Saturday, September 10, 2011

Following Authority

Valmiki writing the Ramayana“Shri Rama’s holy name eliminates all misfortunes and sins and brings all auspiciousness in every way. This is why Lord Shiva always chants it and the Vedas and Puranas sing of its glories.” (Dohavali, 35)

harana amangala agha akhila karana sakala kalyāna |
rāmanāma nita kahata hara gāvata beda purāna ||

“Take my word for it. Trust me; I know what I’m doing. I won’t disappoint you; just follow what I’m saying.” No matter how sincere these recommendations may be, the human being will be hesitant to trust someone simply on their word, their opinions and sentiments relating to a particular subject. Someone who has helped us in the past and proven their ability to deliver worthy recommendations may be more trusted than others, but when speaking about important topics like the meaning to life, what actions should be taken and which ones should be avoided, and the potency of a particular formula, the truths are presented to a wide audience, as the more important the subject matter the larger scope of applicability the statements will have. When presented with personal dealings and problems, the one-on-one advice applies to a specific situation, but when a piece of information will be universally beneficial, it is distributed to as many people as possible. Since the human being will naturally be skeptical of advice coming from foreign sources, the givers of information, despite their full assuredness and confidence in their own views, will nevertheless point to authority figures to substantiate their claims. A similar tact is followed by Goswami Tulsidas in the above quoted verse from his Dohavali.

Lord RamaTulsidas recommends that one chant the holy name of Lord Rama and be delivered from all sinful reactions and distresses. The name of Rama removes or eliminates all amangala, or misfortunes, and agha, or sins. Favorable and unfavorable fortunes are the result of past work. This isn’t very difficult to understand, for if we do something the wrong way a negative reaction follows. For instance, if we fill up the gasoline tank in the car with water instead of the proper grade of gasoline, there will be problems. If the human being ingests too much alcohol in a short period of time, health problems, the most obvious of which is inebriation, subsequently follow.

The holy name of the Lord is so powerful that it removes all misfortunes, especially as they relate to the reactions of karma. It is to be understood that one who chants the holy name with firm faith and love starts with a clean slate in karma. At every second we are reaping the rewards and punishments of past work, even if we are unaware of it. Though the results are sometimes unseen and indefinite in their manifestation, it is true that no result can occur without some initial action. That action may have been taken in this lifetime or in a previous one, but nevertheless some impetus was there. This also explains why the Supreme Lord is described as sarva-karana-karanam, or the cause of all causes. At the root of all action and reaction is God, who started everything off with the creation and its population of creatures.

It would make sense then that if we chant a sound vibration that addresses the cause of all causes, the negative reactions coming our way will immediately be removed. This isn’t a promise of some magical or imaginary benediction. We can’t chant the name of Rama and expect that negative reactions won’t occur with other activities. While chanting the name of Rama if we prick our skin with a pin, it will most certainly hurt. When the promise is made for all misfortunes being removed, it applies to past work and the future fortunes of the soul, for karma does not affect the devotee whose mind has been turned over to the spiritual world, the land where matter in its inhibiting form does not exist.

Lord RamaRama is more than just an eliminator, someone to remove negative aspects from life. If there is an incessant beeping sound that is bothering us, simply turning it off will not provide any tangible benefit. Once the botheration leaves, the mind is still left to contemplate over what it wants and lament over what it doesn’t have. The name of Rama is two-sided; in addition to removing sins and misfortunes it also brings all good fortune and auspiciousness. The name of Rama represents the Supreme Lord’s incarnation, or avatara, of Lord Ramachandra, who appeared on this earth many thousands of years ago during the Treta Yuga. Rama is non-different from Bhagavan, so He possesses the qualities of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, renunciation and wisdom simultaneously and to the fullest degree. The name connects with Rama, so by chanting it one is in the association of the most fortunate living entity. Therefore how could any condition besides universal auspiciousness be received by those who regularly think of the Lord?

The blind sentimentalist and neophyte spiritualist following a different spiritual tradition will claim that Rama is simply a man-made god, a worshipable figure concocted by those who are destined for hell. These accusations are certainly humorous to encounter, because they come from those who know nothing about the position of the soul, the workings of matter, the influence of time and nature, the need for changing consciousness, the presence of spirit within forms other than human beings, and a host of other basic concepts understood by even the least knowledgeable student of the Vedas. The central argument of the ardent sectarian is that anyone who doesn’t acknowledge their particular worshipable figure will be doomed in the afterlife.

The prescriptions accompanying these sentiments logically don’t make sense. Rather, through their fear mongering and threats, the radicals put forth a proposition that would certainly attract anyone who wasn’t thinking properly. “Wait a second, so if I acknowledge the supremacy of this one person, I can go on committing as many sins as I want and not suffer in the afterlife? Such and such person will absolve me of all my sins if I simply acknowledge His supremacy and His position as being God? I can go on killing as many animals as I want, engaging in debauchery, lying, cheating, stealing, etc. and I won’t have to suffer simply because I professed an allegiance of faith? Sign me up!”

Lord RamaA declaration of allegiance is certainly nice, and as Tulsidas says the Supreme Lord is capable of removing all negative reactions, but if there is to be real love and devotion to God, should not behavior be altered? This is why the chanting of the holy name is the central aspect of any bona fide religion. Chanting alters consciousness to the point where the devotee is always thinking of their beloved. If there are constant thoughts flowing to the spiritual world, desires will shift to the point where the pleasure of the Supreme Lord is sought out without fail. With our friends and family, the primary benediction they want from us is our association. Since God has everything, there is nothing we can really give Him in terms of a gift. What He wants more than anything else is our time; and this is precisely what chanting the holy names of the Lord, especially those found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, accomplishes.

It shouldn’t surprise us at all then that when we spend time with God, we gain insulation from bad fortune and receive everything favorable in life. If we want to spend time with God, He, as the cause of all causes, will ensure that circumstances are favorable for the continuation of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. There have been countless incidents in history where the obstructions placed in the path of the lovers of God have been removed by the Lord Himself. The most auspicious condition, kalyana, is one where chanting can continue, as recitation of the name brings remembrance, which is the key ingredient in shaping consciousness for the better. Experiences and enjoyments pass by very quickly, but consciousness remains for a much longer time. Through a properly situated consciousness even the time when one is falling asleep can become the most thrilling and bliss-evoking.

The assertion about Rama’s name made by Tulsidas is validated through logic and understanding, but nevertheless, there will be doubters and skeptics. To add further support to his claim, to ensure that people really believe in the power of the holy name - as that will bring them everything beneficial in life, and who isn’t looking for benefits? - Tulsidas points to authority figures who not only agree with his position but actually act upon the prescription. The first reference is to Lord Shiva, who is also known as Mahadeva. Lord Vishnu is considered the original form of Godhead, the Supreme Lord for every single person, regardless of their spiritual tradition. Vishnu is beyond duality, karma, and the changing nature of the material world. Some spiritual traditions refer to the Almighty as “God” or by some other name, but in any case they are referring to Vishnu. Vishnu has many different forms and expansions that are worshiped as well. Even the form of Lord Krishna, which is considered the original form of Godhead by many followers of the Vedic tradition, is non-different from Vishnu. Whether one accepts Vishnu or Krishna as the original, there is virtually no difference in the benefit. One side gets a certain kind of liberation while another gets an even more enhanced version of freedom from the cycle of birth and death.

Lord ShivaHara, or Lord Shiva, is somewhere in between a living entity and Vishnu Himself. The living entities are jivas, so they are in the marginal position with respect to the material and spiritual energies. The jiva is spiritual by constitution, but he has a choice as to whether to remain in the spiritual world or go to the material world. When descending from the purified realm, the jiva must suffer through birth, old age, disease and death in repeating cycles until consciousness is altered. Lord Shiva remains far above the perishable material realm, but still underneath the eternal realm of Vaikuntha, where Vishnu resides. Lord Shiva, though he is very powerful and capable of granting boons to anyone who pleases him, is best known for being the greatest Vaishnava, or devotee of Vishnu. His Vishnu form of choice is Lord Rama; hence the strong attachment Tulsidas feels towards Mahadeva. Lord Shiva is an authority figure for Tulsidas and many other Vaishnavas because he spends all his time reciting the holy name of Rama. Indeed, in the Adhyatma Ramayana, which served as the primary reference for the wonderful poem authored by Tulsidas known as the Ramacharitamanasa, Mahadeva is the narrator of the life and pastimes of Lord Rama. He speaks about Rama and His glories to his wife Parvati, who is also known as Goddess Durga; thus showing the ideal example of how a husband should behave. The husband’s main business is to protect the wife and give her tremendous pleasure through discussing Vishnu and His pastimes. The aim of human life is to become God conscious, so even married life is meant to fulfill this purpose. If the husband can discuss spiritual topics with his wife, or vice versa, then both parties are benefitted immensely.

Just the fact that Lord Shiva chants Rama’s name is enough to support the claims made by Tulsidas pertaining to the name’s ability to remove all misfortunes and grant everything auspicious. This reference also reminds the followers of Lord Shiva, of which there are many, of just exactly what the nature of their worshipable object is. The true benefit of honoring and worshiping Mahadeva is to hopefully one day have just an ounce of the devotion and love that he harbors for his beloved Rama. No one is dearer to Rama than Shiva and no one transcendental sound vibration is more recited and contemplated on in Shiva’s mind than Rama’s holy name.

But what if people don’t want to take Lord Shiva as an authority figure? What if they are deferent to the Vedas and Puranas, two central aspects of the Vedic tradition which touch on many subject matters and topics? Lest we think there is a contradiction, these two authority figures, which are in the form of written texts, also support Tulsidas’ claim about the potency of the name of Rama. Even the seemingly cryptic Vedanta-sutras are all about devotion to God and chanting His name. The Puranas are descriptions of historical events that are meant to bring one to the bhakti platform. Indeed, Rama’s life and pastimes are described in many Puranas in different levels of detail. The Adhyatma Ramayana itself is part of the Brahmanda Purana, which was compiled by Vyasadeva, the literary incarnation of Vishnu. So if one claims to follow the Vedas, or if one ever cites the Vedas to support any claim, they must immediately accept Rama as the Supreme Lord and the chanting of His glorious name as the most important practice in life, the essence of the bhakti process, which itself represents the pinnacle of yoga practice. If this acknowledgment is absent, it is to be understood that the person referencing the Vedas and Puranas has no understanding of the texts.

Hanuman with Lord RamaThe Vedas are non-different from Vishnu, as their predominant message is devotion to God in His personal forms. All the supporting information found, such as the various descriptions of yoga and the workings of the three modes of material nature found in the Bhagavad-gita - the song of God sung by Lord Krishna, who is the very same Shri Rama but in a different form - are meant to bring one to the bhakti platform, that of total surrender, or sharanagati, to God. Without the final conclusion being reached, the information absorbed never gets properly utilized. The Vedas and Puranas sing the glories of Shri Rama, and since the Vedas bring auspiciousness to those who read and understand them, it is to be understood that the source of this benefit is the name itself. In the absence of the holy name, the Vedas and Puranas would be meaningless; they would be equivalent to the countless books that are published about topics not relating to God.

Even if one is still doubtful about the glories of the holy name, they should chant it nonetheless. The true authority of a preacher is substantiated through the results that come from following their prescriptions. By regularly chanting the holy name of the Lord through love and devotion, following the tradition set forth by Lord Shiva, the Vedas and the Puranas, one will see that their consciousness will change for the better, thus eliminating all misfortunes and bringing all auspiciousness. When this position is reached, we can better appreciate the preaching efforts and the benevolent work so kindly offered by the exalted Vaishnavas, the nicest and most inclusive welfare workers the world has ever known.

In Closing:

To accept instructions of others we hesitate,

For why on holy name should we meditate?

Their authority and audacity to teach come from where?

Tell me what to do, whom to worship, how do they dare?

Tulsidas says that name of Rama removes all sin,

Gives all auspiciousness at the same time, a win win.

That God could do this for His devotees makes sense,

Accept these words with your mind, no need for defense.

From skepticism in power of the holy name we doubt,

Therefore take authority of Shiva, who has the greatest clout.

Trust the Vedas if him you don’t want to believe,

The Puranas too, on their pages Rama’s name to retrieve.

Tulsidas makes claims that are true in their own right,

Yet cites authority to give his words more might.

Follow the prescription and constantly name do chant,

Happiness and freedom from sin to you God will grant.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Exercising Freedom

Shrimati Radharani“We often pray to Radharani because She is the pleasure potency of Krishna. The very word ‘Krishna’ means all-attractive, but Radharani is so great that She attracts Krishna. If Krishna is always attractive to everyone, and Radharani is attractive to Krishna, how can we imagine the position of Shrimati Radharani?” (Shrila Prabhupada, Elevation to Krishna Consciousness, Ch 5)

What is the purpose to our existence? Why must we continually suffer, day after day, with so many troubles? Even when there is happiness found in the steadiness of creature comforts, there is the constant fear that everything will be taken away. When things are lost, the past worries are validated and the overall enjoyment going forward is suddenly hampered as well. Therefore if we are miserable both when we have things and when we don’t, when will there be a peaceful condition? The philosophy of the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, is that the many living entities, the autonomous beings roaming this and many other lands, have an existence to provide pleasure to the fountainhead of all energies, the Supreme Lord, who is known as Krishna because of His all-attractiveness. As attractive as Krishna is, those who make use of their constitutional position to always act in His service become even more attractive, for they are capable of catching the Lord’s eye.

Lord KrishnaThe total number of living entities is impossible to count, or even fathom. Just think of all the different bugs and insects that appear on a summer night to come and disrupt your barbecue or your peaceful conversation in the backyard. Then think of all the ants and worms resting within the ground. Every life form that has autonomous movement, birth, death, growth, decay, etc. has a spirit soul inside. Therefore such entities are referred to as life forms, and though their specific outward functions may vary, they are all linked to the Supreme Lord. Even if we pay them no attention, it doesn’t mean that such beings are not related to God. For instance, the broker feverishly making trades on the floor of the stock exchange is not really concerned with the outside world. The fact that there are millions of children attending school at the same time trying to get an education does not appear on the passionate worker’s radar. Yet, just because we don’t contemplate certain things doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. No matter the level of intelligence or the body type assumed, every form of life is attached to the Supreme Lord.

Vedic information reveals that the spirit soul is the essence of identity. While the outer coverings may have different appearances, the properties of spirit do not change. We are all one, as we are all the same, fighting for one cause. When we walk into a room and see people dressed differently, the outfits mask the fact that every person is inherently the same. One person may be overweight, while another is skinny, but deep down they have a heart that keeps beating to maintain their life force. The Vedic angle of vision extends this perspective to all spheres of life. The eyes of the scriptures can see both the microscopic and the gigantic. The texts have the written sense perceptions and thoughts of great sages of the past, who documented both the activities and teachings of the Supreme Person when He was kind enough to present them to a notable personality. Thus simply by taking shelter of these great works, studying them under someone who knows the meanings behind the different verses, one can acquire a flawless vision.

In the absence of this instruction, we will require a lifetime’s worth of experiences just to learn that everyone is the same. It is seen that in closed communities where there is not much diversity, ignorance of other cultures and races is rampant. The practice of racism is sternly rebuked, but it is merely a viewpoint based on ignorance. A person who sees with the weakest eyes, a vision so impure that it can barely detect anything noticeable, thinks that one particular race is superior to another. Through enough exposure, sobriety of thought, and accumulation of sense perceptions, however, a better angle of vision can be acquired.

“The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste] .” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita 5.18)

Lord Krishna with cowIn this area the Vedas have already done the work for us. Simply by accepting its wisdom through what is known as the descending process of knowledge acquisition, we can begin to see things clearly immediately. The first instruction taught to students of the Vedic tradition is aham brahmasmi, which means “I am Brahman.” Brahman as a concept is very important because it immediately explains the equality shared between every type of life. The dog, cat, dog-eater, cow, learned sage, business tycoon, and even the ant are the same in quality. That quality is that they are Brahman, or pure spirit. Without attaining realization of Brahman, the most extended outlook reached by the mind will remain limited.

What do we mean by this? Take the common practice of nationalism. One who is born in a particular land becomes proud of their nation and the people that live in it. But we know that we had no control over the circumstances of our birth. We had so little control that we can’t even remember emerging from the womb of our mother. We only know that we were born in a particular place because of what people tell us. From this we see that there is every chance of being born in some other land. If we maintain our identity from our country of origin, the identity is one that could easily change.

Another way to understand the same concept is to pretend that we’re preparing our favorite dish. In this example, let’s say we’re making homemade pizza. For the pizza to come out right, we need a nice oven, one that can evenly distribute the heat necessary for the dough to cook and the cheese to melt. Is there a difference between the pizza cooked in the oven in the upstairs kitchen and the one baked in the downstairs kitchen? What if both ovens are identical? Would we ever refer to one pizza as being a downstairs pizza and the other as an upstairs pizza?

Obviously the quality of the oven and the resulting outcome are what matter, not necessarily the geographic location of where the baking took place. Similarly, it is the makeup of the spirit soul that counts; and the Vedas tell us that every instance of life is considered Brahman, or pure spirit. The question remains, “What does this gain us? What if I do know Brahman? What then am I supposed to do with that information?” Aside from being able to view everything properly, the realization of Brahman is meant to serve as a launching pad to another stage of realization, one that is in line with the constitutional position of the spirit soul.

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

Lord KrishnaLord Krishna states in the Bhagavad-gita that one who reaches the brahma-bhutah platform, the stage of understanding the individual’s true position as pure spirit, no longer hankers and laments. In that peaceful condition they take up bhakti, or devotion to God. If I know that I am pure spirit and not the temporary manifestation of matter surrounding my soul, I will be in a better position to judge everyone else and handle what life has to offer. The peace, tranquility, and evenness of emotion under pressure that I was so desperately seeking come through learning about Brahman and the equality of every individual spiritual fragment.

Activity does not stop here, however. The real business of the spirit soul is to please God. At this point the cogent question may be raised, “If we are supposed to serve God, why are we put into different bodies that are forced to suffer the effects of material nature? Why do we even have to undergo self-realization? Can’t God just remove our obstacles and let us serve Him?” Since the constitutional position of the soul is to be a loving servant of God, for that position to really make a difference, to take on its potency, there must be freedom in the exercise of service. The exaggerated viewpoint is to take God as being the supreme scientist and the living entities as sort of cloned creatures, “mini-frankensteins” if you will, resulting from an experiment that went awry. The intent of the scientist was to make autonomous entities that would act in the interests of the creator, but the experiment went horribly wrong.

This analogy can’t apply to Krishna, though. The living entities are His fragmental sparks, and they do have independence in their actions, but we are never capable of becoming stronger than Krishna, nor can we ever meet with total destruction. Based on the exercise of freedom, we are placed under the care of a specific energy. In the material land, the governing agent is maya, or illusion. In this respect our deference to maya is completely by choice, similar to how when a person plays a video game they agree to subject themselves to the rules and the obstacles that must be faced. The enjoyment in maya’s realm is short-lived, for gains acquired in a body that is destined for destruction cannot last forever.

Lord KrishnaOn the other hand, when freedom is exercised in favor of serving Krishna, the ruling agent becomes the spiritual energy, which is under the direct purview of the Lord. This is why devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, is considered the eternal engagement of the soul. Why would we want to live under the dictates of an energy that is not even autonomous in its own right? Material nature works under Krishna’s direction, but in an impersonal way. On the other hand, the spiritual energy is directly guided by Krishna; therefore it is always superior.

The constitutional position, by definition, brings great pleasure to the spirit soul. If Krishna were to force us to remain in the spiritual world with Him against our will, what pleasure would there be for Him? How would He gain satisfaction from exercising His domineering power over everyone? If you are God, you don’t need anything to validate Your supremacy or position of power. Rather, time is spent only in enjoying, having fun if you will. If you see pictures of Krishna, He is always happy. He is the very essence of ananda, or bliss. If He needs to punish someone, He’ll expand into a non-different form or He’ll order one of His energies acting under His direction to take care of the task, but Krishna Himself is always in full pleasure.

What is the source of Krishna’s pleasure? The Vedas describe the Lord as being atmarama, so He is in need of nothing. Though He is self-satisfied, the association of one particular person gives Him so much pleasure that He can’t even imagine how wonderful that person is. Shrimati Radharani, the eternal consort of Lord Krishna, is the topmost servant, the expansion of spiritual energy that never deviates from their constitutional position. She is so exalted that she enthralls Krishna at every second, showing what it means to take to bhakti and remain deferent to the reason for our existence.

Shrimati RadharaniThe rebellious spirit in us may raise some objections at this point. “I never asked to be created for Krishna’s pleasure. Why do I have to engage in something I don’t want to do?” The fact is that the serving principle is active within every single form of life. When service to Krishna is neglected, other entities and objects will be given favor. Since none of these target beneficiaries are all-attractive, the serving propensity will not bring the results that it should. Simply through following the example of Shrimati Radharani, honoring her, worshiping her, and asking her to bestow bhakti upon us, our real position can slowly and surely be reawakened.

To honor both Radha and Krishna, the sincere spiritualist seeking accompanying transcendental enlightenment regularly chants, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and thinks of their beloved divine pair standing together, always in each other’s company. Radharani is so nice that she doesn’t keep Krishna for herself. Rather, she is always looking for people to recommend to Krishna, for Him to spread His personal mercy upon even more sincere souls. Radha is not stingy in this regard. She would take the entire world back to the spiritual land in a second, provided that this was the desire of everyone. The purpose to our existence is to try to love Krishna just as much as Radha does. Though that is not possible, by remembering her sweet behavior and her undying devotion to Krishna, our reinstatement in the eternal pastimes of the Lord can take place very soon, giving us the boon of our existence and the ability to understand transcendental subject matters.

Radha and KrishnaIn Closing:

From Radharani’s devotion one thing is clear,

That to Shri Krishna, no one is more dear.

Expansion of the Lord’s energy is she,

Keeping Him happy, acts as His pleasure potency.

Spirit souls wandering the universe,

Are found in many species that are diverse.

Yet essence of identity is the soul,

At its core, lover of God is its role.

Follow the example of Krishna’s treasure,

Up to her standard of devotion yourself measure.

You will always fail in this regard, for she is the best,

From Her ability to love, Radha stands above the rest.

Though she is the Lord’s beloved and always by His side,

The glories of humble devotees in Krishna does she confide.

Therefore Their names do we go on chanting,

Fruit of existence for us is awaiting.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Source of Fame

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 ||

Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, had just listened to His dear friend, cousin and soon to be disciple advocate nonviolence and reveal both his dispassion towards ruling a kingdom and his fervent desire that no harm fall upon any of the members of the opposing army, many of whom were family members and teachers. This emotional response, which shows elevation from the desires for material advancement and the enjoyment of a kingdom, would seemingly make one deserving of praise and adulation, but Shri Krishna, as the kindest friend and the only all-knowing personality, immediately rebuked Arjuna, figuratively hitting him over the head with words of disapproval. Placing the primary concern over another living entity’s bodily condition is absent in the truly wise, those who know the eternality of the soul and its position of being above the ever changing bodies accepted during contact with material nature. When dejection comes from the right place, however, the behavior is forever celebrated. Shri Hanuman, the eternal servant of Lord Rama, gave us a wonderful example of this. Though he is famously known for his amazing displays of strength and bravery, Hanuman’s worshipable status really comes from his exhibition of divine love, a quality which is forever tied with the spirit soul, the essence of individuality.

Lord KrishnaOn that battlefield some five thousand years ago, Lord Krishna corrected Arjuna’s erroneous thinking in a sharp, concise, and yet thorough manner. In the famous American television sitcom, The Cosby Show, there was an episode where the eldest son of the family, Theo, was performing poorly in school. His grades were constantly not up to par and he had little motivation to study or live up to the standards set by his mother and father, who were a lawyer and doctor respectively. In this episode, Theo puts forth a passionate speech about how the father should love him despite what grades he gets. Shouldn’t the father’s love be universally available, through thick and thin, regardless of the character of the son? The speech was very nicely delivered, and the audience is left waiting to see if the father, who is played by Bill Cosby, will be won over by the wise words or not. In response, Cosby lashes out by saying that what Theo had said was the stupidest thing he had ever heard. He then famously said, “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out”, as a way to emphasize Theo’s need to perform better in school. “Quit making excuses” was the message.

“The Blessed Lord said: While speaking learned words, you are mourning for what is not worthy of grief. Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor the dead.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.11)

Lord Krishna, on the receiving end of a similar speech, rebuked Arjuna through swift and cutting words that were fully rooted in the truth and thus completely flawless. Arjuna thought he had delivered learned words by saying that he didn’t want to kill his family members fighting for the other side. This particular day on the battlefield of Kurukshetra was the culmination of many tumultuous years of infighting and ill-fated attempts made on the lives of Arjuna and his family. The right to rule over a massive kingdom belonged to the Pandavas, but the opposing side, led by Duryodhana, wanted the kingdom for themselves. Krishna even tried to broker a peace settlement, but that was wholly rejected. What were the Pandavas left to do? They were military men by trade, so it was their duty to protect dharma, or righteousness. They were entitled to the kingdom, and because of the sinful activities of Duryodhana, the other side was worthy of punishment.

Nevertheless, Arjuna put forth some good arguments in favor of nonviolence. He would not be happy enjoying the spoils of victory knowing that the other side was no longer around. Not only that, he would be the one responsible for their absence. Why should he live with that guilt and pain? Shri Krishna, who is the original form of Godhead and the source of all knowledge, both material and spiritual, reminded Arjuna that what he was grieving for was not worthy of so much attention. The spirit soul is the essence of identity, the subtle aspect residing within every form of life. What we know as birth and death are simply the acceptance and rejection of an outer dress by the soul, who continues to live regardless of where it is placed and the nature of its surroundings.

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

Krishna and ArjunaUnderstanding that I am a spirit soul, part and parcel of God, is the most difficult conclusion to reach. It requires intense training under a spiritual master, or guru, who is firmly fixed on the devotional path. Krishna is the original spiritual master, so by instructing Arjuna during his hour of need, a new disciplic succession was created. Even if we know that we are not the body and that others aren’t either, we need these swift reminders every now and then, especially when our lamentation gets the better of us. Arjuna was a fighter by occupation, so there was no room for soft-heartedness in the execution of his duties. If a fighter should feel sorry for the other side, his fighting abilities will suffer as a result; hence the entire reason for his occupation gets negated. If the police fail to protect us, then who else will? If the military can’t defeat the enemies of the world, how will we be safe? The other side was going to fight nobly, and they weren’t going to hold back in their attacks on Arjuna. Whether Arjuna’s opponents died or not was of no concern, for the soul lives forever. In the larger picture, no person can ever slay another.

Now that we are familiar with these teachings of the ancient scriptures of India, the Vedas, the behavior seen many thousands of years prior of one of the most celebrated divine figures in history becomes all the more puzzling. Outside of India, Hanuman is sometimes known as the monkey-god, but to those who are devoted to him, he is the essence of purity. He is fully endowed with every auspicious attribute. He is kind, perseverant, knowledgeable, humble, sweet, intelligent, and most of all, dedicated to Lord Rama, the Personality of Godhead who appeared on earth many thousands of years later as Lord Krishna and delivered the Bhagavad-gita.

Are there many Gods in the Vedic tradition? There are many godlike figures, but there is still only one Supreme Lord. He is the same person that every other person worships, either directly or indirectly. Though there is only one God, He doesn’t limit Himself to just one form. The eternally fixed position, the original body, of the individual spirit soul is that of lover of Krishna, or God. For this love to remain at high levels, fully active, the soul needs an engagement that can never exhaust in the fruits it brings forth. The highest reward is that which remains ever manifest and capable of delivering satisfaction. Since the fixed position of the soul is to be a lover of God, any benefit that allows for that love to be further exhibited will naturally be considered superior.

Lord RamaTo ensure that engagements are always present and that the rewards continually provide enjoyment, the original Personality of Godhead, who is known as Krishna or Vishnu depending on the specific Vedic tradition followed, comes to earth in various non-different forms and enacts pastimes. The lila, or divine sports, of the Personality of Godhead carries out many functions simultaneously. As it is in our nature to glorify, or perform kirtana, the divine pastimes allow for endless glorification through singing and the tagging of different names. In the Treta Yuga, Krishna’s warrior prince incarnation was known as Rama, for He gave transcendental pleasure to His devotees. Amongst His well-wishers, none was more eager to serve Him than Hanuman, a pure soul residing in a Vanara body in the forest of Kishkindha.

While the pastimes of Rama allow for millions of devotees to today glorify God and sing about His divine qualities, during Rama’s time on earth the pure love of the devotees often manifested in direct service offered. When Rama’s wife Sita Devi went missing from the couple’s cottage in the forest of Dandaka, it presented an opportunity for a select few exalted figures to engage in service to please Rama. Accompanied by other monkeys, Hanuman was tasked with searching the earth for Sita. If he should find her alive, he was to hand her Rama’s ring as a sign of genuineness. Sita must have been taken away, for she was the most beautiful woman in the world. To this day the earth still has never seen a woman so kind, wonderful in every way, and devoted to her husband. Sita is forever with Rama, even in the spiritual sky. Just the opportunity to see Sita was enough of a reward; thus revealing Hanuman’s divine nature. He was the only one qualified to meet Sita alone and allay her fears. He was the only person given the benediction of meeting Rama’s wife and learning from her exemplary behavior through direct observation.

What behavior do we speak of? To gain a slight understanding, we can look to the above quoted verse from the Ramayana. Hanuman eventually learned that Sita had been taken to the island kingdom of Lanka by a Rakshasa named Ravana, who wanted her to be his wife. When he reached Lanka, Hanuman took on a small form and roamed through the city searching for the princess. He saw all sorts of beautiful women doing many different things, but he knew that none of them could be Sita.

Sita DeviHow did he know? He had not ever met Sita up until this point, so what did he have to base his assuredness on? What if Sita had somehow decided to become Ravana’s queen and enjoy with him in his palace? From Rama’s position as the Supreme Lord and worshipable object of every person in the world, Hanuman knew that the Lord’s wife was equally as worthy of worship. She was famous throughout the world for her chastity. No one could ever break her from her vow to love and adore Rama. She was known for not ever gazing at anyone else. Can we imagine how it would feel if someone were that dedicated to us? In this way we see that no one gives Rama more pleasure than Sita.

Sita is also described as always having her mind fixed on Rama. Since he saw queens getting ready to cavort with their husbands, and other beautiful women enjoying in different ways, Hanuman knew that he had yet to find Sita. Only when he would see someone deeply engaged in meditation on God would he know that he had found the right person. Sita was also the most exalted woman, so none of these people he had seen thus far could be considered superior. Not that they weren’t beautiful or worthy of good husbands themselves, but still, they couldn’t match up with Sita.

What’s interesting to note is that these qualities came to Hanuman’s mind when he was feeling dejected. He was not pleased over not having yet found Sita. He was worried about her well-being and also Rama’s. Sita was the very mind of her husband, as she had won Him over with her love. The one person who is above passion and the urges of the senses can still be mentally defeated by someone as wonderful as Sita, who loves Him with all her heart. Hanuman, as a pure devotee himself, fully appreciated Sita’s divine qualities. In fact, just thinking of them made him feel exhilarated. He was temporarily taken off of his determined path because of not having found her, but to cheer himself up, to give himself the pep talk he needed, he simply remembered Sita’s qualities.

HanumanThis wonderful exhibition of divine love, his dejection over having temporarily failed Rama by not being able to find the goddess of fortune and give her relief in the form of Rama’s ring is what really makes Hanuman stand out. Arjuna was distressed over having to enjoy regal life without his family members, so Krishna rightfully corrected him. Hanuman also showed concern for another human being, but since he was saddened over the fact that a wonderful devotee couldn’t be with her religiously wedded husband, his lamentation actually increased his stature. It was this very sadness that would keep him going, as he never wanted to fail Rama. Hanuman would rather die trying than leave Sita and Rama without hope.

It is not surprising therefore that Hanuman would end up a success and also eternally loved by Sita and Rama. After her rescue, from Sita herself he was granted the benediction of being able to always think of both she and Rama. As Hanuman so nicely points out in the Mahabharata during his conversation with Bhima, one of Arjuna’s brothers, Sita Devi takes care of all of his worldly necessities. Hanuman only wants to sing the glories of Shri Rama and His family members, so in this regard Hanuman doesn’t need much. Similarly, if we want to find our eternal engagement, we don’t require anything more than simply chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. By adherence to the principles of bhakti-yoga and by regularly remembering the heartwarming displays of affection and attachment shown by Hanuman, we can remain steadfast on the righteous path. Hanuman’s fame was established by his unflinching faith in Shri Rama and the mission provided by Him. And since that time, Hanuman’s stature has only increased with the countless devotees he helps to cross over the ocean of nescience by showing the proper path in life, that of devotion to God.

In Closing:

Lamentation over potential fight caused Arjuna grief,

Resulted in lecture from Lord Krishna, Yadu’s chief.

By speaking of nonviolence Arjuna thought he was learned,

But Krishna corrected Him, words delivered became blessed.

The soul is the essence of identity, not the body,

Thus no need for sadness, be faithful to your duty.

Yet many years prior, another warrior also found distress,

Unable to succeed in his task, could not locate missing princess.

Rama asked the warrior to find Sita His wife,

Hanuman took the Lord’s instruction as his life.

Grief in trying to please God source of eternal fame,

Synonymous with devotion is Hanuman’s name.

His temporary sadness led to ultimate success,

Sita and Rama reward those who fight through duress.

The path of bhakti-yoga is not easy in the least,

By remembering Hanuman, chances of success increased.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Mental Pictures

Krishna's lotus feet“See my dear son, whose eyes are white, who has a turban on His head, a wrapper on His body and leg bells which tinkle very sweetly on His feet. He is coming near, along with His surabhi calves, and just see how He is wandering upon the sacred land of Vrindavana!” (Mother Yashoda speaking to Nanda Maharaja, The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 43)

The magic in the written word is its ability to paint a picture within the mind, to give the consciousness something to contemplate, remember, reproduce, study and take shelter of in both peaceful and troublesome situations alike. If we are suddenly put into trouble, such as after being laid off from work or having to suffer a pay reduction, the mind can find comfort in one second by conjuring up an image, a mental travel to the “happy place”. There are many books and literary creations produced every year, with the primary effect being the images imprinted into the brain. Therefore the more sublime the subject matter, the greater the number of beautiful images will rest within the mind. When the consciousness has a steady supply of such imagery, a veritable encyclopedia of the most pleasant scenes, pictures and portraits, there is every chance of remaining peaceful, calm, confident, steady and virtuous. When this consciousness is in an active state at the time of death, the soul gets transported to a destination bearing the same qualities as the images so constantly relied upon for sustenance.

A literary work can tell a story and convey the ideas and thoughts of the author. The imagery created through the words presented gives an indication of what the primary thought processes of the author are. For instance, in an autobiography, if a famous celebrity were to devote many pages to their difficulties during childhood, wherein they had to suffer through poverty, witness domestic violence, endure inappropriate sexual advances made by elders and members of the opposite sex, or face humiliation and degradation of character from authority figures, this naturally means that their mind is focused on negative thoughts, or at least that’s what they remember from that period of time in their life.

When reading the autobiography, the interested reader is looking to find out more about the celebrity in question. But by hearing of disturbing incidents which paint negative mental pictures, the result is that the reader is left in a more distraught condition than that from which they started. At the beginning, there is anticipation and excitement in opening a new book. “I can’t wait to find out what made this celebrity successful, what they had to go through and how they persevered through times of trouble.” As with any other activity, the main objective in reading is to find peace and happiness, a situation that is more enjoyable than the starting point.

This is the general pattern, for we eat so that we will no longer feel hungry. We drink so that our thirst is slaked. We gather together with friends and family to defeat loneliness and boredom. We know from these experiences, however, that if the quality of the association is not pure, the result will be a negative condition. If we are thirsty and drink excessive amounts of alcohol, the combination of dehydration and inebriation follows. When the drunkenness wears off, a hangover and physical pain remain. If to satisfy our hunger we overindulge in fatty foods, our gift will be a stomach ache and an increase in weight.

Along the same lines, if to pacify our interest and curiosity we read books that paint negative imagery within the mind, we will be left in a worse off condition. This is one of the reasons why children are prohibited from watching movies for adults. In a R rated film, there is likely foul language used and scenes involving sex or gruesome violence. Should the child, who is mostly innocent in their thought processes, consume these images, they will be negatively affected. If we were to watch a horror movie just before going to bed, there is an increased chance of having bad dreams during the night. Who among us looks forward to being scared out of our minds while remaining in a deep slumber for the night? Who likes waking up in a cold sweat, feeling glad that the horrible images just conjured up were only part of a dream?

“O son of Kunti, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.14)

The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, are the most important texts of the spiritual variety because they directly address the issue of consciousness. The association through sound vibrations documented in the Vedic texts is meant to uplift the soul otherwise bewildered by Lord Krishnatemporary losses and gains. You can be working at the same job for ten years or more, have a happy family life, and expect nothing to go wrong, when all of a sudden everything is swept right from underneath you. The change that you hadn’t dealt with in years suddenly is forced upon you. Those who don’t know how to handle this, how to expect the unexpected, and how to deal with the constant changes in life will find misery through the sudden changes.

By immersion in Vedic literature, one learns more about the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who in His original form is known as Krishna because of His all-attractiveness. Right away we see that the Vedas aim to paint the most beautiful picture within the mind, that of the portrait of Shri Krishna, who is also known as Shyamasundara because of His unique beauty. Krishna has the complexion of a dark raincloud, and He always carries a flute in His hands and wears a peacock feather in His hair. The flower garland that adorns His neck smells wonderful and is meticulously crafted. The Kaustubha jewel resting on His neck has a brilliant luster, as its shine defeats that of the most beautiful gems found in the world. The earrings hanging from the Lord’s ears and the armlets wrapped around His wrists complete this most wonderful portrait.

Lord KrishnaTo help us to accept this picture as being divine and representative of God, the Vedas provide detailed information about other topics as well, such as reincarnation, the differences between matter and spirit, the reason for the material creation’s existence, and how the soul can break out of the cycle of birth and death. Such information is supplementary to the highest realization of pure Krishna consciousness. To increase the supply of sweet imagery available to the mind, the Shrimad Bhagavatam, the crown jewel of Vedic literature, describes Krishna’s pastimes enacted on this planet some five thousand years ago.

If ever the taste from the lemons life has handed to us becomes too bitter, we can remember Krishna’s playful activities that took place in the farm community of Vrindavana. As a child, the Lord would gather together His friends and hatch up schemes to steal the supply of butter belonging to the neighbors. Butter is a commodity in a farm community dedicated to protecting cows. Krishna loves cows, as one of His names is Govinda, which means one who gives pleasure to the cows. The butter the cows kindly provide gives Krishna so much satisfaction that He loves to eat it directly. Normally, if in a restaurant the waiter drops off a basket of bread and butter at the table, no one eats the butter directly. If they did, they would get strange looks from their friends and other patrons in the restaurant.

For children, the standard of etiquette is more relaxed. What then to speak of the Supreme Lord during His childhood? Krishna’s stealing of butter belonging to the cowherd women of Vrindavana, the gopis, is so much celebrated today, as it earned the Lord the nickname “Makhan Chor”, or one who steals butter. The image of Krishna dipping His tiny hands into a pot of butter is so enlivening that one has a difficult time remaining angry or upset over their latest troubles when thinking of it.

Lord KrishnaIn addition to stealing butter, Krishna would play with His young friends in the forest every day. When there was trouble or too much turmoil, Krishna would play on His magical flute and everyone would stop what they were doing. The residents loved Krishna purely and without motive. When music started coming out from the flute, rather than be jealous at Krishna’s unique playing ability, the friends and cows would relish the sound and insist on hearing more of it.

When Krishna wasn’t pleasing His friends through His childish antics and sports, He was protecting them from the demons infiltrating the town. The neighboring city of Mathura was ruled by a wicked king named Kamsa, who wanted Krishna dead. As God can never be killed, the demons that came to Vrindavana did not escape with their lives intact. How a young child could slay such powerful demons was a mystery to everyone, though the images of Krishna’s offering of protection never left anyone’s mind.

When Krishna grew older, He left Vrindavana, but His pastimes did not end. He continued to give protection to His friends, sometimes even in the strangest ways. During the greatest war the world has ever seen, Krishna played the role of a charioteer for the lead fighter of the Pandavas, Arjuna. Prior to the war’s commencement, Krishna offered protection to Arjuna in the form of sublime words of wisdom. This collection of teachings later became known as the Bhagavad-gita, or the Song of God. Though there are specific issues addressed and profundities revealed in this song, its main purpose is to paint within the mind the picture of Krishna instructing His friend during a time where the enemy of doubt had taken over the mind.

Krishna instructing ArjunaDescriptions of Krishna’s transcendental form and pastimes found in the Shrimad Bhagavatam represent just one small piece of Vedic literature. The entire breadth and scope of Vedic writings is replete with such wonderful imagery, as Krishna takes on many different forms. As Lord Rama, He is the handsome and pious warrior prince of Ayodhya whose activities and pastimes are documented in the famous Ramayana poem penned by Maharishi Valmiki. As Narasimhadeva, Krishna is the half-man/half-lion who came to protect His five-year old devotee Prahlada Maharaja from the attacks of his father, Hiranyakashipu.

While there is the original set of Vedic teachings and descriptions available for reference, the saints that have followed in the line of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, have added on to the already incomprehensible volume of Vedic literature. The purpose of this writing is to glorify Krishna by providing descriptions of His names, qualities, forms and pastimes. For those who are looking for peaceful mental images and ways to remember God in all His beauty, the most recommended practice is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

This might be strange to hear, but just chanting this mantra over and over again is sufficient for attaining pure Krishna consciousness. Study of Vedic literature is meant for those who need convincing of Krishna’s supreme status. Those who need help always remembering God and honoring Him within the mind are aided by reading, which creates mental pictures through words. Also, those who are interested in preaching about the glories of Krishna and devotional service to Him are provided the information they need through works like the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam.

Lord KrishnaYet, by chanting Krishna’s names over and over again, the imagery is there just the same. This is one of those things that has to be tried out in order to be believed. In no other field of endeavor can we just recite a specific sound vibration and become enlightened. Yet bhakti is so powerful that simply through constantly hearing one or two words, the most beautiful picture is etched within the mind.

The penchant for reading is already there. If it weren’t, newspapers, online news sites and the latest bestsellers would never be opened or perused. The aim is to find entertainment, to keep the mind focused on something that will have an overall positive effect. Thanks to the authors of the original Vedic texts and those who humbly follow in the line of disciplic succession that aims to worship God for real, there is a storehouse of information available to every single person looking for happiness. The images painted through reading are so nice that the sincere soul will want to hear about Krishna constantly. The more we keep the sweet form of Muralidhara, the wielder of the flute, in our mind, the greater the chances for becoming Krishna consciousness by the time of death.

“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)

As Krishna reveals in the Bhagavad-gita, whatever state of being one remembers at the time of death, that state they will attain without fail. This is akin to the concept of one’s life flashing before their very eyes just prior to exiting the body. Obviously those images accumulated through experience found in the greatest abundance within the mind will be at the forefront of the consciousness at the end of life. Therefore the more we can produce mental images of Krishna and His divine pastimes today, the greater the likelihood of remembering God at the time of death. When the picture of Krishna’s form stays within the consciousness of the living being, after death that same image comes to life in the form of the Lord’s personal association in the spiritual sky.

Lord KrishnaIn Closing:

When life gets you down and lessens your pace,

Find wonderful images, go to happy place.

To find pleasure we read books authored by others,

Biographies, sports, news, whatever our druthers.

Aim is to find a better condition, advancement in thought,

For downturns come unexpectedly, with perils is life fraught.

The Vedic texts do exist to please everyone’s mind,

In it words that create image of God you will find.

Lord Krishna, Yashoda and Nanda’s young boy,

He of bluish complexion, trusted flute is His toy.

On some days in pot of butter is Krishna’s hand,

While on others He’s with cows grazing the land.

These and other wonderful images fill every page,

Of Shrimad Bhagavatam, given by Vyasa the sage.

During every day, with your tongue Krishna’s name produce,

Paint Lord’s image in mind, pains in life will this reduce.

Remember Krishna’s beautiful portrait especially at life’s end,

Image then comes alive, in Lord’s company eternity to spend.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What Do You Want

Lord Rama“Vibhishana obtained Lanka, Sugriva became king, and Hanuman and Jatayu also received wonderful rewards, but the fallen Tulsidas only wants love for Shri Rama’s holy name.” (Dohavali, 34)

lanka bibhīsana rāja kapi pati mārūti khaga mīca |
lahī rāma soṃ nāma rati cāhata tulasī nīca ||

What can’t God give to those who love Him, honor Him, and cherish His very existence during every second of the day? The human being tries to find lasting happiness through so many different pursuits, only to fail every time. With each success in mundane ventures comes a renewal of activity, a further attachment and obligation imposed on the person who has bucked the odds and found their way to a desired end. Yet once the thrill of victory is tasted, future defeats and setbacks become more difficult to swallow, as the memory and happiness of the previous gains quickly erode. With the Supreme Lord, however, there are no defects in the benedictions He grants to those who are sincerely interested in serving Him without motive. Even though God has the whole world in His hands and can bring anything to anyone, for the devotees, the bhaktas swimming in an ocean of transcendental bliss emerging from the very mention of the name that addresses the Supreme Person, there is no other desire except to continue reciting this name, day after day, lifetime after lifetime.

Lord KrishnaThe spirit soul, the essence of individuality, exists forever. Long after the current life is over and long before the present birth from our mother’s womb, the soul holds onto its constitutional makeup. The understanding of the soul’s presence and its qualitative composition is the most elusive information to the conditioned being, even though such knowledge is readily available, provided one is fortunate enough to approach the right person and then have the good sense to accept the instruction presented them without reservation. The knowledge of the soul and its relationship to a higher power is found in many sacred texts, but it is most clearly described in the Bhagavad-gita, a poem sung by Lord Krishna on the Battlefield of Kurukshetra.

God is a universal figure; He is the original Divine Being that everyone is open to worship. While one sect may have allegiance to their version of God, or their version of a son of the Creator, this doesn’t mean that the Supreme Lord is only available to a certain section of mankind. Rather, just as our own bodies can change during our lifetime without our identities being altered, the Supreme Lord can take many non-different forms that are equally as worshipable. Lord Krishna is considered the original form, as He is the most attractive. Just one look at His smiling face is enough to turn the heads of even the most ardent supporters of sense gratification as a way of life. The sound of Krishna’s flute is considered the most mesmerizing and enchanting, as it captures the hearts and minds of the eternally liberated souls residing in the spiritual world.

The soul is described in the Bhagavad-gita as being immutable, unchangeable and primeval. The soul is not slain when the body is slain. This is very powerful information to those who identify solely with the body. Therefore hearing from the Gita in the aftermath of a death of a close friend or family member is beneficial, as it comforts the grieving person, letting them know that the departed lives on. While their existence continues, what determines the next body type, their future destination? Karma, or fruitive activity, along with guna, or material qualities, shapes future fortunes. This doesn’t just take effect at the time of death either. Rather, at every second we are suffering or enjoying the reactions of our work. The qualities we assumed at the time of birth were the direct result of previous desires and actions performed.

Lord KrishnaGod, as the creator of karma, is the only person who can put a stop to its effect. While karma shapes the future fortunes of the soul when it is embodied, the Supreme Lord, through His divine power, can rescue the soul from the ocean of nescience and bring it back to wherever it wants to go, which is preferably its original home, the spiritual sky. Since the soul is eternal, it would make sense that its ideal abode would be an imperishable land, a place where there are no differences between body and spirit. When under the jurisdiction of karma, the body must change at every second, leading to temporary pains and pleasures. Just as the seasons come and go at their own time, happiness and sadness arrive on their own schedule. When one is free from karma, however, there is no change to the dwelling of the soul; hence in the liberated state the body assumes the same spiritual qualities as the individual soul.

While karma pretty much works on its own through the forces of nature instituted by the Supreme Lord, this doesn’t preclude God from personally intervening and offering rewards to those who are intimately associated with Him. Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice and a rise in irreligion, the Supreme Lord descends personally from the spiritual world to the earthly realm. The spiritual form that appears on earth is referred to as an avatara, or “one who descends”. One of God’s most famous avataras is Lord Rama, the warrior prince of Ayodhya who appeared on earth many thousands of years ago during the Treta Yuga. Goswami Tulsidas, the famous Vaishnava poet, is especially fond of Lord Rama, as he doesn’t see God as being anyone else. Even when discussing the pastimes of Lord Krishna or other Vishnu forms, Tulsidas makes no distinctions between them, considering them all to be the same Shri Rama.

Lord Rama performed many glorious deeds during His time on earth, and through His dealings with others He was able to grant many wonderful benedictions. If you own everything to start with, what will stop you from rewarding those who are kind to you and help you out? The gifts given by Rama are too many to count, but Tulsidas mentions a few of the notable ones above. Rama’s wife during His time on earth was Sita Devi, the princess of Videha. Just as Rama is an incarnation of God’s form of Vishnu, Sita is an incarnation of Lakshmi Devi, the eternal consort, or wife, of Lord Vishnu. To eliminate the demoniac element concentrated on the island of Lanka at the time, Rama came to earth in a seemingly human form, for the ruler of the evil ogres in Lanka had immunity in battle against every type of creature except humans. Rama was still dedicated to dharma, or religiosity, so He wasn’t going to just fight Ravana without justification.

Lord RamaThe excuse would come in the form of Sita’s rescue. Hearing of her beauty, Ravana decided that he had to have her. Since Rama would utterly route him in battle, Ravana decided to hatch a plot to steal Sita away. When Sita was brought to the island kingdom of Lanka, Rama outwardly didn’t know where she was. This was also part of the Lord’s plan, as it created an opportunity for others to offer their service. God has everything, so under normal circumstances what help can any of us be to Him?

The spirit soul is naturally inclined towards service. In the conditioned state, the loving propensity is directed to friends, family, spouses, pets, and even sports teams. The fan of their favorite team will be elated when they win a championship and greatly saddened when they lose, especially if the loss comes in a heartbreaking manner, such as with a sudden-death overtime loss in a game seven of a playoff series in ice hockey.

When consciousness is purified, love is directed at God. Rama allowed many individuals to exercise pure bhakti, or love for God, when it came time to find Sita. First, Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana made friends with a Vanara king named Sugriva. The monkeys of the Treta Yuga were advanced, so they had many human-like tendencies. Sugriva had been driven out of his kingdom by his brother Vali over an unfortunate misunderstanding. Sugriva could surely help Rama, but he needed his kingdom back first. If someone becomes friends with God, they are never bereft of anything. Therefore Rama vowed to get Sugriva his kingdom back from Vali. This is exactly what would happen, as Rama would shoot Vali in the back, allowing Sugriva to live without fear, giving him reign over the monkey kingdom. Simply because he agreed to help Rama find Sita, Sugriva, the lord of monkeys, became king.

Lord Rama with VibhishanaSimilarly, Vibhishana, the younger brother of Ravana, attained the crown of Lanka by submitting Himself before Rama. Ravana refused to let Sita go, even after the heartfelt pleas of Vibhishana, who was only looking out for his brother’s interests. Realizing that Ravana would not change his ways, Vibhishana turned tail and asked to join the other side, the opposition led by Rama and Sugriva’s monkey-army. Under the material estimation, Vibhishana was the biggest turncoat, the original “Benedict Arnold” if you will. Many of the members of the monkey party were hesitant to accept a Rakshasa into their ranks, especially one who was so closely tied to Ravana.

“It is My vow that if one only once seriously surrenders unto Me, saying, ‘My dear Lord, from this day I am Yours,’ and prays to Me for courage, I shall immediately award courage to that person, and he will always remain safe from that time on.” (Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Yuddha Kand, 18.33)

Despite the hesitancy from the monkeys, Lord Rama firmly asserted that He grants protection to and removes fears from anyone who surrenders unto Him. Vibhishana had come over in earnest, and his character was vouched for by Hanuman, Sugriva’s chief minister and warrior. As soon as Vibhishana came to Rama’s camp, the Lord crowned him as the new king of Lanka. Ravana was obviously still the acting king, but this ceremony indicated that Rama would dethrone Ravana, rescue Sita, and then install Vibhishana as king of Lanka as a reward for his loyalty. Shri Rama, being the Absolute Truth, would make good on His promise.

Shri Hanuman, the valiant warrior fighting for Sugriva’s side, made his way first into Lanka to find where Sita was. His trek was not easy in the least bit, as he faced many obstacles and had to remain determined in mind. The opulence and massive power of the Rakshasas were enough to suppress the enthusiasm of even the most perseverant fighter, but Hanuman was not deterred. He would find Sita, allay her fears, return to Rama with information of her whereabouts, and then play an important role in the victorious outcome of the final battle with Ravana and the Rakshasas. Due to his bravery and kind efforts, Hanuman was rewarded with eternal fame and devotion to Sita, Rama and Lakshmana.

HanumanJatayu, the wonderful and kind vulture, attained one of the greatest benedictions anyone could ever think of: dying in the arms of the Supreme Lord. When Ravana had taken Sita from the forest, his aerial path was initially obstructed by Jatayu, who saw what was happening and protested. Jatayu was good friends with Rama’s father, Maharaja Dasharatha, the King of Ayodhya. Fighting his hardest to stop Ravana, Jatayu eventually was badly wounded and fell to the ground. Later on, Rama and Lakshmana would find him just before he quit his body. Lord Rama took the vulture in His arms, thus allowing Jatayu to have the divine vision right before quitting his body. In the Bhagavad-gita, it is stated that anyone who thinks of God at the time of death never has to take birth again. In this way Jatayu attained salvation by looking directly at the Lord while dying.

Even knowing that these wonderful benedictions were granted by the Lord to His devotees, Goswami Tulsidas, who considers himself lower than the lowest, still only wants love for Rama’s name. This heartfelt request doesn’t imply that the aforementioned devotees specifically wanted something more from Rama. The references are made solely for comparison purposes, as Vibhishana, Hanuman, Jatayu and Sugriva are considered Rama’s dearest friends, devotees who are celebrated and highly regarded for their wonderful courage, bravery and devotion to the jewel of the Raghu dynasty. Hanuman is the most famous of the group, but even the attention and adoration shown his way were never explicitly sought after. Hanuman only wants to think of Rama and His family and try his best to keep smiles on their faces.

Tulsidas, following in the standard of devotion set by Hanuman, similarly doesn’t want any personal benediction from the Lord, nor does he feel he is worthy of anything. Rather, he only wants to have love and attachment, or rati, for chanting the holy name of Rama. The name of God is everything, as it represents His forms, pastimes and qualities. Though God is formless and nameless according to our estimation, He still has a spiritual body which is full of attributes and thousands of names assigned to Him by those who wish to remember and honor Him. To Tulsidas, Rama is the preferred name, the favorite sound vibration. The poet’s attitude revealed in his request represents the height of devotional practice, the perfection of consciousness. Though he is the most glorious of writers and the kindest of human beings, Tulsidas doesn’t feel he is above anyone else or deserving of wonderful rewards. Rama’s name is his only wealth, for this sound vibration is all that is needed to maintain a link in consciousness to the Supreme Lord. When this bond of love is firmly established, the previously lost individual is said to be in yoga, where he has a direct connection to pure spirit.

Attaining the state of consciousness where the only thing we want is to chant God’s names is very difficult, but it serves as the ideal aim of spiritual practice. Rama can grant anything to anyone, but devotion is rarely found because it is seldom sought after. Kingdoms, material opulence, fame and good standing are available even through activity in karma, so why wouldn’t the Supreme Lord be able to grant these benedictions to His devotees? Affection for Rama and His name through a mood of pure love, however, can only be received from the Supreme Lord and the devotees who chant His glories. Anyone who regularly chants, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, with firm attachment in a loving mood is the wealthiest person, capable of distributing the precious gem that is the holy name to others. Once we figure out that love for God is what we really want, we will never be bereft of it, as Shri Rama will guarantee that our request is not denied.

Lord RamaIn Closing:

Shri Rama, of Raghu’s fame,

So glorious is His name.

From the Supreme Lord He is not different,

Yet still in honoring Him we are hesitant.

To many Rama granted wonderful boons in the past,

On serving His lotus feet their efforts were cast.

In material estimation, as turncoat Vibhishana was the biggest,

Renounced his brother Ravana, in favor of Rama the kindest.

Received from the Lord the kingdom of Lanka in an instant,

Ravana’s demise sealed through Rama’s arrows flying constant.

Sugriva, plagued by the fear of Vali his brother,

Through Rama regained his kingdom, no more worry to bother.

Hanuman received fame through Shri Rama’s grace,

Jatayu salvation by looking at the Lord’s face.

As God Himself, what is there that Rama cannot give?

Yet Tulsidas wants only with love for holy name to live.

This gift is granted to anyone, if their heart is pure,

Chant Rama’s name always, His love you’ll have for sure.

Monday, September 5, 2011

I’m a Big Kid Now

Lord Krishna“The human form is a special gift of material nature in the course of her enforcing stringent laws of miseries upon the living being. It is a chance to achieve the highest boon of life, namely to get out of the entanglement of repeated birth and death. The intelligent take care of this important gift by strenuously endeavoring to get out of the entanglement.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.16.9 Purport)

For those having grown up recently, there was a time when big purple dinosaurs could provide entertainment for hours on end. Indeed, one could watch the same animated film over and over again and not be bored in the least bit. The sound of the ice cream truck coming down the street would bring thrills and excitement, and the prospect of eating candy on Halloween was well anticipated. With adults, however, the activities and interests are different. Why is this? Why can’t a person go their whole life enjoying the same pursuits and interests? Why must there be advancement in terms of occupation? The reason for the shift is the development of the consciousness. The more intelligent a person gets, the more they abandon previous activities that were reserved for those with less intelligence. As the human form of life is the most auspicious, the highest state of intelligence within that form also has a corresponding set of activities. The highest discipline is known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, and once the intelligent person reaches the state in life where bhakti is adopted wholeheartedly, every other engagement, even instruction on a subject taught by the scholarly professors in academia, becomes dull and tasteless, like the childhood cartoons and activities that were abandoned at the turn into adulthood.

playgroundWouldn’t it be great to be easily pleased? For the child, running around a playground is the source of endless fun. Your parents let you go, and you run around until you can’t anymore. You play on the swings, the monkey bars, the slides and in the sandbox for hours on end. In between eating and sleeping, you follow other enjoyments like watching television and reading children’s stories. Why can’t the fun last forever? For the child there is no concern over impending death, scorned love, or how to pay the bills. If anything, the biggest worry is over why there must be rules and regulations imposed.

We see that as education increases, as further knowledge about life around us is acquired, the childhood enjoyments are steadily renounced. Instead of eating sweets by the bowlful, there is regulation imposed in eating. A balanced diet, consisting of vegetables, grains and proteins is followed so that health can be maintained to a satisfactory level. Knowledge of mathematics, science, geography, reading and writing is gathered to be able to earn a living as an adult. With financial independence comes the relief over how and where to procure life’s necessities. All of these concerns are absent in children, as they do not have the intelligence to understand the finer points of life.

Though higher education focuses on topics not studied by children, there is still another level to be ascended to. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, describe animal life as consisting of eating, sleeping, mating and defending. This is true in both child animals and adult ones. In the human form, the penchant for these activities is introduced at the time of birth. The human child is actually not much more intelligent than the mature animal. Therefore when education does take place, the real area of concern should be on how to transcend the four primary animal instincts.

sesame streetFor this to happen, there must be a corresponding set of instructions, teachings and pearls of wisdom that target those who want to reach the full potential for activity found within the soul. In fact, full allegiance to eating, sleeping, mating and defending can only take place when intelligence has not yet fully developed. This is similar to how children enjoy television programs and movies that adults would never want to sit through. Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers are meant for very young children, for even elementary school students and teenagers would never think of watching such programs.

To dedicate life to repetitive activities like drinking wine, eating sumptuous food cooked for one’s sense gratification and enjoying illicit sex in abundance, one must remain ignorant of the eternal nature of the soul, its marginal position with respect to the two primary energies, and how it is inherently linked to the Supreme Soul, or God. With children we want them to mature and get a good education so that they can advance beyond childhood activities. Otherwise we would just tell them to remain children their whole lives and enjoy material amenities without cessation. Education is therefore given for a reason. With advancement in intellect come new activities.

For the mature human being looking to go past the immature activities that imitate the animals, there is bhakti-yoga. Yoga is the linking of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul. Yoga studios and classes are popular because they instruct students on how to use gymnastics postures and breathing exercises to curb the influence of the senses. Our troubles in life are caused by the senses, for the consciousness is actually the key to happiness. As an example, by eating too much, we get diseases and discomfort in the stomach. But overeating is simply the result of the influence of the senses, which can be controlled by the mind. Therefore a consciousness that is fully purified can make proper decisions in life that lead to favorable conditions.

“From whatever and wherever the mind wanders due to its flickering and unsteady nature, one must certainly withdraw it and bring it back under the control of the Self.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.26)

Lord KrishnaGymnastics yoga helps to limit the influence of the senses; thus it provides health benefits. Aside from being very difficult to practice perfectly in the modern age, this type of yoga is incomplete, for it does not address the needs of the soul. Once the influence of the urges of eating, sleeping and sex life have been curbed, the soul needs an active engagement, something to do. The educated adult is given a degree to show their completion of specific courses, but after graduation they need an occupation to make use of their skills.

Bhakti is the corresponding set of activities for the liberated soul, he who wants to make use of liberation from the influence of the senses. Unlike yoga with gymnastics, bhakti-yoga is a fulltime engagement, one which directly addresses the consciousness. 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”. Krishna is the word for God that means “all-attractive” and Rama means “He who gives transcendental pleasure to others”. The secret with chanting this mantra is the effect it has on consciousness. What we hear plays a major role in our thought processes. If we hear about sumptuous food, fine restaurants and beautiful women, our mind will be turned over to those areas. Similarly, if we hear about God, our mind will be transported to the spiritual realm, the place where there are no such things as education and development of consciousness. Temporary situations and growth cycles are only present in a land devoid of God’s personal association.

This is where the marginal position of the individual soul comes into play. Each one of us has a choice as to where we want to live. If we want temporary association with matter, we get to live in the material world. Here there are different species and corresponding levels of intelligence. The pig has a certain type of behavior, as does the dog. The human considers the pig’s activities low and base, disgusting behavior that should never be imitated.

Lord KrishnaIn a similar fashion, the spirit souls in the Lord’s company consider the choice for association with matter to be the incorrect one. Therefore the souls in the spiritual world have the perfect consciousness, intelligence at its highest capacity. Their activities correspond with their level of intelligence. They spend their time constantly chanting Krishna’s glories, thinking of His beautiful form, worshiping both He and His servants, and never forgetting Him for even a moment.

Through chanting, hearing is automatically created for the sincere individual looking to choose in favor of spiritual life. With constant hearing of Krishna’s names, the consciousness gradually elevates to the point where the animalistic activities previously patronized become dull and tasteless. Indeed, constant indulgence in intoxication, gambling, meat eating and the like can only take place when consciousness isn’t fully developed. Therefore whoever teaches that life’s ultimate aim is to find these activities in abundance does not know the real mission for the human being. Any person they teach will remain dedicated to activities reserved for the immature.

Through humbly approaching a spiritual master, one who lives only in pure goodness, or shudda-sattva, the necessary elevation can take place. Krishna has not been so unkind as to leave everyone in the dark about His glorious nature. He gave us the original Vedas, which were followed by supplementary literature like the Ramayana, Puranas, Mahabharata and many other books and poems. Those who take these works for what they are, treatises on spirituality that are actually not different from Krishna Himself, will be able to make full use of them.

Bhagavad-gitaOn the flip side, those who look at these works as mythology or subjects of only scholarly relevance will never be able to derive the full benefit. It’s similar to how a young child can never understand the value of something like an ancient painting or expensive vase. Children are told to keep away from valuable decorations in the house because they will never appreciate them. A child has no idea what expensive even means, for they have never earned a living. Therefore if such valuable items were to be placed into their hands, the items could get damaged or destroyed. The appreciation for the object itself would diminish as well.

Similarly, the scholars lacking any devotion to God who write commentaries on the Bhagavad-gita and try to explain them using their personal worldviews lead themselves and their readers astray. Vedic wisdom is the most valuable commodity in this world, and it should be treated as such. The spiritual master, or guru, understands this fact. He doesn’t just disclose Krishna’s teachings to anyone. He first assesses whether someone will be able to understand the concepts and accept Krishna with the proper attitude. Even in the translations and commentaries authored by the spiritual master, the subject matter remains far above the heads of the mundane scholars and non-devotees. In fact, the guru makes sure to address all bogus philosophies and commentaries that are in existence, so as to convince the open-minded person of the validity of the right teachers and the unworthiness of the unauthorized commentaries.

Becoming an adult shouldn’t be a bad thing. Though it’s more difficult to find enjoyment and entertainment, the source of the increased difficulty is an increased intelligence. As intelligence shouldn’t be harmful, the ascendency in consciousness is completely worth it, as being a child for all your life doesn’t really help the plight of the soul any. Correspondingly, for the adult human being remaining attached to matter doesn’t stop the cycle of birth and death, or reincarnation. If there is not a distinguishable choice made in favor of association with spirit by the time death arrives, the soul is placed into a material body again in the next life. Thus the development from childhood to boyhood to adulthood must start 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)

From the Bhagavad-gita, we learn directly from Krishna that anyone who thinks of the Lord at the time of death doesn’t have to take birth again. To think of God while we’re quitting our body requires practice in remembering Him in our everyday life. To practice remembering, one must become a student and follower of bhakti-yoga. Otherwise there will be no chance of Krishna consciousness being fully developed by the end of life. Though immersion in bhakti is aided by renunciation from sinful behavior, by steadily increasing our knowledgebase of both Krishna and His energies, all of the previous activities regularly performed will eventually be viewed as dull and lifeless. Just because they were enjoyable before doesn’t mean that they should continue perpetually. The most valuable human form of life is the reward for having spent many lifetimes in inferior species. By trying to understand Krishna, or the personal nature of God, and following the discipline that corresponds to the highest level of intelligence, we can find our way back into the spiritual world’s welcoming arms.

Lord KrishnaIn Closing:

In youth amusement from simplest things you will find,

But as you grow up, to follow same behavior you will mind.

Adult adopts activities which to their intellect does match,

Watching children’s programs and movies them you will never catch.

In same way, advanced is the human being,

To find higher pleasure is life worth living.

Eating, sleeping, mating and defending animals do follow,

If human imitates this, in despair and pity will they wallow.

Of identity in everyone the soul is the essence,

Being is alive only when graced with spirit’s presence.

Education in animal behavior does waste time,

Higher taste is the human being meant to find.

That topmost engagement is bhakti, divine love,

Just one requirement, God you must always think of.

Chant the name of Krishna, the Lord who is all-attractive,

At purifying consciousness this is most effective.

Follow service to someone you must, futile is resistance,

So make bhakti your way of life, taste the fruit of existence.