energized, enthralled, and thrilled throughout our body every time we can even remember Hanuman. He is forever dear to both Sita and Rama, and from his activities we see that he is lacking nothing in devotional consciousness. By hearing of his exploits and his firm dedication on a regular basis, one can very rapidly make progress towards the ultimate destination, the spiritual sky.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Vyasa Puja 2011

Shrila Prabhupada“I offer my respectful obeisances unto all the Vaishnava devotees of the Lord. They can fulfill the desires of everyone, just like desire trees, and they are full of compassion for the fallen souls.” (Vaishnava-pranama)

It is the settled conclusion of the Vedic seers that the greatest benediction in life is to have the association of saints. More specifically, if the dust coming from the lotus feet of the guru, or spiritual master, can be accepted just one time, there is no counting the number of spiritual merits, or sukriti, that follows. Just humbly submitting before any person is difficult enough, so the need for surrendering before a human being recognized for his wisdom and knowledge of spiritual matters takes many lifetimes to accept. But to those who do find the bona fide guru and bask in his association, the benefits reaped are too many to count, and the credit for the subsequent success goes directly to the spiritual master and his teachers. Since the guru can never be fully appreciated for his impact, occasions like Vyasa Puja allow for some time to reflect on the mercy of the spiritual master and what he is capable of.

VyasadevaA puja is a formalized worship, wherein obeisances are offered to the beneficiary of the ceremony. Vyasa refers to Vyasadeva, the literary incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna. The Vedas are the oldest scriptures in existence, and since they emanate directly from Krishna and describe devotion to Him, they are considered non-different from Him. As the Vedas were originally just one work consisting of prayers and hymns, they could only be understood by the purest men. As time passes from the beginning of creation, man’s ability to think critically and retain relevant pieces of information dwindles. Therefore Vyasadeva comes to divide the Vedas and write supplementary literature known as the Puranas. Vyasadeva compiled so much literature that some people refuse to believe that he even existed. Proof of his influence and divine nature is seen, however, in the behavior and glories of his disciples and their descendants. The bona fide spiritual master is one whose line of instruction is either linked to Vyasa or at least reaches the same conclusion that he put forth, that life’s aim is to worship the Supreme Lord Hari, the original Personality of Godhead.

Interestingly enough, having the audience of a pure devotee is considered a greater blessing than actually meeting the Lord in person. Shri Narada Muni, the spiritual master of Vyasadeva, was blessed through good association, as was Valmiki, who was originally a dacoit. Meeting the Supreme Lord in person is certainly a terrific reward, but, at the same time, it doesn’t automatically lead to one’s knowing how to act and what their true nature is. The devotee, on the other hand, lives bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, therefore they are deputed by the Supreme Lord to teach others about what they have learned and how to make the most out of the human form of life.

Narada MuniThe spirit soul is the essence of identity within any life form, but only with a human birth can the soul take the necessary steps to reacquaint itself with its true dharma, or foremost characteristic. One who takes instruction from a brahmana, or a priest devoted to real religion, earns the title of dvija, or one who is twice-born. The first birth is from the parents, but this doesn’t automatically awaken the dormant God consciousness resting within the heart. The instruction provided by the spiritual master gives the second and more important birth. The rekindling of the torchlight of knowledge that is part and parcel of the soul is the more important giver of life. Since this birth comes from the guru, how can his glories ever be fully appreciated?

Since man is forgetful of his constitutional position, those who accept the instructions of the spiritual master and take them to heart will acquire tremendous skills. The guru’s primary teaching is that one devote themselves to bhakti-yoga. The quintessential act of bhakti is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. There are other spiritual teachers who provide different instructions, such as how to do meditational yoga, how to study Vedanta, and how to work without attachment to the results. These instructions can be beneficial, but they fail to extract the full potential for love found within the soul.

Lakshmi Devi and Lord VishnuIt is for this reason that the dust of the lotus feet of the devotee is considered life’s greatest blessing. In the Vedic tradition there are many sacred places of pilgrimage known as tirthas. Just by visiting these places, so many benedictions are guaranteed. These spots are related to Lord Vishnu in some way or another. Vishnu is another name for Krishna which means the “all-pervading”. In His Vishnu form, the Lord is opulently adorned and has four hands instead of two. The sacred pilgrimage sites are full of saints, who use the auspicious surroundings to increase the efficacy of their service. This shows how pure the Supreme Lord is. Any ordinary river is not that important, but one attached to Vishnu becomes visited by millions of people each year. Similarly, there are tons of teachers and devotees of objects not related to God, but they are not given the attention that the saints are, those who are intimately associated with Bhagavan, the Supreme Lord fully endowed with every beneficial attribute.  The potential to meet saints is the real benefit of visiting a tirtha, as the relationship with Vishnu fully matures through their association.

The guru can be considered the travelling tirtha, as he brings with him the auspiciousness found in the sacred pilgrimage sites. This auspiciousness is present in every aspect of the spiritual master, including the dust that comes from his feet. The lotus feet of the guru are the cherished objects for the devotee because they symbolize the proper way to approach God. Through humility, kind submission, and service to one who is deserving of it, true enlightenment can be revealed.

Lord KrishnaWhat is the result of following the chanting prescriptions and the restrictions on meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex? As Krishna consciousness awakens from within, many new abilities arise. All of a sudden the person who was previously dumb, lazy, and harboring a hateful attitude can produce volumes upon volumes of literature praising their beloved Lord and His devotees. They may not even have had any formal training in writing, grammar, or composition. They may even have done poorly during their school years in these subjects. Yet simply from hearing Krishna-katha, talks about Shri Krishna, and the beauty of devotional service from the guru, the humble soul can become an expert reciter, never running out of material to share with the general public.

When someone becomes skilled in a particular field, it’s not surprising that they would garner a lot of attention. The Vaishnava poets, singers and writers are the most glorified, for their fame stretches the full boundaries of time and space. Their glories know no end, and they continue to be honored and worshiped long after they physically leave the earth. The real credit for superexcellent ability in spiritual endeavors actually goes to the guru, for without his planting of the seed of the creeper of devotional service, bhakti-lata-bija, the full blown tree of transcendental ecstasy and its resultant fruits would never have manifest.

Shrila PrabhupadaIf the guru is due credit for the wonderful writings of his disciples, how can he ever be properly honored? With each new work produced the guru’s fame and glory further increase. In this respect, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is worthy of endless adoration. Not only did he personally accept thousands of disciples during his time on earth, through his published works and recorded lectures he continues to rescue those swimming in the sea of nescience. So many past lives have been spoiled pursuing sense gratification, but Shrila Prabhupada doesn’t hold this against anyone. His message comes directly from Krishna, so it is very powerful and can turn even the biggest fool into a genius.

An issue of contention may be raised regarding the negative traits exhibited by disciples and devotees who took instruction from a guru. If a saint deserves the credit for the wonderful qualities of his disciples, including the brilliance of their writings, shouldn’t he then be blamed for their shortcomings? Though this seems logical enough, the rules don’t apply equally. To explain this the example most often cited is that of fire and its production of smoke. Fire is a purifying agent, as it can disintegrate pretty much anything. Though the fire can produce smoke, which is impure, the fire itself never loses its properties. Similarly, the guru may have some errant disciples who can be compared to smoke, but this doesn’t diminish his standing whatsoever.

Isn’t this a cop out though? The guru gets the credit for all the good, but then gets none of the blame for the bad? How does this make any sense? Let’s think of it this way: The bad qualities are always there in a person. By “bad”, we refer to anything that is divorced of its relationship to God. A sinful reaction is really just the negative consequence to doing something incorrectly. Since we know that the spirit soul’s original home is in the spiritual sky alongside God in His personal form, any soul who takes birth in a realm governed by reincarnation must be considered sinful. Moreover, from our present birth we know that in the past we failed to become fully God conscious by the time of death.

“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 KrishnaThe Bhagavad-gita, Krishna’s direct instructions offered on the battlefield of Kurukshetra some five thousand years ago, reveals that whatever state of mind we have at the time of death, that state we will attain without fail. Since our present birth is in a human form, where we are born ignorant of the Supreme Lord’s divine nature and the need for worshiping Him, by rule our consciousness at the time of our previous death was not focused on God. Thus every material birth is sinful, with man having an innate tendency towards following bad habits.

The bona fide guru is thus not responsible for the sinful behavior in man. This penchant is already given to us at the time of birth, or, more accurately, it is provided to us through our wishes. The guru teaches devotional service and how to throw away attachment to sinful activity. If, after taking instruction from him, the sinful behavior continues, it should be understood that the root elements of desire for material association remained, sort of like the last flames of a raging fire that has almost been put out. If the guru doesn’t teach attachment to sinful behavior, how can he be blamed for the mistakes made by his disciples?

The glories of the guru are too many to count. His presence in our lives is directly due to Krishna’s intervention. Those who sincerely desire to have the Lord’s association and be able to think of Him without fail will never be denied. That precious dust from the lotus feet of the spiritual master will come soon enough. No greater gift can be found in this world than the association of saints. On this Vyasa Puja day we honor and remember one of the more notable saints in modern times, Shrila Prabhupada, who lives on forever through his recorded instructions.