Saturday, September 17, 2011

To The Worthy Recipient

Lord Krishna“That very ancient science of the relationship with the Supreme is today told by Me to you because you are My devotee as well as My friend; therefore you can understand the transcendental mystery of this science.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.3)

The Bhagavad-gita, the literature that stands out amongst all works of art due solely to its speaker and main subject matter, Lord Krishna, is so brilliant that it has been studied for centuries by scholar and devotee alike. The latter’s interest is understandable, as the loving propensity within every person is meant to be released in the most intense way possible. If a person is skilled at cooking, it would be a waste for them to not spend much time in the kitchen preparing elaborate dishes for friends, family and even customers at a restaurant. Similarly, if a person is skilled in explaining high concepts and the essence of life to others, if they were to avoid offering instruction, their talents would go to waste. Every living being shares the common trait of being a supreme lover of God, but only when consciousness advances to the point that the constitutional position is adopted can the full potential for the outward exchange of emotion and dedication be realized. Potential is great, provided that it is recognized as worthy of being tapped into. From hearing the Bhagavad-gita, the sincere soul acquires the tools necessary to make their existence worthwhile.

Lord KrishnaThe fruit of an existence is the reward for remaining alive. Generally, the mentality is reversed, wherein the existing being looks for ways to continue their vitality. Work is built around this very concept. Go to the office early in the morning, spend upwards of forty hours per week there, and then come home to enjoy the results of your actions. If there wouldn’t be work, how would life’s necessities such as food, clothing, and shelter be procured? Above and beyond the necessities is enjoyment, pleasurable experiences that come after the essential functions for the day have been carried out.

But if we have an existence already, as that is what we know at the time of birth, why should our predominant thoughts be focused on maintaining that existence? Rather, shouldn’t the focus be on realizing the true fruit of our birth? If we have come into existence in this present body, there must be a reason for it. Similarly, after we exit the current form, there must be a place to go. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, reveal that ananda, or bliss, is the reason for living. More specifically, that joy felt from the intimate association of the one person to whom everyone is intrinsically tied is the real goal of any existence, in any birth. The human form is considered the most auspicious because it carries with it a high potential for intelligence acquisition, which means that a human being has the best chance of even understanding the concepts of an existence and the purpose behind it.

Though the backdrop of the Bhagavad-gita is a battlefield where a war to end all wars was about to commence, the real purpose to the teachings within emanating from Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is to reveal how the search for ananda, the meaning to our existence, can take place. The troubled soul in this instance was Arjuna, the leading fighter for the Pandava family. When we hear that Arjuna was the most capable warrior, naturally some questions would arise. “If he was so powerful, why was he in trouble? If he could defeat anyone in battle, why would he ever feel dejected? Doesn’t sadness arise from the inability to protect one’s life or from the fear of losing one’s possessions? If he was so skilled, what was he afraid of?”

ArjunaArjuna’s concerns related to the bodily welfare of certain members of the opposing army, the Kauravas. Dronacharya and Bhishmadeva were the notable personalities that Arjuna did not want to harm. Dronacharya had taught Arjuna how to fight, so in this respect he was a guru, or spiritual master. The Sanskrit word “guru” literally means heavy, or those objects which carry gravity. The term “guru” typically refers to the spiritual guide, but it can also refer to general authority figures like parents and grandparents. Bhishmadeva was the grandfather of both the Pandavas and Kauravas, so how could Arjuna show disrespect to him by fighting with him to the death?

On the surface it appeared that Arjuna was afraid about winning and having to rule over a kingdom devoid of his closest family members and guides, but if we abstract the situation a little more, we’ll see that the issue boiled down to ananda. Arjuna was really asking how he could be happy in life. On the one side he had the option to fight and hopefully gain victory. On the other, he had the choice of losing by giving up. In either case, there wouldn’t be happiness, for in the first instance the kingdom would come at the cost of others’ lives. Arjuna had no attachment to regal comforts or the honor that comes from ruling over a kingdom. Therefore he didn’t even consider victory to be anything worth pursuing.

“People will always speak of your infamy, and for one who has been honored, dishonor is worse than death.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.34)

If he would give up, Arjuna would bring dishonor upon himself. Lord Krishna very cogently pointed out that for one who has been previously honored, dishonor is a punishment worse than death. We see that in the media world, celebrities and notable personalities are constantly being propped up for their exhibition of talent and skill in a particular field. Yet, if they should have a fall from grace, a momentary lapse of judgment, the same media relentlessly pounces on them to the point that their reputations are forever ruined. For one who has been previously honored with fame and praise, being dishonored is much worse. If an ordinary person should be dishonored, it is not that big a deal since they have not been previously held aloft. Arjuna was known the world over as an unbeatable fighter, for he had even won the favor of Lord Shiva after fighting with him.

Lord KrishnaRealizing the predicament and leaning towards the option of quitting, Arjuna had no choice but to put the matter to Krishna, who happened to be his charioteer at the time. The Bhagavad-gita thus involves a student asking the original spiritual master of the world how to gain the reward of one’s existence, how to find unending happiness. The discussion that followed revealed the most intimate secrets of spiritual life, some of which were known to the learned people of the time and some points of fact that had never been discussed anywhere else. The soul’s eternality, its position superior to material nature, its struggles through reincarnation, and what it needs to break free of the cycle of birth and death are revealed by Krishna Himself in His talk with Arjuna.

Because of the nature of the instruction and the succinct way in which it was presented, so many people have been enamored by the Bhagavad-gita. For those who take to spiritual life in the Vedic tradition, there are generally three paths available for finding ultimate success. One, karma,  involves fruitive activity with the results of actions sacrificed for a higher cause. Another, jnana, studies the differences between matter and spirit to hopefully further the end of complete renunciation. There is another path involving meditation which has hints of both karma and jnana. The third path is known as bhakti, and it calls for dovetailing all of one’s actions with the interests of the Supreme Lord in His personal form.

Those who follow the path of knowledge acquisition are generally known as Vedantists. To them the Bhagavad-gita represents a scholarly work that explains Brahman, or the all-pervading Absolute Truth. Even scholars who are not technically Vedantists study the Bhagavad-gita for the high class concepts presented. Knowledge of the relevant subject matter is a prerequisite if one wants to participate in an intellectual discussion. For example, if we had a study group focused on Shakespearean literature, obviously people who have never read Shakespeare or who have no interest in poetry won’t be able to get anything out of the discussions.

Krishna and ArjunaIn a similar manner, a prevalent view amongst spiritualists is that the common man cannot understand the Bhagavad-gita, or Vedanta in general. “Veda” refers to knowledge and “anta” means the end, or conclusion. Therefore Vedanta philosophy is the summit of knowledge, the philosophy that contains the final conclusions in life. All other truths are but derivatives of the supreme truths handed down by the great Vedic seers. “Vedanta is not meant for just any person. There must be renunciation and strict austerity for one to understand the highest truths of life.”

This raises an interesting question, however. If the Bhagavad-gita, considered one of the most important spiritual treatises in history, is meant only for high class intellectuals, how come the person receiving the knowledge directly from the person speaking it wasn’t even close to being part of the intelligentsia? The Vedic system of societal maintenance is known as varnashrama-dharma, and it calls for divisions of life and occupational duties based on a person’s inherent qualities relating to their body type. The highest division is known as the brahmana, which can be likened to a priestly order or an intelligentsia. The brahmanas are the teachers, and their title indicates that they are to know Brahman, or the Absolute Truth. An unintelligent person sees differences based on body types, taking one living entity to be superior and another to be inferior simply off of their outward features. Yet the wise know that every spiritual spark is Brahman and thus constitutionally the same in quality.

“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)

The brahmana sees that there is oneness shared amongst the divided because of the unity in spiritual makeup. This vision is very difficult to acquire, hence the brahmanas are given top billing in society; they are the respected teachers. Arjuna was part of the second order, the administrator/warrior class. They are hardly considered the most intelligent, as fighting is based off of bodily designations. War can only take place when one group thinks that land belongs to them and that their family members are more important than other sets of individuals. Those with the understanding of Brahman have no need to usurp others’ property, instigate meaningless fights, or unnecessarily kill any other life.

ArjunaIf Arjuna was part of a class driven by the mode of passion, which is the second class type of activity, how could he receive the sublime wisdom of Vedanta presented by Shri Krishna, who is the fountainhead of all Vedic knowledge? The answer, not surprisingly, is given in the Gita itself, where Krishna states that Arjuna is receiving the highest wisdom because he is a devotee; he is not envious of God. The Vedantist may be very learned, but if he is after becoming one with God, denying His existence by saying that He is impersonal, or even usurping the Lord’s authority, he will never be able to understand the Bhagavad-gita.

Not only the Bhagavad-gita, but every important Vedic literature is meant to be understood by the devotees. The fruit of our existence is not simply the removal of distress. If one day we hear an annoying car alarm going off outside and the next day we don’t, has our life’s mission been fulfilled? Even in the absence of distress, the soul needs an active engagement, a set of activities that will provide happiness. Naturally, those things which correspond to the properties of spirit will bring the highest blissful feelings. Lord Krishna is the object of sacrifice and worship, so anyone who stays connected with Him will find the ananda they have been searching after for so many lifetimes. Arjuna surrendered unto the Lord and thus slashed away his bewilderment. He found happiness from neither renunciation nor attachment, but rather from following his heart connected with the Supreme Lord. Those who understand the dealings of Arjuna and Krishna in this light will be similarly benefitted.

In Closing:

Of the Lord, Arjuna was a great devotee,

Thus divine vision of Krishna did he see,

More than that, eternal wisdom he received,

For with his friendship the Lord was pleased.

Only with devotion can one comprehend,

Truths of Vedas, on nothing else does this depend.

Following karma we can find temporary reward,

With renunciation and study we get bored.

Only with bhakti we find what we need,

To have association with God does our heart bleed.

In society brahmanas are the highest class,

Through study, illusion of duality they surpass.

Yet Arjuna was a warrior by trade,

In thought, word or deed, never Krishna he betrayed.

Thus for receiving Gita’s message of love he was deserving,

Their conversation with proper mood are our ears meant for hearing.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Don’t Try This At Home

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 ||

When about to pull off an amazing feat of strength, making the impossible look easy, the masters of their craft will give the disclaimer to their audience saying, “Don’t try this at home.” The implication is that the layperson can’t repeat the same activities and expect to receive the intended outcome. The great ones make it look easy, as if no effort is required at all. “Oh, I can do that”, thinks the onlooker, but when they actually try it, they can end up harming themselves pretty severely, for the seemingly effortless ability exhibited by the expert comes about through hard work, training and a special mindset not present within the neophyte. With Vedic instruction, one of the central tenets is that one should avoid the lowest level of activity, the mode of darkness. Going beyond just avoidance, we shouldn’t even see others who are acting in this mode, for their behavior might influence us towards following them. One person in particular, the expert of experts, a dedicated servant whose feats of strength have yet to be matched on this earth, found himself in the heart of the densest darkness, a forest of hedonism and sinful activities, but he didn’t lose his cool. On the contrary, his dedication to the divine path only further increased, for he had one powerful weapon at his disposal: his mind fully enveloped by God consciousness. The sword of knowledge cuts away ignorance, and similarly, the weapon of the divine consciousness dissipates the dense fog of darkness, regardless of how thick it may be.

HanumanThe Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, are unique because they not only provide details about God and why man should worship Him, but they also provide the reason for the varieties in body types and activities. Every one of us is the same, as we are all spirit souls, part and parcel of God. There is no difference in the qualitative makeup from soul to soul, but we see variety nonetheless in outward appearance. A person born in Africa presents a visual different from a person born in India. The people in China look and speak differently than many of the people in America. Not all life forms are human beings either; some are moving and some are nonmoving. The trees are even living entities; they just remain stationary for hundreds of years and accept whatever punishment or delight comes their way. Therefore it is said that no one is more tolerant than the tree.

Within the human species, which is considered the most advanced because of its unmatched potential for knowledge acquisition, there is variety even with activity. Some people prefer to be religious and devote their lives to discipline and regulation. They keep the needs like eating, sleeping, mating and defending to a minimum, while maintaining regulation in terms of worshiping the Supreme Lord, adhering to piety, and not causing needless harm to others in society. Then there are those driven by passions for acquiring money, advancing in intelligence, emerging victorious in competition, or a host of other regulated pursuits aimed at finding temporary successes.

As freedom brings with it the potential for every outcome occurring, there are even those who pay no consideration to regulation or future profit whatsoever. Rather, they are simply interested in satisfying the senses, and as soon as possible. If they are hungry; they will eat. They won’t be particular about their fare either; whatever the tongue desires will be consumed. Animal flesh is considered the most sumptuous, so the person driven by the senses will not limit their consumption of this type of food. No thought is given to how the food is obtained, that an innocent life form had to be killed in order for this enjoyment to take place. Aside from sense gratification, there is the false relief provided by intoxication, which is the quickest way to gain a temporary release from the effects of the senses. But intoxication doesn’t last forever, so activities like drinking alcohol must be repeatedly patronized; otherwise the buzz wears off.

“Material nature consists of the three modes-goodness, passion and ignorance. When the living entity comes in contact with nature, he becomes conditioned by these modes.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.5)

Lord KrishnaThe variety in activity is available for anyone to notice and categorize, but the Vedas are so kind that they have already enumerated the different types. The conditioned soul bewildered as to their purpose in life can make better light of the complex nature around them by grouping activities into categories. For instance, if one person prefers to play baseball, while another prefers soccer, we can abstract the activities by saying that both persons enjoy playing sports, which is an activity driven by passion. If we were to group every type of activity using such abstraction methods, we would get the three modes of nature: goodness, passion and ignorance.

Thankfully for us, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the fountainhead of all Vedic wisdom, already reveals to us these three modes. In this way we don’t have to waste our time documenting every activity and figuring out which mode they belong to. More than just the need for categorization, there is something tangible that can be gained from knowing the three modes, a benefit which can best come about when the purpose of life is known as well.

Philosophers, scientists and the generally inquisitive have pondered the reason for man’s existence since the beginning of time. “Why am I here? Why do I even exist? I know that everything will be finished at the end of life, so what is the difference if I enjoy myself or not. If I am miserable now or extremely happy, what will it matter in the end? In a hundred years or so, none of these present events of my life will matter at all.” The Vedanta-sutras, a wonderful collection of aphorisms describing the Absolute Truth and the living entity’s relationship to Him, open by saying that “Now is the time for inquiring about Brahman, or pure spirit”. This means that the human being is given their particular body type for a reason. In any other species, the inquiry into real Truth, one that transcends the bounds of time and space and the temporary nature of happiness and distress, cannot be made.

“The Supreme Lord said, The indestructible, transcendental living entity is called Brahman, and his eternal nature is called the self. Action pertaining to the development of these material bodies is called karma, or fruitive activities.” (Bg. 8.3)

Lord KrishnaHow do the three modes relate to this inquiry? Why do we need to understand Brahman? As the astute observer realizes, life on earth is temporary, especially within a particular form of body. But Brahman is not prone to these defects; it exists eternally. Moreover, we are all Brahman; so this means that our present body and the temporary attributes and activities tied to it do not represent our real identity. The soul inside is what counts, but because it is autonomous in its choice of association, it can develop attachments to temporary coverings existing in temporary lands. The purpose of understanding Brahman is to realize that our natural business is not related to the body or anything in this world. Rather, Brahman comes from God, so one who understands their position in relation to Him can know the right path in life.

Realizing Brahman is difficult enough. If we see someone dying, are we not going to mourn? Will we not be dejected upon seeing worldwide destruction or tragic loss? Moreover, the body we currently occupy drives our activities, so how are we to understand that this body is just temporary and that the soul will survive into the next life? In this respect, the three modes of material nature and their corresponding activities fill in the missing puzzle pieces. The mode of goodness, wherein activities are driven by the highest knowledge, is considered the most beneficial in terms of helping one to understand Brahman. By studying Vedic literature, teaching others about Brahman, performing sacrifices, helping others to develop a routine of performing the same sacrifices, and showing an overall adherence to piety, one can gradually shed their false identification adopted at the time of birth.

The mode of passion is below goodness, and it is adopted by default by the human being. The mode of passion leads to an overall neutral condition, while in the short term the mind thinks it will attain a benefit. For instance, working hard at the office to maintain a steady income and peaceful family life is in the mode of passion. At the beginning there is a desire to perform some work to get an intended benefit. The work itself leads to the fruit, but then the same actions must be repeated later on. Therefore there is only a neutral position established. The mode of passion is considered superior to the mode of ignorance, however, because degradation of consciousness does not occur.

“O son of Kuru, when there is an increase in the mode of ignorance madness, illusion, inertia and darkness are manifested.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 14.13)

Lord KrishnaHow does the mode of ignorance operate? If someone has a house and a family and suddenly takes part in activities that jeopardize those things, will they not be in a worse off position in the future? This is what the mode of ignorance does; it does not have any basis in sound knowledge, nor does it bring a desired fruit that is even temporary in its manifestation. The mode of ignorance is characterized by things like laziness, heavy intoxication, and abominable activities. The behavior is not driven by any sound judgment. As an example, who among us hasn’t dreamt of sleeping all day when the alarm clock goes off in the morning. “If only I could sleep in; wake up on the weekend, oh what a dream that would be”, as a famous song says. But we know that sleeping the day away is not beneficial. For starters, nothing will get done. The bills won’t get paid, our body will not be fed, and there will not be any interaction with our friends. Secondly, more sleep equates to more laziness, lending credence to the principle of “a body at rest will stay at rest.”

The mode of ignorance is also known as the mode of darkness, for there is no light of knowledge present within its activities. Because of this, the wise emphatically advise us to avoid this mode, as the precious value of human life will be spoiled. At least with the mode of passion there is the opportunity to start from the same position again, but rebuilding your life after being mired in debauchery and irrational thought is very difficult. For the intelligent, those who understand the real purpose in life and the need for realizing Brahman, just seeing someone in the mode of darkness, being in their company for any extended period of time, is detrimental.

This shouldn’t be that difficult to understand. Adult movies have ratings on them to signal to elders that young children should not be allowed to view them. Youngsters are very impressionable, as they have yet to see most of what the world has to offer. If they are exposed to violence and sexual behavior at a young age, the images will be burned into their mind. The chances for following the mode of darkness later on in life will increase as result. In a similar manner, for the sincere spiritualist, he who is following the practices recommended for finding enlightenment, just being in the company of one who is living in darkness can cause great harm to the psyche.

Japa malaAs an example, if a person is dedicated to regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, avoiding the four pillars of sinful life [meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex], and following principles of cleanliness, they can suffer great harm by even being exposed to the mode of darkness or people who have different ultimate conclusions in life. In fact, chanting the names of the Supreme Lord, who is actually above Brahman, transcends even the mode of goodness. The real position of the soul is to be forever engaged in bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. If categorized into activities, bhakti falls into the shudda-sattva mode, or pure goodness. This is above the mode of material goodness because there is an untainted desire to love God with all heart and soul. Therefore knowledge of Brahman, the primary benefit of following the mode of goodness, is already received in bhakti.

One who follows the bhakti path has essentially dedicated their life to God, even if there is no outward declaration or announcement made to others. A good mother doesn’t necessarily tell anyone else that her life is dedicated to her kids; her mindset is revealed in the activities she follows and the level of sincerity shown in her behavior. Similarly, the devotee who regularly chants the Lord’s names, glorifies both Him and His devotees, and suffers tremendous boredom and depression when not able to perform such activities for extended periods of time has completely turned their life over to God.

Every person’s ultimate conclusion in life is shown through their behavior. Even a movie or television show has these finer points revealed. Through the plotlines, the writers expose their true feelings about life, what they consider to be pious and impious, and how they think activities should be prioritized. If a devotee should be exposed to films which glorify unregulated sense gratification, rampant violence, woman hunting, flaunting of the standards of decency, or any other activity that corresponds with the mode of darkness, there will be a high chance of consciousness being negatively affected. “If everyone else is not devoted to bhakti, maybe I am wasting my time? Maybe I am the one who has it wrong?” Therefore, the spiritual masters, the bona fide gurus who teach those sincerely interested in connecting with God, strongly recommend that their students avoid intimate association with those who are not interested in the same thing, namely that of serving the Lord. Otherwise, through bad association the progress made in consciousness can be ruined. Just as pure milk can become spoiled once a serpent’s tongue touches it, so the kind-hearted soul dedicated to pure goodness can be shaken from the divine consciousness if touched by the fangs of the mode of darkness.

HanumanBeing exposed to the mode of darkness on television or in film is one thing, but seeing it in real life is even more dangerous. Shri Hanuman, while executing a search mission aimed at pleasing the Supreme Lord in His form of Lord Rama, saw some of the worst images one could imagine. Rama’s wife Sita Devi was being held captive in the majestic city of Lanka, which was ruled over by the Rakshasa king Ravana. His land was replete with opulence, with numerous elegant palaces, occupied by the most beautiful queens, lined up together in a network. Hanuman is forever devoted to Rama, so he takes great pleasure whenever he can exercise his abilities to show off that love. Tasked with going to Lanka to find Sita, Hanuman was very eager to meet the princess. The one problem was that he had never met her before. He had only known Rama for a few short months, but he was already won over by the Lord’s sweetness and divine qualities. Hanuman was on the platform of pure goodness, but by going to Lanka, he would place himself in the heart of darkness.

Most of Lanka’s residents had the same qualities as their leader. They essentially lived a life of hedonism. Wine was flowing regularly, succulent animal flesh was ready to be eaten at all hours of the night, and sex life was the tie that held everything together. Hanuman, though naturally having a monkey form, took on a diminutive size to enter Lanka. He was looking for Sita, so he had to search through the different streets and palaces. The moon shone brightly, so Hanuman was able to see everything that was going on in the city. All types of men and women, searching for every type of material sense gratification, were seen by Hanuman. He saw the extremes of the life of unregulated enjoyment, similar to what one would see today on the streets at night in a major city on a weekend. Hanuman saw both the good and bad, but since he didn’t see Sita, the visions were not what his mind needed.

Now, for the normal person, the negative images of the Rakshasas would be disturbing, especially if such a person were trying to concentrate on performing a mission. But Hanuman is no ordinary person. In fact, seeing debauchery only increased his resolve. Based on the behavior of the women, he knew that none of them could be Sita. The princess of Videha was the most dedicated to the path of chastity, so there was no way she would cavort with any other man except Rama. She was also always thinking of her Lord, so unless and until Hanuman saw a woman steeped in meditation, he knew that Sita had not been found. She was the most exalted of women, so her radiance and transcendental glow would also stand out.

Sita DeviThe inhibiting influence that the mode of darkness has on the sober individual only serves to further enhance Hanuman’s wonderful stature. Not even the darkest of the dark could take him off of his sublime path. His dedication to Sita and Rama is unmatched, and because of this attribute alone he was fully qualified and deserving of finding the princess. Not surprisingly, he would eventually find Sita, and everything would end well. As no amount of darkness can ever taint Hanuman, no one who approaches him in all sincerity and admires his wonderful devotion to Rama can ever forget the ultimate mission in life, that of thinking of the Lord at the time of death. The purely God conscious soul gets the benefit of God’s association for all of time. Hanuman was steady as a rock in his march towards finding Sita. Therefore anyone who remembers him and his dedication will similarly have a much better chance of remaining in pure goodness.

In Closing:

Material nature operates in modes numbering three,

From goodness, passion and ignorance one must break free.

Because of good acts, mode of goodness is the highest,

From knowing Brahman you’ll become the wisest.

Mode of passion leads to many a victory and defeat,

Leaves you in neutral state, activity you must repeat.

Mode of ignorance finds pleasure at any cost,

Mired in darkness, value of human life is lost.

For those following bhakti, God’s name do they chant,

Feel displeasure when practice devotion they can’t.

For them avoiding mode of darkness is a must,

In philosophy of sinful you must never trust.

Yet Hanuman found himself in darkness’ heart,

In Lanka saw all kinds of sin right from the start,

From his mission to find Sita he would not be distracted,

Saw many negative images, but he would not be affected.

Don’t try Hanuman’s behavior, him we cannot imitate,

For his triumph, servant of Rama we forever appreciate.

Remember Hanuman, beloved of Rama and Sita,

Who found triumph in heart of darkness of Lanka.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Head Glorifier

Radha and Krishna“To become a servant of God is a great position. People are always trying to get some government post or some position in a reputed business firm because the service rendered in such positions earns great profits. Although we are very anxious to get good positions in the government service, we do not stop to think of getting a position in God's service. God is the government of all governments.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Elevation to Krishna Consciousness, Ch 6)

In countries where the private sector of the economy is either tightly controlled or virtually nonexistent, the jobs coveted are those in government. A government worker is meant to be a servant of the people, acting at the pleasure of the executive, or the leader of the community. Because of who they serve and the importance of their position, these servants are glorified and held aloft for others to adore, worship, honor or influence. In the business community, the best workers are those who serve the interests of the proprietor fully, influencing the overall profit margin of the establishment positively. If such attention is given to servants of worldly institutions, why would it be absent when service is given to the proprietor of all energies, the Supreme Lord? Indeed, the position of “head glorifier”, or greatest servant of the Supreme Lord, is the best because it does the most good for the most number of people. Not surprisingly, such sincere workers are handsomely rewarded with the fruit of existence: unending devotion to the feet of the Supreme Lord.

Why does this fruit take precedence over all others? The mango tree is valuable once it grows nice mangoes that can be picked and eaten when ripe. The government, especially in its modern incarnation, where it plays a significant role in dictating outcomes to events, gets its teeth from the inflow of tax dollars, which are then distributed according to the schemes conjured up by the politicians. The business makes a dent when it offers a good or service that can be enjoyed by the common man. It is seen that the more a company can appeal to the common person, he who is not overly wealthy but still has appreciation for a good product or service, the more their profits will increase. The wealthiest businesses are not those who build products for the elite class; rather, ridiculously high profits come from satisfying middle class men, of which there are many more.

Lord KrishnaThe Supreme Lord, who is described as Krishna among many other names in the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, holds the title to every piece of property. Though we can’t see the deeds, they exist nonetheless. Long before our present birth, the creation existed and its population roamed the earth. Similarly, long after we exit our present body, the same creation and population of creatures will be there. In this sense we only hold temporary leases on our possessions, for the original creator, the Almighty, directed His energies to have this temporary world manifest.

Why do we call this world temporary? Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead in His original Shyamasundara form, who has the bodily complexion of a dark raincloud and is exquisitely beautiful, has two distinct energies. To Krishna there is no distinction, for what need does He have for self-realization, study of scripture, or discrimination with respect to energies? Krishna can take a tennis racket and use it as a pencil or take a blade of grass and use it as a weapon. He is not limited in His attributes or in His exercise of objects of matter.

The delineated energies are meant to be understood by the conditioned living entity, he who takes birth without being asked and then subsequently tries to outrun oncoming death. In either case, material nature wins, as no one can stop birth or death except God Himself. The world is deemed temporary because its manifestation is not permanent. We see evidence of this in our own lives. Our childhood body is now dead and gone. We don’t mourn for this loss quite as much because our identity within our adopted life form continues until the time of death. Nevertheless, there is nothing we can do to get our childhood form back. No amount of scientific research, mental speculation, or meditational yoga can put our tiny soul back into the exact same form that we used to crawl around our parents’ living room floor.

changing bodiesWe are just as helpless once death approaches, for nothing can be done to revive the exited form; hence the reason for so much sadness. Despite the temporary nature of the current manifestation of material elements, there is still a proprietor, someone who is directing the energies. Shri Krishna is that person, or if you prefer, “God”. Even the atheists acknowledge a higher power, though they don’t understand His personal aspect or the fact that He is not partial in His dealings. We can call the atheists stupid, but then all of us were “stupid” youngsters at some point. This doesn’t mean that hope is eternally lost for any soul. Rather, as more time goes by, and if the likelihood for having a fortunate meeting with a sincere soul devoted to the Supreme Lord increases, the covering of nescience can gradually dissipate, revealing full and complete knowledge.

Along the way, the serving propensity found within the soul, its true dharma, continues to shine. Even if God’s existence is completely denied, if the very mention of the word “God” sends shivers down one’s spine and puts a lasting frown on one’s face, the dharma of the soul is still revealed to some extent. Just as during the nighttime the effects of the sun’s influence are still present on earth, even during the darkest period of consciousness, where the natural intelligence of the soul is seemingly fully covered up, the individual’s propensity to serve remains. Dharma is an ever existing quality, an essential characteristic that cannot be divorced from an object. If it could, the object would lose its meaning. For instance, if fire were to lose its burning and heat properties, we could no longer call it fire. If you presented a pizza-lover with a fresh pizza pie, piping hot, they might eagerly anticipate the first few bites. But if while eating they notice that cheese, sauce and the crust are missing, their disappointment would result in remarks like, “This is not pizza. I don’t know what you call it, but it’s not pizza.”

If the soul did not exhibit a propensity to serve, it could not be called a soul. The Vedas describe Krishna has having a form that is fully knowledgeable, eternal and blissful, sach-chid-ananda. These properties are bequeathed to the spirit souls, who descend from Krishna. Therefore it is impossible for the soul’s inherent characteristics to ever vanish. Without full knowledge of God and His personal form, the service mentality carries the conditioned soul in so many directions. To earn money and enjoy the senses, service is taken up to a corporate entity. The proprietor of the business takes the risk of investing startup capital or going into debt for the express purpose of turning a profit. The businessman is not interested in securing jobs for a community or making sure that everyone can have a decent standard of living. Their primary concern is profit, and as long as steady profits are coming in, the business is doing its job.

moneySince the presence of workers can increase the scope and breadth of the offered service or product, and thus also the level of profit, business owners make the investment in human capital. The aim is to pay the workers as little as possible, for the more expenditure there is, the less profit there will be. But the workers are not robots that can be commanded on a whim. Rather, they expect to be compensated for their work. In this respect, the employee’s greatest protection against exploitation is their own self-interest and also the presence of many other businesses. One business may not pay workers much, but if they are threatened by other companies potentially stealing their employees, they will be forced to pay higher salaries. Hence through competition the resulting condition of a strong labor force that earns “decent” wages is created.

Since the business world revolves around profit, the employee who best contributes towards increasing productivity and the profit margin of the establishment gets rewarded with a higher position and increased salary. In this sense we see that the more service is offered to the proprietor, the more glorified the worker becomes. The principle applies to government service as well. It’s strange to think that the President of the United States is actually the head servant of the country, but by definition this is his role. Wherever he goes, “Hail to the Chief” introduces him, and onlookers hang on every word of his speeches. He flies on Air Force One and never has to pay for anything, but still he is engaged in meeting the interests of the citizens at large.

The people serving the head of the government become very important as well. The White House spokesperson essentially has to lie for a liar every day. With politics comes the requirement that promises be broken and dishonest things be spoken every now and then. The press doesn’t meet with the President face-to-face every day. Instead, a press secretary for the President meets with the media daily and answers their questions. The media won’t approach just any ordinary person on the street for information about the administration. They want to talk to someone who is tied to the President, who is faithfully engaged in his service. Because of his link to someone important, the servant of the White House becomes important as well.

press secretaryWhen service in worldly affairs brings fame and adoration, why would not the same result follow service taken up for God? If we sincerely desire to be God’s best servant, the position will bring us the greatest reward. This is true not only because of God’s qualities, but also because of the inherent properties of the soul. As our dharma is to be a servant, nothing is better than serving the person we are meant to serve. When service is taken up for any person except God, the soul’s brilliant features are not seen. Similar to how the sun is covered by the clouds in the sky, when encased in a temporary form desperately seeking after paltry rewards the soul’s true brilliance gets masked.

On the other hand, the liberated soul is fully appreciated. We know this from the many historical examples of people who took up service to God and then subsequently became famous. What’s even more interesting is that the most wonderful servants are often more worshiped than the Supreme Lord Himself is. Shri Hanuman immediately comes to mind in this respect. He is considered the greatest servant of Lord Rama, the Supreme Lord’s avatara of a warrior prince who roamed this earth many thousands of years ago. Hanuman was technically a government minister, an emissary of the king of the Vanaras residing in the Kishkindha forest. During His first meeting with Hanuman, Shri Rama even noted that no king could ever get their business done without having a person like Hanuman working for him.

“O sinless one, certainly, how can any king accomplish his objectives if he doesn't have such a messenger working for him?” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana about Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 3.34)

Did Rama then steal Hanuman’s services away from the king of the monkeys in Kishkindha? Here is the secret: serving God actually fulfills the interests of everyone else. By taking up the mission to find Rama’s missing wife Sita Devi, Hanuman simultaneously did good to the leader of his community, Sugriva. Though outwardly he was first and foremost Sugriva’s minister, Hanuman is forever known as Ramadutta, or a messenger of Rama. Hanuman is unmotivated in his intentions and uninterrupted in his service. Even though he eventually found Sita and played a vital role in the demise of her captor Ravana, Hanuman never stopped loving Rama. How could he abandon his dharma? Without devotion to Rama, Hanuman is not who he is. Since he can never abandon thinking about Sita, Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana, Hanuman can never cease to be glorious.

HanumanWhat does it mean to be a servant of God? Do we have to take on some brave task to get that position? While there are nine different processes of devotional service [hearing, chanting, remembering, worshiping, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, offering prayers, carrying out the orders of the Lord, becoming friends with Him, surrendering everything to Him], the ideal position of God’s servant is that of “head glorifier”. The best way to serve is to glorify, to increase the stature of the superior person. As Krishna is beyond description and is Bhagavan because of His stupendous feature set, there is really nothing to be gained on the Lord’s part through glorification. But since when did the position of the object of love ever stop a person from offering their love? Despite His standing, the Supreme Lord continues to be glorified by His most wonderful servants. In this area He is actually powerless, as there is nothing Sita and Rama can do to stop Hanuman from singing their glories every single day.

The head glorifier performs their duties by regularly chanting the holy names of the Lord, especially those found in the sacred maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This gift in the form of a mantra bestowed upon the dedicated servant allows for service to be conducted at any time of the day and at any place. The reward for this great work is full-blown bhava, or transcendental ecstasy. Relishing this taste is the real boon of existence, to be completely uninhibited in our loving dealings. In every other area of life, our emotions and the flow of service are interrupted or checked to some degree. For the head glorifier, there is no such thing as too much kirtana, or describing of the transcendental features of the most loveable object.

Though the position of “head glorifier” seems to imply that only one person can occupy the post, it is not so. In the spiritual land, the restrictions imposed by the laws of math and science are not present. One can actually mean two, and two can mean one. There can be millions of head glorifiers, who each have their own personal relationship with their most relishable form of the Supreme Lord. In Goloka Vrindavana, where Krishna Himself always resides playing His flute, the gopis serve as the head glorifiers. There are many gopis, but Shrimati Radharani is considered the topmost. The other servants sing of even her glories, thus showing that service in transcendental love brings endless opportunities for growth and expansion. Noting these properties, who would not want to covet this most wonderful position? Even if someone just sincerely thinks of taking the necessary training to one day accept the “head glorifier” post, they will succeed in life’s mission.

Radha and KrishnaIn Closing:

High position in government or business we covet,

Fame, attention and notoriety we get.

Reason for pursuit of post easy to understand,

Stature of proprietor increases with helping hand.

To increase profit, at office workers congregate,

Best employees the owner will highly compensate.

In spiritual life, servant is given best treatment,

To the Lord’s wishes they are always deferent.

Devotees like Hanuman are so exalted,

That greater than God they are sometimes treated.

Thus best position is to be head glorifier,

Just chant holy names, what could be easier?

Role as God’s servant provides many opportunities,

For endless offerings of love by both experts and newbies.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

It Only Rains On Me

Yajna“Those who perform the sacrifice of chanting Shri Rama’s holy name with love, faith and full attention receive their share of rewards from the Creator; thereby making even the unfortunate person fortunate.” (Dohavali, 36)

tulasī prīti pratīti soṃ rāma nāma japa jāga |
kiem̐ hoi bidhi dāhino dei abhāgehi bhāga ||

Those who believe in a God, a higher power who is in charge of the complex workings of nature and the fate of man, follow standard religious practices and rituals. Indeed, to say that you perform something “religiously” shows that you have dedication to adherence and practice, without deviation due to sentiment, emotion, or the desire to meet a specific end. Since God is the most powerful person, following His regulations would mean that other priorities could be neglected and life still maintained, while the law codes given by Him shouldn’t be cast aside as being secondary in importance. While the adherence to rituals and regulations shows great deference on the part of the worshiper, a level of respect held towards the esteemed Lord that should be praised, there is a higher platform that can be reached. Not only does this higher state of consciousness bring about more personal and fulfilling interactions with the Supreme Person, it also takes care of the previous obligations pertaining to religious life. The same can’t be said when the reverse order is followed.

What does this mean exactly? Let’s cover some of the basic regulations and rituals to see what effect they have on consciousness. Our thought processes serve as the key determining factor in our happiness and well-being. We may work hard to procure some material reward or to remove distress, but in the end the real change comes in the situation of the mind, its ability to concentrate on thoughts and ideas that don’t cause pain. Since consciousness plays an integral role in every area of life, its importance is not diminished when worshiping God, or that Supreme Controller in the sky that we are looking to not offend.

For a large portion of the world, a common regulation adhered to is that of attending church on Sundays. “Go to church at least once a week to thank the Lord for His blessings and pray to Him for the well-being of yourself and your family. You spend the other six days of the week frantically engaged in your own business, so why not dedicate a few hours during one day each week to prayer and healing?” This is certainly a wonderful practice, as it is very easy to get caught up in our own affairs and forget that there is a higher power, someone who is guiding the workings of matter. In the Bhagavad-gita, the Song of God sung on the battlefield of Kurukshetra a long time ago, it is said that all beings, moving and nonmoving, are working under the direction of the Supreme Lord Krishna, who is the same God that has been worshiped since time immemorial by people of every persuasion. Though some may refer to the Lord by a specific name, this doesn’t mean that there are many different Gods. Even the atheists acknowledge God through His form of death. God is the higher power, the supreme controlling force. Though the atheist will not acknowledge the presence of this person, they must bow down to death, which can come at any time and doesn’t leave without getting what it wants.

“The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone's heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material energy.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.61)

Lord KrishnaBesides going to church every Sunday, there are other regulations such as observing holidays and fasting periods and going through different rites performed by priests. In other traditions, the regulations are similar, with people praying a certain number of times each day, worshiping celestial figures through rituals, or visiting temples and other houses of worship. In the Vedic tradition, the oldest system of spirituality in the world, the basic functional unit of religious life is the yajna, or sacrifice. In a standard yajna, there is a pit of fire created inside of a square, with the different participants seated around the pit. The head priest manages the ceremony and chants the mantras necessary to ensure the ritual’s success. The participants give offerings with the right hand into the fire, saying “svaha” after each pour.

How the yajna operates and yields results is pretty straightforward. In addition to the Supreme Lord, there are numerous elevated living entities who are in charge of managing the different departments of creation. One person is in charge of air, another water, another the sun, and so on. The offerings in the fire sacrifice, which usually consist of clarified butter, or ghee, are then eaten up by these different controllers, who are known as devas, or demigods. Therefore the secondary purpose of the yajna is to satisfy the higher authorities, who in turn will kindly bestow their benedictions on man. The process is similar to having a plant in the garden that needs regular watering and sunlight. Through proper care, the plant will yield fruits in the form of flowers, vegetables, grains and other items that can be utilized.

“In the beginning of creation, the Lord of all creatures sent forth generations of men and demigods, along with sacrifices for Vishnu, and blessed them by saying, ‘Be thou happy by this yajna [sacrifice] because its performance will bestow upon you all desirable things.’” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 3.10)

When the demigods are pleased, there is no chance of drought, natural disasters, and so many other calamities. Yajna is also a great way for the individual to realize their fallibility and their inferior position with respect to the higher authorities. Each of us is God in a sense since we control the movement of our body. But this godly power is very limited, as our consciousness does not spread beyond our own experiences. Moreover, we still must succumb to the forces of nature and suffer through the threefold miseries of life [those brought on by the demigods, the mind and body, and other living entities].

While pleasing the demigods through yajna and adhering to other regulations can help to insulate us from trouble, there is still a higher platform to be reached in spiritual life. The soul, which is the identifiable aspect within all forms of life, has distinct properties, the foremost of which are eternality, bliss and knowledge. Not surprisingly, these traits are inherited from the Supreme Soul, that person we refer to as God. Since the soul has these wonderful features, its primary business cannot be to avoid fear and pain by performing ritualistic functions and adhering to dictates and law codes. Rather, the highest engagement for the soul is to find that one person who gives it the most pleasure. Not surprisingly, that person is God.

Radha and KrishnaThe followers of the bhakti school, the highest system of philosophy and sentiment that can exist, take exclusively to loving the Supreme Lord in any of His non-different forms. In His original feature as Bhagavan, God is the most fortunate. He possesses the qualities of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, renunciation and wisdom to the fullest degree and simultaneously. According to the Vedas, His original form is called Krishna, which means all-attractive. Krishna has many incarnations, of which one of the most celebrated and worshiped is Lord Rama, whose name means one who gives transcendental pleasure to others.

Bhakti-yoga, the system of linking the individual’s consciousness with the Supreme Consciousness through acts of love and devotion, is meant exclusively for Lord Krishna or one of His different Vishnu forms. Goswami Tulsidas, a celebrated Vaishnava poet, especially loves Shri Rama. Even when discussing topics and incidents pertaining to Lord Krishna, Vishnu, or any other non-different form of Godhead, Tulsidas identifies them as being the same Rama, the beloved lord of his life breath.

How do we practice bhakti? How is it any different from going to church once a week or performing a yajna with a fire? Bhakti can actually be practiced through any activity, provided the beneficiary is properly identified and satisfied. For instance, when we sing songs on stage or in the car to ourselves, the beneficiaries are the audience or our mind. If we take the same practice, however, and make Bhagavan the beneficiary, the activity can be considered bhakti. If we prepare elaborate food for our own pleasure or the pleasure of others, the activity is of the material variety, as it aims to please the material senses. But when the same food is prepared and offered to Krishna, the effort becomes the most sublime activity, a central component of a bhakti-yoga routine.

Lord RamaThe most universally appealing and applicable activity 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”. The holy name is the key; it allows any person at any time to link to the spiritual world. No need to wait until Sunday to worship if you have the holy name resting comfortably on the tip of your tongue. This non-different expansion of God, a sound vibration which perfectly represents His ultimate feature as Bhagavan, can be produced and enjoyed at any time. The same can’t be said of any other religious practice. Therefore the bhaktas, the devotees, chant the holy name as often as possible and expound on its glories to others.

In the above referenced verse from his Dohavali, Tulsidas says that anyone who lovingly, attentively and knowingly chants the holy name of the Lord gets all fortunes, for their chanting is their yajna. This is a very important point to understand because it addresses the misgivings that those new to bhakti may have about the process. The initial concern is over the neglect of the previously performed rituals and regulations. “Sure, loving God is great, but won’t I get punished for not going to church? What if I don’t perform my rituals? Won’t the demigods be angry and punish me as a result?” The fear of punishment from the Supreme Lord and the higher authorities is quite natural, as one who is more powerful has the ability to make the lives of the inferiors unpleasant.

But Rama is Bhagavan, or the most fortunate and powerful living entity. Anyone who connects with Him through love and devotion, regularly chanting His name, has no need to fear anyone or anything. In fact, all the rituals and regulations of spiritual life are meant to eventually lead one to the bhakti platform. It is rare to find bhakti active at full levels in a conditioned living entity, someone who is forgetful of their position as eternal servant of God. Therefore other processes are introduced and recommended as a way to maintain some link to religious life. The hope is that the more one maintains their adherence to the rules and regulations of religious life, the greater their chances for ascending to the bhakti platform will be.

Hanuman chantingBy comparing the chanting, or japa, of Rama’s name to a sacrifice where rewards are distributed to the right hand of the worshiper by Vidhi, or Lord Brahma, Tulsidas advises that instead of worrying about what will happen as a result of giving other religious processes secondary importance, just understand that your japa is itself the highest yajna. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna confirms that He is the enjoyer of sacrifice, Yajneshvara. Even a yajna aimed at pleasing the demigods must go through Vishnu first; only then can the demigods take their portion of the sacrifice and thus be satisfied. Though Vishnu is the ultimate enjoyer, if the consciousness of the performer isn’t focused on the Lord, the benefit of bhakti is not there. But when there is love and devotion, an awakening of transcendental attachment to the Supreme Lord, the chanting process itself becomes the most potent yajna, a sacrifice that yields the greatest benefits.

As if these truths weren’t enough to allay the fears of those newly initiated into bhakti, Tulsidas touches on another issue to further solidify the supremacy of divine love. When we go to church or perform a ritual, there is typically an accompanying prayer, an inherent understanding that by showing deference to the law codes of God, one will be insulated from punishment and misfortune. As we all know, though, sometimes bad things can happen anyway, despite the most heartfelt and sincere prayers. If our loved one is terminally ill and we pray to God every day to save them, there is still the chance that they will die.

This happens because of karma, or fruitive work. The managers of the departments of the material creation use the basic cause and effect of fruitive activity to instigate outcomes. This is quite easy to understand, for we see how this works all the time. If we drop something out of our hands, it will fall to the ground. If we eat too much food, we will feel discomfort later. If we don’t sleep enough at night, we will be tired throughout the day. Expanding out to the largest scope, all of the results we see in life pertaining to the material body are due to karma. Even the rituals and adherence to religious sacrifice are acts of karma, as they have accompanying results. Therefore at every second the results of past work are coming in, like the election returns that pour in, even from those who voted weeks prior. One person may have voted by an absentee ballot and sent their ballot in the mail many weeks before election day. Thus their votes can be tallied later on, sometimes weeks after the election was held. Similarly, the results of our past work can come to us many years later, sometimes even in another lifetime. Only the Supreme Lord can make sense of these results and predict them.

Lord RamaChanting Rama’s name with love and devotion guarantees the performer their share of the results of the sacrifice, even if they are the most unfortunate. In this way we see that not only does bhakti insulate one from the potential negative reactions of neglecting other spiritual practices, but it actually delivers better results in the long run. The most unfortunate person, one who has very bad karma, can follow dry regulations and procedures all they want, but they will still never become fortunate, as that is not in their destiny. With Rama there is no consideration taken about one’s caste, family heritage, level of sinfulness, wealth, gender, or overall karma. Just the fact that one wants to associate with Him in a mood of love and devotion is enough to satisfy the Lord, who in turn will effuse some of His tremendous fortune onto the worshiper.

There are many historical incidents that support these claims. Probably the most famous example was when Krishna cajoled the residents of Vrindavana to neglect the annual puja to Lord Indra, the king of the heavenly realm, the leader of the demigods. Nanda Maharaja, Krishna’s foster father during the Lord’s time on earth in Vrindavana some five thousand years ago, was set to offer sacrifice to Lord Indra when Krishna stepped in and asked him to perform a puja for the neighboring Govardhana Hill instead. The residents were a little hesitant to follow this advice for fear of the consequences, but since Krishna was asking they did not deny the request. They had taken complete shelter of the Lord, the jewel of Vrindavana. Performing the puja inaugurated by Krishna, the residents faced an onslaught of rain from a vengeful Indra afterwards. The residents took to bhakti by obeying and satisfying Krishna, and now they were seemingly being punished for it.

Krishna lifting Govardhana HillKrishna then stepped in to save the day by holding up the massive hill that had just been worshiped. Keeping it above the residents for seven days as an umbrella, Indra was forced to give up and beg forgiveness for his sin. In this way the residents performed their sacrifice at the Supreme Lord’s direction and received their share of the offerings in the form of God’s protection and association. The higher authority figures may be unhappy if we neglect to pay them tribute, but the Supreme Lord’s satisfaction supersedes anyone else’s concerns. If Rama is happy, no one can do anything to harm His devotee and their exercise of bhakti. On the other hand, if one is unfortunate due to their karma, no demigod or repeated sacrifice can bring them the tremendous fortune that is Bhagavan’s mercy. Presented with the two options, the wise and sober man would always follow the prescription so nicely passed on by Tulsidas.

In Closing:

If in the Supreme Lord of creatures you do believe,

Follow sacrifices and rituals, rewards to receive.

Pious around the world do take their seat on church pew,

Every Sunday worship God, pray for benedictions they do.

Vedic tradition calls for yajna, demigods to please,

Sit around pit of fire, drop oblations of ghee with ease.

Yet of all rituals and rites is Vishnu the enjoyer,

Supreme Godhead, of misfortunes He is the destroyer.

One who worships Him through chanting His name,

The Lord’s favor and company do they gain.

Rama means the Lord who gives transcendental pleasure,

His vision so sublime, His name the saints do treasure.

Tulsidas says do japa of Rama’s name with full attention,

Harbor love for the holy name, give to it your affection.

By this formula does the Creator become favorable,

Lord Brahma, who in his rewards can be most charitable.

If one is unfortunate karma will always cause them pain,

But luck even they can find by chanting Rama’s name.

By avoiding bhakti, rituals may or may not help us.

But Rama can favor the unlucky, in His name do you trust.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Handle With Care

Krishna and Arjuna“My dear Arjuna, only by undivided devotional service can I be understood as I am, standing before you, and can thus be seen directly. Only in this way can you enter into the mysteries of My understanding.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 11.54)

You enter a museum, a gathering place filled with ancient artifacts, sculptures and paintings from centuries gone by on display. The source for the appreciation is obvious, for who can imagine such pieces being preserved for so long? Just being able to be in such close proximity is enough to cause awe, inspiration and wonder. Yet accompanying the exhibits are warning signs, which indicate that certain behavior should be checked. These warnings apply to the eager observers who may have the desire to touch the different pieces. The fingertips carry oils with them that can damage the surface of valuables with regular contact. Just imagine placing your fingers on the car window over and over again. After a while, marks start to remain which blur the transparency of the glass. Valuable pieces of artwork can similarly have their surfaces damaged by human contact. But more than any other group, the warnings apply to children, for they do not know any better. Without knowing what something is, how can someone appreciate its value and the need for handling it with care? This principle extends to the ancient scriptural works descending from the Supreme Person Himself.

Children are immature in thought, so they don’t know what it means to be really old, especially when talking about an artifact, painting or sculpture. If children were allowed to touch such items and play with them, they would not handle them with the proper care. The wife who is protective of her expensive and beautiful set of china has justifiable reasons for her concern. For the average meal eaten in the home, normal plates and glasses will suffice. China can be expensive, however, so its use is reserved for special occasions. The fiscally conscious wife will protect her china from even her husband, for he could never possibly understand what its value is and how fragile just one piece can be.

CricketIf children are given possession of ancient artifacts, they would likely use them for their own play. Children enjoy games such as baseball and cricket that allow for running around. A key component of both of these games is the base, or wicket, the destination for the runners. Let’s say that a child sees in the living room a nice vase, one that is very old and expensive, and decides to use it as a base. “Oh, this vase is perfect in size. I’ll place it right here so that we can start our game.” Since runners are heading to the destination bases at high speeds, there is every chance for collision. Hence the chances of the expensive vase shattering are very high. To the child, the vase breaking is not that big a deal, for it was used as a base after all. How expensive or valuable can a piece of porcelain be anyway?

The mature human being can understand the value of such items. Considering the rareness of a particular piece and its historical significance, care and consideration will be taken in preserving the gem. The museum exists for this very purpose, for without a formal setting dedicated to preservation, the various items could be lying around someone’s closet gathering dust. Through special care, the items can remain on display for others to observe, study and derive pleasure from.

In the realm of spirituality, the ancient scriptures of India, the Vedas, contain the most valuable set of information known the world over. Their value ultimately comes from their source: the Supreme Lord. He imparted Vedic wisdom to the first created living entity, Lord Brahma, at the beginning of creation. Subsequently, the same knowledgebase was passed down through a tradition of dedicated followers and sincere students.

“This knowledge is the king of education, the most secret of all secrets. It is the purest knowledge, and because it gives direct perception of the self by realization, it is the perfection of religion. It is everlasting, and it is joyfully performed.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.2)

Lord KrishnaWhat kind of information is contained within the Vedas? In the Bhagavad-gita, the Supreme Lord Shri Krishna repeats the same information He originally taught at the beginning of creation. In this discourse between God and His dear friend and disciple, the eternal nature of the spirit soul, its travels through different bodies in the what is known as reincarnation, the material energy, the spiritual energy, the meaning of life, and how to remain free from all unwanted sentiments, including anger, lust and greed, are discussed.

In this carefully presented analysis, Lord Krishna reviews the basics known to the Vedic seers since the beginning of time, yet He also makes sure to mention things which are considered confidential. Arjuna, the recipient of Krishna’s instruction, was a warrior by trade, so he had no special academic qualification. Krishna did not reveal the Gita to Arjuna because of a degree he possessed or his ability to study Sanskrit. Rather, Arjuna’s lone qualification, the only thing he needed to be able to hear such confidential topics from Krishna, was his devotion to the Lord. In light of this, Krishna saw it fit to teach Arjuna every piece of information necessary for purifying his consciousness.

This begs the question as to why Krishna would choose to conceal any information. Why wouldn’t the Lord reveal the most confidential subjects to every single person? Similar to how the museum artifacts are kept away from the hands of children, the sublime wisdom of the Vedas is not intended for just any audience. If the confidential subject matter discussed in the Bhagavad-gita or any other primary Vedic text should land in the hands of the non-devotees, the results can be disastrous.

Lord KrishnaHow does this work exactly? Just as the child will be prone to breaking the porcelain vase that was so expensive, the non-devotee will not have any appreciation for Krishna or His words. Therefore they will study the Bhagavad-gita, Ramayana and Shrimad Bhagavatam from their worldly point of view, which by default is driven by sense desires. The human being lacking adherence to bona fide religious principles is no different from the animal. The animal is known for its inability to handle sense urges. Eating, sleeping, mating and defending are what the animal thinks about, and in these pursuits there is no attention paid to the need for austerity or self-control.

If a human being is not devoted to God, they will view sense gratification or its polar opposite of full renunciation as the ultimate aim in life. Applying this vision to the sacred teachings coming from Krishna Himself, the conditioned soul will have no way of understanding what the Lord is trying to say. What’s worse is that when such people write commentaries on the Bhagavad-gita and present them to others, their readers will be led astray as well. This is similar to the young child presenting the vase to their friends as being a base to be used in a game. “Here you go. I’ve found this wonderful piece in my parents’ living room. We can use it to play our game.”

The unscrupulous commentator who has no devotion to Krishna will use the Gita to further their own agenda, not respecting the work for what it is. How can they even understand the purpose of the work, for the Gita is kept safely within a very long Vedic text called the Mahabharata? During ancient times these works were recited in public assemblies by brahmanas, or qualified priests. This means that there was no jumping from chapter to chapter, flipping open a certain page and reading the contents without knowing the context. Rather, the audience had to listen to everything in order, from the beginning of the discourse to the end, or at least they were already familiar with the subject matter from having attended previous gatherings. Vyasadeva, the compiler of the Mahabharata and many other important Vedic texts, sequenced his words in a specific order so that the audience could understand the meanings.

VyasadevaOne who has not read the entire Mahabharata can never understand the Bhagavad-gita by just picking up the work. What’s more astounding is that the Mahabharata, though very lengthy, has so much context already built into it. Therefore one can’t even pick up the Mahabharata, read it from cover to cover, and then expect to understand anything that is discussed. When such impediments are placed on the conditioned soul, where does any person unfamiliar with the message of the Vedas get the gumption to even begin to comment on the Bhagavad-gita, let alone quote from it?

Just as Krishna imparted the original Veda to Lord Brahma, the same information was passed down through a chain of disciplic succession. Therefore without tapping into this link, without seeking the shelter of a spiritual master, a brahmana following in Vyasadeva’s mood, works like the Bhagavad-gita can never be understood. On the other hand, by reading commentaries and translations of such works written by devotees, people who love Krishna in the same way that Arjuna did, there is every opportunity of appreciating the wonderful work and learning from it.

And what can we learn from the Gita? By visiting the museum we get a glimpse of the thought processes and practices of ancient civilizations. We learn how they used to live and what they considered important in life. Similarly, by reading the Bhagavad-gita and studying it under the direction of someone who knows what they are talking about, the names, forms, pastimes and attributes of the Supreme Lord take rest within the mind. What is the benefit to having this information? The soul is meant to be devoted to Krishna in the same way that Arjuna was. Therefore the Gita is intended to elicit the loving emotions harbored for God already lying within the heart. There needn’t be any forceful cajoling or instigating in this regard. The soul already knows how to love. In the conditioned state, however, where to direct that love is a mystery. Thus a lifetime is spent directing the love to different areas, like throwing objects against a wall until one of them sticks.

Lord KrishnaSadly, the offering of love to all the wrong places will continue life after life until the worthy target, Shri Krishna, is found. Rather than wait for people to come to Krishna, the Vaishnavas, the devotees of the Lord who believe that every single person should become familiar with their spiritual counterpart, take up the humbling task of preaching openly. In days past the brahmanas were automatically afforded high status in society. Householders would regularly invite brahmanas to come to their homes and discuss transcendental topics. In the current age of Kali, which is marked by the widespread presence of hypocrisy and quarrel, there is very little attention paid to spiritual subject matters. If there are any popular spiritual leaders, they are usually seen on television promising all sorts of material rewards from the Lord. “This will be your year. God will give you whatever you want because you surrender to him.”

While this attitude is nice, what the soul actually needs is never addressed. Arjuna was a warrior, but his foremost desire was not to fight or to earn a military victory. He only wanted to be in Krishna’s company, abiding by whatever orders the Lord gave him. Whatever would please Krishna, Arjuna would do. This is every other soul’s occupational duty as well. This is why the Vedas refer to religion as sanatana-dharma, or the eternal engagement of the soul. The spirit souls are always meant to love Krishna. Sanatana-dharma is better described as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Yoga is growing in popularity today because it stands in stark contrast to other exercise disciplines. Yoga is meant to address the needs of the spirit soul, so when activities are taken up in this line, the benefits are far greater than those coming from running, biking, or competition in various sports.

Real yoga, however, means linking the soul with the Supreme Soul. Therefore bhakti-yoga is the culmination of all yoga practice, as it aims to keep the individual soul connected with God through acts of love and devotion. The quintessential activity in bhakti is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The Vaishnava preachers teach the science of self-realization by chanting this mantra in public, so that as many people as possible can hear the sound vibrations representing the Absolute Truth. At the same time, they distribute transcendental literature aimed at catching the eyes of those sincerely interested in learning about a real religion, a system of spirituality that applies to every single person and that can arouse the most intense loving emotions capable of being expressed.

His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, a Vaishnava preacher in a line of disciplic succession descending from Vyasadeva, did the greatest favor for humanity by translating and commenting on the Bhagavad-gita in English, with translations in many other languages soon following. His Bhagavad-gita As It Is can be likened to a travelling museum, a compact collection of the most valuable gems. Since Shrila Prabhupada understood the gravity of the Gita and its contents, he employed the correct attitude when translating and writing commentaries for the different verses. Therefore even someone who has never heard a single verse of Vedic literature can pick up this wonderful work and gradually learn to appreciate and honor the speaker in the same way that Arjuna did. Through his benevolence, Shrila Prabhupada’s glories continue to increase day by day. He made the complex understandable and revealed Krishna to the world. Those who accept this mercy are the most fortunate.

Bhagavad-gitaIn Closing:

Museum has many an ancient artifact,

Yet don’t dare touch them, make sure to stand back.

Especially to children does this rule apply,

Laws imposed by adults are they given to defy.

Expensive vase in the house could be used for a game,

Whether or not the item breaks, to child all the same.

In child’s play items can be used for impersonation,

Therefore parents set up rules for protection.

With ancient scriptures of India, the same principle,

Bogus commentators value of texts do cripple.

Learn Bhagavad-gita from someone who loves Krishna,

Who follows same mood of devotion as Arjuna.

Saints like Prabhupada understand Vedas and their value,

Learn art of bhakti by reading their works through and through.