Saturday, September 24, 2011

Measure of Devotion

Sita Devi“(Hanuman did not see Sita) who was aggrieved over the separation from her husband, whose throat was choked up with tears, whose neck was adorned with the most valuable golden jewelry, who had lovely eyelashes, who had a sweet voice, and was like a peahen dancing in the forest (when with her husband). (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 5.25)

uṣṇārditām sānusṛtāsrakaṇṭhīm |
purā varārhottamaniṣkakaṇṭhīm |
sujātapakśmāmabhiraktakaṇṭhīm |
vane'pranṛttāmiva nīlakaṇṭhīm ||

Just hearing of Sita Devi’s intense anguish resulting from separation from her dear Lord - the master of the devotees, the most powerful entity known in the world, the person whom yogis, ascetics, fruitive workers and sense enjoyers are searching after, Lord Rama - is enough to put a pleasantly situated mind into a similarly distressful condition. Who gains pleasure from seeing others suffer? One would have to be rather miserly and cruel-hearted to enjoy watching others in pain. With Sita Devi, however, just hearing of her torments becomes a source of great strength, a humbling vision to keep the wayward spirit soul bewildered by the temporary ups and downs of material life moving forward in the progressive march towards eternal freedom, the kind that allows for free range of movement without any harmful side effects. Anyone who remembers Sita, her qualities, and the pain she felt from being separated from Rama will always have a place waiting for them in the spiritual sky once their present life is over.

“Since he was childless, and due to affection for me, he placed me on his lap and said, ‘This is my child.’ Thus he developed feelings of love and affection for me.” (Sita Devi speaking to Anasuya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 118.30)

Sita DeviWho is Sita? Why was her suffering any more important than anyone else’s? In her appearance on earth, Sita was a princess, the eldest daughter of King Janaka of Mithila. The pious ruler found her one day while ploughing a field, so she was technically his adopted daughter. Though Janaka was known as videha for having transcended the effects of the senses, he felt a thrill throughout his body on that fateful day when he found his first daughter. The atmarama spiritualist can be likened to a person whose hunger has been satisfied after eating nicely. If a succulent dish is placed in front of a hungry man, he will enjoy the meal both before and during. Right before eating there is the anticipation, with the taste buds starting to water. Then during eating is when the potential for enjoyment gets realized. Afterwards, however, if the same dish is presented again, the reaction of the target individual will not be the same. This time he is full, so there is no desire to eat again. Regardless of the nature of the dish, even if it is the same exact composition having an identical appearance, the eater cannot be influenced to indulge.

For transcendentalists on the brahma-bhutah platform, there is no hankering or lamenting. There is no excitement over the temporary gains and losses encountered by every person. Since Janaka felt such exhilaration upon finding a small baby girl in the field, we can understand that she must have been someone above the three modes of nature, a divine figure capable of thrilling anyone who thinks of her in the proper mood just once. Janaka was enjoying the bliss of brahmananda, but the feelings of elation felt when gaining Sita as a daughter far surpassed any happiness that comes from the absence of material suffering.

Sita’s wonderful effect on people would continue into her adult life, as she would be married to the prince of the Raghu dynasty, Lord Rama. As an incarnation of Godhead, Shri Ramachandra similarly has a transcendentally pleasing influence on those He meets. The most beautiful woman and the most beautiful man were united in holy matrimony in Janaka’s kingdom. After returning to Rama’s home of Ayodhya, the two lived happily there for twelve years. By happily, we mean that they truly enjoyed each other’s company. During the specific time period, the Treta Yuga, adherence to dharma was quite high. The wives married in Vedic ceremonies were very respectful of their husbands, treating them as their primary deities. With Sita, this deference was at the highest level, as she even treated her three mother-in-laws as her own mother. But more than just a respectful wife, Sita was the source of the greatest pleasure for Rama. She was dedicated to her husband because she knew her company made Him happy. In this way she proved to be the kindest person in the world, as she had not a selfish bone in her body.

Sita and Rama's marriageAs with any beautiful woman, she was highly sought after prior to her marriage. Even after living with Rama for so long, the nefarious elements of the world were still captivated by her beauty to the point that they desired her. Ravana, the king of the Rakshasa community in Lanka, was especially intent on having Rama’s wife, for he had heard of her beauty from his associates. Successfully hatching a scheme to take Sita away while Rama wasn’t looking, Ravana brought the princess back to Lanka with him. Thinking that he could win her over with his opulence and sweet words, Ravana was very excited to have Sita with him.

Devotion is put to the test when there is separation. In the company of her beloved, Sita had no reason not to please Rama or think about Him at all times. But now faced with the punishment of death should she not submit, Sita’s chastity and dedication to the path of dharma would have to withstand the severest test. We know from the Vedic scriptures, including the Ramayana, the poem which gives the most details about the lives of Sita and Rama, that the princess of Videha is really a divine figure in her own right, an incarnation of the goddess of fortune, Lakshmi. Therefore by constitution Sita was dedicated to God, who had appeared in this instance on earth as Lord Rama. Hence there was no chance for Ravana to ever get Sita to agree to his proposals.

“Loving attachment for Me is entirely absorbed in Vaidehi, and loving attachment for Sita is well absorbed in Me.” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 1.52)

Hearing of Sita and Rama’s time spent together in Ayodhya and the forests during Rama’s exile period warms the heart. Rama especially loved the spring season, as the flowers and the sweet aroma would increase His loving feelings for His wife, and vice versa. They were always in each other’s company, and most importantly, constantly in each other’s thoughts. When Sita was separated from Rama and forced to stay in the kingdom of Lanka, this connection in consciousness would not break. If anything, it would be further solidified. Nothing could break Sita’s concentration on the thoughts, activities, qualities and pastimes of her dear husband.

Hearing of Sita’s plight while in Lanka and remembering her wonderful devotional qualities are effective ways of remaining on the straightened path. The living entities, the spirit souls roaming the earth in varieties of species, are also linked to God in consciousness. It is the very constitutional position of the essence of individuality, the spirit soul, to be a lover of God. This property is revealed in every activity, as the end goal of action is a pleasurable condition. We see that the highest pleasures, the most cherished conclusions to action, result from service, either to one’s country, community, spouse, child, employer, or any other person.

Sita DeviWhen the service is first directed at the only person worthy of accepting it, the other pieces fall into place. Those who love God purely can survive through any and all situations, as Sita Devi was case in point. Therefore the Vedic seers, the spiritual masters charged with disseminating the highest truths of life to anyone sincerely interested in hearing them, recommend that we keep our consciousness always purified and connected to the spiritual world by chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Life is full of frustration because there is failure encountered at every step. Even if we succeed in our stated objectives, the pleasure derived does not last very long. If we repeat the pattern of material action enough, pretty soon the initial enthusiasm for the endeavor, the will to live, gets lost. When God and His devotees are remembered, however, the impetus for action can remain in an active state. The fire in the belly that gets the living entity out of bed in the morning and focused on the higher cause of pleasing God can remain lit.

Not even the divine workers are immune to the forces of frustration and doubt. When Sita was taken to Lanka, Rama enlisted the help of a band of forest dwellers residing in Kishkindha. Their best warrior also happened to be the one most devoted to Rama by nature. Known by the name of Hanuman, this brave emissary made his way into Lanka to find Sita and return information of her whereabouts to Rama. Though he had every divine quality in his arsenal just ready to be used, what really fueled his activity was his deep and intense love for Rama. There is no greater servant in any world than Shri Hanuman, and there is no one more dedicated to loving Sita and Rama than he.

HanumanWhen he first searched through Lanka’s streets, Hanuman could not find Sita. Rather, he saw every other type of man and woman. The very diversity witnessed in a big city was seen by Hanuman firsthand. He saw some women who were happy and some who were sighing in anger. Some men were beautiful in appearance, and some were hideous looking. Though he saw many things and people, he had yet to find Sita. Thus he became a little dejected, for the stated objective of the mission was not being met.

In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, some of Sita’s primary qualities are enumerated. This is done to both contrast her from the women Hanuman had seen and serve as a source of inspiration and delight for both the reader and Hanumanji. We see that Sita was oppressed with the grief borne of separation from Rama. None of the women seen thus far could have been Sita because they didn’t show signs of suffering from lack of association with their husband. Sita’s separation pain would also be more intense than anyone else’s because of the nature of her husband. Though Sita’s suffering was a source of pain for her, remembering this level of devotion can only prove beneficial for the souls wandering in vain search of an engagement that provides lasting happiness.

Sita’s throat would also be choked with the tears incessantly flowing. Men have a difficult time dealing with a crying woman, as the intense outpouring of emotion puts the man in an awkward position. “What do I say? How should I act? Do I give her a hug? Do I tell her everything is going to be alright? How can I get her to stop crying?” When there is slight choking due to the intensity of the tears, the panic feeling in the onlooking man increases even more. With Sita, however, just hearing of her tremendous pain brings delight to the heart. No one loves Rama more than Sita does, and her tears are proof of this. Anyone who is fortunate enough to cry tears borne of separation from God should understand that they have situated themselves on a high platform of consciousness. And anyone who can regularly remember Sita’s apparently pitiful situation will similarly be benefitted in their spiritual pursuits. There is no better way to make advancement in consciousness than by being humbled by the selfless and sterling displays of devotion of those who are already in love with God.

Sita and RamaSita, as a princess, was accustomed to wearing a valuable golden necklace, but now that same neck would be afflicted by the tremendous outpouring of tears. This would be how Hanuman would recognize her, for if a woman wasn’t incessantly crying over separation from Rama, she couldn’t have been His wife living in Lanka. Sita also had delicate eyelashes and a beautiful voice. Her speech could melt anyone’s heart, including her husband’s. It is also said that she was like a peahen who was accustomed to roaming the forests with her mate, dancing delightfully to stir his passions. These comparisons are all made to show just how natural and untainted the love between Sita and Rama was.

Remembering Sita Devi’s qualities kept Hanuman going in his mission. He had not met the princess up to this point, but he had heard of her nature. Since she was so dear to Rama, she was very dear to Hanuman as well. We’d be hard pressed to find a more distressing situation than the one faced by Sita. Her dedication to her husband when no one was looking showed just how wonderful she is and how she is forever worthy of our worship and adoration. Those who remember her divine qualities, her heartfelt emotions exhibited when separated from Rama, and Hanuman’s eagerness to find her and allay her fears will have a much easier time getting through the rigors of life. When the mind remains focused in a divine trance of love solidified through hearing the wonderful qualities of Sita and Hanuman, there will be every chance of reaching the supreme destination.

Sita DeviIn Closing:

In her throat there is flood of many tears,

Which raises sympathy in anyone who hears.

Will she ever see her dear husband again?

Will she again show her love for Him like a dancing peahen?

Sita, the princess of Videha, was Rama’s wife,

But she was alone in Lanka, fearing for her life.

Hanuman went to go find her, Rama’s news to bring,

But couldn’t find Sita, of sweetest voice that can sing.

He saw all sorts of men and women in Lanka,

But not she of lovely lashes, Janaka’s daughter Sita.

A golden necklace around her neck she wore,

Pain of separation from Rama she bore.

When apart from husband’s company devotion put to the test,

Sita was emblem of love for Rama, stood above all the rest.

To find a more distressing situation we would be hard pressed,

Remembering her and Hanuman, issues in life addressed.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Meeting Minutes

Radha Krishna“People can hold meetings to glorify the Lord in their respective languages and with melodious songs, and if such performances are executed in an offenseless manner, it is certain that the participants will gradually attain spiritual perfection without having to undergo more rigorous methods.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, Introduction)

In this age of quarrel and hypocrisy, the Kali Yuga, man is generally unfortunate, short-lived, and always under duress. Stress does not even have to be a bad thing, for anxiety, ulcers and constant pain and worry are much bigger problems than ordinary stress. To find relief from the struggles encountered daily, one need not look further than the heavens, the upper planetary realm where the Supreme Lord and the divine figures reside. From His causeless mercy, God makes the processes most effective at allowing others to know Him also the most readily available. This is a simple principle that should never be forgotten. The more difficulty there is in a religious practice, the further it is away from the constitutional position of the soul. Since the name, forms, pastimes and glories of the Supreme Being are what the spirit souls roaming the land of earth are meant to immerse their minds in, something as simple as an assembly held to discuss these aspects can provide full enlightenment. Eternal happiness can come about as quickly as attending a meeting and hearing what is discussed.

Lord KrishnaWhy are we short-lived in the Kali Yuga? What is a yuga anyway? The Vedas are the ancient scriptures of India, and rather than be taken as a sectarian treatise targeted for a select few individuals, the correct viewpoint is to understand that the Vedas are all-inclusive; they are meant to be heard and understood by every class of men, from every type of background. We know that there must have been a point in time when the earth was created, for that is how objects around us come into being. Indeed, our current body was the result of past work performed, growth and development cycles that started before we even had the ability to remember things. We know from the authority of our parents that we existed within the womb for nine months and then finally emerged into a land unknown to us.

Just as the bodies of the living entities come into existence, so the entire cosmic manifestation goes through cycles of creation and destruction. It is said that Lord Vishnu, the four-armed form of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, exhales just once to create the many universes. And when He inhales, everything gets destroyed. As time and space represent the limits to our understanding, they do not apply to the Supreme Lord or to the divine energy in general. Therefore there is actually not just one creation, as that would put God’s abilities under the jurisdiction of time. Rather, this world and other worlds go through cycles of creation, millennia of manifestations if you will. Each creation has an allotted time of existence, and to further understand the conditions in society and how to cope in it, there are divisions to this one time period, which is known as a yuga, or maha-yuga.

“The whole cosmic order is under Me. By My will it is manifested again and again, and by My will it is annihilated at the end.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.8)

Krishna speaking to ArjunaThe Kali Yuga is the last of the four divisions, and it is marked by the tenuous standing of dharma. Religiosity, piety, righteousness, or occupational duties - these are the many ways to translate dharma, though the word itself relates to an essential characteristic. As time goes by, man’s fealty to dharma, the established codes of conduct passed down by the authority figures, dwindles. In the Kali Yuga, dharma stands as a table with only one leg, with the other three wiped out in favor of vice, sin and overall debauchery.

The allure of sinful activity is that it will somehow bring happiness. “Just eat a little bit more. Just have some more beer. Just cheat on your wife this one time. Just make one more wager and then you’ll be satisfied.” Obviously, these temptations aren’t so fast to go away. By giving in to them what results is a loss of peace of mind and rationale. In a society where sinful behavior is rampant, there will not be any happiness. What’s even worse is that the symptoms will not be properly understood; recognizing them will not lead to a proper identification of the problem.

That adherence to dharma should diminish over time is not that surprising. In America, deference to pious behavior in society was much higher than it is today as recently as fifty years ago. In many communities, there was rampant poverty, also much worse than it is today, but since the families were more centered on religious life, the children had morals instilled in them. Hard work, discipline, respect for life and other values remained even in the harshest of conditions. As that adherence to piety gradually diminished, however, so did man’s ability to interact with his fellow man. Hence the Kali Yuga is known for quarrels erupting over the most trivial things. Cut someone off on the highway and you could trigger a meltdown from the other driver. Wear a jersey of a sports team that someone else doesn’t like and you can get beaten up if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Nimai Nitai chanting and dancingSo, what can be done to fix the problem? 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”, are meant to deliver the fallen people of this age. How can these names be disseminated, and who will be willing to accept them, especially given man’s affinity for sinful life? The best way to spread the holy names is through congregational chanting, wherein groups of devoted individuals chant the sacred mantras in a call-and-response fashion. Bring the holy name to the masses and you will have a revolution in thought and behavior.

As people don’t like to be bothered in the street, another effective way to spread the glories of the Supreme Lord that everyone is inclined to worship is to hold meetings, public gatherings where discourses on Krishna philosophy, or bhakti-yoga, can take place. Krishna is the complete manifestation of the Supreme Lord. Shri Krishna is fully opulent, all-powerful, and has a transcendental sweetness that is unique. With karma, the expectation is to have a nice reward, a fruit at the end that tastes sweet. Since Krishna is the reservoir of all sweetness, there can be no tastier fruit than His constant association. The public assembly discussing Krishna’s nature, pastimes and teachings can bring that delight to a large number of people.

Why would people be interested in attending such gatherings? It is seen that there is already the tendency to congregate. The church is the weekly gathering place for the religiously inclined, and the bars and nightclubs the places to go to for fun and enjoyment. If these places don’t fancy you, then there are the coffee shops and restaurants. Irrespective of the nature of the place, the fatigued worker looking for relaxation enjoys getting out of the house and spending some time out in public with other people.

Lord KrishnaThe Vaishnava gathering, the assembly where Krishna is talked about, provides the best of all worlds. The dedication to religion found in the church is present when discussing Krishna. In fact, the interaction is quite unique, as the verses from the sacred texts like the Bhagavad-gita, Shrimad Bhagavatam and Ramayana that are discussed can be studied over and over again, day after day, with new revelations revealed along the way. The more one practices bhakti-yoga and the more they hear about Krishna, the more the covering of nescience enveloping their soul comes off. Every individual life form is fully intelligent; we just don’t notice this because of the covering of maya. Even the ant is cognizant of Krishna’s status as the Supreme Lord, but due to past karma and the resultant reactions, the ant is in a form of body not conducive to acting upon the natural love felt within the heart for God.

The friendly atmosphere of the night club is also there in the Krishna gathering, except that there is no need for darkness. For the night club experience to be enjoyed, there must be intoxication. The music is so loud and the lighting so dim that the patrons really have nothing else to do except drink. If the lights were on bright and everyone could hear each other talk, what need would there be for inebriation? With the Krishna gathering, full sobriety is a prerequisite for understanding the truths of life espoused in the sacred texts. Moreover, the congregational chanting that takes place brings bliss and happiness to those who are not distracted in mind.

“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.26)

The sumptuous food available in the restaurants can also be found in the Krishna gathering. Part of the typical worship program involves the offering of food to the deity of the Supreme Lord. It is said in the Bhagavad-gita that if anyone offers Krishna a leaf, flower, fruit or water, He will gladly accept it. This means that God cannot be invisible or formless. Moreover, He is a personality with arms, legs, ears and a mouth. He is different, however, in that His features are not limited. He is all-pervading and simultaneously situated in the spiritual sky of Goloka Vrindavana, so He can hear every prayer offered to Him and enjoy every tasty prasadam dish presented in a mood of love and devotion.

Krishna's lotus feetThe offered food gets returned to the worshiper in a sanctified form, becoming prasadam, or the Lord’s mercy. This food is then distributed to the guests at the assembly. In this way there is a very simple formula for gaining enlightenment, happiness and a worthwhile occupation of free time. No matter what the person’s background, this simple formula can be followed. Chant a few mantras, listen to topics about Krishna, and eat prasadam. Who could be against this? The more these programs are done, the more they get repeated. In fact, people can follow the same formula in their homes, inviting their friends and family over for a night of Krishna-related fun. Why worship once a week when you can meditate on Krishna every day? Why just enjoy the restaurant food when you can taste Krishna’s mercy all the time? Why suffer the ill effects of intoxication when you can enjoy Krishna’s sweetness in full sobriety?

Though the sacred Vedic texts were composed in Sanskrit and its derivative languages, these gatherings need not be limited to a particular language. Across any land, amongst any group of people, the same subject matter can be discussed. This is what it means to be transcendental. Krishna is God for everyone, not just for the Hindus. Any type of food in the mode of goodness prepared even to the local style can be accepted by Krishna, for the Lord doesn’t just listen to the prayers of those residing in India. The gopis of Vrindavana always thought of Krishna when the Lord left for Mathura and Dvaraka. Were they bereft of His company? Did Krishna forget them? Did He not hear every single one of their prayers offered from many miles away? Krishna was always with them, even though physically He may have been many miles away.

Worship of Radha KrishnaSimply attending these assemblies on a regular basis can provide all perfection, without having to make any extraneous endeavor. No need to travel to the Himalayas, starve yourself for weeks on end, or quit your job and live as a mendicant. Other methods of spiritual life can certainly help, provided that the aim is genuine and authorized, but just following behavior that we are already accustomed to and prefer can bring the desired benefits. The key to the assembly, or any activity in bhakti for that matter, is the holy name. The aim of the gathering is to spread Krishna’s transcendental sound vibrations in a palatable way, in a manner that can be accepted, understood, and relished by every one of the participants. This way everyone can go home and eagerly anticipate the next meeting, the next time they will get to hear about their beloved Krishna.

In Closing:

To hear at meeting place should everyone gather,

About Him who has in His hair peacock’s feather.

The delight of Vrindavana, of Yadu’s fame,

Complete form of Godhead, Krishna is His name.

Gathering place you already prefer to go to,

Why not meet to discuss He of bluish hue?

Don’t need to quit your job or to the mountains run,

Chant Krishna’s names together and enjoy the fun.

In the present age of Kali man is unfortunate,

Forces of sin upon mankind do conglomerate.

No other way for salvation except chanting,

The holy names of the Lord, never forgetting.

Visit the Vaishnava assembly and the truth learn,

Invite people to the home and spiritual merits earn.

To the deity of Shri Krishna offer food in goodness,

Distribute prasadam, happily relish the sweetness.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Suitable Habitat

Lord Rama“There are an infinite number of living beings, both moving and nonmoving, who have many different abodes, with some residing in the earth, some in the sky, and some in the water. But O helpless Tulsi, for you Shri Rama’s holy name is your only home.” (Dohavali, 37)

jala thala nabha gati amita ati aga jaga jīva aneka |
tulasī to se dīna kaham̐ rāma nāma gati eka ||

“What do you want my son? Ask for anything and I will give it to you?” Imagine being graced with such a benediction. If we met God, the Supreme Person, that individual whom we know is capable of delivering anything and protecting us from the worst fears and most distressing situations, face to face, what would we say to Him? What if somehow or other we managed to please Him through an act of charity, penance or sacrifice? What if He came and asked us to reveal to Him what we really wanted? What would our answer be? From the study of the nature around us, we have visual evidence that the answers are not always the same. Rather, they are just the opposite of uniform. There are millions of different answers, which result in placement in millions of different places. One poet in particular, however, knows that if we recite a sacred sound vibration over and over again, the result will be residence in a singular destination. Indeed, through this most comfortable of abodes, which safely houses a purified consciousness, the individual can then live in any situation and still feel like they are in their most precious home.

How do we know that different answers are given to God’s question? How do we even know that choices are made? From the ancient scriptures of India, the original authorized texts known as the Vedas and any literature which expounds upon their teachings, we learn that karma, or fruitive work and its results, manages the cause-and-effect chain with respect to action. This isn’t very difficult to understand, as we don’t even need to read books or hear from spiritual leaders to know that every action we perform has a reaction. Say, for instance, we place our hand into a fire. The resulting pain will be so sharp that the hand will involuntarily draw back. This result is guaranteed every single time that we place the hand into the fire. If we drop an object out of a window, it will immediately fall to the ground. Based on the influence of wind resistance on the object, the rate of descent may not be uniform, but the forces of gravity will operate nonetheless.

“The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another as the air carries aromas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.8)

Lord KrishnaKarma is just the more complete definition of the cause-and-effect system that we can visually perceive. What we can’t see with our blunt senses is covered by the authorized statements of the Vedas, who get their notable distinction from having been instituted by the Supreme Person, the original Personality of Godhead. Just as the outward actions perceived by the mature human being have both immediate and long-term consequences, the sum total of every act, both large and small, committed by every single life form, intelligent and ignorant, has results that bear fruit not only in the current life, but in future ones as well. In this way we see that the circumstances of our present birth were determined by the results of actions previously performed. The system of cause-and-effect continues perpetually, as the soul itself does not decay. Though the body may perish at the time of death, the soul continues its travels through ethereal space. Just where it ends up is determined by karma, which is unbiased and guaranteed to deliver on time.

When apprised of this information, the sober individual will ponder the question, “If karma determined how I got to where I am now, what determined my previous circumstances? What was the origin of karma?” This issue is a little difficult to get a handle on for the human being, because as conditioned souls we cannot think beyond the bounds of time and space. In fact, if we were to sit down and seriously ponder these two wonders, we would be left even more puzzled than we were at the outset. Complete knowledge is available only to the Supreme Person, who is not limited by time or space. To give us some understanding of our original position, He institutes religious systems which detail the properties of our identifiable aspect, the soul. It is said that the soul, or atma, is the same in quality as the Supreme Lord, but vastly inferior in the quantitative estimation. This means that the soul is eternal, blissful and full of knowledge, but since it is not God, it can choose an inferior realm as a home. Because there is a choice in the matter, the individual souls, the jivas, are considered to be in a marginal position, for they can take shelter under either matter or spirit.

The differences between these two fortresses can be better understood by further study of the scriptures, but as a crude example we can liken the differences to what results from worshiping an inanimate object like a car instead of a person like a mother or father. The car does not have an independently functioning brain. Even if there is a computer inside that tells it what to do, it had to be programmed by another person. Since the car is just composed of material elements, offering any obeisances to it, honoring it, telling it that we love it, or basing our identity off of it doesn’t bring anything tangible to the worshiper. On the other hand, respecting and honoring our parents, who are autonomous living entities at the core, keeps us under the protection of higher authority figures, those who can teach us about the difficulties in life and how to make the most use of our time. Our parents already protected us during our infant years, so honoring them instead of inanimate objects is always a wise choice.

Lord KrishnaTaking the same example and expanding it out fully, when divorced of their relationship to the Supreme Lord all of the elements of the visible world are akin to the automobile that is worshiped. Therefore matter is considered an inferior energy, one not directly related to God. Though He can never be separated from His energies, when the living entities view something as not related to the original person, the results of their actions are not beneficial in the long run. Contact with pure spirit, on the other hand, only brings benefits.

When the marginal position is exercised in favor of association with matter, the living entities are allowed to enter the material realm in a body suitable for performing the activities they specifically desire. This is where the scenario about being asked by God what you want applies. The same question is also asked in a non-explicit way at the time of death. In each material body, which is a sort of spacesuit required for residence in a specific area, there must come a time when the life ends, when the form assumed is no longer useful. When it comes time to quit the body, the desires of the soul are again measured. Desires are indicated by the previous work performed, which was driven by previous desires.

“The living entity in material nature thus follows the ways of life, enjoying the three modes of nature. This is due to his association with that material nature. Thus he meets with good and evil amongst various species.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 13.22)

There are so many varieties of species in the universe because desires are never the same. One soul wants to be wealthy and powerful, so it takes birth in a family that allows for that to happen. Another person wants to fly high in the sky and have a body composed mostly of the material element of air. Therefore they are given the body of a bird, which lacks intelligence but has the facility to meet the desire of the jiva who chose against God’s association. Then there are those who desire unending sex life and intoxication. They are rewarded with the body of a dog or a monkey. In this way we see that not only are different bodies crafted according to the various desires for material association, but so are suitable homes given to each form.

TulsidasThis wonder of nature is not lost on Goswami Tulsidas, a wonderful writer, person, devotee, lover of God and so many other things. In the above quoted verse from his Dohavali, Tulsidas mentions that there are countless living entities, both moving and nonmoving, that have their homes on earth, in the sky and in water. Indeed, the number of living entities and corresponding homes is aneka, or not one. The Supreme Lord is considered eka, or a singular entity, but His expansions, which include the jivas, are plural. Despite the number of expansions, God still remains complete and whole; such is the wonder of the spiritual nature.

The number of creatures residing in the different realms of the material world is too many to count, but Tulsidas says that for him he only wants one home. This abode is created through the regular chanting of the holy name of Rama, which means “one who gives transcendental pleasure”. The Supreme Lord is given thousands of names in the Vedic tradition, as each one references a different feature. The same original Person also descends to earth from time to time for various purposes. In His incarnation as Lord Rama, God appeared on earth to annihilate the miscreants headed by Ravana, give protection to the residents of Ayodhya and the sages being harassed in the forests, and give pleasure to countless purified individuals, both human and animal alike.

Though Rama appeared on earth many thousands of years ago, He still remains complete. He is the person from whom the many living entities have come, and He remains forever situated in the spiritual sky. In His Vishnu forms, Rama lives in the Vaikuntha planets, and in His original form as Krishna He remains in Goloka Vrindavana, which is considered the highest of the spiritual planets. Nevertheless, just because Rama lives in the spiritual world doesn’t mean that one can’t take shelter of Him. Tulsidas and his attitude are living proof of this. Through this wonderful verse the poet wholly appreciates God’s ability to grant the jivas whatever they want, and he also makes no judgment on their desires. Whether spirit souls want to live on the earth or in the water is of no concern, for the consciousness is what really matters. By regularly reciting 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”, one can live anywhere and remain satisfied.

Lord RamaIf one person lives on the land and another in the sky, are not their abodes different? If the jiva identifies with the body and their surroundings, then surely their homes have different qualities. But for someone who regularly chants the name of Rama, which directly addresses the Supreme Person and thus brings His association immediately, they can live anywhere and remain unaffected by their surroundings. If we go back to the original scenario of God approaching a person and asking them what they want, the devotee only requests that they be able to remember their beloved Lord, who is full of transcendental form and bliss. To facilitate this desire, they request that they be able to recite and glorify the holy name wherever they go. The Supreme Lord therefore agrees to their request by placing them in different circumstances favorable for the performance of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service.

Those making the holy name of the Lord their home can live anywhere. While the jiva choosing in favor of matter must be granted a specific body type and a corresponding home in an area of a particular quality, the bhakta, or lover of God, is placed wherever he can benefit others by his example. Fortunately for us, Tulsidas was placed into just the right time and circumstance that allowed for a maximum benefit to not only the human population inhabiting the earth during his time but also to countless future generations. Since he took shelter of the holy name, he was able to thrive in his surroundings in medieval India, composing poetry praising Lord Rama that was so brilliant and wonderful that no literary work previous to that or since can ever even come close to it.

The Vedas, which sing the glories of Shri Rama and His dear devotees, are humbled by the wonderful works created by Tulsidas, who never had any desire to criticize others or defeat them in the arena of bhakti. He kept his home always with Shri Rama’s name, and the Lord in turn ensured that the poet’s fame and glory would continue forever and ever. Thus we see that the only suitable habitat for the jiva is the company of Shri Rama, who can be reached by regularly chanting His name. By reminding ourselves to chant on a daily basis, we too will get only one home, a shelter that will never crack even under the heaviest pressure.

Lord RamaIn Closing:

For Tulsidas there is only one home,

Removed from this place he will always feel alone.

The shelter of Shri Rama and His holy name,

Brings one the highest happiness, the only worthy gain.

The jiva can live on earth, in the sky or in the water,

But by having Rama’s name, with matter why bother.

The jiva has a choice in his association,

Live with matter or take God’s protection.

The choice with matter leads to homes that are many,

In different body types and surroundings, joy there is not any.

But by following the formula of divine devotion,

Happiness found anywhere, regardless of commotion.

Rama places devotees into just the right place,

World honored by their work and their grace.

Immerse yourself in bhakti and live in happiness,

Erect shelter of Rama’s name, abode of goodness.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What Is Maya

Lord Krishna“Since the Supreme Personality of Godhead is the original cause of everything, the Vaishnava sees everything in relationship with Krishna, even in this material world. By such advanced knowledge, everything becomes spiritualized. In other words, everything in the material world is already spiritual, but due to our lack of knowledge we see things as material.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 32)

The first instruction taught to aspiring transcendentalists of the Vedic school is aham brahmasmi, which means “I am Brahman.” This instruction is needed at the beginning because the living entity at the time of birth associates only with its body. What else could it know anyway? An infant doesn’t know how to talk, read, move, or communicate properly with anyone. It doesn’t even know that it is going to grow up into a mature adult at some point in the future. Everything is learned through experience and explicit instruction offered by authority figures, but aham brahmasmi cannot come from experience; it must be taught in the beginning stages of self-realization, when a person is most open to learning about their real identity and their position in the world. If we are Brahman, or pure spirit, then everything else, including our bodies, must be of a different nature. That which is not Brahman is known as maya, or the illusory energy governing the material world. The rules delineating the separation between maya and Brahman are not absolute, though. In fact, the material elements are only the source of delusion for one whose consciousness is not properly situated. In the higher scheme everything is part and parcel of God, even His separated energy.

“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.” (Bhagavad-gita, 8.3)

Lord KrishnaAfter initial instruction, through further study the properties of Brahman are learned in more detail. Brahman is truth; it is not deluded by temporary gains and losses. The bodies assumed by the living entities are guaranteed to go through cycles of change, sometimes accumulating and sometimes dwindling. The spirit soul, or Brahman, transcends even death, as nothing is capable of destroying the soul. Depending on the desires fixed in the consciousness at the time of death, a new type of body is crafted for the next life. Despite the changes in outer coverings, the spirit soul’s constitutional makeup does not change.

Why is it important to know Brahman? In the absence of knowledge of our true identity, we will associate with temporary objects. The harm in such a mentality can be illustrated in a variety of ways, but we can take something as simple as a school system to see what results. School is meant to provide an education, not to be a permanent home. If, for instance, a student should take their identity from their participation in a particular school, there will eventually come a time when that identity becomes invalid. Either there will be graduation or dropout, but nevertheless the flawed identity will dissipate.

The wise person knows that their tag as “student” is just temporary, a label meant to further a larger purpose. Similarly, the human form of body is meant to act as a launching pad towards a higher, more pleasurable destination. One who identifies with their body and the different objects and relationships it accumulates will be in for a hard fall at some point in the future. Either the forces of nature will take away possessions or eventually death will come and take away their body. If I spent my whole life living a lie, I obviously didn’t make the best use of my time. Associating only with the body is akin to going through life with your eyes closed, only to have them opened at the time of death, when it is too late.

If we are not our bodies than what are we? How do we even see ourselves? Are not the eyes part of the material body as well? Understanding our identity as Brahman is very difficult, for even having the opportunity to hear of the differences between matter and spirit is considered a great blessing, something not bestowed on every living entity. The animals, insects and plants have no way of understanding Brahman, even though that is their identity as well. Through enough study, hearing and regulative practice, the realization of Brahman can come. At that time, the world will be seen as full of material elements covering pure spirit.

But just as the mentality that views everything as “mine” and belonging to “my body” is harmful, the other extreme of everything being maya and nothing being real is also detrimental. If one doesn’t advance to the next step after Brahman realization, they have every chance of being deluded into thinking that Brahman, or pure spirit, is the summit of existence. If Brahman can’t be seen, then obviously the Supreme Absolute Truth must be invisible. If everything is false, or maya, then the Supreme Truth must not exist in this world. Therefore the only option is to negate all activity, completely remove association with worldly objects and hopefully merge into the light of Truth, this invisible spiritual effulgence.

“By Me, in My unmanifested form, this entire universe is pervaded. All beings are in Me, but I am not in them.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.4)

Lord KrishnaIn the extreme cases both the gross materialist and impersonalist philosopher seeing everything as maya are trying to become God, or the Supreme Controller. One side is attempting to attain that feat through accumulation of objects of maya, while the other is trying to remove maya’s influence altogether. The real position of maya, or material nature, is not a fixed one. She is an energy acting under the direction of the Supreme Lord, who is above both Brahman and the material nature. The Supreme Absolute Truth is one, but He has different energies to those who are not God. The Lord is never separate from His energies, but to understand Him to some level, we make distinctions between matter and spirit, the material world and the spiritual world.

So, is God maya or Truth? Obviously if the living entity is Brahman and not maya, then the Supreme Lord must be the same way? This is where things get a little tricky. In the Bhagavad-gita, the treatise on spirituality delivered by Lord Krishna, it is said that those who try to understand the Absolute Truth by being only devoted to the unmanifest, or all-pervading, aspect have a very difficult time, especially if they are embodied. This means that a person who is dwelling in a material form finds it almost impossible to understand what “all-pervading” means and how the Supreme Personality can be above maya. If I myself have to dissociate from maya, why shouldn’t God?

“For those whose minds are attached to the unmanifested, impersonal feature of the Supreme, advancement is very troublesome. To make progress in that discipline is always difficult for those who are embodied.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 12.5)

The true fact is that God is not invisible. When He is described as all-pervading, or unmanifest, this is from the perspective of the conditioned eye. The difference between a conditioned eye and a liberated one is the ability to perceive of the Absolute Truth’s presence everywhere. The distinction can be likened to the viewing of a large number, one in the millions or billions. If the number is written down just with the numerals, it is very difficult to properly make it out. On the other hand, if commas are inserted in the proper places, the number can be read and understood instantly. The numbers are the same in both manifestations, except one is more difficult to understand.

Identical numbers represented differentlySimilarly, the unmanifested and the manifested aspects of the Supreme Absolute Truth are really the same, as the Supreme Lord is one without an equal. His presence is everywhere; it’s just that we don’t have the eyes to see Him unless we implement the proper methods of spiritual practice. Taking another example, if we seat a blind man and a man with vision in front of a painting, to the blind man the painting will be invisible. To the person with vision the painting is manifest right before them. Just because the blind man thinks that the painting is invisible doesn’t mean that the painting doesn’t exist. Similarly, just because a person takes maya to be everywhere and the Lord to be invisible doesn’t mean that maya acts on God or that the Lord cannot be seen. The terms “unmanifest” and “invisible” apply to the angle of vision used in specific cases.

What really is maya then? To understand its purpose, the marginal position of the living entity must be remembered. The Supreme Lord is the spiritual whole. His body is supremely attractive and fully transcendental; hence it is described as Krishna among many other names in the Vedic tradition. For Krishna there is no distinction between body and soul. He is completely one; for Him there is neither delusion nor contact with inhibiting matter. The living entities, we jiva souls, are also spiritual in nature, but we have a choice in association. When deciding in favor of Krishna’s company or the association of God in one of His many other non-different forms, we get a spiritual body and don’t get deluded into becoming attached to a temporary nature.

On the other hand, if we choose against Krishna’s association, we take shelter of a separated energy, which is known as material nature, or maya. Maya acts at Krishna’s command, which is influenced by the living entity’s desires. Maya is neither absolute nor autonomous. The material nature is inhibiting only for those who are deluded in consciousness. Those who use maya to further their God consciousness, however, don’t suffer any of material nature’s inhibiting effects. With this we’re essentially introducing an exception to the rules governing the differences between Brahman and maya.

Lord KrishnaWhile the exception seems too convenient to be taken seriously, even the impersonalist believes in exceptions to their rules. For instance, the person thinking that everything is maya and that God is invisible and formless nevertheless posits their theories in sound vibrations and written word. Words are written out on paper or placed onto internet websites, both of which are governed completely by maya. But according to the authors of these works, maya is false, a delusion, not reality. If maya is false and the words containing impersonalist philosophy are presented through the medium of maya, then the philosophy itself is maya! If the philosophy is false, or not real, why should anyone accept it?

The impersonalists obviously make an exception to their rule of everything being maya when they present their philosophy. So, in this way the idea of maya having different utilities based on the purpose of the individual is not a novel concept. God’s true position is as Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He is never associated with maya, and neither are His devotees. When used to further one’s God consciousness the material elements take on a divine nature. The mahamaya turns into yogamaya when used to connect with Krishna.

As a simple example illustrating the difference, normal sound vibrations are used to convey messages and songs. If the content is related solely to the body that is temporary and destined to be renounced, then obviously there is association with maya. On the other hand, if the sound vibrations are used to address God and recite His names, such as those found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, there is no debilitating influence. A school is just a building after all, made of brick and mortar like any other large dwelling. In this respect the school is no different from a warehouse. But since there is education established within the rooms, the school building has significance. In a similar manner, any collection of material elements used to further one’s God consciousness ceases to be maya.

More important than understanding Brahman, the material nature, and God’s all-pervasiveness is knowing the Supreme Lord’s position as being beyond all of this. There is no better way to learn this fact than by hearing from Krishna directly and seeing Him personally. These benedictions were granted previously to many notable personalities, including Arjuna, a talented fighter. He was the recipient of the Bhagavad-gita, a work spoken by Krishna that is still celebrated, studied and honored to this day. In the Gita Krishna specifically addresses those who can’t think beyond the stringent rules of Brahman and maya.

“Unintelligent men, who know Me not, think that I have assumed this form and personality. Due to their small knowledge, they do not know My higher nature, which is changeless and supreme.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.24)

Lord KrishnaKrishna tells Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita that the foolish think He has assumed His body, not knowing His real nature as changeless. If we see someone in front of us, even if they are exquisitely beautiful, we will apply whatever knowledge we have acquired to our identification method. “Vedanta philosophy tells me that we are not this body. Brahman is Truth and the material elements are maya. Therefore this person standing before me holding a flute must also be covered by maya. But boy, let me tell you, there is something unique about Him. If His flute is maya, then maya must be something wonderful. If His facial features, His lustrous hair, and the flower garland around His neck are maya, then maybe maya isn’t so bad?”

It’s very difficult to get past the strict rules that we have been taught, and it’s even harder to understand how someone could transcend them. With enough faith in the process of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, Krishna can be seen for who He is. He is never subject to maya’s influence, and His body and those belonging to His avataras, or incarnations, are not affected by the laws of material nature in any way. Similarly, the deity manifestations crafted from material elements are also spiritual. Stone and marble are standard objects of matter, but when they are used to create a worshipable figure, one that is installed in a temple or home and honored regularly and which matches the transcendental features belonging to the Supreme Lord described in the numerous Vedic texts, the material elements become spiritualized. If even marble can turn into a divine element, imagine what can happen to the humble living entity who turns their life over to God. For the paramahamsa, the supreme swan of a transcendentalist, Krishna’s influence is seen everywhere. Therefore maya cannot harm them.

In Closing:

Living entity at birth identifies with the body,

Yet this form is ever changing, not source of identity.

Sincere student of Vedas learns from the start,

That they are Brahman, a purely spiritual spark.

If we are spirit then everything else must be matter,

Known as maya, false world leaves taste that is bitter.

If everything is maya, God fits into where?

Is He invisible, on His form we cannot stare?

From Bhagavad-gita learn Truth’s real nature,

Lord has both personal and impersonal feature.

Matter is inhibiting for the ignorant,

For devotees, everything in life is pleasant.

For the elements are used for God consciousness,

To remember the Supreme Lord, bask in His pleasantness.

Use matter to make deities and transcendental sound,

Maya becomes divine, benefits will be profound.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Forced Remembrance

Hanuman remembering Sita and Rama“(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 ||

Vishnoh-smaranam is one of the central components of bhakti practice; it is a recommendation nicely given to us by Prahlada Maharaja, one of the twelve mahajanas, or authorities on devotional service. There are many types of religious systems, with each fulfilling a specific purpose, but there can be no higher engagement than dedicating one’s thoughts, words and deeds to the pleasure of the origin of good qualities, the Supreme Lord. Just from a mere drop of His energy comes everything splendid around us, those things which are so wonderful to behold that we are unable to properly put their beauty into words. From a simple seed, a perfectly constructed flower results, an object whose beauty, elegance and aroma cannot be duplicated. If we just look at the flower and appreciate its beauty, further insight can be gained into the gloriousness of its creator, that entity to whom every one of us is inherently tied.

HanumanThough we may have a vague idea of God’s existence or perhaps we might only appreciate Him indirectly through the wonders of His creation, actually remembering the Lord on a regular basis is a little difficult. So many other activities and interests are given higher priority within the mind. “Oh, just let me finish my work for the day; then I will think about God. Oh but wait, now I just want to relax; I’ve worked so hard during the day. I’ll start my religious pursuits tomorrow, with a clean slate.” Through this procrastination, remembering God keeps getting put on the backburner, something we’ll eventually get around to. Since habits are tied to meeting other interests, the need for remembering the Supreme Lord, a practice which actually brings bliss to the heart, is forgotten. Never fear, however, as for the sincerest souls sometimes there are rainy days, unpleasant situations encountered, which force remembrance. Such was the case with one person who actually never deviates in thought, word or deed from pleasing the Supreme Lord. In this special circumstance, however, his temporary frustration led him to delve even further into the divine qualities possessed by the most beautiful, kind, intelligent and merciful woman to have ever graced this earth: Sita Devi.

The practice of instigating remembrance is present in many facets of life; it is not reserved exclusively for those interested in spirituality. Rather, just in the way the world works our mind constantly shifts from one interest to another. We finish one task but then worry about how we’ll complete the next one. The young student thinks that once they pass a certain test or complete a specific assignment that was put off for the longest time they will feel alleviated. “Whew! That huge weight is finally off my shoulders. Now I can just relax.” But as the journey through life continues, it is seen that the pressures actually never cease. With each new day come new challenges and hence new fears over potential failure. The mind has constant and steady sources of distress, an easy way to always be distracted by something or someone.

For these reasons annual holidays specific to a certain subject matter or entity are assigned. For instance, the brave sacrifice made by volunteer military men and women in service of their country is easily taken for granted. Though there have been periods in the history of the United States where there was forced military enlistment, most of the time the men and women serving in the armed forces have been volunteers. Therefore they know that they are risking their lives by what they do. Yet they remain dedicated to their work nonetheless, as some people are born with the qualities necessary to protect. According to the Bhagavad-gita, the Song of God sung by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, at the time of birth one’s qualitative makeup can be categorized into one of four groups. Those naturally prone towards serving in the military or police are known as kshatriyas. They protect others from injury; hence they must be brave, chivalrous and sometimes violent in their behavior.

Lord KrishnaThe sober person recognizes the sacrifice and commitment towards delivering justice made by the kshatriyas in a society. In this sense there should be no reason to cajole any feelings of appreciation, as who wouldn’t be thankful to have others protecting them from domestic criminals and foreign enemies? As mentioned before, however, the daily grind makes it difficult to remember everything that should be remembered and honor everyone who is deserving of homage. Therefore there are certain holidays within each year, such as Veterans Day and Memorial Day, where time is set aside to pay tribute to the brave military men and women who fight to defend liberty. Through a national holiday, at least some attention is given during the long year to the noble efforts expended by others.

Within the realm of spiritual life, the ultimate goal is to have regular remembrance of God. This shouldn’t be an earthshattering revelation, as what we think about will determine our consciousness. Our mindset then determines the type of behavior we adopt. If we think about God as often as possible, we will engage in His service. Since He is the Supreme Lord and original creator, no one can ever become a loser by thinking about Him. In every other area of endeavor, by taking up a specific action, we automatically neglect another, and thus receive a mixed bag of benefits and detriments. For instance, it is seen that famous celebrities and politicians have a difficult time taking care of their children or maintaining their relationship with the spouse. Since so much time is spent in the particular field of interest, automatically there is neglect of other priorities.

It is this very issue that serves as one of the largest stumbling blocks towards advancing in spiritual consciousness. “Sure, thinking about God is nice, but won’t this strict adherence to religious life interfere with my family relations and my work? Can’t I just wait until I’m old and retired to start thinking about God?” This thinking seems quite logical, as retirement brings the best opportunity for engaging fulltime in whatever pursuit one is interested in. But there is great risk with following this path. For starters, there is no guarantee that we will make it all the way to retirement. Because of the threefold miseries of life, death can come at any second. Disease, mental pain, harmful influences from other living entities, and natural disasters don’t play favorites. They have been known to strike people of all ages.

“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.20)

Lord KrishnaMore troublesome than the uncertain life expectancy is the consciousness factor. If we spend our whole lifetime engaged in fruitive work and sense gratification, what’s to say we won’t continue that mindset after we retire from work? Taking these issues into account, the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, provide rules, regulations and procedures meant to be followed from the time of birth all the way until the end of life. With adherence to samskaras, or reformatory processes, the human being, who has the most valuable form of body, gradually builds upon a consciousness that focuses on God. In the younger years, the natural urge is to play, so when education can be forced, it is most beneficial to focus on spirituality and the temporary nature of material life. The soul is the essence of identity; it does not die when the body perishes. It doesn’t even ever take birth; it exists forever.

Consciousness is what determines the type of body the soul is placed into. In the animal species there is a less developed consciousness, one that has no potential for learning about God or the need to connect with Him. With the human species, however, through proper training there is every chance of becoming fully God conscious. This is the real purpose to any religion, even if the followers are unaware of it. Young children don’t understand why they are compelled to go to school, but once they reach adulthood they not only understand why their parents made them go to school, they also fully appreciate the discipline and structure previously imposed on them. Similarly, the immature person might not realize why he has to learn about the soul and its relationship to God as being part and parcel of Him, simultaneously one with and different, but if he follows the guidelines put forth by a bona fide spiritual master, he will one day realize why the different methods were implemented.

A potent form of religious practice, even if it’s not directly part of a samskara, is remembering. In this fallen age of Kali, where adherence to religious principles is almost nonexistent, the simplest and most effective tool for the aspiring transcendentalist is the regular chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Vishnu is another name for God which means “all pervading”. There is only one God, but hardly any established religious system discusses or reveals His attributes. Only the Vedic literature, which is the most complete in terms of both the knowledge presented about the Lord and the information given for realizing Him, gives us thousands of different names for God, each of which speaks to a specific attribute, pastime, or feature. Vishnu is one of God’s names, and it also references His four-handed personality that is responsible for the creation. Krishna is God’s name that means “all-attractive”, and it also references His two handed form that is considered the original form of the Lord. Rama is the Lord’s name that means “one who gives transcendental pleasure”.

Lord RamaRama also refers to Lord Ramachandra, the incarnation of Godhead who appeared on earth as a celebrated prince in the Raghu dynasty. To facilitate remembrance of Rama, who is non-different from Vishnu, the Vedic seer Maharishi Valmiki gave us the Ramayana, a lengthy Sanskrit poem which highlights Rama’s most famous pastimes from His time on earth many thousands of years ago. Since that time, many other works, including sacred poems authored by Goswami Tulsidas and the Puranas compiled by Vyasadeva, have also discussed Lord Rama, His activities and the glorious qualities of His associates. What’s interesting to note, however, is that while we can remember Rama through reading about Him in the Ramayana, we can also hear about how others remember the Lord and His entourage from the same work.

When the Supreme Lord descends to earth, He usually brings His energy expansions from the spiritual world with Him. As Rama, Vishnu brought with Him Lakshmi Devi and Ananta Shesha Naga to play the roles of His wife and younger brother respectively. Sita Devi, the Lord’s wife, was inseparable from Rama, as was the Lord’s younger brother Lakshmana. Sita would, however, be temporarily removed from her husband’s side through the iniquitous deeds of a demon king named Ravana.

It was Hanuman, Rama’s servant, who would be tasked with finding Sita and returning the information of her location to Rama. This way the Lord could march to Ravana’s kingdom and win Sita back through a fair fight. But first things first; Hanuman had to find Sita. This was no easy task, as Ravana did not want to be found. He had failed to win Sita over, even after showing her his opulence. Sita is never interested in anyone’s activities or qualities if they have no devotion to Rama.

HanumanHanuman discovered that Sita was in Ravana’s island kingdom of Lanka, so he bravely made his way into the city. Roaming the many streets at night while in a small form, Hanuman saw beautiful princesses ready to cavort with their husbands and also many ogres of terrible might. All the variety that exists in a big city was seen by Hanuman. Through it all, Hanuman remained determined to find the person he was sent to find.

Up until this point in time, Hanuman had never met Sita. All he had to go by was her qualities, of which devotion to Rama was foremost. Based on this distinguishing feature, Hanuman could tell for certain that he had not yet found Sita. Since the women he saw were happily engaged in enjoying material life, they couldn’t be Rama’s wife, for Sita would have to have been in a distressed condition. Indeed, Hanuman’s failure to find Sita after searching for so long caused some distress to his mind. He was not happy that he had not found who he was looking for.

Normally, a setup such as this would be considered a bad thing. For Hanuman, however, the failure to find Sita actually helped him remember her even more. He was fully attached in a bond of transcendental love to Rama’s wife simply because of who she was. When he failed to find her, when his frustration mounted, he remembered her qualities even more. In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, we see some of the qualities possessed by Sita that were fully appreciated by Hanuman. Sita was devoted to her husband, as she was eternally on the path of chastity. She was so wonderful in her service that she had taken over Rama’s mind. God never forgets anyone who remembers Him sincerely for even a second. Sita always remembers Rama, so we can just imagine how endeared to Rama she is.

Sita DeviSita is described as being the most exalted woman. This highlights the dichotomy noticed by Hanuman. The women in Lanka were beautiful in every way, and they weren’t guilty of the sinful deeds performed by their husbands, the ghoulish creatures following the example of their leader Ravana. A nice thing about remembering God and those intimately associated with Him is that even if we see something opulent or extraordinary in life, we can always compare what we see to what exists in full abundance in God and His associates. In this instance, what was seen was exquisite beauty and devotion to husbands, so these qualities were juxtaposed with Sita’s. In this matchup there was no contest. No one can compare with Sita in gloriousness. As remembering God is the source of the greatest pleasure, remembering those who remember Him is even more heartwarming. Just thinking of Sita and her full God consciousness made Hanuman anxious to continue his search. May we never forget Shri Hanuman and his undying devotion to Sita, Rama and Lakshmana. May we remember the joy he felt from bringing to mind Sita’s divine qualities the next time we meet with frustration. Though we should remember God all the time, this fact is very easy to forget. But if we are sincere enough in our desire to connect with the Lord through consciousness, He will create situations of frustration and distress that will force us to remember Him. In this way His mercy and transcendental qualities only go on increasing in abundance.

In Closing:

Remember Lord Vishnu all the time,

Who is God Himself, vision so sublime.

Even if this fact we sometimes may forget,

On regular remembrance your clock do set.

This practice seen in other areas of life as well,

Us to remember the honorable holidays do compel.

Hanuman went looking for Rama’s wife Sita,

Who was taken by Ravana to island of Lanka.

Search was difficult for Hanuman, distress starting to mount,

But for him gave opportunity for Sita’s glories to count.

Therefore even his pain turned out a blessing to be,

In his heart live Lord Rama and Sita Devi.

Follow Hanuman and take shelter of remembrance,

Bask in vision of God’s smile in all its brilliance.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Child’s Play

Lord Krishna“Krishna is worshipable by great demigods like Brahma and Lord Shiva, and Putana was so fortunate that the same Krishna played in her lap as a little child. The lotus feet of Krishna, which are worshiped by great sages and devotees, were placed on the body of Putana.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Volume 1, Ch 6)

Everyone was amazed. This giant carcass was lying in front of them, and yet the young Krishna had no fear of it. Though only a small child, young enough to still require nursing, Krishna had no problem crawling on this hideous creature, who apparently died while in His company. She had initially approached Gokula with an enchanting figure, but it was obvious now that she had evil intentions from the start. How a young child unable to even walk could survive this creature’s attack was simply astounding. It was just a small glimpse into the wonders that were yet to come during this sacred time in the holy land of Vrindavana.

Lord KrishnaWho is God? Each spiritual tradition has their own definition, with the concepts running the full spectrum of imagination and thought. That a youth holding a flute in His hands, wearing a peacock feather in His hair, and having a bluish complexion could be God also seems to fit in line with the idea that man just concocted images of a Creator. After all, who have we seen that is bluish in complexion and can perform miraculous feats like lifting up a giant hill and holding it over his head with one finger for seven days? That this youth could be able to mesmerize others with the sound of His flute and the beauty of His divine vision seems to be an exaggeration as well.

The Vedic tradition, the one which declares Lord Krishna to be the Supreme Personality of Godhead, doesn’t just present information and then compel others to accept it. “Surrender unto Krishna, accept Him as your God; otherwise prepare for doom!” Sentiment is surely there, but the definition of the Supreme Lord is given in scientific terms as well. For a person to be supreme, they have to be different from ordinary men. In order to notice the difference, the qualities of the average person must be accounted for, studied and understood on the largest scale. The full scope of activity takes into consideration both cause and effect.

The effects are easy to see. We have billions of life forms around us, some moving and some nonmoving. The human being is considered the most intelligent species because of its capacity for intelligence. Surely some other species are stronger, faster and live longer, but the human being has the unique ability to understand God. When the pursuit to know the unknowable is made in earnest and directed by proper authority, the fruit of the existence in a human form of body is tasted. When this pursuit is absent, the human life is really no different from a birth in a cat or dog form.

“As a desire tree, whatever you want you can have from the Vedas. Veda means knowledge; it is so complete that whether you want to enjoy in this material world or you want to enjoy spiritual life, both kinds of knowledge are there. If you follow the Vedic principles, then you will be happy.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna Consciousness The Topmost Yoga System, Ch 8 )

Shrila PrabhupadaWe see the effects in the form of the different species, but what is the cause? Moreover, we know that man is mortal, but why is this the case? Why can’t he live forever? These topics and more are the subject matter of the vast Vedic literature, which is likened to a tree of wisdom, with the different branches bringing forth their own fruits. If you follow a particular set of guidelines coming from the Vedic tree, you achieve a certain end. For instance, if you’re after material wealth, you can worship heavenly figures in charge of distributing such benedictions. If you’re after a long life, there is a similar process for that. If your desire is to gain lasting health benefits, you can follow the ancient system of Ayurveda.

But again, the tree is just the effect. We know that the trees we see around us sprouted from seeds. Similarly, the tree of Vedic wisdom comes from an original source. From this observation we have just introduced one definition for God. He is the person from whom all knowledge emanates. He is also the cause behind the material manifestation, so His position as the original person is further substantiated. He is the cause of all causes, sarva-karana-karanam.

The Vedas describe God in many different ways, but the word Bhagavan fits best. Bhagavan refers to the person who is the most fortunate, he who has every opulence imaginable and to the fullest degree. Bhagavan is the richest, wisest, most beautiful, most famous, strongest and most renounced. Since God is not limited to just one form, His expansions are referred to as avataras, or those who descend. Since God also has an impersonal feature, one where His personal presence isn’t felt, He can be described as nirguna. Since His original forms are featured with identifiable spiritual attributes, He is also described as saguna.

Lord KrishnaThough there are so many descriptions for the Supreme Person in the Vedas, just one name, one form, is considered the most beautiful and also the most complete. Since that form is extremely attractive and bluish in complexion, it is known as Krishna. Rather than just relay this information through the statements of Vedic literature, the Supreme Lord kindly manifests Himself in His personal and original form from time to time throughout history. These descents typically take place in the Dvapara Yuga, the third time period of creation, but this doesn’t mean that Krishna is invisible the rest of the time. Rather, anyone can see Krishna, provided they have the proper qualifications.

What does this mean exactly? Just as one needs 3D glasses to watch the latest movies in the theaters, vision needs to be cleared in order to realize the presence of the Supreme Lord and bask in the sweetness and charm of His appearance. If one is hankering after sense gratification or lamenting over the temporary setbacks that life hands out, consciousness will be diverted in attention. Hence even if Krishna were to appear before us, we wouldn’t realize His presence. We would then miss out on the most wonderful opportunity of seeing and interacting with God.

Is this even possible? Can someone see God and not know who He is? This is precisely what occurred with many miscreants in the past, including one female witch named Putana. When Krishna descends to earth to enact His lila, or pastimes, He spends His youth in the farm community of Vrindavana. That He should choose to live there is not surprising. The residents of Vrindavana during the Dvapara Yuga are fully qualified to see God, for they dedicate their lives to Him, sacrificing the results of their hard work for His satisfaction.

Mother Yashoda with KrishnaThough somewhere in the many universes Krishna is appearing right now, since the Dvapara Yuga has already passed in this specific creation, we can refer to the events relating to Krishna’s appearance in the past tense. When the Lord had just arrived in Vrindavana, He was tended to regularly by many women, who were all known as mothers. In the Vedic tradition every woman except your wife is referred to as “mother”, or at least they are treated that way. By following Vedic culture, whose ultimate aim is to make everyone God conscious by the time of death, one automatically learns to respect women.

Since Krishna was very young, it was not uncommon for more than just Mother Yashoda to breastfeed Him. A mother produces milk based on the need of the child. Krishna is the father of mankind, so everyone is inherently linked to Him. The mothers in Vrindavana had pure hearts, so they would produce milk just by seeing their beloved Krishna. Yet one day, a strange woman appeared on the scene. No one knew who she was, but she was so beautiful that they did not object to her picking up Krishna and trying to feed Him.

The woman was actually the witch Putana in disguise. In the neighboring town of Mathura lived King Kamsa, who was previously told that the eighth son of his sister Devaki would kill him. Taking no chances, the king locked up his sister and her husband Vasudeva. Kamsa managed to kill his sister’s first seven children, but the eighth child, Krishna, escaped when Vasudeva brought Him to Nanda Maharaja and Mother Yashoda in Vrindavana. Somehow or other, Kamsa found out that the child had been moved to Vrindavana, so he ordered that all newly born males be killed. To facilitate this he sent various demons to the town, with Putana being one of them.

Krishna crawling on PutanaHer job was pretty simple. She smeared poison on her breast beforehand, so anyone who would try to take milk from it would die instantly. Taking Krishna in her lap, she expected to be successful in her murder attempt. While we may be able to cheat our fellow man, it is not possible to cheat the Supreme Lord. In fact, as hard as we try to cheat, that much of a punishment will be returned back to us. Krishna sucked Putana’s breast alright, more than she could ever imagine. He sucked the very life out of her, eventually causing her to reveal her true, hideous form.

After she died and fell to the ground, the young Krishna playfully crawled on her body. The residents of the town couldn’t believe it. Mother Yashoda waved a cow’s tail around Krishna to ward off evil spirits. The sequence of events isn’t exactly the same in each creation, as Lord Krishna advents many times during each day of Lord Brahma, the first living entity. The world we live in goes through many cycles of creation and destruction, similar to how the spirit soul transmigrates from one body to another through the laws of karma.

In the Vishnu Purana, it is said that Nanda Maharaja placed an amulet on Krishna and recited the various names of Vishnu to protect Him. This proves that the residents of Vrindavana were devoted souls. Vishnu is the very same Krishna, but having a different appearance. Nanda Maharaja essentially prayed to God to protect His son, who was God Himself. The holy name is so powerful that reciting it in an authorized way can give protection to a young child. This is not some voodoo tradition or strange magic. The potency of the holy name is known to those who recite it with love on a regular basis. Therefore the single most recommended spiritual practice for the current age is the chanting of the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”

Krishna captivated the hearts of the innocent townspeople of Vrindavana and foiled every attempt made by Kamsa. Krishna’s childhood pastimes are relished by the liberated souls, those who have tasted the fruit of existence. Pleasure is the ultimate objective in activity after all, so what could be more pleasing than having the mind swim in an ocean of nectar made up of love for Krishna and His name?

Lord KrishnaIn Closing:

After Krishna did make her form switch,

Crawled on the body of Putana the witch,

Sucking the very life out of her breast,

On her giant body did Krishna’s feet rest.

Of sister’s eighth son was Kamsa afraid,

In his prison Vasudeva and Devaki stayed.

To Vrindavana was Krishna moved after birth,

Town full of devoted souls, sacred was its earth.

Where Krishna was Kamsa eventually found out,

For newborn males did Kamsa’s demons then scout.

Kamsa sent Putana, a witch masking her appearance,

Tried to kill Krishna, instead He caused her disappearance.

At Krishna’s amazing feats did the residents marvel,

In His beautiful form did their eyes revel.