Saturday, October 8, 2011


Sakshi-gopala“The Lord heard the story of Sakshi-gopala with great pleasure because He wanted to impress upon the atheists that the worshipable Deities in the temples approved by the great acharyas are not idols, as alleged by men with a poor fund of knowledge.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, Introduction)

Shri Krishna Chaitanya, the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself in the form of a preacher, a kind-hearted saint who did not discriminate when disseminating the universal peace formula that is bhakti-yoga, is extremely pleased to hear stories relating to Lord Krishna and interactions with His devotees. This is actually every person’s favored source of satisfaction, but without a sober mind, without the removal of distresses and distractions borne of material attachment, an imitation variety of that pleasure will be sought out through other avenues. The transcendental hearing process, however, is so strong that simply by giving it a little attention, applying some faith and dedication, the pure Krishna consciousness that belongs to the soul can be revealed. Of the many stories Lord Chaitanya liked to hear, the one involving Sakshi-Gopala, God as a witness in the form of a deity, was one of His favorites.

Lord ChaitanyaThe accounts of historical incidents found in Vedic literature seem too good to be true, so there may be a tendency to think that the information was mentally concocted, stories that are meant to have a symbolic importance, provide moral lessons more than anything else. From Lord Chaitanya’s personal example, however, we learn that both the wonderful historical incidents documented in the Vedas and the divine nature of the deity representation of the Supreme Lord are real. Every person has their own interpretations and viewpoints based on their personal understanding, but this doesn’t mean that authority should never be accepted. If the skeptical attitude were applied universally, there would be no such thing as crime. The cells in the prison houses would have to be opened, for if every person were an authority figure, then even the thief could claim to be pious. “You say that I am a criminal, but that is your interpretation. My opinion is that I am innocent. I had a right to take another person’s property. Since we are both entitled to our opinions, how can any person say who is right and who is wrong?”

When the thief applies this logic, the practice is laughed at, made fun of, and not taken seriously in the least bit. Yet these same arguments are put forth about spirituality and Vedic concepts by those with a poor fund of knowledge, and somehow they are taken seriously. The truth is that even skepticism represents an assertion. In the skeptical attitude, the person putting forth their opinions wants others to accept them. Yet in order to accept something as factual, even an opinion like skepticism, there must be some authority established. Without authority, why would anyone believe anything that anyone else says?

The Vedas are the ancient scriptures of India, and one of their most concise works is the Bhagavad-gita, which was sung on the battlefield of Kurukshetra some five thousand years ago by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Lord, the fountainhead of Vedanta philosophy. Veda means “knowledge” and anta means “end”, so Vedanta represents the summit of knowledge, the last word on information that really matters. Though the Gita delves into a variety of topics, the final conclusion is that Krishna is God and that the soul’s occupational duty is to willingly surrender unto Him through a mood of pure love. With this devotion comes happiness for every party involved. Krishna is God, but this doesn’t mean that the Lord takes only one form. There are many non-different expansions of Krishna, allowing for people to worship the Supreme in their mood of choice.

Lord KrishnaOnly the personal expansions of Krishna are equal to the original. The list of the notable personal expansions is given in the sacred texts like the Shrimad Bhagavatam. Therefore those who worship Vishnu, Rama, Narasimha or other vishnu-tattva forms are worshiping the same Krishna. There are other expansions, but they are not full representations of Krishna. Even we living entities emanate from the Lord, but we are separated expansions. We can understand the difference by looking at our own body. The hands and legs are part of our form, but they can only do certain things. We can’t put headphones around our legs and expect the sound vibrations to enter our mind. We can’t put food into the hands and expect the nutrients to reach the stomach. The various aspects of the body each have their respective functional duties.

In a similar manner, the part and parcel expansions of Godhead have roles to play, but they are not the same as God. The guru is considered the empowered incarnation delivering the message of Godhead. The guru is treated the same as God, but nowhere is it said that he is equal to Krishna. Nevertheless, many mental speculators have commented on the Bhagavad-gita by saying that in His conclusion Krishna doesn’t really mean that one should surrender unto Him. Rather, one has to surrender to the “Krishna” residing within them. Since the guru is self-realized, he is the same Krishna.

Obviously, such theories are completely bogus and not based on authority. Yet when these conclusions are challenged by those who actually follow the Vedic teachings espoused by Shri Krishna Himself, the pretenders can only counter with skepticism. “Well, that’s your interpretation. How can you say that I am wrong?” To settle any doubts, to expose the pretenders and cheaters for who they are, the Supreme Lord personally descends to earth from time to time. Lord Chaitanya’s advent marked one such occasion. As Krishna in the guise of a devotee, Lord Chaitanya never insisted that others worship Him. He was Krishna, as is revealed in the end of the Shrimad Bhagavatam, yet He never went around proclaiming to be God. Rather, He asked everyone to chant the holy names of the Lord found in the sacred maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. When others would say that He was God, Lord Chaitanya would cover His ears and protest. Just from this behavior we see how foolish and dangerous the cheater gurus who claim to be God and thus worthy of a position equal to Krishna are.

Krishna lifting Govardhana HillHave the pretender gods ever lifted a gigantic hill and held it up over their heads for seven consecutive days without a problem? Have they displayed the universal form which is so awe-inspiring that the eyes can’t even look at it for too long because of the fear it instills? Have they saved a child in the womb from the attack of a deadly atomic weapon? Have they created this and many other universes through a simple exhalation? Have they provided pleasure to millions of devotees by playing their flute?

Lord Krishna is the reservoir of pleasure, for God is eternally situated in bliss. Knowledge acquisition, exhibitions of yogic siddhis, and possession of material opulence are but partial representations of the Supreme Lord’s glories, almost insignificant abilities that can only attract the attention of those not yet given towards bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. To help us regain our constitutional position, the one practice that is most recommended is hearing, for the Vedas themselves were originally known as the shrutis, or “that which is heard”. Lord Chaitanya validated the superiority of hearing by regularly giving aural reception to wonderful accounts of Krishna’s pastimes and His interactions with His dearmost friends. The story of Sakshi-gopala was one of His favorite to hear.

A long time back two brahmanas, members of the priestly class, were travelling around India visiting pilgrimage sites. One brahmana was older and from a higher class while the other was younger and not very esteemed socially. The younger brahmana offered such nice service during this trip that the elder one became immensely pleased. He promised to give away his daughter’s hand in marriage to the younger brahmana. The younger brahmana was a little surprised, for he knew that the man’s family would not agree to the proposal. Therefore he made the elder man promise in front of the deity of Sakshi-gopala that was in the temple they were visiting. Swearing before a deity was a big deal. It was sort of like swearing to tell the truth before giving testimony in court, except that the oath was taken much more seriously.

When the elder brahmana returned home, he told his family what had happened. Not surprisingly, they objected to his idea. The brahmana knew that he had promised before the deity and that this would raise an issue. The man’s son suggested that his father simply say that he forgot what he said that day. This is the standard line used by lawyers and those trying to cheat. By saying you can’t remember, you technically aren’t lying, for you haven’t made an outright confirmation or denial.

Krishna deityWhen the younger brahmana visited his friend later on and asked what was going on with the marriage arrangements, he was surprised to learn that the deal was now off. Not only was he rejected, but the elder brahmana’s son started accusing him of poisoning his father and making him act in crazy ways. Reminding the older man of the promise he made in front of the deity, the younger brahmana hoped to save his friend from the sinful reaction of lying before Krishna. The elder brahmana said that if the same deity could be brought in their presence to testify to the oath, then he would give away his daughter. Obviously the thought was that the deity was simply stone and thus incapable of doing anything.

It’s interesting to note that for the elder brahmana the deity was important enough to make the oath in front of, but when it came time to back up his words, when things really mattered, the same deity was taken to be just material elements. Matter does not have Krishna’s personal presence, but when it is used in an authorized way to construct the worshipable figure, the archa-vigraha, it becomes spiritualized. How this is possible cannot be understood through mental exercise. The reality of the change must initially be accepted as fact based on the authority of the acharyas, those who lead by example.

The younger brahmana went back to the temple and asked the deity to help him out. Krishna always hears the pleas of His devotees, so He spoke to the brahmana through His deity form. He told the brahmana to proceed to his friend’s home, while He, as the deity, would follow from behind. The brahmana was not to look back to see if the deity was following. He was to know that Krishna was behind him by the sound of the Lord’s ankle bells. The brahmana would daily offer rice to the deity to keep the Lord satisfied.

Sure enough, the deity of Sakshi-gopala made the journey to the elder brahmana’s home. Astonished to see the witness standing before him, the elder brahmana was left with no choice but to agree to the original arrangement, which he had promised before the deity. Lord Chaitanya loved this story because it showed how the deity is not just a collection of material elements aimed at furthering realization of Brahman, or the impersonal light of Truth. Krishna’s deities are fully empowered because they are non-different from Him. They are worshipable, which means that they accept the obeisances made to them in full devotion and faith.

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

Lord KrishnaIn the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna states that anyone who offers Him a leaf, flower, fruit, or some water with devotion will have their offering accepted and enjoyed by the Lord. Why would we want to offer anything to God? The question should really be why would we not? We offer so much to other people already, so why not take a little time to give attention to the source of every benediction in life? Even if we can’t sacrifice food or make an opulent offering to the deity, we can give some time to the hearing process.

Just sitting back and hearing about Krishna eventually reveals the knowledge necessary for enlightenment and gaining reinstatement into the eternal occupation that is devotional service. Just as Lord Chaitanya was delighted by hearing the story of Sakshi-gopala during His travels in India, we are warmed to the heart by hearing about Shri Gaurahari’s delight. He delivers the fallen souls of the Kali Yuga by distributing Krishna-prema freely, to anyone who wants it. In this marketplace, there is no scarcity, as the Supreme Lord has an endless supply of love to give to those who wish to cherish it and welcome it into their hearts. As Sakshi-gopala, Krishna vouched for the poor brahmana a long time ago, and as Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, He confirms the Lord’s promise in the Bhagavad-gita to deliver the surrendered souls.

In Closing:

Around India did Mahaprabhu travel,

At one story in particular did He marvel.

To the vow of the brahmana whose logic went amiss.

Did Sakshi-gopala testify, the deity as witness.

A long time ago, two brahmanas there were,

To a marriage arrangement did they both concur.

“To you my young friend will I give the hand of my daughter,

You have treated me well, as if I were your father.”

Since he was very poor, the younger was hesitant to accept,

“In stature you are superior to me, surely your family will object.”

The younger then made the elder swear before the deity,

Sakshi-gopala, Shri Krishna Himself, the reservoir of beauty.

But when he returned home, the elder’s family did not agree,

“What kind of deal have you made, this is crazy don’t you see?”

When the younger visited the elder to see if the marriage was set,

The elder replied, “There is no deal. What I said before I do forget.”

The younger then asked Sakshi-gopala for help, to the deity did he talk.

“I will testify to the truth. Do you go to his home, behind you I will walk.”

Thus on the road the young brahmana did Sakshi-gopala, the deity, follow,

After hearing the truth from Shri Krishna, his humble pie did the elder swallow.

By the mercy of the Lord did the elder finally give up his objection,

The deity is Shri Krishna Himself, so to the devoted it gives all protection.

In hearing this story did Shri Krishna Chaitanya always delight,

Reciting it now, we pray that He may shine His mercy upon us so bright.

Friday, October 7, 2011

From Snake to Swan

Lord Rama“The tongue is like a snake and the mouth like a snake hole for the person who does not chant the holy names of the Lord. Those who have no love for Shri Rama are understood to be bereft of the creator’s favor, says Tulsi.” (Dohavali, 40)

rasanā sam̐āpini badana bila je na japahiṃ harināma |
tulasī prema na rāma soṃ tāhi bidhātā bāma ||

A sincere lover will always think of new ways to properly describe their intense and pure emotions to others. It’s not easy to put what you feel into words, especially if you are presenting your thoughts through poems that can also be sung. Because of the constraints accompanying poetry, the writer must use brevity, which Shakespeare referred to as the soul of wit. In this nice verse from the Dohavali, the poet Tulsidas very succinctly and emphatically declares his love for Shri Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and at the same time provides valuable insight into the purpose of human life. Our bodies were crafted through nature’s influence, which works under the direction of the creator. Just as a machine is the result of fine craftsmanship on the part of one or more intelligent human beings, the form adopted by the spirit soul is due solely to the work of a higher power, the creator who is in charge of distributing the results of karma, or fruitive work. When a particular individual has no love for the Supreme Lord, who is a loving God through and through, then the creator obviously has not been favorable to them.

japa malaIn the verse above, Tulsidas first says that anyone who doesn’t chant the names of Hari essentially has a tongue which is like a serpent and a mouth which is like a serpent hole. The comparison is so extreme that it is even a bit humorous, as it conveys the deep love and affection held by the poet not only for the person addressed in harinama-japa, or the silent chanting of a devotional mantra, but also the recitation process itself. The tongue reveals the thoughts of the mind; through our speech our ideas and feelings are communicated to others. When time is spent chanting the Lord’s holy 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”, the tongue is put to good use.

Hari is another word for God that means “one who removes distresses”. The Supreme Lord’s position is not to facilitate desires for personal sense gratification or advancement in some material endeavor. These aspects of life essentially take care of themselves through the workings of nature, which are managed by elevated living entities that are godly but not equal to the Supreme Lord. The distresses that Hari removes relate to devotional service, or bhakti-yoga. In the absence of God consciousness, the living entity, in any form he accepts, takes part in activities driven only by animal instincts. Eat when you are hungry, sleep when you are tired, have sexual relations when you are stimulated, and defend your property from foreign attack. But consciousness is the real gift given to the soul, which is the essence of life. Therefore the true aim in any form of body is to develop this consciousness fully and purify it by connecting it with God.

Yoga is meant only for this purpose. The root meaning of yoga is “plus”, or “addition”. The two operands in the equation are the individual spiritual entity and the fountainhead of all things matter and spirit, God. Since the Supreme Lord is superior, if He sees someone steadily determined in yoga, trying very hard to connect with Him, He removes their fears. In this sense the tongue is one of the greatest blessings bestowed upon the living entity. Through the medium of the tongue, one can regularly chant the names of Hari, or harinama, of which there are too many to count. Rama is the favorite name for Tulsidas, as it represents the Supreme Lord’s divine incarnation of Shri Ramachandra who appeared on earth in the guise of a warrior prince many thousands of years ago. Tulsidas dedicated his whole life to chanting the glories of Rama and persuading others to take to pure bhakti, wherein one’s life and soul would be surrendered to the interests of Hari.

Lord RamaAside from its ability to purify, chanting the names of Hari is a very pleasurable experience, especially for one who is able to steadily develop their God consciousness. In every other endeavor the instigating factor is the desire for happiness or enjoyment. When engagement or dedication in an activity ceases, it is to be understood that the enjoyment has withered away. If we suck the juice out of sugarcane, we really have no use for the plant anymore. Therefore once one activity gets boring, we will jump to another and try to squeeze the sweetness out of it. With bhakti, however, it is seen that the dedication to chanting and devotional service in general only increases with further practice. This property of spiritual science can never be understood by blunt measurements or deductive reasoning. In the spiritual land, one minus one can equal one, as the Supreme Lord is not limited by any rules of a temporary land governed by matter.

Just as Hari knows no exhaustion, defeat, fear or loss, the devotees who regularly chant His names grow increasingly attached to bhakti-yoga and the happiness it brings. One who develops a taste for harinama will naturally compare their new situation to the way they felt before. Since everyone starts off at the same position, as unintelligent human beings needing guidance, even the advanced yogi can remember a time when he wasn’t wholly dedicated to connecting with the divine consciousness. Looking back on his previous life he will think of how uneventful and painful it was. He now loves chanting the names of the Lord so much that he will wonder how any person gifted with a tongue could ever refrain from such an activity.

The tongue is a very powerful instrument, as it can not only bring about a purification in consciousness, it can also lead the conditioned soul astray. When the tongue is used to chant the names of Hari and eat the remnants of foodstuff offered to Him [prasadam], the true benefit of the wonderful tongue included with the human body is realized. In the absence of God consciousness, the tongue talks about all sorts of nonsense, curses others, can’t be controlled in speech, and takes to eating varieties of impure foods. As the aim of human life is to realize God through yoga, any engagement which prohibits this connection can be considered impure and a waste of time. Since eating is a necessity for any life form, it cannot be neglected by the aspiring transcendentalist. Fortunately, every angle is covered by bhakti. For eating, the devotee is advised to eat the remnants of sacrifice, or yajna-shishta. A sacrifice is typically a formal ritual aimed at pleasing the enjoyer of all sacrifice, Yajneshvara, which is another name for Hari.

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

offering to Radha and KrishnaIn the Bhagavad-gita, the same Hari, in His original form of Lord Krishna, states that if someone offers Him a flower, a fruit, a leaf or some water with love and devotion, He gladly accepts it. This doesn’t apply just to Krishna the original person, but to His deity representation as well. God is Absolute, so the sound vibration of His name and the picture depicting His transcendental features are non-different from Him. When food items are sacrificed in this way, Hari accepts them and then returns the remnants to the person doing the offering. By eating prasadam the tongue gets purified and remains immune to the effects of the material world, which act at every moment to attack the vulnerable senses.

Impure actions by the tongue indicate that the material forces have a strong influence on the individual. When the tongue eats animal flesh, especially that of a cow mercilessly killed in a slaughterhouse, the individual’s lack of God consciousness is revealed. All forms of life are Brahman, or pure spirit. Therefore even the animals are in the same boat as the human beings. They may not have the potential for high intelligence and the ability to fully develop consciousness, but this doesn’t mean that we should unnaturally stop their progression through the various forms of body. A small infant is very unintelligent, as are many innocent human beings, but this doesn’t give us license to kill them. When the tongue engages in unauthorized meat eating, the love for the Supreme Lord that naturally exists within the heart is understood to still be in a dormant state.

When the tongue talks about Hari, His forms, names and activities, the true benefit of speech is achieved. Accompanying japa is kirtana, which means “to glorify”. Kirtana usually takes the form of songs sung that describe the glories of the Supreme Lord. Japa is usually performed quietly and alone, while kirtana typically involves groups of people. The tongue that regularly takes part in these two activities obviously lives in the mouth of a wise person. Such a tongue belongs to the body of an individual who is very fortunate; to whom the creator was favorable.

Sankirtana partyThe opinion that those who don’t chant the names of Hari have tongues like snakes and mouths like serpent holes seems a bit harsh. After all, we may know many people who are kind, pious, sweet and caring but don’t take part in bhakti. Should we consider their tongues to be like snakes? Let’s think of it this way. If we see a student in a classroom who is nice and polite but does not do any of their homework nor pass their exams, will we say that they are a good student? If we work with someone at the office who never tells a lie and never says a mean word but at the same time fails to complete the tasks assigned to them, would we say that they are a valuable asset to the company?

As the aim of human life is to become God conscious, for as long as that mission is not furthered, the body parts granted by the creator are not taken full advantage of. When the tongue doesn’t chant the names of Hari and glorify Him through speech and song, it must glorify and praise other living entities and things. Since these objects are not God, the tongue cannot be said to be properly utilized. A snake is a cold-blooded reptile, and a snake hole is not something we prefer to see, as it probably scares us more than anything. If someone speaks regularly about the glories of material life, which is fueled by illicit sex and unhealthy desires, their influence must be considered poisonous, as it will do nothing to further awareness of life’s real mission. The news media serves as the most notable culprit in this regard. Every day they have another new lead story, which either blasts a person they don’t like or praises someone they view as worthy of adulation and fame at the time. Obviously the attention paid does nothing tangible for anyone, as news from a few days ago is rarely revisited. If you give someone a newspaper that is more than a day old, they will not have any desire to read it. As a newspaper’s worthiness comes from its content, it is to be understood that the stories themselves become worthless after a few days.

While it may be harsh to say that the tongue of the materially conscious individual is like a snake, it should be remembered that the snake in this instance can be turned into a swan very quickly. Those who have made the best use of their tongues through chanting the names of Hari can distribute the nectar of the holy names to others, inducing them to take up their constitutional engagement. The soul is meant to serve in a loving mood, so when there is no information about Hari available, the individual will take to serving its own interests or the desires of other materially conscious individuals. Through distribution of the names of God, which is the primary aim of the bona fide spiritual preachers and the Vaishnava poets, thousands of snakelike entities can turn into wonderful swans that always remain amidst the lotus flowers represented by the sweet, transcendental vibrations that glorify the Supreme Lord.

“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)

Hanuman chantingTulsidas states that the creator has been unfavorable to those who don’t have love for Lord Rama. In the absence of bhakti, how can any situation gained in any form of body be considered favorable? As death takes away all accumulated gains, nothing remains for the conditioned soul at the time of quitting their body other than a return ticket to the same cycle of acceptance and rejection, which repeats perpetually until consciousness is purified. Bhakti’s benefits, on the other hand, are always increasing, as is evidenced by the increase in fervor and attachment that results from continuous practice in devotional efforts. The materially conscious individual was not shown favor by the creator, but the spiritually attached liberated soul has the full blessings of the Supreme Lord, who is the creator of even the creator. These benedictions can be received at any time, even if the creator was not originally favorable to us. God’s mercy is open to everyone, just as the sun’s rays hit every corner of the earth. One who knows how to take advantage of the divine mercy will make the most of their human form of life. Even if the creator grants us birth in an aristocratic family, a home full of spiritually conscious individuals, or the most pleasant circumstances, unless and until we tap into the divine consciousness, we cannot validly claim to have been favored by him. But when pure love for Shri Rama, the same God that everyone naturally believes in, is established, every body part and every condition of life becomes favorable, as they only further increase one’s God consciousness.

In Closing:

Those who attention to chanting Hari’s names do not give,

Their tongue like a snake in its hole of the mouth does live.

Seems like a harsh comparison for poet to make,

But from it great lesson we can take.

Tongue indicates what the mind is thinking of,

Whether it wants material enjoyment or divine love.

Purify eating by using tongue for prasadam tasting,

No more on unclean foods senses indulging.

Purify speech by talking of God, whose glories are broad,

No more wasting time on entities who are flawed.

Those without love for Rama by creator are not favored,

With the pains of material life are they beleaguered.

But within a second the snake can turn into a swan,

By on holy names and form of Rama concentrating on.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Creating Gods

Lord Krishna“After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.19)

To divine love man has such a strong aversion, which has gathered strength over many lifetimes spent in the material sphere, that worship of even fictitious characters occurs before full and complete surrender to the Personality of Godhead. The Vedas refer to the original person from whom all energies emanate as Krishna, for He is all-attractive. He is also known as Bhagavan because no one is more fortunate than Him. Yet the material realm, the place where birth and death take place repeatedly, exists for a reason. If there were no aversion to devotional service, there would be no need for a temporary realm. Even with resistance to worshiping Krishna, man will have to offer its dedication to someone or something. These created gods, however, fall short in their ability to please their worshipers, as only Krishna possesses and exhibits noteworthy characteristics on the largest scale. For those avoiding worship of God, there will eventually come a fizzling out point, a time when the love directed to the flawed objects of worship turns into frustration or anger. Only with the most worthy worshipable figure, Shri Krishna, can the soul’s tremendous potential for service be fully realized.

Lord KrishnaHow do we know that man is given to worshiping God, especially in His form of Krishna? How do we know that Krishna is God and not just some mythological hero of the Hindu faith? With any piece of information presented, its validity comes from the results that follow the initial acceptance. For instance, if a television anchorperson tells us that it is raining outside and we decided to bring an umbrella with us, once we step outside and see that it is not raining, we’ll know that their knowledge is not perfect. The umbrella was thus carried for no reason, as there was no rain and nothing that we needed the umbrella to protect us from.

In the beginning there was no way of knowing whether the person on television was accurate or not. Since we had no reason to be skeptical of their intentions, we accepted what they were saying as fact. On their authority we believed that it was raining outside. There was no way to prove without a doubt that what they were telling us was true. The person on television could have even had a camera shot showing that rain was pouring down outside and that still wouldn’t have been sufficient. After all, television operates on footage that can be recorded, which means that at any time anyone can show anything and claim that it is a live shot.

The questions relating to authority are settled by the results that come from accepting the information. If the reporter on television were correct in their assertions, then they could be taken as an authority figure going forward. The same tests for validity can be applied to all knowledge transfer, especially when information about the soul and its inherent qualities is passed. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, are considered the most authorized set of scriptures by their followers not only because of the age of the works but also because of the benefits that come from following the prescriptions presented.

“This individual soul is unbreakable and insoluble, and can be neither burned nor dried. He is everlasting, all-pervading, unchangeable, immovable and eternally the same.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.24)

Lord KrishnaWhat do the Vedas recommend? How are the Vedas any different from the other religious traditions followed around the world? In summary, the Vedas teach that the spirit soul is the essence of identity with any life form, and that this soul is naturally attracted to divine love, or devotional service. The tendency towards love is a byproduct of the soul’s blissful constitution. Just as a magnet automatically attracts those objects with the proper constitution, the giant spiritual force, who is most commonly referred to as God, attracts the sentiments of the pure souls, those who are not tainted by material contact or diverted by desires for personal sense gratification.

God is the proper object of worship because of His qualities. He is the most wealthy, the most renounced, the wisest, the strongest, the most famous and the most beautiful. He possesses each one of these opulences to the fullest extent imaginable. In fact, His attributes are so great in their magnitude that no one can properly measure them. Think of it in terms of infinity. Krishna is infinitely beautiful. Just one look at His smiling face, His beautiful body adorned with the peacock feather in His hair and the garland of lotus flowers around His neck is enough to make one forget about their troubles.

Krishna’s attributes never deplete nor are they ever covered up. To the onlooker giving a quick glance, the knowledge about Krishna and His features may not be completely revealed, but this has no bearing on Krishna whatsoever. The young child has no idea what the sun is or what it is capable of, but this has no effect on the sun’s influence or properties. Similarly, millions of people can be unaware of Krishna and the need for worshiping Him, but this doesn’t alter Krishna’s supreme standing.

Lord KrishnaSince Krishna is the most attractive, He is the ideal object of worship. The Vedas also reveal that the tiny spirit souls are similar in quality to Krishna but that their quantitative powers are far inferior. In this way we can be considered similar to God but not totally equal to Him. There is a master-servant relationship, one which operates best when entered into voluntarily. There needn’t be any cajoling in the matter, for how could anyone who surrenders to someone so merciful and attractive ever end up the loser? We enjoy tasty foods because of the pleasure it gives us and our favorite music because of how it makes us feel. In the same way, we can worship God and sacrifice our efforts for His benefit simply because it will lead to our gain in the future.

It is not even that Krishna has to do anything explicit to bring happiness to the devotee. The devotional acts themselves, such as chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, bring so much pleasure that adherence to standard practices governing piety and sin become secondary in importance. If I know that my constitutional position is to remain in Krishna’s company, what fear will I have about transgressing the rules aimed at reaching that platform? The gopis of Vrindavana best illustrate this principle. Shri Krishna doesn’t need to give anything for them to feel pleasure. Just reciting His name and remembering Him for one second bring the gopis so much happiness that they lose themselves in divine trance. They are the greatest yogis, in full samadhi, or divine trance, whenever they remember Krishna, hear His flute, see Him approaching, or think about His words. They drink up the sweet nectar that is His divine vision, and they grow attached to this amrita, not settling for any other potion promising enjoyment.

This all seems pretty straightforward, right? But if Krishna is so wonderful, if He is really Bhagavan, why would anyone neglect worshiping Him? In the material world, the situation is turned around for the souls not given to divine love. This is, in one sense, by design, for the choice was made at some point in the past to fall from the graces of the spiritual realm. Rather than worship Krishna, the rebellious souls feel they can imitate His abilities in the departments of creating, maintaining, destroying and enjoying. Separation from Krishna’s personal association thus continues for as long as the desire to imitate God remains.

Lord KrishnaNo matter how far one falls from their constitutional position, however, the intrinsic properties of the soul cannot be hidden completely. Therefore the penchant to worship will be there in any realm, even if one is completely forgetful of God and His existence. Without worshiping Krishna, however, man will dedicate his service mentality to imitation gods, people and things that don’t possess the full feature set of attributes found in Krishna.

It shouldn’t surprise us that the flawed method of worship doesn’t lead to tangible results. At first there may be dedication to the activity. The penchant for service explains why man can become attached to cats, dogs, friends, family, children, celebrities, politicians, athletes and a host of other people. Since to ere is human, anyone who is conditioned cannot properly accept the worship offered to them. Moreover, since they don’t have the divine qualities in full like Bhagavan does, eventually flaws will be uncovered. When the flaws eventually cause the love to turn into hate, the worshiping individual is left to find another god. This cause-and-effect sequence explains how divorce can happen and how there is so much strife and argument in the world.

What’s more amazing is that even when the mind realizes that ordinary human beings don’t make ideal candidates for worshipable objects, there is a tendency to turn to fictitious heroes. The superheroes and the famous characters from film and literature are very popular because of their extraordinary abilities. They can perform magic tricks, defeat evil elements, and rise to the occasion without being afraid. They are fictitious after all, so their personal association can never be found. All that is there is the comfort of knowing that there is someone to accept the attention of the adoring fans.

the dark knightWhat does this worship bring? It can’t guide daily behavior, nor can it give a purpose to life. The mind, if anything, just tricks itself, sort of like how when we watch movies and television we imagine that what we are seeing is real. Once the show ends, however, the illusion dissipates. Similarly, once the association of the famed fictitious character is relinquished, the person is left to again search for their cherished object of worship. Moreover, these unreal characters cannot deliver their dependents from the cycle of birth and death.

With Krishna, not only do you get the real Bhagavan, but you get authorized information aimed at understanding Him and bringing about favorable conditions in life, from beginning to end. With chanting especially the benefits are there at every step of the way. In the beginning, the soul may be hesitant to follow a system of religion, especially when regular recitation of Sanskrit words is required; but there is still Krishna’s association. Then in the middle stages, there may be some attachment to the process, but adherence to the rules and regulations is still there. Finally, in the last stage there is bhava, or ecstasy, where no attention is paid to anything except Krishna’s interests. The most significant benefit, of course, is the release from the cycle of birth and death, the return to the spiritual sky, Krishna’s eternal abode.

If we don’t worship Krishna, we will look for the same qualities in others. If others don’t have them, which by definition they can’t, we’ll try to pretend that they do. But once they fail to live up to the expectations placed upon them, misery, sadness, anger, despair, hopelessness, or general bewilderment will surely result. With Krishna none of these defects are there. We can take the celebrated acharyas’ word for it, or we can follow the prescriptions set forth in sacred texts like the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam and see for ourselves.

Lord KrishnaHow do we learn more about Krishna, especially if we have no knowledge of Him? The Vaishnava saint, the devotee of Krishna who abandoned the practice of assigning the “god” status to embodied beings, can teach others about vishnu-bhakti, or devotional service. The saints can be likened to television reporters broadcasting messages from a distant land. The difference is that the Vaishnava saints never fail in their recommendations nor will they ever lead anyone astray. For this reason they are equally as worshipable as Krishna. If they are fully immersed in bhakti, in constant Krishna consciousness, how can there be any difference between them and Krishna? Just remembering the gopis and their love for Krishna immediately brings the Lord’s association. In many respects the devotees are loved and adored more than Krishna because of the example they set for others.

Rather than create many gods, we can accept the real one, the beloved foster son of Mother Yashoda and Maharaja Nanda. The residents of Goloka Vrindavana are so immersed in worship of Krishna that they don’t even pay attention to whether or not the Lord is God. He is simply their beloved, the darling of Vrajabhumi, the sight for their sore eyes distressed over the involuntary blinking of the eyes and the stretched out moments of time not spent in His company. Krishna doesn’t disappoint those who approach Him in full humility and kindness. He is the greatest superhero, the strongest enemy of the miscreants, and the kindest of all people to have ever existed. His unique feature set makes Him eligible for worship from every type of person, irrespective of their age or geographic location. Those who create gods are doomed to suffer heartache, but those who create a transcendental home for the Lord and His names within their heart will never be without comfort.

In Closing:

From Shri Krishna take your sustenance,

Make chanting His names your only penance.

Of course in no way is this a punishment,

His company to your internal bliss augment.

In conditioned state man still has the need to serve,

But ignoring Krishna does not find pleasure he deserves.

In forgetfulness many fake Krishnas man will create,

Will look for those who qualities of God try to imitate.

But man is flawed, of supreme worship he is not eligible,

To serve as the supreme lord of all he is not capable.

Just worship the real Krishna and give up the pretend,

To Krishna’s words and talks of His glories your ears lend.

Accept and serve the real Lord as the gopis do,

Soul’s real position of happiness will come to you.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Dussehra 2011

Lord Rama“That Rama, the delight of the king of the Raghu dynasty, who had just slayed his enemy and was thus steady in His vow, possessing tremendous might, shone brightly while standing on the battlefield encircled by His army and friends, like Lord Indra surrounded by the demigods.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Yuddha Kand, 108.34)

sa tu nihataripuh sthirapratijñaḥ |
svajanabalābhivṛto raṇe rarāja |
raghukulanṛpanandano mahujā |
stridaśagaṇairabhisaṃvṛto yathendraḥ ||

Goswami Tulsidas knows it. Shri Hanuman is firmly aware of it as well, as he remains alive in the manifested realm just so that he can regularly remember it, finding the most wonderful pleasure simply by bringing it to the forefront of his consciousness. Agastya Rishi, the jar-born Vedic seer, whose piety is so strong that the vilest rogues and thieves cannot even approach his hermitage, knows it as well. Sita Devi, the daughter of King Janaka, is the most intimately familiar with it, and the three youngest sons of King Dasharatha of Ayodhya are so in knowledge of it that their very lives revolve around it. Shrila Narada Muni sings about it wherever He goes, and the Vedas have celebrated it in their countless hymns and prayers since time immemorial. On the day that gave Dussehra its real meaning, close friends, allies, and even direct enemies got to witness it personally. As He did that day, the lord of creatures, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, protects His devotees, no matter what size or shape they come in and no matter what their plight may be. Whoever should be harassing them and whatever condition the Lord personally finds Himself in, His promise to protect the saints from danger, to deliver them from the calamities caused by the influence of miscreant characters like Ravana, never breaks. On Dussehra, we remember the time when Lord Rama, the Supreme Lord in His form as a warrior prince, was honored and worshiped for His dedication, when His friends rejoiced in His victory, the one that didn’t seem possible.

Lord RamaWas the victorious outcome ever in jeopardy? Shouldn’t God be capable of handling any situation? How can God’s strengths ever be doubted? Does not the sun rise and set every day? Is not the earth humbled by earthquakes, the moon by eclipses, and the living entities by the threefold miseries of life? Knowing that these occurrences are regular, how can anyone think that another person could be inferior or supremely feared? Forgetfulness is one of the defects borne of the propensity to commit mistakes that is found within every human being. Couple this tendency with the influence of time, material nature’s most powerful agent for change, and it’s not surprising that man would forget about his own fallibility. Moreover, man even forgets that the defects and pains he encounters in his own life apply to everyone else as well. For these reasons, a powerful Rakshasa during the Treta Yuga was feared to be the most powerful ruler in the world, someone who could never be stopped.

Lost in the immediate aftermath of this fiend’s reign of terror was the fact that none of his abilities were acquired through his own effort. Ravana was the product of the union between a Rakshasa mother and a brahmana father. A brahmana by quality and work is a person with saintly qualities, someone who is nonviolent, cool-headed, kind and extremely knowledgeable. The brahmana is considered intelligent because he uses whatever information is fed into the computer that is the mind to further the highest aim of life, that of becoming God conscious. A smart person isn’t necessarily someone with a high IQ or someone who knows a lot of facts. True intelligence is marked by the ability to utilize whatever information is gathered to further a specific desire. As everyone is born ignorant, all knowledge comes through acquisition. In this sense it’s difficult to make comparative assessments of knowledge gathering abilities, for we don’t say that one person is better at eating than another person. Whether it takes us a long time to acquire information or a short time, the fact that we have to accept information from external sources shows that every one of us is flawed.

Intelligence is determined by how the information absorbed is used. Brahmanas possess the most valuable knowledge, because they know that the living beings are Brahman, or pure spirit. Therefore not only is every human being equal in their constitution, but so is every living entity, from the tiny ant all the way up to the denizens of heaven, the celestial figures that are in charge of the various departments of the material creation. The correct Sanskrit term is dehinam, or embodied, to describe the condition of the sparks of Brahman that roam the material land in different body types.

“That knowledge by which one undivided spiritual nature is seen in all existences, undivided in the divided, is knowledge in the mode of goodness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.20)

VyasadevaA brahmana surveys everything with an equal vision acquired through austerity, penance and sacrifice. These activities are taken up with a purpose; to remain tied to the Supreme Lord, the origin of Brahman. A Rakshasa, on the other hand, is not very intelligent. They delight in eating animal flesh, including human carcasses, and drinking wine incessantly. Both the spiritualist and the drug addict are looking to escape the influence of the senses that is concomitant with an embodied existence, but the addict finds an illusory escape, one which only sharpens the fangs of the dangerous material senses. The spiritualist, on the other hand, follows authorized methods passed down in the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, to remove the teeth from the serpent-like senses. Thus both persons can appear to be exactly the same on the outside, with one feeling perpetual misery from being constantly bitten, while the other lives peacefully in full knowledge of their constitutional position and the spirit soul’s superiority over the material energy.

How did a Rakshasa and a brahmana produce a son then? The sage Vishrava was engaged in meditation when he was interrupted by a Rakshasa woman who wanted to bear a child with him. She was sent to Vishrava by her father for this very purpose, as the Rakshasa clan had just been routed out of the beautiful island of Lanka. Vishrava was angered over having his meditation broken, so he cursed the woman to get her wish. She would get a son through him, but that child would be the vilest creature around. When the time of birth came, this son emerged with a ghastly visage having ten heads. He was thus known by names such as Dashanana and Dashagriva.

His influential powers came later on when he propitiated the first created living entity, Lord Brahma. Dashagriva’s mother saw that Kuvera, her husband’s son begotten through a different woman, was living very opulently due to benedictions he received from the demigods. Therefore she wanted her sons to have the same abilities. She instructed her sons Dashanana, Kumbhakarna and Vibhishana to perform austerities to please Lord Brahma. Kumbhakarna had a slip of the tongue and mistakenly asked for the benediction to be able to sleep for months at a time, while Vibhishana asked to be devoted to piety. Dashanana received amazing strength, invincibility in battle against seemingly every type of creature. He made the mistake of not asking for immunity from human beings. This would cost him later on.

RavanaUsing his powers for evil, Dashanana went on a reign of terror. After pleasing Lord Shiva, the Rakshasa received the name Ravana, which means one who has a terrorizing roar. Things got so bad because of Ravana’s work that the saintly class started worrying that maybe the world had been turned over to evil for good. The rishis residing in the forests not bothering anyone would have their sacrifices interrupted by Ravana and his Rakshasas congregated in Lanka. They would do more than just disrupt the religious practices of the saints. They would kill the saints and then eat their flesh. In this way Ravana proved to be the vilest of creatures, the worst of the worst. The demigods finally petitioned Lord Vishnu, the Supreme Lord in His personal form, to come to earth and deal with the situation. He would descend as a human being so that Ravana would be killed while the boons granted to him by Brahma would stay protected.

God would appear on earth as Lord Rama, the noble, handsome, pious, kind, and dedicated eldest son of the King of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dasharatha. True to his nature, Ravana would find a way to bother even Rama, though the Lord never bothered anyone. Lakshmana, Rama’s younger brother, once remarked that even the people punished by Rama could not find fault in Him. This was because they knew that Rama did not play favorites when administering justice, that He never unjustly punished any person. This fact made Ravana’s act of taking away Rama’s wife Sita all the more vile.

Rama couldn’t be defeated by Ravana’s 14,000 attacking Rakshasa warriors sent to the forest of Dandaka, and neither would the Lord remain on the sidelines when His wife went missing. Ravana took Sita away through a backhanded plot, which ironically sealed his doom at the same time. Sita’s kidnap gave Rama the excuse needed to take on Ravana and thus satisfy the desire of the saintly class. Even with Rama’s amazing mastery of archery, His ability to shoot arrows that were like nuclear weapons in strength, there was still some doubt as to the final outcome; such is the nature of embodied living. We know that life will go on after a particular sporting event takes place, but we still get nervous during the critical moments when watching. The air of uncertainty is always there in a land where birth and death take place in repeating cycles.

Lord RamaThe uncertainty in the minds of the nervous onlookers was strengthened by the fact that during the final battle between Rama and Ravana, the demon king seemed to be unbeatable. Rama kept lopping off his many arms and heads, and yet Ravana just kept growing new ones. Such amazing creatures aren’t seen today, so the historical accounts found in the Ramayana may seem like mythology, but as the saints so nicely point out, the wonderful displays of strength and ability from beings in this world are nothing compared to what God can do. Even the Supreme Lord’s personal exhibition of strength represents but a tiny fragment of what He is truly capable of. Therefore it was not that surprising to see Ravana continually regenerate new heads and arms.

Rama’s army consisted of monkeys fighting with rocks and uprooted trees, while Ravana’s army was full of Rakshasas expert in black magic. It didn’t seem like a fair fight, but Rama’s side was winning nonetheless. In the final battle, when it seemed like there was no way that Ravana would be killed, that even Rama couldn’t defeat him, the Lord took out His most powerful arrow, one passed down from Lord Brahma, a weapon that previously belonged to Agastya Rishi. Chanting the proper mantras as He drew the arrow to His bow, Rama released the powerful weapon, which marked the culmination of the intense struggle with Ravana, an arrow that allayed the fears of the fighting monkeys, the saintly class of men and the celestials watching from above. Penetrating Ravana’s body, that arrow ended the demon’s life and any chances the Rakshasas had of victory.

After Ravana was slain, Rama’s friends and well-wishers fighting for His side congregated around Him and praised His achievement. The scene was reminiscent of Lord Indra, the king of heaven, being surrounded by the celestial fighters after a victory over the asuras, or demons. Up until this point in time Rama had endured so much for others. He went to the forest for fourteen years to maintain the good name of His father, who had promised two boons to his youngest wife Kaikeyi. Rama took Sita and Lakshmana with Him because they insisted on coming along. The Lord fought 14,000 Rakshasas all by Himself to protect the saints in the forests. The Lord killed the monkey-king Vali so that His friend Sugriva would no longer live in fear. He accepted an estranged Vibhishana into His camp and installed him on the throne of Lanka even before Ravana’s death. He worshiped the sun-god at the behest of Agastya just prior to the final battle with Ravana, and He even took out His most potent arrow only after His charioteer suggested it.

Dussehra is Rama’s day. On that battlefield many thousands of years ago the Lord did away with the most nefarious creature ever to have roamed the sacred earth, and He proved once again that the songs of the Vedas and the words of the saints are not empty, that God does protect those who surrender unto Him in earnest. On Dussehra we remember, honor and cherish Shri Rama in His beautiful form, smiling and holding His bow and arrow. Rama never asks anything from anyone, but if someone is devoted to Him, He promises to stand by them. Because He removes the fears of the devotees, He is known as Hari. Because His name is as powerful as the arrows that fly from His bow, the devotees craving His association regularly chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Lord RamaIn Closing:

See Rama’s face that is always smiling,

In His hands bow and arrow He is holding.

The saints and the innocent He is protecting,

Their honor and fame always worth defending.

Ravana, he of scream that is terrorizing,

Sacrifices of saints he given to destroying.

Received boons from Brahma, lord of creating,

So that none in battle him would be defeating.

Immunity from all creatures he got from asking,

Would pay the price for human beings forgetting.

In the form of Shri Rama, of beauty logic defying,

Would come Ravana’s doom, end of life approaching.

Through a fierce fight, after many arrows went flying,

Rama released Brahma’s weapon, Ravana’s chest penetrating.

Dussehra is day for Rama’s glories to be celebrating,

Remember the Lord and His entourage through His names chanting.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Dancing To Their Wish

DSC01407“The gopis would say, ‘If You dance, my dear Krishna, then I shall give You half a sweetmeat.’ By saying these words or by clapping their hands, all the gopis encouraged Krishna in different ways. At such times, although He was the supremely powerful Personality of Godhead, He would smile and dance according to their desire, as if He were a wooden doll in their hands. Sometimes He would sing very loudly, at their bidding. In this way, Krishna came completely under the control of the gopis.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.11.7)

If the sweetest person you had ever seen was known to follow your command, to grant your wishes and delight your heart with His pastimes, wouldn’t you take advantage of the opportunity and find tremendous bliss and satisfaction whenever you wanted? This is exactly what a set of cowherd women did many thousands of years ago, as one small boy in particular had captured their hearts. With His every movement - His childish pranks, His muffled speech, and His delightful vision - He brought supreme happiness to everyone around Him. Since He was so kind, whatever was asked of Him in a sweet and loving mood He would do. What the commanders, the masters of this wonderful child, who was willingly acting like a puppet, didn’t know was that the person mesmerizing them was the Supreme Lord and that His willingness to follow orders given to Him in the mood of devotion extends to every single person.

Lord KrishnaWhat does this mean exactly? If you are an atheist, you deny the existence of a supreme person, a controlling authority. There can be different reasons for having this viewpoint. Perhaps there is jealousy, envy over the fact that someone can be so powerful and have control over things that are seemingly uncontrollable. The opinion could also be attributed to just ignorance. Maybe no one has taught the person denying the existence of God anything tangible about spirituality. Perhaps their only exposure to religion has come from dealings with evangelists who claim that anyone who doesn’t accept their way is going to hell. “Why not sign me up then and leave me alone? If you crazy people are going to condemn me without any logical basis, why should I ever listen to anything you have to say?”

Even if a verbal acceptance to the fact is absent, there is always a recognized higher power. To the person denying the existence of God, the higher authority is known as death. This force is acknowledged by every single person, for death is not a welcome event and yet it is something that no one can prevent. Despite the best efforts at prolonging life and even forgetting about the inevitable end of life through intoxication and willful ignorance, the dreaded end arrives all the same. Acting as the culminating blow of all-devouring time, kala, death comes and takes everything away from the individual. Every relationship we have, every plan we have made regarding the future, and all the knowledge we have painstakingly acquired gets wiped away in an instant.

This last fact is a little disconcerting. Knowledge is gathered not only through explicit study, but through difficult experiences as well. Think about the worst events of your life and how you felt when they were taking place. Though the events were traumatic and difficult to cope with, eventually some lesson was derived from them. Therefore the acquisition of knowledge involved some pain. Now, just imagine having to do that all over again! The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, reveal that the spirit soul is the essence of identity. A tiny spark, which is no larger in size than the tip of a hair divided into a thousand pieces, the spirit soul exists perpetually. Death cannot take away the soul and birth cannot create it. The soul has always been the soul; it has never lost its identity.

“Know that which pervades the entire body is indestructible. No one is able to destroy the imperishable soul.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.17)

Lord KrishnaBirth and death are the acceptance and rejection of temporary dwellings, sort of like moving in and out of an apartment. When the individual doesn’t know any better and thinks that the place they moved into is the only establishment they will ever occupy, the eventual moving out is dreaded. It is so feared that many steps are taken to try to forget it, the day when the lease will be up. Whether there is an acknowledgment or not, the final day will still come.

The wise person, he who sees through the self-realized vision acquired through study of a bona fide system of spirituality, understands that just as the dwelling was accepted at some point, so it must be renounced. Despite the moving in and out, the person occupying said establishment never ceases to be. Neither is there only one dwelling for a single person. Is there only one house for every person in a community? Is there only one place to live in the entire world? The soul is so tiny in size that it can live practically anywhere. Ants live in the ground, bats in caves, fish in water, birds in trees, and the human beings on land. What these species have in common is that their identities come from the localized soul, hence the entities are really the same in quality.

What is unique to the human species, however, is the ability to know and serve God. Just knowing about death indicates a step up in intelligence from the other species. When God is known only in His form of all-devouring time, nothing can really come from that knowledge. Perhaps one will futilely try to enjoy as much as possible before moving out day, but since the spirit soul transmigrates from one body type to another, the next moving in day will arrive all the same. These facts are revealed in the Bhagavad-gita, the Song of God sung by Lord Krishna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra some five thousand years ago. Should we be hesitant to accept words from a foreign scripture compiled so long ago, we can still see evidence of the temporary changes through our own experiences. The personal dwelling is completely different during childhood than it is during adulthood, yet the identity of the occupant doesn’t change. Why then should there be such attention given to the full changing of abodes that occurs at death?

Lord KrishnaA step up from knowing about death is understanding that there is intelligence behind the workings of nature. The human being innately understands that God exists and that His position is supreme. Show young children pictures of Krishna or a celebrated form of God and they somehow will adopt the reverence that goes into worshiping the Supreme Lord. This type of devotional interaction is known as shanta-rasa, or the transcendental mellow of neutrality. In this exchange of emotion, there is acknowledgement of God’s superior position, but since He is too awesome in scope, the devotee doesn’t go beyond admiration.  One way to picture this is to think of visiting a temple and being sort of afraid of the deity that everyone looks at.

Shanta-rasa is considered devotion because there is an acknowledgement of a higher power, and there is respect shown to Him. Without respecting someone who is in a superior position, how can we ever gain their favor? Indeed, the Supreme Lord’s benevolence is available to everyone, but only the devotees know how to make the best use of the divine gifts granted to them. How does this work exactly? Let’s say that we have two people living in a home that has electricity. Since the utilities bill is paid for, there will be power coming through the various outlets in the house. The ignorant may mistakenly place their fingers, or worse, metal objects, into the sockets. This is obviously not the right way to use the electricity.

The person in knowledge, however, will plug their appliances and electronic devices into the sockets to get electrical power. This is what the power is there for in the first place. This method also won’t cause any personal injury, as the electricity will safely travel through the wires. The electricity is present for both persons, the ignorant and the knowledgeable, but only the person who knows how to use the electricity will gain a benefit from it.

gopisSimilarly, only the devotee, he who acknowledges the existence of God, can make the most out of their human form of body, a species that has the highest potential for intelligence. Beyond shanta-rasa are other transcendental mellows that shed some of the veneration, thus allowing for more intimate interactions with God. The gopis of Vrindavana exhibited behavior towards the Supreme Lord that went well beyond basic respect. They were so attached to Krishna that they commanded Him, and He did as they asked.

How can a person command God to do anything? Think of a child who tells their father or mother to do something. Obviously the parents don’t have to listen, as the child is the dependent and the parent the guardian. But if the child is loved and adored and the requests offered in a mood of love, the parents will voluntarily submit to the child’s wishes. The living entities populating the many universes are all God’s children, but only those who are devoted to the Lord can have the benefit of being able to ask Him to do something and Him following suit.

The most fortunate individuals in the world are those who are blessed with the Supreme Lord’s personal presence. What is the difference between a personal presence and an impersonal one? The impersonal doesn’t allow for devotional interaction. God and His energies are not different; therefore the Lord is actually everywhere. He is resting within our hearts as the Paramatma, and also within the grass, the atom, the trees, the sky, etc. He is everywhere; we just don’t have the proper eyes to see Him. When His influence is recognized, there is an impersonal understanding of God, that the Supreme Lord has energies that He can command.

ShyamasundaraWith personal interaction, the Personality of Godhead and His spiritual forms and attributes are recognized. More than just being familiar with these features, the devotees remember them and derive tremendous satisfaction from glorifying them. Therefore it is not surprising that the next step up from impersonal worship and devotion in neutrality would be to personally interact with the supreme person being worshiped. The Vedas say that God’s original and most blissful form is that of Shyamasundara, the beautiful youth with a blackish complexion. Since He is all-attractive, He is also known as Krishna.

Shri Krishna descended to this earth some five thousand years ago and acted like an ordinary child in the town of Vrindavana. Since He roamed the earth in a spiritual form, sometimes it is said that the Supreme Lord took on the form of a child to delight the residents of the sacred land of Vrajabhumi. These statements don’t mean that God accepts a material form, but rather that He takes on spiritual manifestations to give delight and pleasure to His adherents. If He retained a gigantic form, one that was awe-inspiring, how could anyone ever get past the stage of shanta-rasa?

What exactly is the benefit to shedding one’s veneration for God? Shouldn’t we have respect for the most powerful person? Actually, when following a transcendental mellow the more that veneration is renounced, the greater the pleasure there is for Krishna. Imagine being a celebrity and having everyone adore you all the time. Obviously it would be nice to be praised in this way, but then you also wouldn’t have any friends. A friend is someone who looks at you as an equal, a peer. This relationship is nice because you can have real conversations and people can take note of your interests without being afraid of you. The parent is also intimately related, as they take care of you, not paying any attention to your celebrity status. The life partner is even more intimately related, as they love you romantically and cherish your association. For the famous person, these relationships are relished far more than the interactions with fans who simply heap praise.

Lord KrishnaFor the Supreme Lord, the interactions He has with devotees like the residents of Vrindavana give Him the most pleasure. Vrindavana was a farm community heavily dependent on cows, so even the women worked. They managed the household affairs, helped in the production of milk products, and also took care of the children. The glories of the gopis can never be fully enumerated. They were independent women; except they voluntarily chose in favor of devotion to Krishna. This starting point enabled them to have the knowledge necessary to complete life’s other tasks to perfection.

The gopis were varied in age. The elderly gopis were friends of Mother Yashoda, Krishna’s foster mother. These women especially loved interacting with young Krishna, who was their very life and soul. Though He was Yashoda’s son, they treated Him as their own, delighting in every chance to meet and talk with Him. The gopis would encourage Krishna to dance by rewarding Him with various sweets. They would also coax Him into singing very loudly. Krishna is so wonderful that even His childish speech delights the heart. If there were prohibitive veneration for God in His most blissful form, if the gopis knew that Krishna was the very same Vishnu they were accustomed to worshiping, how could anyone have ever commanded Him like this?

Shri Krishna followed the commands of the gopis because they were devotees. Those inimical to both God and the saintly class are never given such a benediction. The ignorant can at best hope to misuse to different degrees the energies Krishna kindly distributes everywhere, while the devotees can rise in stature to the point that the Lord Himself will follow their orders. Seeing both options, the proper path to take in life is quite obvious. Follow bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, and become fully endeared to the master of all senses, Hrishikesha. His blissful form is there to be enjoyed, to be the sweet nectar for the eyes. The sounds of His names found in the sacred maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, are meant to please the ears. Invigorate your senses by indulging them in Krishna consciousness; immerse the mind in the holy lake of the Supreme Lord’s acts. With the bhakti formula your life will be successful and you will always be in God’s favor.

In Closing:

Seeing Him gopis never miss the chance,

To make their beloved young Krishna dance.

With reward of sweetmeats Him do they entice,

To taste delights dancing for them is the price.

They encouraged Yashoda’s son with their clapping,

Smiling sweetly Krishna obliged by dancing.

No one knew the true nature of Yashoda’s son,

That He created this world and every other one.

His position as God they did not know of,

So all they could give to Him was their love.

From devotion only can one Krishna please,

Bhakta’s desires God delivers with ease.

Hear of gopis making young Krishna sing,

And felicity to your heart right away bring.

Misuse God’s energies or to Krishna become dear,

Reward of Lord’s company makes right choice rather clear.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Sharing Gold

Lord Krishna“…a man's pure consciousness is covered by his eternal enemy in the form of lust, which is never satisfied and which burns like fire.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.39)

It’s sad to say, but no amount of distribution of material benedictions will satisfy the soul craving a permanent activity that is coupled with a worthy beneficiary of service, one who can extract the full potential for love found within the heart. The tendency for the giving individual is to provide basic comforts to those who are distressed, but this does nothing to solve the real problem of life, that of the repetition of birth and death. More than just stopping reincarnation, if a distressed person wandering aimlessly for permanent happiness can be given tools and a never-ending project to work on, they can be handed the keys to the mint that houses imperishable transcendental delights.

Why is birth and death important to stop? How do we even know that these occur in cycles? The Bhagavad-gita says so, and since it is the most authorized Vedic text, the information found within can be accepted as fact, especially when received from someone who faithfully follows its teachings. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is the orator of the Gita, and His song is one that has been sung many times over the past five thousand years. Even if we are hesitant to accept the Gita’s statements on reincarnation because of prejudices or boundaries erected through ignorance, we can still take away other precious gems presented by Krishna.

“From the mode of goodness, real knowledge develops; from the mode of passion, grief develops; and from the mode of ignorance, foolishness, madness and illusion develop.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.17)

Lord KrishnaIn one section the Lord tells Arjuna, the direct recipient of the Gita’s teachings, that the senses are very difficult to control, especially since the mind will wander from one place to another. When the spirit soul is placed in an area designated for material activity, the behavior followed can fall into one of three modes: goodness, passion or ignorance. The mode of passion is the one accepted by default by the human being, and it also corresponds directly with the concept of working for fruits and enjoying them. Lord Krishna says that the mode of passion eventually leads to misery, as more and more gains only keep the senses attached to objects that are temporary in both their manifestation and the enjoyment they provide.

What does this mean exactly? An example which nicely illustrates this concept is gambling. The gambler may stop at the card table to only play a few hands, but if he starts winning, he can get hooked to the game. The objective of each game is to win, which is signaled by a payout of some kind. Yet if this payout were the panacea of happiness it was thought to be, what need would there be for further play? As another example, a rich business mogul who makes billions of dollars would seemingly want to rest on his laurels and just enjoy his accomplishments, no? Yet we see that once billions are earned, an even stronger push is made towards increasing that wealth, parlaying your earnings into hundreds of billions.

What drives this chase? Why not just enjoy what you win? The senses are conditioned in such a way that they cannot be satisfied even through constant feeding. Strong desire for the satisfaction of the senses is known as lust, and it is an all-devouring enemy. This point is made by Krishna in the Gita, and it is continually validated in the visible behavior around us. Even though we can see the effects of lust for ourselves without ever having to open a single page of a religious book, the tendency for helping the distressed still follows an erroneous pattern. You see someone down on their luck, in trouble, and you give them some money or some other gift that has an identified monetary value. The idea is that if the sufferer enjoys the gift, their pain will go away.

gamblingBut let’s think about it rationally. If even the gambler and the business mogul aren’t satisfied by heaps of rewards that are earned through personal effort, why would someone be satisfied with something just given to them? More specifically, if we work hard for something, the resulting fruits will be all the more appreciated. The child has no concept of what money is really worth until they actually start working in adulthood. Yet, if even the people who work really hard to acquire their gains remain unsatisfied, how are those who don’t work hard for their rewards expected to appreciate the gifts given to them?

In the childhood years, presents on one’s birthday are sought after and then later remembered. Even Christmas gifts are anticipated and appreciated because the child doesn’t have the money to go out and buy whatever it wants. Moreover, the child tends to have a stronger desire for gifts than the adults do. As the years go by, however, more and more gifts start to pile up from the many birthdays and Christmas holidays. Among the people storing so many presents, how many of them can actually remember who gave them which gift? The gift could even be something that is used all the time, something that is cherished and brings tremendous enjoyment. Despite the gift’s use, who actually donated it and when remain forgotten.

This is a reminder that the senses are like a machine that just gobbles up whatever is thrown its way. And with each new item consumed, the attachment for such objects increases and the level of satisfaction decreases. A person training to run a marathon eventually learns to run a few miles without a problem, even though in the beginning such short distances caused tremendous strain on the body. With sense gratification fueled by constant attention and gift-receiving, the effect is similar, but the consequences are negative instead of positive. In the past we may have lived without so many things and been able to keep the mind satisfied with very little, but with each new gift comes a new attachment, with the requirements for finding a minimum level of satisfaction increasing just a bit more.

What can be done to solve the problem? Renunciation is a good step, as it helps to prevent becoming spoiled. Good parents are keenly aware of the need for not spoiling their children, as they won’t buy gifts for their kids every time they ask for them. But more than just limiting intake of ice cream and videogame playing, the parents make sure that their children have active engagements. This is much more important than simple renunciation or even the giving of gifts. A fulltime occupation that yields the most mature fruits down the road is the greatest gift anyone can give to another person. In this sense we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the parents who keep their children on the straightened path of education, piety and self-control.

Lord KrishnaTo benefit society at large the benevolent Vaishnava preacher, he who dedicates their life to devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, is kind enough to spray the seeds of devotion all across the land, to every single person willing to accept them. The seed of devotional service can be cultivated within the heart by regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and abstaining from the activities most harmful on consciousness: meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. This basic formula is only the beginning, with brighter fortunes on the horizon. Through chanting and adherence to the principles of devotional service, the engagement that directly corresponds to the soul’s properties is found.

Is there anything wrong with offering other types of aid? Should we not care for the homeless or feed the hungry? Certainly there is much to be said about helping the downtrodden with material gifts, but as mentioned before, no amount of material gift-giving is ever going to provide any lasting satisfaction. The problems of birth and death are still there even for the wealthiest person. Everything had to be acquired in life after taking birth, so why would anyone want a repeat of that struggle? Even for those born into wealthy families, the struggles of the mind and its influence on activity are present.

Beyond birth and death is the transcendental realm, a place where not a second is wasted in laziness, despair, chaos, tumult, or bad times. The transcendental realm is the home of the Personality of Godhead, the person we are all inclined to worship. Even the atheist has a penchant for worshiping God, but due to his clouded vision he can only see the Lord as material nature, whose most potent force is death. The mental speculator can at best understand God as being an all-pervasive spiritual energy responsible for the motions of all autonomous beings. The yogi can see God in His form as the Supersoul residing within the heart.

Lord KrishnaOnly the Vaishnava, or he who worships the Personality of Godhead, Bhagavan, understands God’s presence found both within and without. This means that the Lord can be worshiped at any time and at any place. Though Krishna is in need of nothing, since He is so attractive, one who has made up their mind to serve Him never runs out of avenues for service. You can chant, dance, sing, read, write, or simply hear about Krishna and you will feel tremendous satisfaction.

“For one who explains the supreme secret to the devotees, devotional service is guaranteed, and at the end he will come back to Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.68)

Those who are given the seed of devotional service that has the potential to blossom into a full blown tree receive the greatest gift in life. This also means that those who have carefully sown the seed of devotion within their heart can do the greatest good for their fellow man by distributing the same seeds in the form of the wealth of information found in the Bhagavad-gita, Shrimad Bhagavatam and other sacred texts to as many people as possible. Such preachers are forever dear to Krishna, who appreciates any attempt made to give the individual souls an eternal engagement, a discipline so sublime that its most insignificant fruits are the material amenities previously hankered after.

goldJust imagine unearthing the largest gold mine in the world and distributing its contents to as many people as possible. This should make everyone happy, no? There are two problems. One is that eventually the gold will run out. The other is that no amount of gold will make a person happy. The same concept holds true with money. If you give everyone a million dollars, it doesn’t mean that their problems will suddenly vanish. For starters, if everyone had a million dollars, inflation would naturally kick in, and ordinary commodities would skyrocket in price. But even if we somehow didn’t have inflation, people will react differently with their money. Some will place it in the bank and draw steady interest, while others will start business ventures aimed at increasing the amount of money they have. And there are others who will squander the money away on enjoyment.

Whatever route is chosen, the satisfaction of the mind will still not be there, as the attachment to sense objects will only increase. With distribution of bhakti, however, the mind becomes fully satisfied. Everyone gets the real gold they are due, which they can then make the best use of. And unlike the goldmine, the reservoir of devotional love can never empty. There is no such thing as running out when it comes to distributing the nectar that is the holy name of the Lord. Even if one is not inclined to chant Krishna and Rama, they can recite whatever authorized name they have for God, for the point is to become immersed in an eternal engagement, one that continues well beyond the current lifetime. While no amount of material gift-giving can make others happy, no amount of engagement in bhakti can ever stop the pure devotee from serving their beloved Krishna.

In Closing:

Find a huge pile of gold to distribute,

To all charity you can contribute.

But this will not make anyone satisfied,

Miseries will only be multiplied.

Some squander their money on enjoyment,

Others parlay it to become affluent.

Regardless, attachment to the senses will be there,

Temporary gains and losses, life will seem unfair.

Instead distribute goldmine of bhakti,

Devotion to God, engagement that sets soul free.

Fame and glories of God never do run dry,

On His qualities for pleasure do you rely.

Soul that finds devotion has always to do something,

Glorify Krishna, stories of His pastimes worth telling.

Of conditioned being greatest enemy is lust,

Can be beaten when in Krishna’s name you trust.