Saturday, October 1, 2011

Look At This

Lord Krishna“Sometimes mother Yashoda and her gopi friends would tell Krishna, ‘Bring this article’ or ‘Bring that article.’ Sometimes they would order Him to bring a wooden plank, wooden shoes or a wooden measuring pot, and Krishna, when thus ordered by the mothers, would try to bring them. Sometimes, however, as if unable to raise these things, He would touch them and stand there. Just to invite the pleasure of His relatives, He would strike His body with His arms to show that He had sufficient strength.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.11.8)

Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is worshiped in so many different ways, as there is both direct and indirect worship. When the conditioned soul is deluded by ignorance of his constitutional position, the meaning of life, his place relative to other living entities and objects, and how the repeating cycle of creation and destruction operates, indirect worship will take place. The vile hatred shown towards the religiously inclined, the vehement denial of the existence of God, the dogmatic insistence couched in the shelter of scientific evidence relating to evolution, and even the willful neglect of adherence to religious principles are all examples of indirect worship. Krishna, or God, is the supreme father, so how can anyone not be interacting with part of His creation at every second? In direct worship, however, the transcendental tastes are present; hence the pleasure that everyone seeks at every second of their existence is found at the highest level. Shri Krishna is intimately aware of these tastes and how they can be produced. Therefore, for the sincerest souls He takes the impetus to create as many unique situations as possible where the transcendental taste can be relished through personal interaction.

Lord KrishnaCan there be impersonal interaction with God? Yes, and it is another type of indirect worship. There is an intermediary stage where one understands that they are not capable of creating a sun, maintaining inconceivably large land masses and holding them in the air, and controlling the weather, but at the same time they don’t know who actually does maintain these things. Therefore at best they can worship an impersonal feature of the Lord, a sort of light of Truth. This method of worship is still superior to the indirect worship that takes place with those who completely deny the existence of a creator. Big bangs destroy; they don’t create. No one can take a series of chemicals and create life or even have a species evolve. Such theories are based only on outward perception, seeing visible outcomes and then trying to explain them with the paltry knowledgebase available to the human being.

How can we make this assertion with confidence? Just imagine if we could absorb every single experience belonging to every single person who ever existed into our brain. Would we then have perfect knowledge? We can find the answer from our own personal experience. How many people do we see that are much older than we are and yet they don’t have anything intelligent to share with us? They make mistake after mistake, find perpetual misery and angst, all the while not progressing towards any favorable condition. People older than us have had more experiences, i.e. they have fed more information into the computer that is the brain. But more information doesn’t always mean that the mind will know how to process what it is collecting. Through intoxication, gambling, meat eating, illicit sex and the feverish pursuit to secure sense gratification, the mind casts aside good judgment in favor of animal instincts. The human being may look down on the animals for their lack of intelligence, but when the same behavior is followed by the seemingly more intelligent human, the deficiency is ignored.

Even if we could collect knowledge of every experience, we’d have no way of creating something like the sun. It is just there. We know some of its properties, but we have no idea how to create it. Since we can’t even create a miniature version of the sun, what do we really know about the universe? Mind you, to create a replica of the sun, you’d have to make an object that remains in place, gives off heat and light, and does not require any maintenance whatsoever. This means that this miniature sun cannot have an external fuel source. This paradoxical combination of properties is impossible to create, yet man somehow thinks he can control the weather or evolve the species.

the sunThe mental pursuits to try to supplant God’s authority are also a type of indirect worship. To better understand how this operates, let’s say that we had young children and they constantly played with the toys that we bought them. After playing and playing, they might generate their own theories as to where the toys came from and how to find happiness in their environment. There is no direct worship of the parents, who are the suppliers in this case, but the playing field still could never be created without the intervention of the superior entities, the parents. Just through their play the children perform some type of worship of their superiors, but there is no transcendental taste; there is no personal interaction.

The behavior of atheists and those who ignore God’s influence is similar to the children in this regard. If you take a young child to the store and they see that you pay for a specific item by swiping your credit card, the child may think that this is how to pay for things. Just take out your card and swipe. What that transaction actually represents is not accounted for. That the credit card company will send a bill later on asking for the amount of the purchased item to be paid is unknown to the child. Even if the parent pays with cash, the child has no concept of what it took to earn that money, where it came from.

Similarly, the scientists going off of simple sense perception and the documented perceptions and theories of others have no idea where matter comes from and what its purpose is. Rather, they look only at the results and then try to manipulate them for their own benefit. Sadly, if they simply changed the beneficiary of their activity, they could find true happiness. The person who grants us these objects does not do so to punish. If everything around us is used for His favor, eternal felicity can be found. Moreover, the proper knowledgebase will be uncovered as well.

There are often debates as to what constitutes intelligence, i.e. how do we tell if someone is smart. There is really no need for any disagreement in this area, as the proper assessment is very easy to make. An intelligent person is one who can best use their knowledge to further their specific purpose. If one person knows a lot about quantum physics and the laws of mathematics, what does their knowledge gain them if their aim in life is to raise children and have a happy family life? Their intelligence may get them a good job which provides a high salary, but if they don’t know how to properly treat their family members and how to oversee their dependents, how smart can they really be?

Lord KrishnaIn this respect, the most intelligent person is one who can use whatever they have around them to further life’s ultimate mission, that of becoming God conscious. Instead of creating theories denying the existence of God, if we simply do something sincerely in the right direction and show the Lord what we have done, the benefits are real and last beyond the present lifetime. A beloved child is one who interacts with their parents, almost annoying them in a sense. “Dad, look at this. I made this today. Mom, do you remember yesterday when I did that? Dad, green is my favorite color. Mom, look, I finished all my food.”

These are seemingly meaningless accomplishments and statements, but to the parents they provide tremendous pleasure. They warm the heart. The direct worship is there, as the interaction is genuine, with not even a hint of a desire to deny the authority of the parents. Direct interaction with God involves similar statements, except that we tell the Lord how much we have remembered Him. This is best done by regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. We also show to the Lord that we have given up sinful behavior, that we try to think about Him as much as we can. These aren’t much in terms of accomplishments, but if the effort is sincere, the pleasure derived by the reservoir of pleasure is unmatched.

Since He knows His creation and the tendencies of its inhabitants very well, when Krishna chooses to personally interact with the purest devotees, He assumes roles that He knows will evoke tremendous pleasure all around. This was quite evident during His childhood in Vrindavana. Can God have a childhood? Can the person who is unborn, undying and formless ever appear anywhere? God is formless, but not in the way that we’d think. He has spiritual attributes, features which aren’t limited in the way that ours are. Krishna has hands that He can use to accept food offerings. Krishna’s ears can hear everything in this world, even though we can’t visibly see His ears. If He chooses, Krishna can come to earth in a seemingly human form and delight the purest souls, who have no desire for material attachment or temporary gains.

Krishna with Mother YashodaWhen He appeared on earth some five thousand years ago, Krishna spent His childhood years in Vrindavana. Mother Yashoda, who was actually Krishna’s foster mother, derived tremendous pleasure from having Krishna as her son. Sometimes she would ask Krishna to bring this item or that, to carry wooden shoes or a wooden measuring pot. With children, the simplest tasks can be performed with the greatest eagerness. The parents love to see this enthusiasm, as the most menial task performed with love gives them delight. The same God who is unattainable by mystic yoga, study of Vedanta, and steep penances and austerities was being asked to carry trivial items by Mother Yashoda. One can only imagine how happy she must have felt.

Sometimes Krishna would not be able to lift these items. Rather than reveal His apparent weakness, Krishna would just stand by the item and pound His chest, to show that He did have enough strength. Who in Vrindavana could ever be unhappy with Mother Yashoda’s darling around to please their eyes? Krishna would hatch elaborate plots with His friends to steal the butter supply safely hidden away in the neighbors’ homes. The cowherd women, the gopis, would complain to Mother Yashoda, but then they would ask her not to punish Krishna. This means that they really liked the attention Krishna gave them. They liked seeing His beautiful, sweet smiling face, His divine vision that chases away any hint of pride that could ever exist in anyone.

The cowherd women of Vrindavana were the most intelligent because they used whatever knowledge they had to interact with Krishna. Even though they didn’t know Krishna’s divinity, they got to directly worship the Supreme Lord. Not only did they derive pleasure from Shyamasundara’s association, but Krishna manipulated events in just the right way so that He could take great pleasure too. Whoever keeps that sweet vision of Krishna bringing objects to Mother Yashoda regularly in their mind will never have to repeat the cycle of birth and death again. Reincarnation is meant for those choosing indirect worship. The devotees following bhakti-yoga, devotional service, have their eyes well up with tears when they think of Shri Krishna’s kind mercy and His love for the inhabitants of Vrindavana.

In Closing:

God is worshiped in some way by everyone,

Either direct or indirect, service there is some.

Honor material nature to connect,

With Lord’s inferior energy, from Him does it reflect.

But theories in the world can never God touch,

He is the smartest, knowledge He has much.

The wise relish the transcendental taste,

Comes from chanting and seeing God’s face.

This was practice of Yashoda the mother,

Loved her son Krishna like no other.

Would order the Lord items to bring,

Make Him dance from songs they would sing.

It is that wonderful boy that we adore,

Brings us taste of direct worship we crave more and more.

Friday, September 30, 2011

This Life and the Next

Lord Rama“Tulsidas says that those who love Shri Rama’s holy name, view Rama as their only abode, and have full trust in Rama’s name find auspiciousness, well-being and fortunes in both this world and the next simply by remembering that name.” (Dohavali, 39)

rāma nāma rati rāma gati rāma nāma bisvāsa |
sumirata subha mangala kusala duhum̐ disi tulasīdāsa ||

This is a simplified, yet perfect presentation of the process for attaining well-being in both this life and the next. The soul does not cease to be at any point in time. Even when the body is slain, the soul remains alive; a fact we are so nicely reminded of by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, in the Bhagavad-gita, the Song of God delivered on the battlefield of Kurukshetra some five thousand years ago. Here a celebrated poet named Tulsidas is glorifying the holy name of Rama, which represents the same Krishna and is a non-different form of Godhead which is equally as worshipable as the original. The formula given applies specifically to chanting the holy name and the benefits that come from remembrance of that name. As the soul has two destinations that can be chosen, one present and one future, so the benefits derived from bhakti, or devotional service, apply to every circumstance the individual may find.

“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 RamaThe gist of the recommendation provided here is that one should invest love and faith in the name of Rama, which is the address for the Personality of Godhead that references His incarnation as Lord Ramachandra, the jewel of the Raghu dynasty, a warrior prince who rid the world of one of the most powerful evil forces ever seen. Just as in modern times there are certain men who are the most wanted and whose capture or death brings elation and a sense of comfort to the innocent, during the Treta Yuga there was one particular person who was terrorizing the innocent and simultaneously amassing an awe-inspiring level of power. To do away with this fiend, the Supreme Person Himself, after being petitioned by the saintly class in the heavenly planets, descended to earth in what appeared to be the form of an ordinary human being.

From the behavior of His associates, we can understand that Rama was actually not an ordinary man. One person especially, His wife Sita Devi, exhibited all the qualities of a devotee, or one who follows the prescriptions provided above by Tulsidas. What to speak of following any system, exalted figures like Sita Devi, who is eternally the goddess of fortune and the mother of the creation, set the standard for devotional life, showing others how to remain always in a blissful state of mind through adhering to religious principles. During one moment in Sita’s life, where it appeared that she might be separated from her beloved husband, she gave us a hint into Rama’s nature and the benefits of worshiping Him.

To set the wheels in motion for the demise of Ravana, the world’s most wanted man, Rama needed an excuse to leave His kingdom of Ayodhya and entrap the demon in a situation that would call for his slaying. First, there was Rama’s exile from His kingdom of Ayodhya. Maharaja Dasharatha, the city’s king and Rama’s father, told Rama that He was not going to be the next king as planned and ordered his beloved son to leave the kingdom and not return for fourteen years. These painful requests actually came from the king’s youngest wife, Kaikeyi, who was jealous that her son Bharata was being passed over for the throne. To ensure that there would not be any interference in her son’s newly ordered coronation, Kaikeyi insisted that Rama leave the kingdom and renounce all ties to the royal army for the next fourteen years.

Sita and Rama marriageRama, wanting to protect Sita from the dangers of the forest, insisted that she remain in the kingdom and wait for Him to return. But Sita did not know any other behavior except devotion to her husband. She had pure and ecstatic love, or rati, for Rama. She took complete shelter in Him and His name. She also had full faith in His ability to protect her. She could have kept these three feelings hidden from her husband and the rest of the world as well, but faced with an emergency, she was left with no choice but to fight for her beloved’s association. In her pleas, she revealed just how strong her love for Rama was.

To support her opinion that Rama should take her with Him to the forest, Sita referenced the many rules governing the behavior of wives given in the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India. In short, the Vedic version is that the human form of body is the most auspicious because it provides the best opportunity for becoming purely God conscious by the time death arrives. At the time of death, the state of being of the living entity is measured, and depending on the nature of the consciousness a specific new body type is created. If one thinks of God at the time of death, which is most likely to happen when in a human form, reincarnation ceases and the supreme destination of the spiritual sky is attained.

The wife can play a pivotal role in ensuring that this consciousness is established. Sex life or any strong urge brought on by the senses cannot be regulated in other forms of body. The animal has no idea why it should restrict its sense urges, therefore it does whatever it wants to. The human being has a more developed consciousness, so it can understand that satisfying the senses means taking shelter of material forces. What the mind takes shelter of is what consciousness will revolve around, thereby leading to the next destination. As sex life is so difficult to control, the marriage institution allows for a regulated version of it, with the wife serving as a support system to enable further progress on the march towards spiritual freedom for the husband.

Sita and Rama leaving AyodhyaIn addition to mentioning the duties of a wife, in her speech Sita referenced the opinions of brahmanas, or priests, about her marriage to Rama. Sita told Rama that His company would be auspicious for her even in the afterlife, for the brahmanas had previously said that the wife religiously wedded to the husband shares in his fate in the afterlife. For this reason she wanted Rama to take her, as He was the only source of her happiness. Remaining in a kingdom without her beloved, her shelter, the person she had full faith in, was akin to becoming poverty stricken. In the end, Rama would be left with no choice but to take her.

Rama’s outward excuse for going after Ravana would come when the demon king would forcibly take Sita back to his island kingdom of Lanka and try to win her over. The opulence of the royal kingdom of Ayodhya couldn’t entice Sita to give up the cherished shelter that is Rama’s company, so obviously Ravana couldn’t either. Though she was in a troublesome situation, Sita continued to meditate on her husband by regularly chanting His name. Despite not having personal contact with her beloved, Sita maintained a steady link in consciousness, thereby practicing perfect yoga. Eventually she would be rescued and reunited with Rama, and the two are forever in each other’s company in the spiritual sky.

If we have deep love and attachment to something worldly, the benefits derived will not continue into the afterlife. If we love our car, dog, senses, or so many other things that are not God, there is no chance of that dedication benefitting us after the body is destroyed. Whatever we take full shelter of and put our faith into will determine what we think about the most. Therefore taking shelter in worldly objects will alter the consciousness to the point that the thoughts will remain on material association at the time of death. The type of body received is commensurate with the consciousness while quitting the body, and since there is variety in thought, so many different body types and natures can be granted to the spirit soul. Though in one sense there is variety in the body types awarded, there really is just a “yes” or “no” choice, an up or down vote. Do we want to go up to the spiritual sky or remain down in the material planets?

“From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.16)

Lord KrishnaAn intermediary option is to take to dry renunciation, giving up attachment to everything. Starve the senses of satisfaction and abide strictly by the restrictions imposed by spiritual life. Avoid having any “fun” and remain focused on the duties given to you. Wait for happiness to come after death, through either promotion to a heavenly material realm or merging into a spiritual light devoid of material contamination. Such practices will certainly benefit us in the afterlife, as the promises of the Vedas are not hollow, but this model is very difficult to follow because the mind craves satisfaction. Lord Krishna is always in ananda, and since we are part and parcel of Him, our inclination is towards bliss as well. Therefore if there is no satisfaction in the current land, it will be difficult to adopt a process that promises to provide satisfaction later on, after death.

As we saw with Sita Devi, however, surrender unto Rama and His name is beneficial in both directions. Lovingly chanting the names of the Lord, as they are found in sacred formulas like the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, is an indication of a strong desire to be with the person being addressed. The name of Rama recited constantly in a mood of love says that we love the Lord like no other and that we take His happiness to be our only desire in life.

Lord Rama must also be the only abode. The place we call home is our safest place; it’s where we are most comfortable. We relax at home and enjoy the association of our friends and family. If the mind makes its most peaceful home at the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord, which are always acting for the Lord’s pleasure and taking part in His innumerable pastimes, the consciousness will always remain in a safe asylum. We can never recapture the feelings we had while growing up in our childhood home, but we can experience something even better by resting the mind comfortably in Rama.

Lord RamaTo adopt any process in earnest, there must be faith. If we don’t believe in a particular task, if we don’t think that it will come out successful, the level of enthusiasm during the execution of the task will be unsteady. Therefore the lack of faith itself will be the cause of failure, the nonattainment of the stated objective. Having faith that regularly chanting the Lord’s name will give us the association of the only person we need to be with will be enough to secure success.

Tulsidas’ simple formula brings auspiciousness, well-being and good fortunes in both the current life and the next. If the mind constantly resides in the eternal city, the place where Shri Rama and His beloved associates enact their wonderful pastimes, how can there ever be inauspiciousness? How can there be a lasting distressful condition for one who has faith in the power of Rama to deliver them? How can there not be well-being for one who has love for the Supreme Lord?

Just as consciousness is the key in shaping our future destination, it is the determining factor of our current state of being as well. This fact is lost on those who lack God consciousness. The Darwinists have their theory of the survival of the fittest, but without understanding consciousness, fitness can never be properly measured. Ravana thought he was the fittest because of his massive kingdom and immense opulence. Since he lacked love for Shri Rama and His holy name, however, he would lose everything. Even his life on earth was hellish, as he was constantly worried about others attacking him and taking away his ill-gotten fortunes.

On the other hand, Sita Devi, whose consciousness was always tied to her husband Rama, was the fittest living entity roaming the world. Even when faced with circumstances that most of us would consider horrible, she remained in a pleasurable internal state by remembering her Lord. Thus remembering the name of Rama brought auspiciousness, good fortunes and well-being to her. The promises made by Tulsidas are not exaggerated, for countless devotees have proven that the name of the Lord is non-different from Him. If we want well-being in both directions, in the present life and the next, the holy name is our only safe shelter.

Lord RamaIn Closing:

At time of death quitting soul decision does make,

To remain in material world or God’s company to take.

Consciousness does behavior in one’s life affect,

Which then chooses what type of shelter to erect.

Our safest place is in our cherished home,

With friends and family we don’t feel alone.

Bhaktas do regularly chant Shri Rama’s holy name,

Brings memories of His numerous acts and unending fame.

One option is to enjoy sensual pursuits right now,

Pay the price later on and to maya again bow.

Another is to take pain in life and then wait,

For the afterlife, reach the promised heaven’s gate.

In dry renunciation there is no pleasure,

But devotion to Rama proves to be endless treasure.

This fact was known to Sita Devi, Rama’s wife,

Who made devotion to her husband her life.

Found auspiciousness through both peril and delight,

Through her devotion was Ravana unable to strike.

Follow Tulsidas and in Rama have love and faith,

For bliss today and tomorrow no longer we’ll wait.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Youthful Exuberance

Lord Krishna“Without training or education, one can automatically participate in bhakti-yoga. Even a small child can clap at kirtana. Therefore Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has proclaimed bhakti-yoga the only system practical for this age.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Path of Perfection, Ch 7)

One of the wonderful things about being a kid is that you just don’t know any better half the time. This is the reason children are viewed as being innocent, non-threatening. Random people will go up to young children they have never met before and make smiley faces and strange noises at them, knowing that the children will not find this behavior odd in the slightest. Yet, when that same youngster grows up, others will look the other way when they come, not wanting to make eye contact. “Keep to yourself” is the motto when living the fast-paced life in a crammed city. The exuberance in children does, however, bring the ability for caretakers to put talents to good use, to direct energy along the proper channels. When pointed in the direction of the reservoir of all energy, the enthusiasm of the child can pay large dividends in the future.

Krishna playing with friendsHow does a child go from playing the entire day to sitting inside of a classroom and taking instruction for several hours at a stretch? For starters, the youngster may not know what school is or for how long they will be enrolled. Just imagine as an adult enrolling in a degree program that won’t complete until twelve years. Obviously, not many people would voluntarily attend, for the task would seem too daunting. Yet this is precisely what children face as they enter school, and since they don’t know what twelve years means, they aren’t as hesitant to start.

Educating their children is a good idea for the parents because it ensures that their children will be ready for adulthood, capable of earning for themselves. During the period of childlike innocence, the human being is both willing and sometimes even enthusiastic to do things adults dread. Something as simple as going outside to pick up the mail every day is eagerly anticipated, and to the adult having the children so excited to do something they’d rather not do is refreshing. “Ah, the simple days; when you’re excited to do things you try to avoid later on in life.”

Ask a child to help you around the kitchen, and they are more than happy to pitch in, for this allows them to imitate the behavior of the adults, the authority figures. “Oh, if only I could be old enough to do adult things right now. I hate that I have to go to sleep before everyone else and miss out on all the fun.” Give the children adult tasks, and they will take it as a sign of you passing something important over to them.

For adults, not only are regular chores dreaded, but so is anything particularly serious. Nothing is more grave than spirituality, issues pertaining to the soul and what happens to it after death. Why worry about such topics that are so difficult to comprehend when you can enjoy your life right now? Why worry about death if it’s going to happen regardless? This has been the age old issue facing mankind, the hesitancy to take the plunge into spiritual life. Others that are immersed in worship of God are seen as fanatics or sentimentalists trying to fill a void in their lives.

Bhagavad-gitaGenuine spirituality, however, is more of a science than just a discipline based on sentiment. In spirituality there are law codes, rules and regulations that, when followed, bring about a palatable future condition, just as with every other aspect of life. The principle behind the schooling given to children illustrates this. The parent genuinely understands the need for providing an education to their child. This assertion within the mind can be thought of as a regulative principle, a law to guide behavior. Even in the opposite mentality, which calls for rebelling against every single authority figure and their laws, there is an edict created. If one person says to read a specific book and another says to avoid reading it, both people are actually making assertions. If I listen to the person who says to not listen to anyone, I’m essentially following their recommendation on how to live my life, i.e. I’m following a regulative principle.

A bona fide system of spirituality is one which passes on regulative practices that are applicable in every time period and for every single person. In this respect, no system can be more inclusive than bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. At the heart of bhakti is attaching one’s loving sentiments to the proper recipient. Since in every other area of life our offering of service is checked to some degree, we can take it to mean that the objects of our service have defects. For instance, once your child grows up into an adult, how can you continue to love them? It’s difficult once they become self-sufficient to continue to be able to give them a helping hand. The same holds true with our friends and paramours, for exactly how much can we really do for somebody else without them getting annoyed and asking us to stop?

With the Supreme Lord, however, there is never a need to stop offering service. Lest we think we must live in a church or stare at a picture all day, the most potent method of worship involves sound vibrations and their production. Since God has everything, what can we really offer Him anyway? Time is the most important thing available to sacrifice, so by regularly reciting the sacred formula, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the offering of love can flow without obstruction.

Lord KrishnaIn the beginning, this chanting routine is a chore, as how many of us are accustomed to repeating the same sequence of words over and over again for hours at a time? Plus, spiritual life has the air of seriousness to it, so delving into something so important is difficult in the beginning. To make things easier, teachers can take advantage of the youthful exuberance found in children. If a child is so anxious to run outside and pick up the mail, just imagine how happy they’ll be to regularly recite the names of the Lord, which are so powerful that they are non-different from Him. God is the most attractive person, so He is addressed by the Sanskrit word “Krishna”. There is also tremendous pleasure received through the Lord’s association; hence He is also addressed as “Rama”.

Isn’t this forcing something upon children against their will? Shouldn’t the childhood years be spent in enjoyment, for such happiness will not be present when the pressures of adulthood start to kick in? Since education is already an imposition, however, why not give a spiritual awakening as well? The habits formed during childhood stay with the person throughout their life. This is visibly evident in the behavior of spoiled children turned adults. If you give a child whatever they want, whenever they want it, they will have a very difficult time adjusting to adulthood. They will expect everything to be handed to them, and when this doesn’t happen, they won’t know what to do.

Why the recitation of the maha-mantra specifically over other religious practices? Chanting is an isolated practice that maintains a deep and unique connection between the individual and their object of service. In other chores assigned to children, the enthusiasm for the task may wane over time, as the tangible benefits don’t last very long. With chanting, the individual transcends even the need for praying for material rewards, which is the tendency for every human being to do. Repeating the holy names of the Lord through a routine keeps the sound vibrations of the beloved Almighty within the consciousness.

It is this consciousness that we are really trying to change, not only in children, but in every single person. The human form of body is the most auspicious because of the potential it carries for development of consciousness. The other forms of life don’t have this potential. The dog may be more than enthusiastic to fetch the ball thrown by its owner, but if you try to get it to chant the holy names of the Lord, it will not be able to. On the other hand, the enthusiastic child will take their chore of chanting as an early admittance into adulthood, especially if the adult is already following such practices. Just imagine if we chanted the maha-mantra every day and our children saw and asked if they could follow. “I don’t know, this is a very important activity, reserved for adults, are you sure you can handle it?” The child will take this as a challenge, as a way to prove to the adults that they can handle important tasks.

And the reward for such encouragement? There comes a point in adulthood where memories from childhood are evoked and the past experiences longed for. “If only I could have fun doing those same things again.” Just imagine if the chanting routine were part of those childhood memories; a person could then go back in time every day by worshiping their beloved Lord. There could be no greater gift to give to our dependents than these memories. In adulthood it is very difficult to be encouraged to do anything new, for as they say, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” But if the old dog already keeps the names of Krishna and Rama on their tongue, the same stubbornness will be there, except it will be beneficial. The old devotee accustomed to his regulative principles will be very difficult to move off of the devotional path. Therefore simply through his behavior he serves as a role model for others.

Lord KrishnaConnecting with Krishna is never without reward, even when done without full knowledge of the beauty of bhakti-yoga and its supreme standing over all other types of religiosity. Indeed, every system of maintenance that is bona fide is meant to bring one eventually to the platform of bhakti. After all, what condition could be better than remaining firmly tied to the sweet and beautiful Krishna within the consciousness at every second? Shouldn’t every single practice we undertake be aimed at achieving this goal? By using the enthusiasm found within children to perform even routine work for their benefit, the playroom that was previously filled with toys and youngsters running about will one day be transformed into a spiritual asylum, a place where talks of Krishna continue and glorification of His names, forms and pastimes permeates the air.

In the childhood years, there is cajoling and persuading to be allowed to do adult activities. “Dad, can I go out and get the mail today? Mom, can I help you with cooking dinner tonight?” Now, just imagine if after being exposed to krishna-bhakti, devotion to the Personality of Godhead, the requests turn into, “Dad, can I sing that Krishna song with you? Mom, can I offer the arati tonight?” Adhering to spiritual life and taking it as the most important priority can be very difficult, but the path is made easier when others are around who are following it. What’s more, if the people engaged in bhakti-yoga are enthusiastic about it, the benefits to the onlookers are augmented.

Add to the equation that if the people enthusiastically dedicated to serving Krishna are, according to the standard definition, not naturally prone towards accepting devotional life, the sight of their devotion is awe-inspiring and totally humbling. As an example, seeing a yacht or a giant cruise boat sailing across the ocean isn’t very noteworthy. After all, such ships are made to travel through water comfortably, without any problems. If, however, a small boat is seen traversing the same difficult waters, the appreciation of the onlookers is increased. “Look at that person; they are manning the boat all by themselves. They’re taking a great risk by using that small boat, but what else do they have? They have their dedication and perseverance. If they can ride in a small boat to reach the other side of the ocean, who am I to complain about my problems in life?”

Krishna worshipNow, just imagine if you saw an even smaller boat travelling across the ocean.  Not only is this boat smaller, it is holding a gigantic bar made of iron. For starters, the sight would be considered an illusion, for how could a boat like that float with such a heavy weight on board? Indeed, the iron bars are used to make anchors, which, when dropped to the surface underneath the water, ensure that the boat doesn’t move. All of a sudden this boat is now traveling with the heaviest anchor as one of the passengers. This amazing sight is similar to what we see when young children are fully engaged in bhakti-yoga and mad after God. The sight is inspiring and humbling at the same time. The young devoted child doesn’t know about imminent death, reincarnation, the heartache resulting from broken relationships, or the monotony of repeating days. Rather, they simply love Krishna and chanting His names. If they can follow bhakti with such enthusiasm, then surely the instructing adult can as well. In this way the child becomes the father of man, inspiring him to reach new heights.

In Closing:

Children given to always play,

Follow that behavior for whole day.

For parents routine tasks are a chore,

But kids like adult work, don’t find them a bore.

Therefore give to them the routine of chanting,

With Krishna’s names seeds of devotion planting.

Nothing special in seeing travelling cruise or large boat.

But amazing for small vessel carrying heavy iron to float.

Watching other devotees helps in spiritual progression,

Difficult is material life and the goal of liberation.

Through practice in bhakti, child becomes father of man,

Teaches him that reach Krishna’s realm he can.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Standing Out

Sita Devi“(Hanuman did not see Sita) who (in Lanka) was like a crescent moon having its outline blurred, like a streak of gold covered by dust, like an injury left by an arrow (a scar), or like a series of clouds broken up by the wind.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 5.26)

avyaktarekhāmiva candrarekhāṃ |
pāmsupradigdhāmiva hemarekhām |
kśataprarūḍhāmiva bāṇarekhāṃ |
vāyuprabhinnāmiva megharekśām ||

To find success In his search for Sita Shri Hanuman would have to go by certain features as clues. He had not met the divine princess up until this time, and to properly identify her he had to go off of her qualities described to him and also her presumed current state of mind. Having met the lord of his life breath, Shri Rama, Hanuman knew that anyone who would ever be separated from His company would be in a troublesome situation. If a lover is forced to leave the side of their beloved, it is natural for them to feel distressed. When the mind is constantly focused on one object, on meeting this object’s needs and putting a smile on its face, and then that object of affection is suddenly removed from the vision, the living being will have nothing to do but lament. Bearing this in mind, Hanuman knew what signs to look for. He was searching for the most beautiful princess in the world, whose irradiant beauty and grace were now somewhat covered up by her tremendous grief.

Wouldn’t this be a difficult task? For starters, how many of us are always happy? What area could we travel through where we’d find everyone either completely miserable or fully satisfied? In Hanuman’s case, the job was made easier by the fact that the women residing in the location he was searching were well-dressed and enjoying the pleasures of home life. The land where Sita had been taken was called Lanka, and it was the capital of the vilest Rakshasa community of the world. A Rakshasa is a sort of human-like species that is more prone to sinful activity than ordinary human beings. A sin is anything that goes against the law codes of shastra, or scripture. These edicts are not put into place to punish or to make others suffer, but rather to ensure that everyone can live together peacefully, remain happy, and continue on a steady march towards a purified consciousness. When the mind is fixed on the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead at the time of death, the cycle of birth and death immediately ceases.

“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)

Lord KrishnaWe get more than one life to live? Just as the measurement of our lifetime gets divided up into smaller units such as days, weeks, months, and years to make things easier to analyze, the infinite duration of the soul’s existence is grouped into units of time based on its residence in various body types. To make this easier to understand, let’s say that we didn’t even know what a “day” was. We consider a day to have passed when we wake up each morning, but this is an entirely relative delineation, for what if we stayed awake the entire night? Does not a day pass then? Even the calendar is subjective, for it operates on the movement of the sun, which means that any person could take any point in time and use that as their starting point instead of the regular calendar days. Just as not every person lives for only one day, the soul does not remain in a specific body type forever. The soul’s qualities of knowledge, eternality and bliss are always present; it’s just that in the conditioned state of being awareness of these features remains lost. Through instruction from the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India and the original set of law codes to be followed by the human society, steps can be taken that allow the soul to break free of the cycle of birth and death and thus achieve a spiritual body that is permanent in its existence.

The relevance of sin shouldn’t be too difficult to understand. The rules of the highway are meant to ensure the safety of all drivers. Running through a stop sign or a red light is considered sinful because it goes against the established law codes and it leads to a negative condition. If one person runs a red light, the crossing traffic that has a green light is immediately put into danger. Adherence to the rules, or piety, is followed for a purpose. Similarly, the restrictions on illicit sex life, gambling, intoxication and meat eating are present to allow the consciousness of the individual to fully develop. When dissociated from the Supreme Person, the entity most of the world refers to as God, the individual consciousness is left to seek out sense pleasures, which constantly suggest the breaking of the laws of regulated spiritual life. Just as running the red light has negative consequences, so does the flaunting of the laws of God.

The most obvious detriment to sinful activity is the fuel it adds to reincarnation. With material desires driven by lust, anger and greed, the soul remains tied to material bodies, i.e. forms which are temporary in their existence. When something is temporary, it automatically becomes the cause of lamentation. This may be a little difficult to understand, but if we review the cycles of different experiences undergone in life, we’ll see that this is entirely true. For instance, when a new child is born there is great celebration, elation and expectation. The child’s early years are especially enjoyed by the parents. The child is the final piece of the puzzle to family life, which acts as a support system ensuring that comfort and security are always there.

“For one who has taken his birth, death is certain; and for one who is dead, birth is certain. Therefore, in the unavoidable discharge of your duty, you should not lament.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.27)

Lord KrishnaLife in a particular form of body is not permanent, however. Though the soul remains in existence forever, its temporary coverings do not. Therefore the elation that comes with birth is automatically coupled with the sadness that comes at death. When there is birth, there must be death. When there is the creation of something temporary, there must be the sadness that results from its destruction. In this way material desires are ultimately the source of misery and thus should be avoided. By following the principles of spiritual life passed down by the Vedas and their followers, one doesn’t even need to know the ins and outs of matter and the illusory component of material nature. Just following the instructions keeps one on the straightened path.

The Rakshasas so flaunted the principles of dharma that they took their sinful way of life to be the right way. This is akin to thinking that stopping at a red light is sinful and that going through it is pious. In their community the Rakshasas especially enjoyed eating human flesh and drinking wine. Why was Hanuman traversing through such an area, especially considering that he is today famously known as Lord Rama’s greatest devotee? Rama is an incarnation of Godhead who roamed the earth many thousands of years ago in the guise of a warrior prince. When His wife Sita Devi was taken away from Him behind His back, He enlisted the help of a band of Vanaras, or human-like monkeys, residing in the forest of Kishkindha.

Sita had been taken to Lanka, where the leader of the Rakshasas, Ravana, tried his best to win her over. But just as Rama was an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, Sita was an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, Vishnu’s wife in the spiritual world. Hence she never desires to even look at any man except her husband. Hanuman was the most capable of the Vanaras in so many different categories of ability, with his most outstanding feature being his eagerness to please Rama. He was fully committed to finding Sita, handing to her Rama’s ring, and returning the information of her whereabouts to Rama and the monkeys back in Kishkindha.

After infiltrating Lanka, Hanuman scoured through the streets in a form that went unnoticed by others. He saw all sorts of beautiful women engaged in different activities. The common trait shared by all of them was happiness through association with their beloveds. They were all enjoying the company of their Rakshasa husbands in some way or another. Hanuman thus understood that he had yet to find Sita. There was no way she would be enjoying with anyone else. Plus, none of these women could classify as the most beautiful in the world, nor were they capable of fully enchanting Shri Rama’s mind. Just as Sita always thinks of Rama, the Lord always thinks of her happiness and welfare.

Sita DeviIn the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, we get a few more details of Sita’s distinguishing features at the time, clues that Hanuman could use to identify her. It is said that Sita shone like a crescent moon that had a blurred outline. Lord Rama, having a dark complexion, was often compared to the dark raincloud, and since Sita was fair-skinned, she was often compared to lightning, that which is white in color. Lakshmana, Rama’s younger brother, was sometimes described in the same way. When Rama and Lakshmana would walk together in the forest, the onlookers would compare the scene to a dark raincloud coupled with streaks of lightning walking through. In this respect, the comparison to the crescent moon is very appropriate. The moon shines bright in the sky and is noticed very easily because of the contrast to the darkness of night. Similarly, Hanuman was in a region ruled by the mode of ignorance, the level of material activity which has the least deference to piety. Sita would be the moon that stood out in the dark city of Lanka, but her brightness wouldn’t be complete, as her sadness due to separation from Rama would blur her outline.

Sita’s appearance in Lanka would also be like that of a scar on the body. If we get mosquito bites in the summertime or get a prominent injury on the body that leaves a scar, the marks are distinguishable. If someone were to see us, they would immediately ask what had happened. “How did you get that injury? Are you okay?” Comparing Sita’s presence in Lanka to a scar is very appropriate because she would certainly stand out. Hanuman knew that none of the women he had seen thus far could be the princess of Videha, Rama’s beloved, because their features weren’t noteworthy. Sita would also be a wound that ultimately would prove fatal to all the sinful residents of Lanka, and especially Ravana. Though Rama would later march to the city with the Vanaras and do away with the Rakshasas, Sita would actually be the real cause of Ravana’s demise. If he had not unlawfully taken her away from her religiously wedded husband, none of the resulting destruction would have taken place.

Sita would also appear like a streak of a series of clouds that had been swept away by the wind. When there are lots of clouds in the sky, it is difficult to distinguish which ones are which. On an overcast day, it doesn’t even appear as if there are many clouds in the sky; just one giant streak of covering to shield the sunlight. When the clouds part, however, due to the force of the wind, some streaks are left, allowing certain areas of the sky to be noticed. Sita could be recognized in the same way in Lanka.

HanumanThese clues helped Hanuman continue ahead, for he was not happy to have not found Sita yet. He knew she wouldn’t be in a good condition, but since she was Rama’s wife, Hanuman was very eager to meet her. When it comes to achieving perfection in consciousness, just the mere desire to seek out God and His pleasure is enough to secure liberation. What then to speak of those who actually follow through on their desires and make bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, their way of life? With a sincere desire to serve comes the helping hand of God. Without the hankering to connect with pure spirit, adherence to dharma and the accumulation of spiritual knowledge can only take us so far.

In this respect the solution to life’s problems is very simple. Just chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” as often as possible and hear about the glories of divine figures like Shri Hanuman and Sita Devi. Just as Sita’s presence was distinct in the thick cloud of darkness that was Lanka, Hanuman and his acts always remain resplendent and superior to the activities of any mundane figure or hero. Whoever is fortunate enough to hear of Hanuman and honor him just once will have the seed of devotional service planted within them. When that seed, which is anxiously awaiting growth into a full blown tree, is regularly watered through devotional acts such as hearing, chanting and remembering, the return to the spiritual world is guaranteed.

In Closing:

Hanuman was desperate to meet her soon,

Sita, who looked like the indistinct crescent moon.

Natural brilliance hidden by her sadness,

Like dust covering streak of gold and its brilliance.

Injury from an arrow leaves on the body a scar,

Sita looked similar, though Hanuman not found her thus far.

In Lanka, strong were the forces of darkness,

Residents mistook their sin for righteousness.

Thus Sita, wife of Rama, would certainly stand out,

Her location, to please his lord, Hanuman must find out.

Discover her he would, ultimately to find victory,

Etched his place in the Ramayana, heartwarming story.

That Hanuman in his search for Sita we remember,

Consciousness thus saved from maya’s forces that blur.

Fruit of happiness in following piety in mood of bhakti,

Live happily thinking of Shri Rama and Sita Devi.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Amazing Soul

Krishna with cows“The fact that the atomic soul is within the body of a gigantic animal, in the body of a gigantic banyan tree, and also in the microbic germs, millions and billions of which occupy only an inch of space, is certainly very amazing.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 2.29 Purport)

A soul is inside of the largest animal, inside of a banyan tree, in the tiny little germs that we try to avoid, and in so many other areas of space. Who would ever think it? The same spark that is responsible for the amazing capabilities of the human being - his unique ability to do math, science, reading and political analysis without any hesitation - is so tiny that it can fit into an area of space that is impossible to measure. Knowledge of the properties of the soul is meant to further a purpose, not just to be marveled at. Indeed, only the human being can realize the amazing soul and study its properties. More amazing than its ability to fit into the oddest areas is the soul’s natural penchant for loving service. When offered to the right purpose, flowers of devotion blossom within and leave a peaceful and pleasant condition that lasts permanently.

“Some look on the soul as amazing, some describe him as amazing, and some hear of him as amazing, while others, even after hearing about him, cannot understand him at all.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.29)

Lord KrishnaFirst of all, how do we know that the soul exists inside of animals and nonhuman species? Don’t many religious traditions deny the existence of souls inside of animals? Aside from taking the information from authority, we can use outward perception. We know that human beings move, develop, and leave byproducts for as long as they are alive. When death occurs, the life is deemed over, but the material elements often remain as they were prior to the person’s death. The same hands, legs and face are there, but they cease to do anything. It’s as if someone took the force of life out of the body.

Animals and plants have similar behavior. In fact, many animals are so human-like that theories are posited that the human being evolved from them. There is the same eating, sleeping, mating, defending and the stopping of vital functions once death occurs. Rather than turn a blind eye to these similarities, the wise person realizes that the same spark of life found within the human being must be present in other species as well. Otherwise, how could they move on their own? There is no computer operating the movements of an ant, telling it to crawl into the tiniest of spaces and follow the other members of their community. There is no computer telling the dog when to bark and when to go running outside. Even if there are commands made in these areas, it is still up to the dog to decide when and where to act.

If the soul is so amazing, why would it ever choose to remain in an inferior species? Ah, but are these species inferior? Who is making that judgment and why? The gigantic animal is very powerful and feared. Who is going to take on the elephant, which is so large that no one can move it? Who is going to mess with the lion, the king of the jungle? Wouldn’t everyone love to be feared, or at least respected? The bird can fly on its own without any external fuel source or a pilot. It doesn’t have to worry about mortgage payments, marriage, raising the national debt limit, or losing weight. Rather, the bird simply eats when it needs to and flies to wherever the climatic conditions are ideal.

Birds flyingEven the plants and germs have unique abilities. Some trees can live for thousands of years, while the germs can go undetected. The fly is so elusive that no one can catch it, as it buzzes around wherever it needs to go. Lest we think that these species are universally held in low esteem, just see how many human beings try to imitate their behavior. The tiger eats the flesh of other animals through killing, and similarly many human beings range the forests to shoot wild game. The trees stand naked for extended periods of time, and so the human being tries to dance with little or no clothes on for pleasure. The birds soar through the beautiful sky, and the human being desires to fly in airplanes and rocket ships that go into outer space.

Though these abilities of lower importance are present in animals, there is no need for human beings to artificially imitate them. The same soul that is present in the lower species is there in the human being. So, the question that must be asked is why the human form exists in the first place? Why not stay in a body that can allow us to fly all over the place? Mental speculation in this area will lead to theory after theory, with no one winning the debate because of the tenuous standing of the conclusions.

Rather, the best way to understand such complexities is to go to the proper authority sources. Again, there are likely many figures claiming to be authorized teachers in this area, so we can apply a few filters to weed out the pretenders. Now, wouldn’t it make sense to approach someone who already knows the information about the soul and its ability to transcend the human form of body? Wouldn’t it be wise to approach someone who has confidential information about the soul, its properties, the reason for its residence in different species and where its ideal home should be? This is where the Vedas stand out; they are the only spiritual tradition that provides as much information as possible to allow for the sober human being to make an informed decision as to their direction in life.

The Vedas also happen to be the oldest scriptural works in history. There is no coincidence in this area, as spirituality is meant for all classes of men spanning every single period of historical time. The requirement for sobriety is there because in the absence of rational thought, the human being is no different than the animal. Sanatana-dharma, or the eternal occupational duty of the soul, can never change, but in lower forms of life there is no expectation that the soul retain its cognizance of its obligations. This is similar to how we don’t expect children to work or have the correct viewpoint on important issues. There is a voting age restriction precisely for this reason. Not until maturity is reached can the human being be taken seriously in his opinions and thoughts.

Lord KrishnaMan’s curiosity is fully accounted for in the Vedas. The Vedas are full of nuance and complexities, with so many different branches of information. The root of the tree is Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the same God that everyone either worships, ignores, or denies exists. Since Vedic wisdom sprouts from Krishna, there is a variety of information presented, fruits of wisdom that can be used to further different purposes. Since the soul transcends every type of outward manifestation, however, it is a complete entity, one whose satisfaction can result in favorable conditions in any circumstance.

Vedic wisdom is summarized and presented in a beautiful song format in the Bhagavad-gita, which was delivered on the battlefield of Kurukshetra some five thousand years ago. In this wonderful work, Lord Krishna is the teacher and Arjuna the student. Sanjaya, the servant of the king Dhritarashtra, was the broadcaster, giving play by play of everything that was going down. The backdrop was a battlefield that was to see the war to end all wars, but the subject matter covered the full spectrum of philosophy and rational thought.

Right off the bat, Krishna started by describing the properties of the soul. This indicates that for any real discussion on the meaning of life to take place, familiarity with the soul’s constitutional position, its eternality, its inability to be killed, and its travels through different forms must be present. Otherwise, there will only be speculation about the place of the human being within the grander scheme. With speculation, there can never come an assertive conclusion that can be confidently followed. On the other hand, accepting Krishna’s information wholeheartedly not only removes hesitation, but it ensures that the proper path can be followed, one that has passed the necessary quality control tests.

“Arjuna said: I have heard Your instruction on confidential spiritual matters which You have so kindly delivered unto me, and my illusion is now dispelled.” (Bhagavad-gita, 11.1)

Krishna and ArjunaOkay, so why the different species? The soul is autonomous and blissful, but based on its desires it can be placed into different homes. Think of it as the soul wanting to travel to vacation spots. Not every person chooses the same destination for a vacation. Based on their desires and past experiences they will choose to relax at specific places each year. Similarly, the soul looking to imitate God lives in different bodies from life to life, experiencing material existence and swinging back and forth on the pendulum of acceptance and rejection.

When the amazing soul has tasted sufficient animal delights, it gets the best life in the human form of body. The reasons for this classification should be quite obvious. The human form allows for cognizance of the soul’s presence to emerge and thus also for a more tangible path in life to be followed. If the human being simply imitates the animals then he has not made any progression. On the other hand, if he takes to understanding God, studying His scriptures, chanting His names, worshiping His deity, immersing Himself in a life full of transcendental service that goes on uninterrupted and unmotivated, he tastes the sweet fruit of his existence. If not for transcendental love, what need is there to even be? Why should we exist if not for finding supreme pleasure that never dries out?

That sublime life is found only through bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Just as Krishna is the root of all knowledge, devotion to Him is the root of all service. Every other type of engagement is a derivative of devotional service, with the target beneficiaries narrowing in scope and having but a partial reflection of Krishna’s transcendental energies. If devotion to Krishna is taken as the topmost engagement, the ray of spiritual sunshine remains bright within the heart, the temporary residence of the spirit soul. When basking in the soothing light of Krishna’s association, no amount of separation, temporary loss, frustration, or dejection can bring the devoted soul down from the transcendental plane of consciousness.

Even the information about the soul is meant to further the cause of devotion to Krishna. If we know that the soul can exist within any type of body, we will try to find out what leads to those shifts. In the Gita, Krishna reveals that whatever state of being one remembers at the time of death, that state they will attain without fail. This means that if we remember Krishna while quitting the body, we will get His association in the next life. Since He lives in the spiritual world, the departing soul gets a spiritual body, one with abilities more amazing than those of every body type combined. The Krishna consciousness needed at the time of death can only come from practicing devotion during one’s time on earth. The sober person accepting the authorized information directly descending from Krishna dedicates their time to bhakti-yoga, and especially to its quintessential act, the constant recitation of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Krishna with cows“I see souls here; I see souls there; I see souls everywhere.” Because of the amazing ability of individual sparks of spirit to fly into different forms of body, we are never alone in our journey through life. The sparks come from the original fire that is Shri Krishna, so drifting too far away from the comforting light of the Truth is never beneficial. If in the advanced human form the mind can become convinced of the need for returning back home, back to Godhead, that reward will surely be granted. The Supreme Soul is never limited in His exhibition of powers. When He should choose to act on behalf of the devoted soul, nothing can stop His forces. Shri Krishna is there for whoever wants to be with Him; that choice just needs to be made known.

In Closing:

Spirit soul is completely amazing,

In so many species its presence sparkling.

Can take this information from authority,

Or can see by observing life attentively.

Regardless, information must be put to use,

Otherwise just mental effort producing no fruit.

Soul’s properties learned from Shri Krishna's talk,

In Bhagavad-gita, outline for spiritual path did He chalk.

A lover of God is soul meant to be,

From material attachment it can be set free.

Follow the divine path, yoga in bhakti,

Liberated soul shows all that individual can be.

Soul's most amazing feature is loving ability,

Find ideal match with Krishna, chant His name with sincerity.

Monday, September 26, 2011

My Only Wish

Lord Rama“Tulsidas humbly asks to have trust in Rama, to take strength in Rama, and to have complete faith in Rama’s holy name, the remembrance of which brings auspiciousness, well-being and fortunes.” (Dohavali, 38)

rāma bharoso rāma bala rāma nāma bisvāsa |
sumirata subha mangala kusala māngata tulasīdāsa ||

Goswami Tulsidas is such a famous poet, his works are so widely sung, honored, read and studied, that his works pique the interests of the full spectrum of philosophers, scholars and religionists. Some have their own ultimate conclusions about spirituality - their primary guiding force in life, that one wish which when fulfilled will ideally bring them peace of mind and tranquility - so they try to attach themselves to the famous Vaishnava poet, who is best known for his devotion to Rama. Others will try to cut him down, as he is the “top dog” when it comes to popularity and influence in bhakti literature. If his works can be discredited, or his doctrine shown to be invalid, then hopefully others will stop reading his books and singing his songs. But despite the external viewpoints, Tulsidas’ doctrine, his foremost desire, or underlying philosophy, remains quite simple and straightforward. In this very nice verse from his Dohavali, the poet makes his cherished wish perfectly clear, leaving no room for doubt as to his intentions or the primary influence to his devotional efforts.

TulsidasHow can the poet’s teachings be interpreted otherwise? The Vedas, which are the original spiritual tradition of India dating back since time immemorial, provide different roadmaps towards ultimate salvation, the emancipation of the soul. Though religions today are often associated with dogmas, sectarian principles and sentimentalist traditions, the process of genuine self-realization can be described in scientific terms. Therefore the original Vedas never touch on different factions, for the concept of “religion” is not even mentioned. At the heart of self-realization is dharma, or an occupational duty. Since this duty never changes, it is known as sanatana, which means “that which has no beginning and no end”. At its root, dharma is an essential characteristic, so it can apply to different areas of endeavor. For instance, a doctor’s dharma is his ability to heal the sick. Therefore, whatever steps he needs to take to ensure that he can maintain this characteristic also becomes his dharma. This is how the term “dharma” can also be used to describe occupational duties, which can then be codified into law codes, regulations or recommended rituals.

Though there are different characteristics depending on specific desire, time and circumstance, there is one trait that trumps all others. At the heart of individuality is the spirit soul, the atma. Irrespective of body type, if life is present, there must be spirit. If there is an instance of life, there must be a soul residing within the living body form. Depending on the type of encasing assumed, different external characteristics result. For instance, tigers are prone towards eating other animals, while cows can survive on just eating grass. These features are specific to the outer covering and not related to the soul in any way.

Irrespective of the form assumed, the soul’s primary characteristic remains that of a lover of God. This is a law of spiritual science that transcends religious systems and dogmatic traditions. Just as the laws of gravity operate equally on all objects, even if people don’t believe in them, the properties of the soul remain intact even if not a single person is cognizant of them. The system of religion, or regulative practice, that recharges the soul’s most dominant characteristic, that makes the spiritual loving propensity take over the particular life form, thus becomes the highest dharma, or that occupational duty which cannot ever change in effectiveness.

For the human being to reach the point of reawakening their essential characteristic, some effort and conviction are required. At the time of birth identification is taken solely from the particular body accepted and the relationship it has to parents, friends and relatives. Just as it takes education to be able to read, write, and do arithmetic, it takes training under a bona fide spiritual guide to become familiar with the laws of spiritual science and then put them to good use.

“The steadily devoted soul attains unadulterated peace because he offers the result of all activities to Me; whereas a person who is not in union with the Divine, who is greedy for the fruits of his labor, becomes entangled.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 5.12)

Lord KrishnaThough the specific practices implemented from a spiritual education can be many, the Vedas place them into three primary groups. One method is to follow fruitive activity and sacrifice the results to the object of worship, the Supreme Lord. The individual soul’s ultimate characteristic is to be a lover of God, and God’s position is to be loved. He too is spirit, but the quantitative presence of His features is much larger. He is the big soul, or Supersoul, while we are individual souls. In karma-yoga, the results of actions that normally benefit the body of the individual soul are sacrificed for the benefit of the Supreme Lord. Detachment steadily increases and the worker ideally realizes that their business is to serve God and no one else.

Another pathway towards attaining one’s dharma is jnana-yoga, wherein the individual learns about the different manifestations of matter and the properties of spirit. This discipline basically abstracts every type of activity. For instance, if we see one person playing baseball and another person playing soccer, we can abstract their activities into one category: playing sports. If we were to remove the nuance from every activity of the conditioned entities, we would learn that all material behavior is driven by an illusory energy known as maya. Maya is the agent that envelops the soul in delusion, keeping the foremost characteristic of the soul in a dormant state. The aim of jnana-yoga is to break through the illusion by understanding what is matter and what is spirit. As a result, the position of the Supreme Lord can be better understood.

Though there is another category of activity generally thrown into the mix, it is actually a combination of karma-yoga and jnana-yoga. Mystic meditation involves austerity and also concentration on the Absolute Truth. By remaining in particular sitting postures for long hours at a time and blocking out the influence of the senses, the soul coupled with the body can do many wonderful things. The ideal aim is still to break free of the conditioned mindset adopted at the time of birth.

Tulsidas writingThe third pathway is actually the culmination of every other system of maintenance. Bhakti-yoga is all-inclusive, as yoga is meant to result in pure love for God. For those who are already on the platform of pure love for Godhead, there is no need to explicitly practice any other type of yoga. Goswami Tulsidas was a proponent of bhakti-yoga, as he was practicing it all the time. What’s so wonderful about loving God is that when you act out your love, you don’t even consider that you are doing yoga. Since it is the dharma of the soul to be a lover of God, when activities are driven by this characteristic, there is no consideration given to the type of engagement adopted or the meaning behind it. In the spiritual world, where the influence of maya is absent, there is no such thing as bhakti, karma, or jnana. Everyone loves God, so there is no divergent behavior that can introduce distinctions. Darkness is there when light is absent, but if we had constant full illumination, we could never properly understand darkness. Similarly, when there is only love for God, there is no consideration given to self-realization, matter, or spirit.

One of the favorite activities of the bhaktas, or devotees, is kirtana, which means “to glorify”. Kirtana can be performed by singing and chanting and also by writing. Tulsidas especially loved to write poems and songs about his beloved Lord Rama. The Vedas reveal that the Supreme Absolute Truth, the person most of us refer to as God, is a divine entity with spiritual forms, including an original one. Depending on the exact Vaishnava tradition followed, the original form of Godhead is taken to be Vishnu, Krishna, or Rama. Despite which one is taken as original, Lord Rama is a celebrated form of Godhead, who is loved and adored by millions. Since the incarnation, or personal expansion, is non-different from the person it expanded from, it can be worshiped just the same. Tulsidas doesn’t look at anyone as God except Shri Rama, as that is the example set by Hanuman, one of Rama’s dearest friends who had the wonderful opportunity to take up service to the Lord directly in His company many thousands of years ago.

In his glorification, Tulsidas touches on many subjects, as one of the byproducts of practicing bhakti properly is that you gain full knowledge of other systems of religion. Any occupational duty that is not rooted in love for God will be based on a personal desire of the practicing individual. Yet even the conditioned souls, those who are not aware of their true dharma, have their wishes granted by the forces of nature, which are instituted by the Supreme Lord. This means that our current body was shaped based on the reactions of our past work, which was driven by our desires.

Lord RamaTulsidas knows that the Lord grants the wishes of those who have no desire to serve Him. If even the people driven by desires in karma, or fruitive activity, get the benefits or punishments that are due them, we can just imagine how much more seriously the desires of the devotees are taken. Tulsidas was very famous during his time, as his Ramacharitamanasa poem was regularly recited throughout India. The original accounts of Lord Rama’s life and pastimes are found in the Ramayana, which was written by Maharishi Valmiki during the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation. As we now live in the Kali Yuga, the fourth and final age, much time has passed since the original Sanskrit poem of Valmiki was crafted. Tulsidas therefore decided that to benefit both himself and the society around him, he would sing the glories of Shri Rama in a language that was easier to understand, one especially applying to those who didn’t know Sanskrit. The purpose of kirtana is to glorify, and the result is that more people learn about God and devotion to Him.

Just based off the time and effort he expended in writing and spreading the glories of Rama, Tulsidas was deserving of whatever he wanted. The poet was well aware of this, as every species gets the type of body that is commensurate with their actions. In the above referenced verse from the Dohavali, Tulsidas makes his desires well known, leaving no room for interpretation or misunderstanding. Those claiming that the poet was an impersonalist focused on studying Brahman are discredited by this verse, as are those who try to portray Tulsidas as anything but a pure lover of God. Through these three requests, the poet not only reveals his most confidential desires, but he also shows us the power of the holy name and the person it addresses.

Tulsidas asks not for eternal fame, wealth, a permanent home in the spiritual sky, freedom from the pangs of material existence, or even supreme knowledge. He asks to have reliance on the Lord. Depending on the dharma adopted, different people or objects will be relied upon. For instance, the athlete relies on the food he eats, the exercise machines he uses to train, and the person training him. The politician relies most on the votes of the public, for without popular support he cannot maintain his identity as a sitting political officeholder. The wife relies on the husband, the husband on the employer, the employer on the consumer, the consumer on the government, and so on. Everyone is relying on someone, as service is the spark of every activity. In spite of this reliance accepted in so many different ventures, Tulsidas asks to only hold on to Shri Rama as his giver of life.

Lord RamaThe poet also asks that Shri Rama be his strength. Again, depending on the body type, different objects serve as fuel. The strength for the tiger is the animal flesh that it eats. For the teacher, his strength is the knowledge he acquires, for without it he couldn’t teach others. The source of strength is what sustains us, so by asking that Rama, through His name, be his only strength, Tulsidas doesn’t want to ever consider anything else as being the source of his existence, his reason for living. He wants that if he has to live, the source of his life breath, what gets him out of bed every morning, should be Rama and His name.

“But ignorant and faithless persons who doubt the revealed scriptures do not attain God consciousness. For the doubting soul there is happiness neither in this world nor in the next.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.40)

The poet also asks to have full faith in the name of Rama. Having faith in someone means that you trust them to deliver what they promise. Since Rama will be his reliance and his strength, Tulsidas wants that he have firm faith in his surrendering to God. Full surrender actually cannot happen without faith, for if we have doubts, the level of satisfaction received and the benedictions provided by the bhakti process will be checked. Indeed, the level of the resulting satisfaction is linearly related to the degree of surrender accepted by the devotee. Having faith in Rama’s name is also a very nice gesture on the worshiper’s part, as it shows that the promises made by the Lord and the prescriptions presented by both Him and His followers are accepted without reservation.

Though he didn’t need to add this part, Tulsidas mentions just why anyone would want the three things he has asked for. Remembering the name of Rama brings all auspiciousness, well-being and fortunes. Those who regularly recite the holy names of the Lord, such as those found in the sacred maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, are never losers. How can someone who is in contact with the Supreme Soul, the person to whom the individual soul is naturally attached, ever be bereft of anything? The poor man is he who has no knowledge of the holy name and the benefits it brings to those who recite it.

The holy name of Rama transcends the boundaries of thought and endeavor because it is a direct representation of the Supreme Lord. We may chant the name of our beloved or the name of a particular object, but doing so will not bring us their association. But since God is absolute, His name is as powerful as His personal presence. This secret was well known to Tulsidas, and since he was deserving of so much, he made sure to ask his beloved Rama for the only worthwhile benediction. Just as the poet’s wish was to only have reliance on the holy name, our wish is to only have faith, reliance and strength in the poet’s wonderful works, for through them the power of bhakti and the benevolence of its beneficiary are revealed.

In Closing:

For three simple things are all he is asking,

Tulsidas the poet, Rama he is beseeching,

To have faith in the Lord’s holy name and in Rama trust,

Have strength in Rama, who makes even the weak robust.

Poet so popular that his influence so strong,

That others present theories of him that are wrong.

His real take on life is given for all to see,

Divine love is real business, of bhakti he is trustee.

Paths towards salvation Vedas do give many,

But bhakti is complete, equal it does not have any.

Follow full faith in Rama’s name, in it have no doubt,

From reciting it, Rama’s qualities in mind do sprout.

The holy name brings fortune and auspiciousness,

Well-being too, relief from constant sadness.

To bhakti principles give full compliance,

And in Rama’s holy name have full reliance.