Saturday, October 15, 2011

As I Understand It

Sita and Rama marriage“With my hands folded, bowing my head I pray to them as I sing about the marriage of Sita and Rama in the way that I understand it.” (Janaki Mangala, Mangalacharana, 2)

hātha jori kari binaya sabahi sira nāvauṃ |
siya raghubīra bibāhu jathāmati gāvauṃ ||

The oldest scriptures in the world are known as the shrutis because they were originally passed down through a tradition of oral reception. Since these scriptures are replete with knowledge necessary for attaining life’s goals, they are known as the Vedas. As the attainment of the ultimate aim in life represents the pinnacle of achievement, other aims are satisfied through these scriptures as well. Therefore the knowledge system that is the Vedas is not limited in scope, not narrow in its objectives or influence. Whoever partakes of the ripened fruit of transcendental wisdom, hearing it submissively, absorbing the information into their consciousness and then acting upon what they have learned, finds the happiness that every living entity is so desperately searching after. The resulting ecstasy creates an invigorated life, where the same information that was heard then gets repeated, but not necessarily verbatim. The devoted soul repeats what they have heard in their own way, how they have understood the concepts. This is done to please both the instructor, the originator of the knowledge, and the person doing the explaining.

VedasIs there anything wrong with just repeating the information that we’ve heard? For instance, if in mathematics we learn that one plus one equals two, shouldn’t we repeat that same formula to those we teach? What need is there to present the information in our own way? With perfect information, simple repetition of the principles is sufficient for passing on the necessary knowledge. Devotion to God, however, is a dynamic activity. The static laws of math and the simple, cutting postulates of philosophy and logic are binding to a spirit soul that is looking for real freedom, one not bound by the inhibiting forces of material nature, which work at every second to check whatever happiness we find.

How does this work exactly? Say that we’re playing sports for a team that just made it to the playoff round. Previously, this team looked like they had no chance of victory, and yet somehow, in the most dramatic fashion, they achieved their stated objective. The elation is checked, however, by the fact that another series of games needs to be played afterwards. Even if the season is over and the championship won, there is still next year, a repeat of the cycle of hope, work, and the potential for bereavement coming from loss.

The same pattern applies to every single fruitive venture. The most blissful elation resulting from the birth of a child is matched by the tremendous sadness that occurs with death. In between there are the many ups and downs, such as the happiness over meeting with friends and family and the sadness over arguments resulting from impious behavior directed our way.

Bhagavad-gitaThe spirit soul is immune to these changes. The soul is eternally blissful and knowledgeable. These properties are the cause of the very vitality of the living being, his repeated venturing into new areas of happiness. Simple renunciation from material endeavors thus cannot be the true definition of liberation, and neither can the strict adherence to religious principles. In whichever direction we fly, whether it’s the denial of pleasure, the indulgence of sense pleasures, or the adherence to the strictest rules of spiritual life aimed at promising a better end in the afterlife, the soul retains its penchant to act on its desire for unfettered freedom.

The spiritualist accepting the shrutis from a self-realized person, one who previously learned the ancient art of divine love, or bhakti-yoga, safely kept with the Vedas, does not just absorb the information and then sit on it. With theoretical knowledge, or jnana, comes the practical application, or vijnana. The practical application is more important, for in many cases someone who is an expert in the field might not even be able to explain why they are so skilled. A person may possess the knowledge that goes into performing surgical operations, but the person who actually carries out the surgery properly plays a more important role, for he puts the principles into practical use.

The predominant message of the Vedas is that the spirit soul is inherently meant to be tied to the Supreme Soul, who is so respected, glorious and opulent that one name cannot suffice for Him. The term “God” just scratches the surface at addressing Him properly, for it says that He is a Supreme Being. To describe what “supreme” actually means is the business of the Vedas and their authors.

How can the Vedas have authors when the information is purported to have come from the Supreme Being Himself? This is the hidden secret known to those who assimilate the knowledge gathered into their own lives. The Vedas were originally just one Veda, which was implanted into the heart of the first created living entity, Lord Brahma. He then subsequently passed it down to his descendants, of which there are too many to count. The Veda passes on supreme wisdom through hymns and prayers addressing God. The way to glorify someone is to speak about their attributes, using comparisons to known objects to show how the glorified person is superior to them. To follow glorification in this way, the Vedas also document the Personality of Godhead’s features and activities. It is through discussion and meditation on these areas that the living beings derive the most pleasure.

Lord RamaWith attention focused on God’s charita, or deeds, one assigns the Lord so many names. The activities of His personality of Lord Rama, an avatara appearing on earth during the Treta Yuga, are likely talked about the most, as they are documented in many Vedic texts, including the Ramayana and Puranas. Vedic literature includes the original Veda and any work expanding on the same truths. Since the Veda is about God, anyone who writes literature describing God and His glories, reaching the same ultimate conclusion of devotion to the Lord being the topmost engagement for man, adds to the massive collection of Vedic literature.

Lord Rama’s activities were first described in the Ramayana, which was composed by Maharishi Valmiki, a contemporary of Rama’s. Just hearing the Ramayana makes one familiar with Rama and His divine qualities, which include His kindness, His mastery over archery, His promise to protect those who humbly approach Him in earnest, His dedication to piety and virtue, His beautiful smile, His love for His closest associates like Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman, and a host of other features. Indeed, God’s good qualities are ananta, or unlimited. We could glorify God from the time we are born through the time we quit our body and we still wouldn’t come close to sufficiently describing Him.

If we take up an endeavor that we can’t finish, why even start it? Ah, this defect is actually known to be a precious gem by those who incorporate the shrutis into their every activity. Goswami Tulsidas, a celebrated Vaishnava poet, is one such knower. He originally heard the story of Rama’s life from his guru, or spiritual master. At the time he was a young child, so he couldn’t make much of it, but the seed of bhakti was implanted in him nonetheless. When he matured later on in life and became adept at writing poetry, he used his skill to glorify Rama, to describe the Lord’s life and activities in a language suitable to the time, words that would make understanding God easier for the people of his community.

TulsidasThere are many accounts of Rama’s life, with Valmiki’s Ramayana being the most complete one. In addition, Rama appears on earth during each creation, which means that He has appeared many times in the past and will come again many times in the future. The Vedic seers of the past who were so attached to Rama have thus described His life and activities in their own unique ways. Tulsidas chose the version of Rama’s story told by Lord Shiva to his wife Parvati as the foundation for his wonderful Hindi poem titled the Ramacharitamanasa, which means concentrating the mind on the activities of Rama. The Lord’s acts are compared to a holy lake which the mind can swim in and feel the topmost bliss and comfort.

In the Janaki Mangala, Tulsidas sings about the marriage of Sita and Rama, which again is described very nicely in the original Ramayana. Rather than present the same information verbatim, with a word-for-word translation, Tulsidas decides to sing about it as he understands it. This is revealed in the above referenced prayer, which forms the opening invocation of his wonderful, short work. In the verse preceding this one, the poet references the famous personalities responsible for his knowledge. They include his guru, Lord Ganesha and his parents Lord Shiva and Mother Parvati, Shukadeva Goswami, the Vedas, and the gentle saints who have made understanding the highest truths of spirituality easy for the poet.

In this prayer, Tulsidas folds his hands and bows his head at these great personalities, for he is about to embark on the journey of singing about the marriage of Sita and Rama, an event which is indescribable. He is going to sing about the events as he understands them because this will bring great pleasure to both him and the people who will hear his song. This style of information transfer is preferable because it reveals and gives meaning to the dynamic nature of bhakti, how it is not a dry system of spirituality aimed at only providing benefits in the future. If we purchase a savings bond, we don’t gain any benefit until the date of maturity. Religion is typically viewed in a similar way, for the impetus for the initial plunge may have even been a desire to avoid a hellish condition in the afterlife.

Sita and RamaFollowing bhakti-yoga does indeed provide a glorious end, an afterlife full of delights, but since bhakti directly corresponds to the constitutional position of the living entity, its benefits are available immediately. The human being, during any stage of life, enjoys glorifying others. If this weren’t the case, newspapers and internet news sites would be empty every single day. Bhakti allows glorification to be directed at the person most worthy of it. The same material nature that was previously the cause of pain and bondage becomes an inexhaustible source of tools with which to practice divine glorification. The words used in communication become purified when directed at the lotus feet of Sita and Rama. The pages used to print books, poems and songs become valuable when they contain the glories of Sita and Rama. The humble sage, who patiently absorbed the highest truths of life passed down to him by the spiritual master, becomes the ocean of mercy, the friend of the distressed, the savior for those disgusted with the material existence and its perpetually swinging pendulum of acceptance and rejection, when he dedicates his life to describing the glories of Sita and Rama in his own way.

The question may be raised as to whether or not describing the marriage of Sita and Rama in your own way can be harmful. If the information heard was not properly understood, then certainly there is the danger of contaminating others with faulty interpretations. But when there is pure love for God, no attempt made at glorifying the Lord and His associates can ever prove to be detrimental. Through His deputies, Rama controls speech and knowledge, so we are actually helpless in writing anyway. Shri Rama is the protector of the surrendered souls, including those who humbly accept the challenge of writing songs and poetry to describe Him. Though Tulsidas made sure to offer his obeisances to Brihaspati and Mother Sarasvati, the divine figures in charge of speech and learning respectively, the success of his work would come from Rama’s influence, which is profusely distributed through many different channels.

Sita and Rama's marriageThe guru is himself a representative of the Lord, so if he is genuine in his devotion, his understanding will be perfect, and therefore whoever hears from him submissively will receive perfect knowledge as well. The disciple, wanting to keep the flame of bhakti well lit, becomes overwhelmed with the desire to continue to glorify God, to not let a moment go by without concentrating the mind on His lotus feet. By hearing of the wonderful marriage of Sita and Rama, the mind stays connected with God and His glorious devotees like Tulsidas who were kind enough to give us such wonderful Vedic literature, fresh and new and yet true to the ageless tradition that is bhakti.

In Closing:

From the guru sublime wisdom accept,

Sanctity of bhakti principles to protect.

But listener not to just absorb like a sponge,

To describe glories of the Lord can one take the plunge.

Story of Sita and Rama’s marriage already known,

But extra pleasure in telling in way of our own.

To speak about God is the source of supreme pleasure,

The recorded songs and poems of saints life’s treasure.

With folded hands and bowing down does Tulsi sing,

Wedding of Sita and Rama, happiness to heart bring.

Friday, October 14, 2011

I’m Ready For More

Mother Yashoda“My dear Baladeva, best of our family, please come immediately with Your younger brother, Krishna. You both ate in the morning, and now You ought to eat something more.” (Mother Yashoda, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.11.16)

No amount of affection previously offered can stop Mother Yashoda from continuing on with her motherly duties. It is not that once she performs a certain amount of work, she just sits back and relaxes the rest of the time. Rather, with each offering she makes to her children, her maternal affection only grows stronger. Though her beloved child, Lord Krishna, and His elder brother Balarama were properly fed in the morning, her worrying does not stop. To ensure that they continue to enjoy their youth properly, she agonizes over their well-being, thinking that they have not eaten enough. Therefore she calls them home, to return from the playground where the sacred pastimes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead take place.

bowl of laddusThe young children ate their breakfast in the morning. From following the advice of Mother Yashoda, the queen of the farm community of Vraja, they had the strength to go out and play. Young children should be let free into the fields to enjoy their sportive tendencies. Rather than remain locked up, better the young bundles of energy be allowed to release their potential for activity. The fuel for their play comes from the mother’s love, which arrives in the form of her cooking. Mother Yashoda’s cooking is so tasty that even Krishna’s friends enjoy it. A young brahmana boy by the name of Madhumangala is known for coming over and eating more food than anyone else. Mother Yashoda loves this, as her hard work in the kitchen does not go to waste. She is ready to offer an endless amount of sumptuous delights to Krishna and His friends, and as a perfect match, Shri Krishna is willing to accept whatever His dear mother offers.

Isn’t Lord Krishna considered the Supreme Personality of Godhead? If so, how can He have a mother and father? The more relevant question would be why shouldn’t He have parents if He so chooses? Why would that enjoyment be denied the Supreme Enjoyer? The Vedic tenets stipulate that God can be known by three primary characteristics. He is the original proprietor, the supreme enjoyer, and the best friend of the living entities. Enjoyment comes through association with His property and friends. In this area there can be different moods of association. Krishna is not picky; He will play the role perfectly to fit the particular devotional mood of His adherent. This even holds true with His enemies.

How does this last part work? The enemies deny the existence of God. They come up with many justifications for their belief system. “Krishna is just a sectarian figure; evolution explains the creation; God is dead; religion is for those who can’t cope with death; God is made by man, not the other way around”, etc. Many excuses are made over the course of the many years of the earth’s existence. Krishna kindly reciprocates by remaining hidden from the vision of such people. If someone were to hate us and not want to see us, we would gladly oblige their request and stay away from their presence, especially if avoiding them would give us pleasure as well. Krishna is complete in Himself; therefore if someone is insistent on turning their back to Him, there is no loss on the Lord’s part. Krishna will find new ways to keep the miscreant further away from Him.

“I am never manifest to the foolish and unintelligent. For them I am covered by My eternal creative potency [yoga-maya]; and so the deluded world knows Me not, who am unborn and infallible.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.25)

Lord KrishnaWhy is such a person labeled a miscreant? Well, if God is the original proprietor responsible for providing the gifts we take for granted on a daily basis, wouldn’t anyone who tried to deny His existence be considered a miser? If I walk up to someone’s property and start pointing to different things and saying that they are mine, is that sane behavior? Yet this is precisely the tact followed by the staunch atheists, who continually observe material existence using their blunt sense perception and try to prove that God does not exist. They will always have the fuel necessary to continue in this endeavor, as Krishna will reveal bits and pieces of different aspects of His creation, with each successive discovery considered new and groundbreaking. Since the clock will always tick towards eventual death, the atheist is guaranteed to never acquire complete knowledge. Indeed, in the next life the same person gets to renew their search, with the slate wiped clean as far as knowledge goes.

Just as Krishna engages with the atheist by remaining hidden, He fully appreciates the devotional efforts made by those willing to acknowledge the Lord’s existence. The more sincere the effort, the more information about God is revealed. As one ascends the chain of spiritual knowledge, they get to see more and more of Krishna. The most exalted devotees are those who get to interact with Krishna personally through a particular rasa, or transcendental mellow. In the beginning stages there is shanta-rasa, or venerable appreciation for the Supreme Lord. The fact that God is a person with spiritual attributes may not even be known in this stage, but at least He is respected. The concept of a “god-fearing” person correlates well with shanta-rasa.

In shanta-rasa, the Supreme Lord’s blissful features are not well known. Not that these features can ever be absent, for Krishna is always in ananda. He is always seen smiling and playing on His flute. As further devotional practice is followed, more of Krishna’s features are revealed, similar to how our vision clears up when more dust is removed from the eyes. The vision is what gets clearer, not the person being viewed. The steady engagement in bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, facilitated through chanting mantras like, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, helps one ascend to the higher platforms of spiritual interaction.

Lord Krishna with Mother YashodaMother Yashoda and the residents of the farm community of Vrindavana are so elevated that they get to see Krishna directly. What’s even more remarkable is that Krishna uses His yoga-maya potency to keep His divinity hidden. Think of this as Krishna wanting to be treated just like one of the guys. He’s like everyone else after all, except His sparkling transcendental features cannot remain concealed. Therefore even when He appears on earth in a human form, His uniqueness is duly noted. In Vrindavana some five thousand years ago, Krishna crawled around on the floor like an ordinary infant. This behavior especially caught the interest of learned sages, who marveled at God’s ability to give the appearance of being an ordinary living entity.

The purpose behind Krishna’s behavior was to grant the desire for interaction of the residents. Mother Yashoda particularly wanted interaction in vatsalya-rasa, or parental love. How amazing is Krishna? He is the Supreme Father, the fountainhead of all energies, the person from whom everything emanates, and yet He is kind enough to take on the role of a child to give pleasure to Nanda Maharaja and Mother Yashoda. For the interactions to be fully relished, Krishna behaved just like an ordinary boy, going out to the fields every day with His friends. Mother Yashoda was thus given the opportunity to feed her son, to smother Him in motherly affection.

The accounts of Krishna’s pastimes are most thoroughly presented in the Shrimad Bhagavatam, which is also known as the Bhagavata Purana. Purana means “old”, so the Puranas are Vedic texts which expound upon the highest truths of life through stories relating to incidents from ancient times. Not that the events are fabricated, just the exact details provided are sequenced in such a way as to teach many lessons. The interactions between Mother Yashoda and her son show that God is always ready to accept more love from the devotees. Our responsibilities are not finished after muttering a few mantras and attending periodic religious functions. If we forget Krishna, we are automatically in a negative position. We don’t need the looming threat of punishment in hell to know that absence of God consciousness is detrimental.

Lord KrishnaOn the reverse side, remaining in Krishna’s company is always beneficial. Since God is absolute, His personal presence is not required. Just hearing about Mother Yashoda calling Krishna and Balarama to come home to eat is as good as witnessing the events firsthand. Prasadam cooking and distribution is modeled after this concept. The devotee follows the example of Mother Yashoda, knowing that the food they are offering to the deity will be accepted by the Lord Himself, who never tires of eating anything offered with love and devotion. Mother Yashoda’s offerings fueled Krishna’s activities and they further bound her in a knot of loving affection to her son.

In the same fashion, with every devotional act we take up, our attachment to Krishna tightens. Say Krishna’s name all the time and pretty soon you’ll see His beautiful, smiling face wherever you go. That image of the Lord holding His flute with His lotus-like hands and not showing the least stress on His face reminds the conditioned soul of what their constitutional position is. The Supreme Enjoyer is the resting place for those seeking enjoyment. The original proprietor kindly bestows gifts that can be used in furthering one’s God consciousness. The best friend of the living entities is waiting for His fragmental sparks to decide to come and play with Him. In the sacred land of Vrindavana, the food is provided by the cows and the grains, the preparations by Mother Yashoda, and the entertainment by Krishna and His sportive exploits. The ears are satisfied with the sounds emanating from the Lord’s flute and the eyes by His precious, adorable vision. With the complete package available to those who follow bhakti, why would anyone take to any other type of activity?

The potential for becoming fully God conscious is the gift granted to the human being. Though the gift is there, one can’t enjoy it unless it is unwrapped. The young child doesn’t know how valuable the expensive vase in the house is; hence the parents warm them not to touch it. If not for this warning, the child may inadvertently throw the vase to the ground and break it. In a similar manner, the precious gift of the potential for tasting the fruit of one’s existence given to the human beings must be carefully unwrapped through the instructions of the spiritual master, or guru. The bona fide guru is a devotee of Krishna who always enjoys the Lord’s association in some way or another. Without the instruction of the guru, the precious gift will either remain unwrapped or get tossed aside as being unimportant.

The guru will tell the student to regularly chant the holy names and hear the nectar of Krishna’s pastimes. Simply meditating on the one scene of Mother Yashoda calling Krishna and Balarama to come home can provide so much insight. From one tiny incident, so many transcendental thoughts can be awakened, leading the inquisitive mind towards the proper destination. The Shrimad Bhagavatam and its verses cannot be accurately priced; the information within is invaluable. Krishna is always ready to accept more love, so why shouldn’t we be the ones to offer it to Him?

Krishna and Mother YashodaIn Closing:

“Krishna, I understand You want to go on playing,

For I gave You plenty to eat this morning.

But now it is time for You to come back home,

You can’t survive on just the breakfast alone.

Baladeva, it is time to come back with your brother,

Do not you two hear the piteous cries of your mother?”

In this way Mother Yashoda always looks to protect,

Her son Krishna, who endless amount of love can accept.

In these verses much wisdom and delight does abound,

In the sacred Shrimad Bhagavatam of Vyasa they are found.

Stay in Krishna consciousness, let not the mind drift,

Tasting fruit of existence is mankind’s unique gift.

To learn of this opportunity’s true value,

Hear from guru, who speaks words of God that are true.

Neglecting worship of Krishna do not make the mistake,

In this life let the divine vision of Him the eyes take.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Hanuman“Thereafter, the heart of that great soul, who had contemplated on the self in many ways, had a disciplined mind, had good eyesight, had ranged about everywhere in Lanka and had followed the righteous path, became filled with grief over not having found the daughter of King Janaka.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 7.17)

tataḥ tadā bahu vidha bhāvita ātmanaḥ |
kṛta ātmano janaka sutām suvartmanaḥ |
apaśyato abhavad atiduhkhitam manaḥ |
sucakṣuṣaḥ pravicarato mahātmanaḥ ||

Lord Rama’s faithful servant, Shri Hanuman, one of the kindest people to have ever graced this earth, whose devotion to God is unmatched and whose every action is worthy of praise, adoration, glorification, remembrance, honor, discussion and contemplation, is a real mahatma. Atma can mean body, mind or soul, and maha means great. In this respect Hanuman is great in soul, body and mind, so the term mahatma applies to him in every meaningful way. When he went searching for Sita Devi, the abducted princess and wife of Lord Rama, through the enemy territory of Lanka, the temporary bouts of depression he encountered only further increased his mahatma status. Just as no one is more dedicated to Rama and pleasing Him than Hanuman, no one feels more dejected and unhappy over failing in his devotional efforts than Hanuman. This very quality actually ensures his ultimate success and also the success of any person who is fortunate enough to think about him on a regular basis.

HanumanHanuman proved to be a great soul when he first met Shri Rama in the forest of Kishkindha. The Ramayana is a poem celebrated not only for its scholarship and entertainment value. Composed in the Sanskrit language, the work sings about the glories and pastimes of a non-different form of Godhead. Rama is ever glorious and brilliant. Aside from the authority of the Vedas, Rama’s divinity can be proven simply by His exhibition of divine qualities. Though roaming the earth as a seemingly ordinary human being, Rama could enchant anyone who met Him, provided that their vision was pure. If someone were to present before us a beautiful painting, depending on our consciousness we may or may not appreciate it. If we are in an angry mood, intoxicated, or distracted by other concerns, we may not appreciate the beauty of the painting.

Similarly, God’s influence is all around us, but unless and until our consciousness is purified, we cannot notice the divine presence. Just imagine then the misfortune of those who get to see God in person and then mistakenly identify Him to be an ordinary human being. Worse, some even take the Lord to be their greatest enemy, as was the case with Ravana, the King of Lanka. During the Treta Yuga, Ravana was the most materially opulent ruler of the world. If there were television and print media back in those times, he would have been talked about and followed every single day. His lifestyle was just like that of the rich and famous. Beautiful palaces, elegant jewelry, heaps of gold and loads of women and wine filled his kingdom.

Despite his possessions, when he heard about God roaming the forests, Ravana couldn’t accept Him for who He was. Rather, Ravana was jealous of everyone. While Hanuman is a mahatma, Ravana and characters like him are just the opposite. They are petty misers that recognize their inferior nature. To compensate, they try to tell themselves otherwise; eliminating any and all competition at the same time. Hearing of a beautiful princess residing in the forest of Dandaka, Ravana had to have her. He paid no attention to the fact that she was already married to Rama and that she would never become his wife. He went ahead anyway with his plan to take her, a plot that would temporarily succeed in separating the beloved couple, Sita and Rama, who are forever in each other’s company, for they share one consciousness, a bond of love and affection that can never break.

HanumanThe mahatma Hanuman first met Rama when the Lord and His younger brother Lakshmana made their way to the Kishkindha forest in search for Sita, who had been taken behind their back. Unlike Ravana, Hanuman recognized that Rama was the person he would devote himself to for the rest of his life. If he had failed to notice Rama’s divine qualities he would have been excused, for there was a pretense related to their first meeting. Sugriva, the king of the Vanaras living on Mount Rishyamukha, was afraid that maybe his brother Vali had sent assassins to do him away. Sugriva and Vali were mortal enemies, and since Vali was more powerful, Sugriva sought refuge on Mount Rishyamukha. A curse had prevented Vali from entering that area.

Hanuman’s job was to see what the two princes wanted, for their presence in Kishkindha was conspicuous. Just imagine two identical looking youths, decked out in the military garb of the time [bows, arrows and swords], approaching your area. If we see that the cops have come to our house, we will surely be alarmed. Hanuman’s duty was to see why such powerful fighters had made their way to a peaceful forest. Though initially taking on a false guise to trick the two princes into remaining calm and benign, Hanuman couldn’t help but appreciate their divine qualities. Eventually he shed his false form and revealed everything about himself, something that didn’t square with the instructions given to him.

In one second, in an instant, not even waiting to check with the scriptures to see who Rama was or if He was worthy of service, Hanuman turned into the greatest friend. Placing the two princes on his shoulders, Hanuman leapt up to Mount Rishyamukha and then arranged a meeting with Sugriva. An alliance was born, one that would seal Ravana’s doom. Sugriva’s massive army was then dispatched around the world to search for Sita. Though they searched far and wide, there was no success. Finally, it was learned that Sita was on a distant island called Lanka. Only Hanuman was capable of reaching it; therefore the success of the mission was suddenly entrusted to him.

HanumanThough he faced many obstacles, Hanuman finally made it to Lanka. The above referenced quote from the Ramayana describes his dissatisfaction over not having found Sita after searching for so long. In describing Hanuman’s qualities, it is said that he had contemplated on the self in many ways. The aim of human life is to perform yoga. When it is practiced perfectly, yoga brings so many extraneous benefits. Just as any object of beauty is appreciated more when we are sober and clear of mind, the Supreme Lord is honored, remembered and delighted in when the mind is fixed on His transcendental name and form. Only with a human birth can the spirit soul understand the need for yoga and then take the necessary steps to practice it perfectly. Hanuman had contemplated on Rama’s lotus feet many times. Therefore his practice of yoga was absolutely perfect. Yoga has changed from a spiritual technique to a meditational and health routine today because of the tremendous benefits that come from trying to connect the soul with God. If we remain steady in mind on contemplation of the Supreme Absolute Truth, naturally the functions of the senses will be in equilibrium. Every distress of the body can be attributed to an imbalance of various forces. Anger is an increase of rage, disease a disproportionate rise of different substances internally, and distress the rise of frustration. As there can be none of these effects in yoga, anyone who practices it well can find many health benefits, including a longer life expectancy.

Though it is explicitly stated here, it should go without saying that Hanuman had a disciplined mind. No one can meet God and directly undertake His service if their mind is always jumping from one thing to another. In fact, the root cause of this unsteadiness is frustration and lack of enjoyment found in personal sense gratification. If the mind should settle upon something that provides it tremendous pleasure, there is no reason for it to become undisciplined. Who would ever want to leave the company of the Supreme Lord and His associates within the mind? Hanuman was disciplined because he always thought of Rama and how to please Him.

Hanuman also had good eyesight. This quality is specifically mentioned here because of the nature of the mission. Hanuman had to find a princess amidst hundreds of the most beautiful women in the world. His eyesight had to be very good; otherwise he had no chance of success. He was also roaming through Lanka in the dead of night, as this would keep the chances of the Rakshasas discovering him low. Since his eyes were always alert, Hanuman had not glossed over Sita. He had already searched through many places and saw basically all there was to see in Lanka. Every type of engagement was going on in the nighttime in the sinner’s paradise ruled over by Ravana. Though he saw everything, Hanuman had yet to find Sita. This meant that she must have been somewhere that he hadn’t yet searched.

Hanuman with Rama and LakshmanaThe presentation of this verse is purposeful. Hanuman’s divine qualities are listed, and they all relate to his ability to find Sita. Even though he is a mahatma and was armed with every quality necessary for finding Sita, he still became dejected over not finding her. He was depressed that he had not pleased Rama in spite of his many so-called gifts. What’s ironic is that though Hanuman’s sadness can be taken as a contrast to his great qualities, it actually further enhances his glorious stature. A true mahatma would behave in the way that Hanuman did when faced with the same conditions. The only cause for sadness in this world is failure in devotional activities. Otherwise, in every other type of endeavor there will be temporary bouts of success and failure. These events rush in like the waves of the ocean. There doesn’t even have to be much effort put in, for time ensures that the sting of defeat will eventually wear off and that the thrill of victory will eventually subside.

Only a person who didn’t love Rama with all their heart would have not been dejected over failing to find Sita. In this way Hanuman’s depression further endears him to the pious souls around the world. Though he possessed the necessary divine qualities, he didn’t expect anything to be handed to him. He would have been excused for wallowing in self-pity. “I abide by the scriptures, meditate on the self, follow the Lord’s orders, brave through every obstacle thrown my way, and still I can’t succeed. Life is not fair. No one is as unfortunate as I am. Why does it feel like it only rains on me?” Instead, Hanuman continually shrugged off his despair and forged ahead with the mission. He would eventually succeed and become forever celebrated for his heroic determination in the fight against the evil forces of this world.

HanumanBecause of the disgust that comes with the cycle of temporary ups and downs encountered in the material world, hearing of Hanuman’s glorious activities brings tremendous joy to the heart. Just seeing his face one time is enough to bring a smile to the distressed soul looking for meaning in life. The Vaishnava acharyas, those who maintain the same love and affection for God by teaching others by example, strongly recommend that anyone who is looking for pleasure in life simply chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This chanting, when done in the proper mood and practiced on a regular basis, is as good as meditation. Without the holy name of the Lord, the many methods of religion are like zeroes. Without the higher numerals, zeros are always nothing in value. But as soon as a single one is placed in front, the zero becomes ten. Then the more zeroes you add the greater the value you get.

Shri Hanuman keeps Sita and Rama always within his heart, so his activities never become zero. On the contrary, just as God’s glories remain manifest for all of eternity, so do Hanuman and his wonderful activities documented in the Ramayana. As a true mahatma, Hanuman brings peace to the mind of anyone who is wise enough to connect with him, honor him and follow his example of dedication in bhakti-yoga, or devotional service.

In Closing:

Hanuman, he of terrific eyesight,

Can see in Lanka, though city not so bright.

Had contemplated much on the self,

Thus followed bhakti to Rama and none else.

That he had not found Sita was strange,

With attention all of Lanka he did range.

His qualities made him all the more sad,

Not succeeding in mission made him feel bad.

Overcoming obstacles made his stature increase,

Would eventually find Sita, from distress gain relief.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Knowledge Means Power

Lord Chaitanya“The Lord had some talks with the Moulana and his companions, and the Lord convinced the Moulana that in the Koran also there are descriptions of Bhagavata-dharma and Krishna. All the Pathans were converted to His cult of devotional service.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, Introduction)

That a preacher should meet with difficulty in his efforts is not surprising. The easiest way to remain liked is to keep quiet and thus avoid offending anyone. With this behavior no one will think that you are bothering them or trying to convert them to a new way of life. As strange as it may seem, this passive approach doesn’t always correlate to kindness. If we see someone doing something wrong, something that can hurt both them and the people they influence, the kind approach is to try to correct them. If we’re driving on a highway and see someone asking for a ride, depending on the time and circumstance, there is every chance of just passing that person by. “Oh, they are a stranger. Maybe they are on drugs, or maybe they are trying to steal someone’s car. I better just ignore them.” If we recognize the person as a friend or family member, however, we’ll immediately pull over and see what is going on. The Vaishnava preacher, the humble devotee of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, views every distressed person as being in his extended family. Therefore they won’t discriminate when distributing the mercy of hari-kirtana, the chanting of the holy names. This attitude was exhibited to its finest by Lord Chaitanya.

Lord ChaitanyaThat a follower of a religious tradition would try to preach the message of their specific gospel is not surprising. The aim of spirituality is to inject life into the otherwise dull and lifeless existence focused on association with matter. What does this mean exactly? Imagine a life revolved around performing compulsory work during the day to maintain a living establishment for the nighttime. When the day is over, the worker is so tired that all they can do is sit in front of the television and try to forget about the fact that they have to go to work again the following day, repeating the same cycle. This is just one day, but imagine repeating the pattern over and over again for upwards of thirty years. Even the most enthusiastic material enjoyer would start to become bewildered after a while. “What is the point to all of this? Why am I even alive? Why do I have to follow the same path every single day?”

The human being can make these considerations, for the other species are fine with simply searching for their food, enjoying their shelter, mating with whoever is around, and defending their territory from predators. The human being intrinsically knows that there should be more to life, something to give a spark to their existence. Full enthusiasm was once there before, during the childhood years. At the same time, we know that children are less mature than adults, and thereby less intelligent as well. How can less knowledge equate to more enthusiasm and happiness? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, agree that maturity should bring an increased vigor for activity. Knowledge means power, no? The ability to handle different situations should lead to more enjoyment, for frustration is rooted in ignorance. But after becoming educated and finding a way to earn a living, how do we find that enthusiasm for life that keeps us going far beyond the basic enjoyments of sense pleasures?

“The Blessed Lord then said: This body, O son of Kunti, is called the field, and one who knows this body is called the knower of the field.” (Bhagavad-gita, 13.2)

Lord KrishnaIn the Vedic tradition, and also in many other systems of spirituality around the world, the second birth is considered more important. The first birth is the biological one, the emergence of the infant from the womb of the mother. Entrance into the field of activity starts here, sort of like running onto the field to play a big game. Without entry, there can only be potential for action. Just as while we are sleeping we can only think about what we’re going to do in the future, while in the womb the spirit soul only has the potential for acting.

Once on the field, however, we have to know where to go, what to do, and how to remain safe. For this the parents and guardians are there, taking care of our every need. Once the body develops to the point that the human being can roam around the field on its own without too much supervision, there is a need for a second birth, one that relates to accepting supreme wisdom and gaining entry into a system of maintenance aimed at furthering the highest purpose.

And what exactly is that purpose? Once on a field of play, the aim is to have fun. On the soccer field, the young children play around and chase a ball to have a good time. In American football, you do things like hit your opponent, and pass and kick a ball. Without the second birth, the human being naturally assumes that his business in life is to follow a similar tact; just eat, drink and be merry. Do just enough work so that you can enjoy yourself by playing and seeing all that the world has to offer.

soccer ballWhy would this be a bad thing? For starters, this pursuit isn’t guaranteed to be pleasant. Others have an equal right to be on the field and “enjoy” everything it has to offer. When the ambitions collide, someone has to be the loser. In every tournament in sport, there is just one champion who emerges, which automatically means that the other entrants will end up being losers. In the field of activity that is the material world, not even victory lasts forever, thus ensuring that everyone turns out to be a loser in the end.

Then there is the issue of peace of mind. Though the human being is on the field, he doesn’t know why he was put there or when he’ll have to leave. Therefore constant worry results over the potential to lose everything, to no longer have the ability to run around and enjoy oneself. Even if there is money in the bank and no worries financially, the mental struggle to find something to do is there. Once that outlet for action is found, the cycle of ambition, work and reward follows. When there is work taken up to further a purpose, the fear of failure and the failure itself can again cause mental anguish.

The Vedas reveal that the purpose of life is not to simply run around the field and pretend like nothing is wrong. The spirit soul is the identifiable aspect within every life form. The soul has inherent properties, with its foremost characteristic, or dharma, being its inclination to serve. Therefore even when playing on the field, the greatest source of happiness comes from helping others, finding ways to act in the interests of someone else. Even the wealthiest moguls end up forming large charitable organizations, for they don’t know what to do with their money.

“I shall now explain the knowable, knowing which you will taste the eternal. This is beginningless, and it is subordinate to Me. It is called Brahman, the spirit, and it lies beyond the cause and effect of this material world.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 13.13)

Lord KrishnaWithout a proper second birth, the human being will direct its serving propensity in all the wrong directions and thus not find any satisfaction for the soul craving it. With instruction from a guru, or spiritual master, the proper course in life can be found. And what is that exactly? The soul’s serving propensity is meant to be directed towards God, who is the creator of the playing field. Though He creates it, He has nothing to do with its operation; He is not involved in the temporary ups and downs, the losses and gains that occur regularly. Krishna is awaiting the day when the individuals tire out from their play and sincerely desire a return to the spiritual land, their original home.

How do we even know that God exists? Isn’t this theory about the meaning of life just that, a theory? How do we know that the Vedas are authorized or that we even need a second birth? Other spiritual traditions have their own God that people are meant to worship, so how can we say that any one system is superior to another? If there are so many systems, why can’t atheism be thrown into the mix and be considered legitimate? Skepticism can be used to counter even the most strongly presented fact. Even an ironclad assertion like “the sky is blue” can be weakened by ad hominem attacks, word jugglery, and the questioning of the sanity of the person making the claim.

Despite the ability to invalidate any claim, we still follow authority all the time in life. The authority is established with each person based on past history. If a person tells us something, we may initially believe them, and then if that faith ends up benefitting us, we’ll take that same person as an authority figure in the future, at least until they fail us. Similarly, by following the prescriptions of the Vedas, which are presented succinctly and perfectly in this age by Lord Chaitanya and His followers, we’ll see that religion is a pursuit universally applicable, not limited by sectarian boundaries. The facts about the soul are real and apply to every single person.

Lord ChaitanyaWho is Lord Chaitanya? The Vedas subscribe to the “one God” idea, but His forms are not limited. He is indeed a person, though that is a very difficult conclusion to reach through mental speculation alone. The first instruction taught to aspiring transcendentalists of the Vedic school is aham brahmasmi, which means “I am Brahman.” Brahman is pure spirit, so it has nothing to do with playing fields. Every spirit soul is Brahman; therefore their changing bodies don’t represent their true identity.

If we are not matter, then God must be the same way. If we don’t have forms, then the Supreme Absolute Truth must be formless as well, no? While there is a formless aspect to God, His original feature is that of Bhagavan, a personality who possesses spiritual attributes. The unmanifest land is full of variegatedness that is not contradictory. How someone can have blue eyes, green eyes and no eyes simultaneously cannot be understood by a living being trapped in a playing field with allures for sensual enjoyment, the kind of which is divorced of its relationship to Shri Krishna.

The Supreme Personality of Godhead is described by thousands of names, with Krishna considered the best because it speaks to His all-attractiveness. Lord Chaitanya is the very same Krishna descending to this earth in the guise of a devotee, showing others how to worship God. Usually the incarnations act as worshipable objects, showing others who God is and what He looks like. Lord Chaitanya’s mission was to teach others how to worship God. Not that everyone would listen or even give up their preconceived notions, Lord Chaitanya’s underlying purpose was to elevate everyone’s own understanding of God to the point that they would think of the Lord at all times.

Lord ChaitanyaHow did He propagate His message? Through sound vibration of course. He didn’t have millions of dollars, a printing press, or a caravan to travel around the world with. He just had His feet and His voice. Regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, traveling around India and dancing to the playing of mrdangas and karatalas, Lord Chaitanya infused the bhakti, or devotional, spirit into everyone He met.

Lest He be confused with a sentimentalist given to worshiping a blue deity, Lord Chaitanya was also an expert scholar. Devotional service, or bhagavata-dharma, is the highest disciplinary system for the spirit soul. Though the Vedas have many branches of knowledge, the ripest fruit on the tree is the information about Krishna and devotion to Him. Rather than present scholarly discourses reserved for only the intelligentsia, Lord Chaitanya disseminated the same information through the holy name, which was sung congregationally so as to penetrate the thick wall of nescience surrounding the consciousness conditioned to material life.

Lord Chaitanya was so intelligent and devoted that He could convert so many people towards the bhakti cult. His acts of conversion shouldn’t be confused with the idea of giving up a particular faith and jumping to another one. How can loving God be considered a faith? Moreover, what need is there to convert from one religion to another in this respect? Lord Chaitanya would even rightly convince many Muslims that their Koran had statements glorifying the Supreme Lord as a person and declaring devotional service to be the ultimate practice. Therefore Gaurahari’s only desire was that others truly follow the teachings of religion, whose instructions culminate in full, voluntary surrender, in a mood of pure love, towards the Supreme Lord.

Lord Chaitanya was a wonderful preacher who never made compromises. He didn’t just tell everyone that what they were doing was alright, that they could continue to live attached to material life and claim to be religious. Rather, if He saw grievous errors committed, He would point them out and then tell others how to correct them. If there was animal killing going on in the name of religion, Lord Chaitanya would point out the defects. Obviously this wasn’t taken well by the followers of such practices. “My father did it this way, and his father also did, and his father before him. Therefore how can what I’m doing be wrong?” Though this attitude is easy to adopt - for how can we know better than our forefathers – simply following tradition doesn’t mean that one is acting piously.

Lord ChaitanyaEven the monists of the Vedic tradition were taken on by Lord Chaitanya, though they had difficulty giving up their vision of the Supreme Absolute Truth as being formless. Nevertheless, Lord Chaitanya, the most merciful incarnation of Godhead, was extremely successful in His preaching efforts. He converted so many people to worshiping God instead of matter. He was kind enough to pass down that magical preaching touch to His descendants, and thus we see that Krishna is a household name around the world today, and that bhakti-yoga and its principles are followed by many.

Who could ever come away not enlightened after hearing from Lord Chaitanya and His flawless teachings? Only the hardest heart would remain steadfastly against bhakti-yoga, loving God, after being given the seed of the creeper of devotional service from a devotee following the principles themselves. Yet even in these instances there is some advancement made, though the receiver may not know it. Shri Gaurahari, the ocean of mercy, allows anyone to awaken their dormant God consciousness, even if they aren’t born into a tradition which puts an emphasis on a second birth. When the playing field is seen as a place filled with boundless opportunities for glorifying Krishna and devotion to Him, the childlike enthusiasm can remain active all the way up until death, where the loving arms of the Supreme Abode wait to embrace us.

In Closing:

For those who process of bhakti do take,

The loving arms of Supreme Lord await.

Living entity emerges onto the playing field,

Where activities different rewards they yield.

Sometimes through hard work there are winners,

Since bodies must decay all are losers.

Shri Krishna, the deity that is blue,

Of material world has nothing to do.

Second birth for the human is more important,

Learn knowledge of God always pertinent.

Lord Chaitanya, Krishna as a devotee,

Spread such information to set souls free.

Religion in real form is all the same,

Meant to bring God’s company, highest gain.

Gaurahari brought wisdom through chanting,

Krishna’s names, seeds of devotion implanting.

Most merciful of all the divine incarnations,

Gave bhakti formula to create best of conditions.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Auspicious Invocation

Lord Ganesha“[obeisance to]Guru, Ganesha, Shiva, Parvati, Brihaspati, Sarasvati, Shesha, Shukadeva, Vedas, and the sincere and intelligent saints.” (Janaki Mangala, Mangalacharana, 1)

gurū ganapati girijāpati gauri girāpati |

sādara seṣa sukabi śruti santa sarala mati ||

Goswami Tulsidas herein begins his wonderful short work called the Janaki Mangala, a poem which describes the marriage ceremony of Sita and Rama and also provides background information relating to the event. The poem goes back in time and gives accounts of what actually occurred on that wonderful day many thousands of years ago. Sita is the goddess of fortune herself, and Shri Rama is her husband, the Supreme Lord for all of mankind. The story of their marriage is so heartwarming that it is celebrated annually in pilgrimage sites such as Janakpur, where the wedding is reenacted and others attend the ceremony as if they were there on the original day. As the poet enters into the proper frame of mind, conditioning himself to describe with succinct poetry what happened during that time, he makes sure to first invoke the names of those who can help make his efforts fruitful, personalities who have helped him already in the past and who are the well-wishers of the Vaishnavas, or devotees of Vishnu.

Lord VishnuLord Vishnu is the same Rama but in a different form. He is the origin of creation and the maintainer as well. There are many specific Vishnu forms and they all have four arms and are opulently dressed. Vishnu is also known as Narayana, or the source of men. There are many celestial figures in the tradition known as Hinduism, but they all worship Vishnu as their chief. Of this there is no doubt, as even the highest authority figures in the spiritual sky can speak about vishnu-bhakti, or devotion to the Supreme Lord, very well. Some of the leaders like Lord Brahma, Lord Shiva and Lakshmiji are themselves founders of Vaishnava sampradayas, or disciplic successions that preach about vishnu-bhakti to those who are interested in tasting the fruit of their existence.

Lord Vishnu is taken to be the Supreme Lord and personalities like Rama and Krishna His incarnations. In the Gaudiya tradition Krishna is taken as the original and Vishnu as an expansion, but in either case there is no difference. It is not that any Vaishnava tradition ignores Vishnu or His place as the Supreme Lord. Vishnu worship is completely different from any other type of spiritual discipline, as the rewards granted by the object of service are not guaranteed, nor are they always what the worshiper wants.

What kind of worship is this if you don’t even get what you’re asking for? Isn’t that the entire point to approaching a superior person? We approach our bosses to get paid for our work, the government to protect us, the store owner to provide goods and services that we need, and so on. The behavior of Vishnu can be likened to that of a parent. A child may ask for this thing or that, but they are not always guaranteed to get what they want. The parent will use discrimination, judging whether or not the child is worthy of the benediction and whether or not the desired object will be beneficial to them. In this sense the requests denied by the parents can turn out to be as influential and important as those granted.

Lord BrahmaVishnu operates in the same way; hence worship of Him is not as prominent in the Vedic tradition. The demigods, those in charge of the material creation, which consists of elements of nature that are not related to the essence of individuality, the spirit soul, must grant their worshipers whatever they want. This ability is checked to the point that the presiding deities can only offer what they are capable of giving. For instance, in the past a few nefarious characters have asked Lord Brahma, the first created living entity who then populated the world with so many creatures, for immortality. The spirit soul is immortal, but its temporary residences are not. Therefore the request for immortality relates to remaining within the same form forever. This request is a little silly considering that our body already changes from infancy to youth and then to adulthood. Why not ask to get something back that we already lost instead of for remaining in the present form of body?

Lord Brahma himself doesn’t eternally reside in his own form, though he stays in it for billions of years. Since he is not immortal in this sense, he cannot grant immortality to anyone else. Despite this limitation, those who propitiate the demigods are granted whatever else they can ask for. Vishnu does not follow suit, however. He is the original soul, the person who expands as the Supersoul and resides within our heart, just waiting for us to turn to Him and look for guidance in our pursuit for happiness. Vishnu has nothing to do with the material energy, though He generates it to please the desire of those who wish for separation from Him in the spiritual sky.

Once the living entities find themselves in the material realm, however, there is really no such thing as good or bad, beneficial or harmful. One living being may eat stool and roll around in dirt, while another eats filet mignon and sleeps on a mattress that has an electronically set firmness level, but in the end they are both operating under the conception that they are their body, that the body’s enjoyment is what matters most. Vishnu makes no judgments in these areas; therefore He is not approached for benedictions relating to these things. Even if He is, He does not pay the requests any attention, for those who connect with Him can gain a higher taste, one that transcends the bonds of karma and reincarnation.

Sita and Rama marriageAs bhakti is that discipline that connects with Vishnu, the writing of the Janaki Mangala was a total act of devotion, one meant to keep the mind immersed in vishnu-bhakti. Rama is the same Vishnu, so those who think of Him, look for benedictions in the form of His association, and regularly recite His names are on a path towards liberation. Such humble souls are already liberated in the sense that they are not after creature comforts or temporary happiness. Bhakti continues uninterrupted and unmotivated, so it cannot be checked. Not even death can stop the spirit soul from being devoted to Vishnu.

Tulsidas is so humble, kind, sweet and respectful that even though he is immersed in bhakti and thus not in need of any benediction from anyone besides Vishnu, he still starts off his poem by invoking the names of several exalted personalities. Instead of viewing the demigods as separate entities assigned to please those not interested in bhakti, Tulsidas takes full advantage of their position by asking them to help him in pleasing Rama. This same tact was previously followed by Shri Hanuman, who invoked the names of similar personalities just prior to entering the Ashoka grove where Sita was being held captive in Lanka. The life story of Sita and Rama is found in the Ramayana, an ancient poem written by Maharishi Valmiki, whom Tulsidas is considered an incarnation of. The marriage of Sita and Rama came first, which was then followed by Sita’s rescue from the clutches of a Rakshasa king named Ravana.

Sita also used to pray to heavenly figures to ensure that her husband was always safe. Thus the tradition of proper demigod worship was passed down to Tulsidas and he understood its place. In the above invocation, he first offers obeisance to his guru, or spiritual master. We can only get so far with mental speculation. Even in material education, unless we are instructed by someone else, what can we really learn? Knowledge is acquired much more quickly by just accepting the information passed on to us from authority figures.

In the realm of spirituality, finding a bona fide spiritual master and submissively hearing from him are the only ways to find enlightenment, to learn about bhakti and its superiority over every other kind of religiosity. No matter how great a devotee becomes, how prolific their writing turns out, and how many fruits their devotion yields, the results are still due to the grace of the spiritual master. He is the person who plants the seed of bhakti in the devotee’s heart, and then teaches them how to regularly water it with practices like chanting the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

“In the course of traversing the universal creation of Brahma, some fortunate soul may receive the seed of bhakti-lata, the creeper of devotional service. This is all by the grace of guru and Krishna.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 19.151)

Lord ChaitanyaThe debt to the guru can never properly be repaid, for how can we return the favor of finding a discipline that provides unending happiness to someone who already practices the same discipline? The guru can only be pleased by continued dedication in service, to devoting one’s life to glorifying Vishnu. The guru is himself a benediction from the Supreme Lord. Those who are sincerely interested in connecting with the personal form of God are aided in their endeavor by the Supreme Lord. He is the one who sends the guru to those who are deserving of him.

Next, Tulsidas invokes the name of Lord Ganesha. In every important Vedic ritual, Ganesha is honored first. He was bestowed this benediction because of his wonderful standing borne of his pious nature, unmatched character, and devotion to his parents, Lord Shiva and Mother Parvati. Ganesha removes the obstacles from his devotees, regardless of who they are. The removal of obstacles in the path of a person with motives that are not directed in the proper area will not be so beneficial. On the other hand, when the obstacles are removed from the path of those practicing bhakti in sincerity, Ganesha’s benedictions really stand out. Tulsidas never wanted anything for his own benefit from any spiritual personality; he always prayed to be able to continue his devotion to Sita and Rama. In some of his other poems Tulsidas starts by offering obeisance to Lord Ganesha and asking him to remove the obstacles from his path so that Sita and Rama can forever stay in his heart.

Next, Tulsidas offers obeisance to Lord Shiva and Mother Parvati. Followers of the Vedic tradition sometimes break out into factions, with some worshiping Vishnu and others worshiping Lord Shiva. The elevated Vaishnavas, however, though considered devotees of Vishnu, are all-inclusive. Just because Vishnu is the prime target of attention doesn’t mean that others are ignored. Rather, the Vaishnava loves Lord Shiva and Mother Parvati for who they are and their devotion to Vishnu. Tulsidas is the emblem of devotion to Sita and Rama, but we see that he still has so much love for Lord Shiva and Goddess Durga, the husband and wife pair that takes tremendous delight from hearing about Lord Rama’s activities. Lord Shiva and Mother Parvati help those who are materially motivated, so why wouldn’t they help someone who was going to write a poem that was going to give even them tremendous delight?

Mother Parvati and Lord Shiva with son GaneshaTulsidas next references Brihaspati, the lord of speech, and Sarasvati, the goddess of learning. The human brain may have so many wonderful ideas and sentiments, but when the person wants to express those thoughts something might get lost in the transmission; the communication may fail to accurately represent the true sentiments of the individual. Poetry is especially difficult to compose because it needs to be short, to the point, and yet completely inclusive of the sentiment being released. In this sense we are powerless, as the higher authorities can either make or break our communication efforts. As Tulsidas so nicely notes in the beginning of his Ramacharitamanasa poem, Mother Sarasvati rushes to where any poet is about to start writing, wanting to help them. But when she sees that their writing is not related to devotion, she gets very disappointed, as her benedictions then get wasted on mundane literature. Tulsidas knew that Sarasvati and Brihaspati would automatically help him in glorifying Sita and Rama, but out of kind respect he called out to them anyway.

Tulsidas then references Lord Shesha, Shukadeva Goswami, the Vedas, and the saints of sincerity and good intelligence. What all of these people have in common is that they are tireless glorifiers of the Supreme Lord Vishnu and devotion to Him. Ananta Shesha Naga is the celestial serpent with unlimited hoods. He serves as the resting bed for Lord Vishnu in the spiritual sky. He is the servitor God, the head glorifier. He uses his many hoods to continuously offer praise to his beloved Vishnu. In Rama-lila, Shesha comes to earth as Lakshmana and serves as Rama’s number one protector. How then could he not help Tulsidas write a poem glorifying the beloved couple?

Tulsidas writingShukadeva Goswami is Vyasadeva’s son. Vyasa is the compiler of the majority of Vedic literature, which is known as the shrutis, or “that which is heard”. There are the original shrutis and then the people who pass them on, discussing them in public. Shukadeva is best known for his discussion on bhakti and the position of the Supreme Lord that is found in the Bhagavata Purana, or Shrimad Bhagavatam. This work is considered the crown jewel of Vedic literature, for it is not tainted with any materialism whatsoever. The entire work is bhakti, and is thus non-different from Vishnu himself.

The saints who have a good mind and are sincere in their efforts are referenced because they live bhakti. By their very example they teach others what it means to follow the highest form of spirituality there is. Tulsidas hopes that they are pleased with him, for he has learned so much from them. The saints are the ocean of mercy, so if their compassion extends into the devotee’s writing efforts, there is no chance of failure. For the Janaki Mangala, the subject matter itself would prove to be too strong a force for any possible defects to creep in. Aided by the personalities given to Vishnu worship, Tulsidas’ finished product pleases the minds of countless generations of sincere followers looking to delight in the pastimes of Sita and Rama, and especially in their marriage ceremony that took place in Janaka’s kingdom many thousands of years ago.

In Closing:

On singing about marriage to embark,

Of Sita and Rama, sentiments from the heart.

So that story in right way he can tell,

Poet invokes names of devas to help.

Because seed of devotion comes from spiritual master,

At his lotus feet Tulsidas first to offer.

To ensure that obstacles are removed,

Honor Ganesha, path for devoted is smoothed.

Worship Uma with Shankara to her right,

In hearing of Sita and Rama they delight.

Since desire to write song in heart yearning,

Worshiped Sarasvati, goddess of learning.

Also honored Brihaspati, the lord of speech,

And Shesha, Shuka and saints, Vedas they teach.

Devotion to Vishnu knowledge does it feed,

To worship others one does not need.

But Tulsidas offers invocation out of respect,

For humble soul success in devotion we expect.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sum of Its Parts

Radha and Krishna“When love of Godhead is attained, love for all other beings automatically follows because the Lord is the sum total of all living beings.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, Introduction)

The best way to adopt universal brotherhood, the harboring of good will towards every other life form, including those beyond the human species, is to have a full appreciation for the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the fountainhead of all energies. For there to be appreciation, there must be knowledge, and for there to be knowledge, there must be an authorized source of information. An invalid source will provide faulty information, and thus the recipient will wrongly consider themselves to be learned. An education which is not rooted in information about the Supreme Person and the living entity’s inherent link to Him will be deficient in its effectiveness. On the other hand, proper knowledge of the Supreme Person can leave the knower fully appreciative of the many component aspects of creation.

Shrimad BhagavatamWhat is the effect of substandard knowledge? Moreover, isn’t this a rather harsh assessment of the teachers of targeted items of focus, which help students attain skill in a particular venture? When information passed down through the teacher-student paradigm is not rooted in understanding of the Supreme Person, the aim of the disciplinary system will be focused on finding satisfaction for some aspect of the body. To use an example, let’s take something as simple as instruction in cooking. If a person takes a class to learn how to cook elegant dishes, the underlying aim is to satisfy the taste buds with the sumptuous food that results. At the same time, we know that the animal community doesn’t have the opportunity to become immersed in the culinary arts. Rather, they are satisfied with the allotment of food items provided by nature, which operates under intelligence. If nature just functioned randomly, then the movements of the sun and the seasons it causes could never be predicted. For there to be regularity of function, there must be intelligence.

A person may take a cooking class for other reasons. Perhaps they are looking to work as a cook, or maybe they want to satisfy the members of their family with tasty dishes every day. Yet once again the onus is placed on the body, which is considered temporary by the Vedic seers, those who take divine instruction passed down from the original Personality of Godhead at the beginning of creation. The sense demands can never be fully satisfied, and the more one tries to find happiness through this channel, the less they learn to appreciate others. The pursuit of sense gratification is entirely personally related; therefore happiness for oneself doesn’t necessarily bring happiness for another person. Moreover, there will be competition in this area, as someone else’s success in a particular venture can be detrimental to the person seeking out their own satisfaction.

The defects in the example of the cooking class can be rectified pretty quickly, provided that the aim of the instructor and the students shifts in the right direction. If the object of focus is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, then even something as simple as cooking can be both appreciated and excelled at. The devotee understands that their inherent link to the spiritual world means that if the Lord is made happy through devotional efforts, that pleasure will be shared with those who are intimately associated with Him.

“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)

Krishna's lotus feetIn 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 by Him. Krishna is the same God that everyone worships, ignores or decries. He is the original form of Godhead, the most attractive entity to be found in any realm. In whatever room Krishna walks into, He is the most beautiful person. The same applies for His strength, knowledge, fame, level of renunciation, and wisdom. Since He is in full possession of these attributes He is also known as Bhagavan.

Service to God is to be enacted voluntarily, for the loving spirit cannot blossom when there is fear or coercion due to impending punishment. Krishna is so wonderful that one who gains His association becomes fortunate. By this very definition, someone who falls out of the graces of the Lord and His land becomes the biggest loser. If on one side you have the greatest gain and on the other you turn your back to that benefit, naturally the latter condition will be the worst possible one. In this way anyone who is forgetful of Krishna already suffers the worst punishment. There is no need for worry about further punishment after the initial turn from spiritual life is made, for the misery continues to arrive without cessation.

If God doesn’t explicitly want to punish us once we forget Him, why do we have such horrible things like rape, incest, murder and natural disasters? In the realm divorced of its direct relationship to the Supreme Person, every interest will be directed at pleasing the senses. Since each person will look to fulfill this need first, fierce competition must follow. The decried practices of racism, bigotry and caste distinctions only exist because they further the interests of specific parties. If everyone understood that they are inherently linked to God, there would be no reason to make such distinctions, or at least they wouldn’t matter as far as human interactions went.

“O Partha, how can a person who knows that the soul is indestructible, unborn, eternal and immutable, kill anyone or cause anyone to kill?” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.21)

Krishna and ArjunaWhen operating under the competitive spirit, there must be some temporary gains and setbacks. Hence we see economic booms, depressions, wars, famines, periods of prosperity, and other temporary conditions. The soul of the living entity is eternal, so even the worst act perpetrated on the body cannot do anything to alter the makeup of the spiritual spark, the essence of identity. Therefore the pains and miseries of the material world are not directly related to God, as the miserable conditions are concomitant with forgetfulness of the Supreme Person.

The best approach for finding pleasure is to take directly to understanding the fountainhead of energy, Shri Krishna, as this will lead one towards the necessary educational pursuits to keep the soul satisfied. With the soul satisfied in full Krishna consciousness, appreciation for the other aspects of life will increase. The process can be likened to the results that come from appreciating a completed product versus just admiring its various components. Let’s say we have a brand new motorcycle sitting in the garage. To enhance our appreciation, we could try to take the bike apart and study the various aspects. We could admire the different parts and appreciate the fine craftsmanship and how vital the components are towards the machine as a whole. The other option is to appreciate the entire machine itself, riding it around, enjoying our time. With appreciation of the motorcycle, the component parts are automatically paid homage. The same appreciation could come by studying each of the individual parts, but this process is much more difficult.

In a similar manner, just by knowing Krishna, so much of nature can be noticed, appreciated and honored without any added effort. The gopis of Vrindavana illustrated this concept very nicely. Aside from being the original Personality of Godhead residing in the spiritual sky, Krishna is also the best friend of the devotees, who He is kind enough to visit every so often in the material world. In reality, the distinction between worlds applies only to the conditioned souls deluded by a false ego. Wherever Krishna goes is a spiritual land, but since His personal presence typically goes unnoticed in the phenomenal realm, it is considered a separated area.

gopis of VrindavanaThe gopis loved Krishna the most during His time on earth some five thousand years ago. Their love is of the transcendental variety, not the kind that can turn into hate at a moment’s notice. Even if the gopis did get angry at Krishna, they never hated Him. On the contrary, they only thought of Him more and more. Even if they were envious of other gopis being more favored by Krishna, their jealousy was not material in any way. Never did they associate with their body, and never did they seek the full satisfaction of anyone besides Krishna.

When the gopis would think of Krishna and the flute He would play, they would automatically appreciate the tree that produced the flute that touched Krishna’s lips. Lest they stop their meditation here, they increased their appreciation by honoring the flowers that surrounded the tree that produced the flute that touched Krishna’s lips. They went further by appreciating everything around the same tree. In this way their knowledge of production of goods was perfect, and so was their overall attitude. They carried the attitude of universal brotherhood without explicitly seeking it. They loved Krishna, so naturally they would love everything about His creation. If they ever were really disappointed about something not tied to Krishna, it was that the creator gave them eyelids that periodically obstructed their vision of the beautiful Shyamasundara, Shri Krishna who is the most attractive and has the complexion of a dark raincloud.

What does this mean for us? How can we know Krishna? How can we get authorized information about Him? The saints have kindly passed on to us the confidential wisdom found in the sacred Vedic texts like the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam. By helping ourselves to their gifts, the proper attitude in life can be adopted. What’s so wonderful is that one who takes on the mood of devotion, or bhakti, can go into any situation and extract nectar from it. The devotee enrolled in the cooking class can take the information learned and use it to prepare delicious items to be offered to Krishna, which then subsequently turn into prasadam. The devotee with the appreciated motorcycle can use their vehicle to travel from town to town to chant the Lord’s glories, especially those found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”

The traits exhibited by the gopis and the saints also serve as a nice barometer for how well one is progressing in their practice of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Hating someone or something else is very easy; it requires no effort whatsoever. Only one who knows God can see the good in all people and their potential to become devotees who enthrall the Supreme Lord with their heartfelt acts of devotion. If this potential is there in all of us, why wouldn’t we wish for every one of our fellow brothers and sisters to attain full enlightenment and reach the spiritual sky at the end of life?

Krishna with cowsWithout loving Krishna, or God, it is practically impossible to reach the state of mind where every other life form is appreciated. Through acts of charity and sacrifice, perhaps our fellow man can be more appreciated, but the millions of other creatures may go neglected. Krishna is also known as Govinda and Gopala because of His connection to cows. The cow is a sacred animal in the Vedic tradition because of the milk that it provides. A person can be destitute, living on a tiny plot of land, but if they have one or two cows, they will not have a problem finding food to eat. The cow doesn’t require much either; just the promise of protection and the ability to roam the fields to eat. And for that small amount of attention, the cow provides so much in return.

Not just limited to cows and human beings, spirit souls are found in all spheres of life. One who knows the nature of the soul and its relationship to Krishna will thus refrain from needlessly inflicting violence on others, especially when its purpose is just to satisfy the taste buds. In this way the Vedic knowledge passed down about God and devotion to Him is complete, not lacking anything that we might need to know. The devotee following bhakti is never bereft of anything important, including requisite knowledge. Knowledge of Krishna is sufficient for acquiring every beneficial trait imaginable.

In Closing:

When knowledge of Krishna one has understood,

Comes easily to them universal brotherhood.

Want to love God’s creatures, every single one?

And the wonders of creation, the moon and the sun?

Studying each component separately is hard,

Takes time to become familiar with each part.

Of knowledge and wisdom Krishna is the source,

At beginning of creation Vedas did He bring forth.

From devotion to God appreciation does grow,

Of integral aspects of creation we come to know.

The gopis gave to Shri Krishna all of their love,

His beautiful smile and flute always thinking of.

When bhakti in our lives we do incorporate,

The amazing creation we will appreciate.