Saturday, October 22, 2011

Enjoying More

Krishna subduing Kaliya“The Supreme Lord's pastimes are more attractive to liberated souls than to mundane people. He is of necessity not impersonal because it is only possible to carry on transcendental rasa with a person.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.1.3 Purport)

Shri Krishna has a complexion like the dark blue raincloud just waiting to shower the parched fields that only get to feast on their beloved rainwater but once a year. The water falling from the sky during the two months of the rainy season in India is thus relished by the crops more than any other type of food is enjoyed by any other entity. The comparison to the raincloud is a great way to describe the benevolence offered by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is always smiling, holding a flute in His hands, adorned with a peacock feather in His hair and the Kaustubha gem on His chest, and wearing a lovely flower garland around His neck. Accompanying this divine vision, which is a sight for sore eyes, is a tendency for sportive exploits, activities which enthrall the onlookers. Shri Krishna’s pastimes are so enjoyable that simply hearing about them will give the sober mind the same pleasure as what would be received from being in the Lord’s direct company.

Lord KrishnaBut first things first. In order to truly relish the sweetness of Krishna’s pastimes, the liberated state must be reached. To find the state beyond miseries, there are many recommended rules and practices. Though bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is about love and thus not limited to any specific practices or guidelines, the Vedic texts are still there for everyone to use, especially those looking to connect with Krishna, or God. Krishna’s crawling as a baby in Vrindavana, His stealing butter from the neighbors, His lifting a mighty hill over His head to protect the citizens from a torrential downpour of rain, His intimate dealings with the devoted cowherd women of the town and their dancing together cannot be appreciated if one is deluded by the senses attached to material existence.

What does this mean exactly? Think of sitting down at night to watch your favorite television program. You took care of your work for the day, so now you just want to relax. Your show is highly anticipated, as it is a program that you like the most. But as soon as the program starts, the phone starts to ring. Simultaneously the doorbell also sounds. Now you have someone on the phone and a house full of unexpected guests. Pretty soon you have a loud clamoring of crosstalk coupled with the responsibility of tending to your guests. The person on the phone also needs attention, but as soon as you hang up with them, the phone rings again.

With all of this commotion, is there any chance of enjoying the program airing on television? If you can’t hear what’s going on, if you’re constantly distracted, how will you focus your mind on the drama that is unfolding with your show? Obviously, to truly enjoy what you are doing, you need distractions eliminated. As more and more external impediments are removed, the primary engagement can be further relished. There are mental demons as well, worries and fears over the future and lamentations over events gone wrong in the recent past. These subtle forces weigh heavily on the mind. Because of the influence of the mind, It is actually possible to read a book, watch a movie, or have a conversation with someone and not have any idea what is going on. The mind can travel faster than the speed of light; so it can take the contemplative individual anywhere they want to go, at any time.

Krishna pastimesWhile hearing of the pastimes of the original form of Godhead who descended to this earth some five thousand years ago, if the consciousness is situated elsewhere, no amount of immersion in Krishna-katha will produce the most tangible fruit of an enlivened spirit. At the core of the living being is a spiritual spark that is just bursting with potential for action. During youth, action is less inhibited, but there is a lack of intelligence. Therefore the full bundle of energy found within the body is forcefully directed by higher authorities into accepting restraint and following the path of education. As the body ages, the energy within dwindles, while the knowledge level ideally increases.

This seems most unfair. If we’re getting smarter, shouldn’t we get to keep the same high energy levels so that we can utilize our time wisely? Nevertheless, the spirit soul is there, and its potential for action is unchanged. By following a regulative path authorized by bona fide teachers, the exuberance found during youth can be reawakened and channeled towards the proper destination. The soul is inherently tied to the Supersoul, which is an expansion of God that resides within every single person. God is already localized; He has a presence within every living being. His presence is there for a reason; He is not there to simply go along for the ride and suffer or enjoy the efforts of the individual soul ignorant of His presence. The Supersoul is meant to be reached. Our duty is to find Him and form a steady connection with Him that provides both sublime wisdom and satisfaction.

“The yogi who knows that I and the Supersoul within all creatures are one worships Me and remains always in Me in all circumstances.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.31)

For finding the Supersoul, the first step entails knowing who we are. The gross materialists, the foolish atheists, and those just not interested in spiritual life don’t even understand who they are. They associate with a temporary body destined for destruction. From the lack of intelligence, there is a tendency to hoard possessions and label everything as “Mine”. On the flip side, there are those who want to see God right away, preferably in His universal form, which is known as the virata-rupa, for that is the only concept they have of God. Thinking that God cannot be seen any other way, they determine that everything in the world is false and that the only way to see the Lord is through finding His invisible form, His unmanifested feature which thus encompasses all things matter and spirit.

In the Vedas God is described as being both nirguna and saguna, or without qualities and with qualities. Nirguna equates to the unmanifested feature, while saguna refers to His qualified forms that can be seen with the eyes. In either case, the Lord is free of gunas, or material qualities. The distinctions are made from the perspective of the observer not fully cognizant of God and His transcendental attributes. Unmanifested doesn’t actually mean invisible; rather, it just says that this feature of the Lord, the all-encompassing universal form, is practically impossible to understand for one who is embodied, a fact confirmed by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita.

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

Lord KrishnaIt’s understandable that the invisible/unmanifested aspect would be difficult to comprehend. The living entity can’t even see that he is spirit soul, that he is not his body, so how is he going to be able to see God within the creation? If we can’t see something right in front of us, that which is situated right before our very eyes, how are we going to see something that is miles away? Therefore in the Vedic discipline, those wishing to see the impersonal aspect of the Lord are advised to first understand who they are. Aham brahmasmi, or “I am Brahman”, is the first instruction taught to aspiring transcendentalists. If I know who I am, I can then gradually expand on that knowledge and realize my position in the world and why I am placed into it.

Just being told that we are spirit soul is rare enough, but actually taking the steps to practically realize the fact is even more difficult. If after suffering tremendous heartbreak someone tells us not to worry, that we’ll get over the pain eventually, their words of comfort are hard to take seriously. “I don’t want to feel better in the future. I want the pain to go away now!” Eventually it turns out that they are correct, that we can get through the tough times. Similarly, someone may tell us that we are Brahman, or pure spirit, and that we shouldn’t be attached to anything relating to the body, but if our activities aren’t tailored to meet that understanding, the words of wisdom will just go in one ear and out the other.

Therefore, central to any real yoga discipline are knowledge and austerity. Regularly study from the Vedic scriptures to learn about the science of self-realization - how the soul transmigrates from body to body based on desires, how karma works, why the material existence comes into being, and what is needed to gain moksha, or release. At the same time, practice austerity. Limit your interaction with the senses, for they are like twisted vines that grow, hiding the true nature of the living entity and swallowing up their bliss and knowledge with each entry into pursuits to find material satisfaction.

“One who is thus transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman. He never laments nor desires to have anything; he is equally disposed to every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.54)

Lord KrishnaThough renunciation, knowledge, sacrifice, austerity and other principles of self-realization are important, they are meant to further a goal. They are not the goal in and of themselves. They are not even meant for just understanding the impersonal feature of the Supreme Absolute Truth. When one realizes who they are and renounces activity that keeps them attached to that which is not Brahman, maya, they attain the liberated platform.

What is the point to reaching this state? In addition to seeing that God’s presence is everywhere, the true fruit of the existence is tasted. The sweetness of the lila of the Supreme Person is relished fully by the liberated souls, who know that life is not about amassing wealth, finding false happiness in intoxication, or enjoying unrestricted sex life. These activities have a beginning and an end, so they are guaranteed to lead to unhappiness. As soon as there is separation, there is an unpleasant situation. Yet as soon as something is accepted, it must be rejected at some point in the future.

This holds true with everything except the relationship to Krishna, or God. The liberated soul transcends the influence of the senses and thus does not have to worry about reincarnation or finding unhappiness in the future. At the same time, the active propensity in the soul is there. If anything, this potential for the outpouring of service, which is the soul’s dharma, is more fully stocked when one is liberated. Without the inhibiting influence of material nature, the consciousness is ready to fully enjoy the proper set of activities. If the material world is maya, or false, however, what could the liberated soul possibly do? Shouldn’t they just sit in quiet meditation and await the time of merging into Brahman?

Krishna pastimesThe manifested feature of the Supreme Lord is always superior, for even the liberated souls derive tremendous pleasure from interacting with it. With the visibly manifest forms of the Lord, the non-liberated souls get an idea of what God looks like, what His tendencies are, and how to interact with Him, but only the liberated souls truly relish the pastimes of the Supreme Person. Even if they are not in touch with those pastimes, or if they want to invoke the memory of them within the mind, they simply chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

A person would have to be liberated to repeat this sacred formula day after day, with increased attention given with each successive utterance. No other set of words could be repeated regularly and still provide happiness to the chanter. This shows that Krishna and His names are non-different. The holy name is as good as Krishna Himself, as it carries with it Krishna’s forms, pastimes and qualities. In the conditioned state, the mantra can also be chanted, but it won’t be relished as much. Moreover, the equality between Krishna and His names won’t be realized.

The Vedic seers compiled the wonderful texts like the Ramayana and Shrimad Bhagavatam for the pleasure of the liberated souls, to give something to focus their minds on. Transcendental mellows, or rasas, can only be tasted with the personal feature of the Lord. This doesn’t invalidate the purpose of the impersonal manifestation, as it serves as a wonderful target for those unable to appreciate the form belonging to Krishna or His direct incarnations. Nevertheless, the highest transcendental taste will be found when the consciousness becomes immersed in bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, whose most potent practice is hearing.

As chanting creates a nearby, audible version of Krishna, hearing is taken care of at the same time. Thus the same person that was previously distracted by material affairs and didn’t appreciate hearing about Krishna will soon not be able to go a single day without transporting the mind to Goloka Vrindavana, where Krishna at this very minute is playing His flute and enchanting the hearts of His friends, and even the cows. That sound can’t be received by one who is embodied or one who is tainted by desires rooted in attachment to a temporary form. Only the liberated souls know how to hear and process the sound waves coming from Krishna and delight in them.

Lord KrishnaIn Closing:

From Krishna’s flute comes the sound,

That fills soul with pleasure nowhere else found.

To relish this taste, remove every distraction,

So that to Krishna you can give full attention.

Try to watch television program with others around,

Preoccupied mind can’t hear show even with loudest sound.

Follow sacrifice, penance and austerity,

To remove maya’s influence and give mind clarity.

Position as spirit soul does one need to know,

From realization knowledge and renunciation do grow.

Thus when distractions are finally removed,

To mind sweetness of Krishna’s lila is proved.

Liberated souls try to remember Krishna every day,

Chant His names so that in their minds He will always stay.

Friday, October 21, 2011


Sita Devi“Sita is not capable of associating with any other man, even if he were the lord of the demigods; for there is no one equal to Rama, not even among the demigods.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 11.3)

na anyam naram upasthātum surāṇām api ca īśvaram |
na hi rāma samaḥ kaścid vidyate tridaśeṣv api ||

Almost fooled by his vision colored with anticipation borne of pure love and devotion to the holy Lord Rama, Hanuman regained his senses by contemplating on the divine qualities of both the princess he was looking for and her dear husband. Seeing one woman in particular stand out amongst the crowd of beautiful ladies enjoying in the luxurious palace of the leader of the Rakshasa clan in Lanka, Hanuman thought that maybe he had finally found the princess of Videha, Sita Devi, who had been taken away from the side of her husband through a backhanded plot. Yet he remembered that not only was Sita incapable of cavorting with any man except her husband, her husband Himself was more opulent and strong than any person existing in any realm. In this way Hanuman’s assessment of Sita and her husband was completely accurate, and it fueled his fire of devotion even further.

HanumanWhy did Hanuman need his spirits uplifted? What was he doing in Lanka looking for Sita anyway? Shouldn’t Shri Rama have gone there? If the Lord is the most powerful person in the world, stronger than any figure residing in even the heavenly realm, why was He not in Lanka taking on Ravana in battle and rescuing His wife? The lila, or transcendental pastimes, of the Supreme Personality of Godhead are very difficult to understand from only a quick glance. Just as Hanuman for a split second thought that Mandodari, Ravana’s chief queen, was Sita, those who only briefly review the accounts of historical events found in sacred texts like the Ramayana may overlook the positive role that transcendental pastimes play in the shaping of the lives of millions of pure souls just looking to exercise their inkling for divine service. Found deep within the soul, the identifiable aspect of every form of life, is a desire to love, and not of the variety that can be checked, scorned or squashed. Rather, this type of love, known as prema or bhakti, operates best when the actor follows their tasks without motivation and without interruption.

These two qualifications seem paradoxical, as motivation is the reason for action, and the desire for interruption at some future point indicates that the end-stage has been reached. With pure bhakti, however, the engagement itself is so rewarding that no successes or temporary victories can ever douse the flame of loving devotion found within the heart. What can occur outside of bhakti, however, is for the soul, through contact with matter and anything not personally related to the Supreme Lord, to get temporarily bewildered into following engagements which are driven by motivation and which eventually must be interrupted. Therefore, to awaken the dormant propensity for transcendental action found within each resident of the phenomenal world, the very Personality of Godhead Himself appears on earth and takes part in pastimes.

Let’s say that someone were to tell us that God has come to town. He is residing somewhere in a building. Now let’s say that we went to visit Him. We make time in our busy schedule specifically for this appointment, as the opportunity to see God is something that should not be missed. We enter this majestic dwelling and see someone seated on an elegant throne who is more beautiful than any person we’ve ever seen. Just looking at Him is enough to bring transcendental pleasure to the eyes. This divine vision is wholly enchanting and at the very least indicates that the person in question is not ordinary. He is not like the rest of us. There must be something special about Him.

Lord RamaShri Rama’s appearance on earth as the eldest son of the King of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dasharatha, can be likened to this scenario, and the emotions felt by the residents of the town can be likened to those felt by the visitors seeing the enchanting figure purported to be God. The difference with Rama, though, was that He never claimed to be of the divine nature. What need is there for such a proclamation? A person would much rather make friends and well-wishers through their own qualities than through fear or flashing a badge indicating importance.

Even though others didn’t know Rama was God, they still took great delight just from seeing Him. Having the divine vision alone is extremely beneficial, but an even greater benefit, one that taps into the reservoir of action found within every single life form, comes about when the same object of worship takes to activities which are then followed, heard about, and glorified. What’s even more special is that a select few individuals are allowed to participate in these pastimes. Through their roles they become glorified as well, as they remain forever tied to the divine pastimes of the Supreme Lord. Just as Rama is still celebrated to this day for being Bhagavan, or the person who possesses the qualities of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, knowledge, renunciation and wisdom to the fullest degree and simultaneously, His devotees who helped Him are also remembered and honored. They show the way in life, how to devote every one of your actions for the highest cause.

When Sita was taken away from Rama’s side in the forest of Dandaka, the Lord could have easily found her. He could have destroyed the whole world with just one arrow shot from His illustrious bow, but what purpose would that have served? The entire creation will be destroyed eventually anyway. Mahadeva, the greatest devotee of Lord Vishnu, the four-handed form of the Absolute Truth of whom Rama was an incarnation, is known as the destroyer because he swoops in at just the right time to annihilate everything. Where there is creation there must be destruction. There are debates as to how and when the earth came into being, but judging from the fact that it had to be created, we can take it to the bank that the earth will one day be destroyed again. If this weren’t the case, it would have never needed to come into existence.

Hanuman with the VanarasRama instead enlisted the help of Vanaras residing in the forest of Kishkindha. Vanaras are a sort of elevated race of monkeys, a mix between humans and apes. They were around in the Treta Yuga in abundance in the forests. The monkeys of today are their descendants but due to the influence of the dark age of Kali, their existence isn’t nearly as advanced. Hanuman was the most capable of the Vanara warriors, and he was also the most devoted to Rama. When it comes to serving the interests of the Supreme Person, everyone is equally suited for the job, but not everyone can exhibit their natural love fully. The soul in the conditioned state can be likened to a seed, and the advanced devotees are the seeds which have matured and grown into full blown trees of devotion.

Hanuman’s eagerness is what really made him fit for the job. The task at hand was finding Sita and then returning to Kishkindha with the information of her whereabouts. Knowing where Ravana was staying, Shri Rama would then march to the city and take on the demon in a fair fight. Just learning Sita’s location was difficult enough, but what made matters worse was that Hanuman had to go it alone towards the end. Lanka, the island ruled over by Ravana, was situated far away from the mainland, and only Hanuman was capable of leaping across the massive ocean separating the two points. When he reached the shores of Lanka, he had to devise a plan by himself and remain committed to the mission without having any outside help. Though he was without a guru, Hanuman used his love, devotion and knowledge of Shri Rama to guide him.

Sometimes that devotion was so strong that it caused him to make misidentifications. Such was the case when he combed Ravana’s inner apartment looking for Sita, finally coming upon a most outstanding princess. Hanuman searched through Lanka in the middle of the night so that no one would see him. He had looked far and wide and still had not found Sita. He was certainly dejected over the failure, as he was the most eager to find Rama’s wife and inform her of the Lord’s fervent desire to rescue her. An ordinary worker may be afraid of failing because of what the boss will tell him, but Hanuman’s despondency was due entirely to his own interests. He wanted to put a smile on Rama’s face more than anyone else. He knew of the Lord’s divine qualities, so he had no doubt as to His abilities. He just didn’t want to let Rama down.

HanumanSince Hanuman had never met Sita, he’d have to go by what he had heard of her and who her husband was. Knowing Rama to be fully endowed with every divine quality, Hanuman made the correct assumption that Sita was no ordinary woman either. Having such a wonderful man for a husband, surely Sita would not be in a cheerful mood in Lanka. She would be torn by the pain of separation and fearing her future. Therefore when Hanuman saw beautiful women enjoying themselves, he could understand that they weren’t Sita.

Ravana’s kingdom was so opulent that it seemed like the realm itself was heaven. The women were enjoying in so many different ways - getting drunk, singing songs, putting on beautiful dresses. Finally, Hanuman saw one woman who was more beautiful than the others. She was especially enchanting, unique in her features. For a second, Hanuman became elated with joy, pounding his chest and kissing his tail in happiness. This is Hanuman. Just thinking that he had found Sita caused him to go crazy in happiness, so strong was his desire to see Sita.

When his elation subsided, he thought the matter over. “How could Sita be in Ravana’s palace enjoying herself? She would never associate with any man except Rama, even if he were the king of the heavenly realm.” The concepts of heaven and hell are not unknown to most, but the Vedas provide a level of detail about the two realms not discussed in other scriptural traditions. Heaven is indeed a place full of enhanced delights, including a longer duration of life and a higher level of material opulence. Hell, not surprisingly, bears the inverse properties. Life there is miserable, there is little enjoyment, and people just want to get out. In either case, since heaven and hell are both part of the material world, their residents cannot remain there indefinitely.

The post of king of heaven implies that the occupant is the most powerful. The residents of the material heavenly planets are referred to as suras, and since the beginning of time there has been an ongoing fight between the suras and the asuras, or demons. Good and evil will always clash, as evil does not like the good and looks to root out its influence from every sphere of life. To be the ruler of the suras, one must be very powerful and capable of fending off the demonic forces, which constantly attack like the pulsing waves of the ocean. There is no such thing as permanently eradicating evil, as the very nature of the material realm stipulates that people lacking full God consciousness will always occupy it. If there is any deviation from the constitutional engagement, devotional service, there will be both good conditioned beings and bad conditioned beings. In either case, a non-devotee will never be fully pure of material contamination.

“If I am by Your side, O Raghava, not even Indra, the chief of the celestials, shall be able to overpower me with his might.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 29.6)

Sita DeviTo be with the leader of the celestials is a big deal. Basically, for a woman such a man would be considered the greatest catch. But Sita was so devoted to Rama that she would never even look at such a man. Indeed, the wonderful princess definitively declared her noninterest in the heavenly realm when she pleaded with her husband to accompany Him to the forest. Rama and Sita were only in the forest of Dandaka because of an exile order handed down by King Dasharatha. Sita was advised to stay home by Rama, but she refused to listen to Him. In the Vedic system the wife’s dharma is to worship her husband and abide by his every command, but divine love is never checked by rules and regulations. Sita is so exalted that Rama cannot even control her love for Him in the least. She loves Rama with her life and soul, and there is nothing the Lord can do about it.

Hanuman, when bringing to mind that Sita could never think of any man except Rama, also remembered that Rama is not like any other person. If you take the wealthiest and most powerful person in the world, living past, present or future, they could still never measure up to Rama. The jewel of the Raghu dynasty is unmatched in His possession of divine qualities, and especially in His diffusion of mercy. Simply having the ability to chant the Lord’s holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, reveals the true mercy bestowed upon everyone. Hanuman knew that Mandodari, the person initially misidentified as Sita, wasn’t Rama’s wife because of the divine qualities of both Sita and Rama. Through his contemplation he further revealed his love for the divine couple, his level of dedication that has yet to be matched by any person. Sita and Rama are unparalleled in their love for each other and their dedication to their devotees, and Shri Hanuman is unparalleled in his love for Sita and Rama.

Whoever is fortunate enough to associate with these delightful, inspirational and divine characters on a regular basis by reciting their holy names, remembering their divine activities, and accepting their causeless mercy will be able to awaken the love for God that has been quietly resting for far too long within the heart. Just as Shri Rama never stops accepting the obeisances and glories offered by the sincere souls, those who follow bhakti as a way of life never let a day go by without glorifying the Lord of their life breath, their prana-natha, and His wonderful servants like Shri Hanuman.

HanumanIn Closing:

Kissing his tail, jumping up and down,

Hanuman’s excitement was unbound.

After searching through Lanka all around,

Sita Devi he had finally found.

But on second thought, woman was sleeping sound,

Clothes were beautiful and food and drink were around.

In sober thought, realized Sita he did not see,

With any man except Rama she could never be.

Even if company of ruler of heaven she had the chance,

Upon him she would never bestow her amorous glance.

Besides, compared to Rama an equal was there not one,

Even amongst demigods a match for Rama there was none.

Thus Hanuman knew that Mandodari Sita was not,

But from incident hint of monkey’s love we got.

In the future, the enthusiasm would bode well,

For monkey in whose heart love for God does swell.

At thinking of Sita and Rama Hanuman does rejoice,

To the glory of bhakti his behavior does give voice.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Always In Yoga

Mother Yashoda“It is to be understood that among all the cows of Nanda Maharaja, several of mother Yashoda's cows ate only grasses so flavorful that the grasses would automatically flavor the milk. Mother Yashoda wanted to collect the milk from these cows, make it into yogurt and churn it into butter personally, since she thought that this child Krishna was going to the houses of neighborhood gopas and gopis to steal butter because He did not like the milk and yogurt ordinarily prepared.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.9.1-2 Purport)

Though living in an ancient time when women were not provided a formal education, Mother Yashoda did not just sit around the house and do nothing. Neither was she compelled into doing household chores for the pleasure of her husband. Rather, as the most exalted mother in the world, she had the pleasure of dedicating her efforts towards the happiness of her beloved son, who happened to be the delight of Vrindavana. Yashoda’s husband Nanda was the king of Gokula, a quiet little community that was graced with the presence of the creator of this and every other world. In the mother’s possession were many cows, several of whom preferred to eat only grass so flavorful that the wonderful taste would automatically be passed on to the milk that was produced. Mother Yashoda personally worked hard to ensure that her son was satisfied in every way, thereby proving that yoga doesn’t have to involve meditation, painful sitting postures, or explicit study of philosophy. And neither is yoga reserved for a specific class of human beings. The requirement for gaining the highest type of salvation is the devotional attachment that naturally springs forth from exalted beings like Mother Yashoda, whose transcendental affection permeates every one of her activities, including something as trivial as churning butter.

Mother Yashoda with KrishnaWhat is at the heart of yoga? The consciousness, which consists of thoughts and desires formulated over many experiences, is the key ingredient in finding pain or pleasure. We can be sitting in an empty room without any outside influence to affect us and still somehow find an unpleasant condition. How is this possible? The mind, of course. If the mind is worried about the future, constantly looking at the clock to see when the boring situation will come to an end, how can there be anything but misery while locked within the confines of a solitary room?

On the other hand, if you place a television in the same room, add a couple of companions and some food and drink to consume, you can stay in the same place for hours on end, repeating the cycle of sedentary behavior day after day, year after year until you age quite considerably. Though the difference in circumstances seems to be externally influenced, what has really changed is the position of the consciousness. With the safety of knowing that there is variety in engagement, the mind can jump from one thought to another, completely forgetting that there is no movement of the body and that the same room is occupied for hours on end.

It is the very consciousness that yoga aims to tackle. With a consciousness connected to the divine stream of thought, any situation can turn into a pleasurable one. Imagine attending a sporting event. You have some people who are keenly interested in the outcome of the game, while you have other onlookers who were dragged to the event by their friends or spouses. The actions on the main stage are the same regardless, but based on the disposition of the consciousness, a person can either be extremely delighted or terribly bored.

“That supreme abode is called unmanifested and infallible, and it is the supreme destination. When one goes there, he never comes back. That is My supreme abode.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.21)

Lord KrishnaWith yoga, the mind is transported to the divine realm, which is similar to the present land except that the nature of the manifestation is different. Since the qualities of the energy are of a different type, the spiritual land is sometimes described as unmanifested, while the realm we currently occupy is described as manifested. This doesn’t mean that the higher land can’t be seen; for otherwise what would be the purpose in giving it the qualification of spiritual? Something can only have qualities if those features can be identified. If an object lacks features, it ceases being an object.

In the spiritual land, everything is dovetailed with devotion to the Supreme Lord, the origin of all creatures. If God is the origin of everything, isn’t the present land we occupy also part of Him? Therefore aren’t the activities engaged in by the countless living creatures automatically linked to God? The difference in the spiritual land is that there is no forgetfulness of the origin. Rather, the unbroken remembrance of God ensures that whatever is available to the individuals is used in the proper manner. Consciousness is tied to the Supreme Lord and thus there is yoga, which results in every activity being instigated by the desire to keep that connection active.

In the material land, however, the link is broken, or at least forgotten. If it isn’t even active, how can any activity be driven by the desire to maintain it? We only fill up gasoline in a working car. If the automobile cannot start, what is the point to maintaining it? Without a consciousness dovetailed to the Supreme Lord’s interests, there can never be any activity devoted to God. Objects of matter are therefore called “maya” in a land where the living beings are not in yoga.

“Thus practicing control of the body, mind and activities, the mystic transcendentalist attains to the kingdom of God [or the abode of Krishna] by cessation of material existence.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 6.15)

Lord KrishnaSo, how do we practice yoga? One way is to limit the influence of the external objects around us. If you want to get the stalled car working again, you won’t put things in the gas tank that don’t belong there. In a similar manner, the living beings are spirit at their core, so matter has nothing to do with their identity. This means that any outside influence that only operates on matter becomes inhibiting. One way to practice yoga is to curb the influence of outside forces. A quick way to do this is to renounce the fast paced life of the cities and suburbs and take shelter in the wilderness or on a high mountain.

The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, provide guidelines and instructions on how to properly practice this type of yoga. Some of the details are covered by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita, even though the work does not center around the yoga of this variety. It is briefly mentioned to give those who are too attached to the senses a viable option for gaining entry into the divine consciousness. Yoga through meditation involves sitting erect and focusing the mind on the Supersoul residing within. The individual soul belongs to the person occupying the body, and there is another more powerful soul resting next to the individual soul within the heart. The Supreme Soul, or Paramatma, belongs to God. The aim of yoga practice becomes pretty simple: connect with the Supersoul, or God, who already resides within you.

The difficulties with this type of yoga are too many to count. For starters, it must be a fulltime engagement, not some exercise routine you take up for fifteen minutes a day. If you want to be connected in consciousness to God, how can breaking that trance ever be beneficial? It’s so difficult to even get into the proper mood to begin with, and then by separating from it periodically, the devotion to the engagement wanes.

Other types of yoga involve study of the differences between matter and spirit and renouncing the fruits of action. If I eat a large meal at lunch but then exercise strenuously at night to burn off the calories, the negative reactions of the eating are essentially wiped clean. By renouncing the fruits of material work for the satisfaction of the Supreme Lord, the most harmful reaction of attachment to the senses gets removed. In this way one can gradually break free from the material forces and create a lifestyle more conducive to purifying consciousness.

Lord KrishnaThe best yoga of course is bhakti, or devotion. Bhakti is all-inclusive. It can involve any type of activity, including meditation and study. The best way to learn about bhakti is to study the examples of those who practice it perfectly. Mother Yashoda is one such example, as she is so immersed in bhakti that she doesn’t even consider herself a transcendentalist. Rather, her only engagement is to remain connected with God. With this focus, how can she even consider any other type of activity? In bhakti, the material elements don’t exist. Rather, every type of manifested object gets spiritualized by its being used for the Lord’s pleasure.

In Mother Yashoda’s case, she used the pretext of performing household chores to remain connected in the mind with her son. Lord Krishna, the original personality of Godhead, descended to earth and roamed the sacred land of Vrindavana some five thousand years ago. The real benefit of Krishna’s advent is the association He grants to the liberated souls. To enhance the experience, Krishna goes through seemingly ordinary activities but performs them with His natural splendor, which is impossible to cover up.

Yashoda was Krishna’s foster mother, for the Lord was transported to Vrindavana immediately after appearing from the womb of Mother Devaki. Yashoda’s son loved to steal butter from the neighbors when He was a small child, for He knew that others would delight in His pranks. Mother Yashoda, of course, thought that maybe the butter and milk products she was producing in her home weren’t good enough for Krishna. There is nothing more heartwarming than seeing a sincere display of affection directed towards a proper recipient. When the beneficiary of that love is the Supreme Lord, the positive influence of that association is augmented exponentially.

“When Krishna and Balarama are caught stealing the yogurt and butter, They say, 'Why do you charge us with stealing? Do you think that butter and yogurt are in scarcity in our house?'” (Gopis complaining to Mother Yashoda, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 8 )

Krishna never complained about what He was fed at home. Indeed, when the neighbors would level accusations of stealing against Him, the Lord would reply with rhetorical questions referencing how He had plenty of butter in His own home. Nevertheless, Mother Yashoda thought that Krishna wasn’t being loved properly. She was always anxious to find new ways to please Him; such is her glorious nature. Her bhakti never stops, even if Krishna tells her that He has been satisfied. Shri Krishna is so kind that He creates more and more opportunities for His mother’s love to flow. Her churning of butter specifically for Krishna’s benefit shows that there is no need for breaking out of yoga. As the Lord says in the Bhagavad-gita, by doing everything for Him and dedicating all Your activities to Him, you will gradually come to Him. Mother Yashoda was already with Krishna, and by keeping her dedication strong, the Lord was so much pleased with her.

Krishna and Mother YashodaIn Closing:

Mother Yashoda, bad does she feel,

That her son butter from neighbors did steal.

Perhaps the cause of the young child’s flight,

Was that cooking of mother He didn’t like.

Therefore because of love for Krishna in heart yearning,

The butter from special cows she took to churning.

Concentration on the delights of her son did not break,

Thus her mind a wonderful transcendental home did make.

Yoga in meditation or knowledge she did not need,

With her love the Supreme Lord she got to always feed.

With the divine consciousness is yoga meant to connect,

No hint of material desire in Yashoda will you detect.

In yoga she proves to be perfect in every way,

In mind she stays with young Krishna every single day.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Then Show Me

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

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

For those following Vedic teachings, the importance of the spiritual master cannot be overemphasized. There is no over-glorification of the guru, who gives us the key to the mint that is the endless delight of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. The importance of the spiritual master is stressed repeatedly to break the living being’s tendency towards searching after the Absolute Truth through their own effort, for no human being is capable of experiencing everything or even knowing how to fully process the information that they do accumulate. For the spiritualist who learns how to describe the glories of the Supreme Lord, telling the stories of God’s pastimes and activities in their own way actually enhances the glory of their guru even further. Showing that what his guru had taught him was worthwhile and put to good use, Goswami Tulsidas embarked on singing of the marriage of Sita and Rama.

Sita and Rama marriageIt should be noted that the story of the marriage of the beloved couple had already been told, several times in fact. First, there was the initial incident itself, which took place in the kingdom of Janakpur many thousands of years ago. We refer to this incident as being in the past, for that is how it is positioned with respect to the timeline of our current birth and the creation of the earth. However, just as the cycle of birth and death continues for the spirit soul, who travels from one body type to another, the creation itself goes through cycles of manifestation and annihilation. Not only this creation, but countless other universes follow the same pattern, which is instigated by the exhaling and inhaling of Maha-Vishnu, the Supreme Lord managing the creation. That same Vishnu ensures that the marriage of Sita and Rama takes place many times in many different creations. The marriage can be referred to as a future event as well, and also one which follows slightly different scripts. Moreover, sometimes the onlookers have their own incidents they remember, certain features they see and choose to focus on.

In this creation, the first accounts of the glorious marriage are given in the Ramayana, which was composed by Maharishi Valmiki in the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation. In addition to touching on the event when telling the story of Rama’s life chronologically, there is another incident, after the fact, in the Ramayana where Sita Devi, Rama’s wife, describes how the marriage took place. During a fourteen year stint in the forest, Sita and Rama visited many hermitages, where great sages had taken up refuge to perform their austerities and live the simple life devoted to God. They wouldn’t have to wait until the afterlife to see God, though. Their penances weren’t just for some future benefit that was unknown. Rather, they would get the fruit of their existence by having God Himself in the form of a warrior prince visit them.

Bringing His wife and younger brother with Him, Rama once came upon the hermitage of Atri Rishi and his wife Anasuya. Even during that time, Sita and Rama’s marriage was quite famous, especially since many suitors had wanted to have Janaka’s daughter’s hand in marriage. Wanting to hear the story from the coveted princess in question, Anasuya asked Sita to explain the events of that day. In this way Sita herself became a kind of spiritual master, one who described the glories of Lord Rama and His closest associates. She was at the wedding, so she could give firsthand accounts.

“I have heard, O Sita, that your hand in marriage was won by the renowned Raghava on the occasion of the self-choice ceremony [svayamvara]. O Maithili, I wish to hear that story in detail. Therefore please narrate to me the entire sequence of events as you experienced them.” (Anasuya speaking to Sita, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 118.24-25)

Anasuya meeting SitaThe spiritual masters of the Vedic tradition describe the same events and the qualities of the participants in their own way, though they initially received the knowledgebase through a chain of disciplic succession. It is not that the genuine keepers of the faith make up any details or put things into their stories that aren’t true. Rather, they highlight what is important to them, incorporating different aspects of their own experiences to properly describe the glory and beauty of the Supreme Lord and His lila.

When Goswami Tulsidas embarked on writing his short song called the Janaki Mangala, there were many sources of information he could have used as reference tools. Many Puranas describe Rama’s life in varying levels of detail, and there are also the two major Ramayana compositions as well, the original by Valmiki and the version by Vyasadeva called the Adhyatma Ramayana. The latter was the one Tulsidas heard from his guru during his youth, so he was especially fond of it. In this version, Lord Shiva is the narrator, for he got to watch Rama’s activities from above in the heavenly realm. Lord Shiva is a worshipable figure himself, but he takes the most pleasure from chanting the name of Rama and describing His activities to others, including his beloved wife Mother Parvati.

Not surprisingly, when it came time to write the auspicious invocation to his song, Tulsidas referenced both Lord Shiva and Mother Parvati, and also the other worshipable personalities who keep the faith of bhakti alive and help those who are sincere in their attempt to glorify God. The first obeisance went to the guru, who planted the seed of bhakti in the young poet. When Tulsidas first heard the story of Rama from his guru, he was still too young to really understand its import or take lessons from it that would change his behavior. Nevertheless, if that hearing had not taken place, there would have been no impetus to continue ahead in learning about divine love, the topmost engagement for the spirit soul. Without first planting the seed, we cannot get the wonderful tree that produces bountiful fruits. It’s easy to get caught up in the gloriousness of the finished product and thereby forget who planted the initial seed that secured the maturation needed for the final outcome.

Goswami TulsidasThe saints never forget, for they are eternally indebted to their spiritual master and the devotees who helped them along the way. Since there were so many reference tools available to him, Tulsidas could have easily just done a “copy and paste” from several different scriptures and converted the words into the colloquial language he used for his songs. Following this tact would not have been harmful at all, for if the source information is perfect, then in whatever medium it is passed on through, the value of the original information will remain intact.

In the end of the invocation, which is referenced above, we see that Tulsidas bows down to his guru and the revered personalities of the Vedic tradition, praying that they are pleased with him, as he begins to sing about the marriage of Sita and Rama as he has understood it. This option is more preferable because when the disciple tells a story in his own words, in the way that he has heard the information and processed it, the output can be considered an extension of the original guru’s work. As an example, if I have a company that does building construction and I build many houses and office spaces, I get credit for the work I performed during my time on earth. Once I pass on, however, my work stops. Yet, if I can teach others the art of building and how to go about successfully constructing many such edifices during their lifetimes, whatever they build after my departure from this earth goes to my credit as well. The disciples in this case are essentially extensions of the original teacher.

In bhakti, the influence of the teacher is further expanded when the disciple produces many works. If the work comes out successful, the disciple proves that what his teacher taught him wasn’t just dry words that were meant to be memorized. Bhakti is divine love, which can be outputted in many different ways. There is no one way to love God, though the seed of devotion is first planted through the hearing process and then best cultivated through the chanting of the 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”. Hearing and chanting are the beginning, as through steady connection in consciousness with God, the individual becomes enveloped in transcendental ecstasy which then guides their behavior. Loving God can then flow through different outlets, such as writing, singing, viewing pictures, talking with others, travelling to distant places of spiritual relevance, and instructing others on the baseline principles of a life devoted to transcendentalism following divine love.

Sita and RamaBy singing about the glories of Sita and Rama, Tulsidas showed that his mind was immersed in bhakti, that he was looking for more ways to glorify the person he learned about from his guru. Information of the divine passed on to the sincere student is meant to affect behavior. If the guru passed on knowledge that was only absorbed and then not acted upon, what would their efforts really do for anyone? I could just sit and listen to any subject matter then and not gain any benefit. I could even sit there and not pay attention at all, and the effect would be the same. The guru is supremely pleased by seeing that the information he has taught has really sunk in to his students, that they have found happiness through directing their behavior towards the divine path instead of the repetitive and miserable material path. If the student wasn’t looking for a change in behavior, he never would have given aural reception to the guru’s teachings. Therefore the change in behavior is almost compulsory, as it indicates that the bhakti spirit has taken over a person residing in a realm where the materialistic spirit is predominant. The guru proves to be an ocean of mercy that constantly replenishes the soul thirsty for the transcendental nectar that is God’s association.

Religion in the vernacular sense can be taken to be a matter of faith, a rubberstamp system where you go through a few perfunctory rituals and regulations to remain in good standing with the powers that be. In more recent times, just inheriting your faith from your parents is good enough. The regulations are taken as secondary in importance, especially since material amenities are procured through personal effort rather than prayer. If I can get comfortably situated without ever attending church or praying to God, what need do I have for religion?

Ganesha writing scriptureBy writing about the subject matter as they have understood it, the bhaktas reveal the dynamic nature of real religion, which is known as sanatana-dharma in the Vedic tradition. These two terms are not sectarian, as they can be scientifically explained. Something based on science is much easier to accept than matters of faith. Sanatana means that which has no beginning and no end. Dharma means an essential characteristic, which can then be awakened and maintained through a specific set of actions. The real meaning of religion is to maintain the soul’s essential characteristic of being a lover of God. Since this feature is awakened and maintained through specific activities, dharma becomes the set of guiding principles aimed at keeping one connected with God; hence the correlation between dharma and religion. As both the soul and its primary characteristic, or dharma, are eternal, real religion continues forever [sanatana].

Sanatana-dharma is nice in theory, but the behavior of the bhaktas who have sincerely heard from their spiritual master and fully absorbed the information lends credence to the concept. Describing God as you have understood Him allows for countless opportunities for the practice of dharma to continue. As love is more than just a profession of faith or allegiance, devotional practices maintain the characteristic of lover of God within the individual. The beautiful song composed by Tulsidas showed that the teaching efforts of his guru were fruitful, and that the divine personalities beseeched were benevolent to the poet. The saints operate to please the Supreme Lord after all, and if God sees that someone is desirous of describing His glories simply based on the motive of remaining connected with Him, how can that person ever fail? Mistakes are only made by those who are conditioned, looking for perfection over the forces of matter. As Shri Rama is above both the material and spiritual energies, He can ensure that His devotees never fail in their devotional efforts. The prolific writing of the praiseworthy saints is but just one example of this truth.

In Closing:

The principles of bhakti on how to live,

Do the merciful gurus to us give.

From that sublime and glorious wisdom,

Comes knowledge of how to reach God’s kingdom.

Those who write from the principles they know,

Cause the guru’s glories and fame to infinitely grow.

An example is Janaki Mangala, which Tulsidas did write,

Brings the marriage of Sita and Rama to anyone’s sight.

Story already told many times before,

In Puranas and Ramayana’s verses galore.

Poet sung the song in his own way,

To show that guru’s words in his mind did stay.

When the Lord of creatures is to the heart pleased,

Success of devotee’s efforts is always guaranteed.

The glories of guru extend through disciple’s words,

Which heal the troubled souls travelling the three worlds.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Say Krishna

Lord Krishna“Say Krishna, think of Krishna, and chant Krishna-nama. Krishna is your father, mother, life and all. Krishna has come for your sake to deliver you all. Surrender to Him, do not anything that is wrong.” (Chant of Haridasa Thakura and Nityananda Prabhu, Chaitanya Bhagavata, Madhya, 3.83-84)

One cannot imagine how sinful Jagai and Madhai were. It is said that Yamaraja, the demigod in charge of delivering justice to the just departed souls, could not count the number of sins committed by these two men. There wasn’t enough paper available to write down all of their offenses. Since they were such a plague on society, their fate in the afterlife couldn’t even be determined right away. Though they were born to brahmanas, or men of the priestly class, they barely resembled human beings in their behavior. Yet two fearless preachers, on the order of a higher authority, came and delivered them, keeping the holy name around them the whole time by loudly chanting it. To those who take shelter of the holy name, even the wickedest attempts put forth by the strongest enemies of religion will feel no more of a nuisance than a cotton suave touching the body or a mink glove rubbing up and down against the back.

Who were Jagai and Madhai? More importantly, how and why were they saved? What does it mean to be “saved” anyway? Aren’t we all in the same boat of material existence, forced to endure temporary bouts of happiness and sadness? You get up every day, do what you have to do to ensure you have enough money, and then come home and relax. If you follow this pattern long enough, one day you won’t have to work anymore. Then you wait for inevitable death to come and take everything away. There are gradations of good and bad work, but since we start and end in the same places, can we really say that anyone lives a different life?

Though the spirit soul living in a dog’s body is equal to the spirit soul residing in a human being, the nature of activities is different. A dog has different tendencies than a human being. Also, the dog has more limitations. It cannot study quantum physics, speak eloquently, or even cook an elaborate meal. The human being, though equal in spiritual constitution to the dog, has these capabilities and many more. In this way we know that souls can end up in different places and thereby have different types of enjoyment.

“The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal, fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.7)

Lord KrishnaThe variety in residences for the spirit soul is due to karma, or fruitive work. Since work and its pile of reactions are rooted in desire, we can say that every living entity essentially gets what they want. The soul wanting limitless sex life, which requires minimal effort to secure, would have a difficult time in the human body. The opposite sex is not wooed so easily, and if it is, the enjoyment isn’t as great. “The chase is better than the catch”, as they say, which means that part of the thrill of conjugal relations in the human species is getting the corresponding party to let down their guard and take an interest in you romantically.

If you wish to eat whatever you want, whenever you want, the human body is again not the most suitable. A hog will eat anything placed in front of it, and other animals eat carcasses and flesh. In this way their diets aren’t difficult to maintain; they can ingest whatever they want. The human being, on the other hand, is so conscious of its food intake that it regularly goes on diets, trying to better its health and overall appearance. If we want to eat to our hearts’ content, why would we want to remain in a species that is so conscious of weight loss?

What is the human birth for then? What is that desire of the spirit soul that grants it residence in the most advanced form of body in terms of intelligence capacity? At its core the soul is a lover of God. If you would rather call Him something else, by all means do so, but this still doesn’t change the constitutional position of the soul. Even if there is outward denial of the existence of a higher authority figure, the penchant to love will remain the same. The difference will be that the love will be directed towards the wrong places. By “wrong” we mean that which doesn’t match up with the soul’s reservoir of love. As an example, parental affection is meant to be directed to our children. If the same potential affection were to be directed towards a car or piece of wood, obviously we wouldn’t be making the best use of our energy. The mother produces milk from her breast only when the child is there to want it; otherwise the love in the form of milk stays empty.

Mother Yashoda and KrishnaThe spirit soul, when denying or ignoring the presence of God, doesn’t necessarily run dry in its potential for service. Rather, that same penchant brings the individual into other engagements, which are not properly suited for accepting the love meant for God. Drug addiction, overeating, indulgence in illicit sex, and excessive gambling give indications of a loving spirit gone awry. Though these are the most egregious examples, in fact any love that is not offered to God or not based on that inherent love for the Supreme Lord is misdirected. Not only is that affection meant for God, but the other objects and entities are also incapable of accepting an endless amount of service.

You can take pretty much any example of offered service to see that there are limitations. The exuberant worker can at best work overtime hours to show their boss that they are committed to the operation. Despite the most heartfelt enthusiasm, the number of available hours to work in a given week is capped. Moreover, the boss’ ability to compensate the loving employee is limited by the amount of profit produced by the venture. In romantic love, there is the possibility of smothering your significant other, making them feel uncomfortable due to too many affectionate gestures.

God, on the other hand, can never be smothered. As if to correspond with this property, the spirit soul has no limit to its ability to love the Supreme Lord. Only in the human species can the inquiry even be made into the Absolute Truth, the one person who is beyond the dualities of life and death, light and darkness, heat and cold, etc. When convinced of the need for worshiping God, the spirit soul in the human species can follow the proper methods of service, activities which gradually reduce the fever of material existence, which results from a constant struggle for acquiring gains, a battle rooted in competition against our fellow man.

Even in the human species there are gradations of birth, different circumstances that one can be born into. The brahmana, or priestly class, is considered the best birth because, by culture, the newborn is ingrained with the values and traditions geared for understanding God and voluntarily accepting service to Him. It isn’t that anyone can be forced into pouring their love in the proper channels. There may be cajoling in the beginning stages, but with aggressive persuasion eventually the reservoir will get capped; so strong is the desire of the living entity. Force does not constitute love, and neither does it give pleasure to the receiver.

Lord ChaitanyaAround five hundred years ago in India, a special person took birth, someone who would deliver the fallen souls of the time. Different from the previous incarnations of God, who slayed miscreants by using arrows and gave pleasure to the devotees with their fighting abilities, this manifestation of the Supreme Lord would take the guise of a humble preacher, one who seemingly had no fighting prowess. His mission would be the same, though He would go about it in a different way. Instead of killing the enemies, He would destroy their sinful desires causing their fall from grace. His mercy would extend to those eagerly looking for transcendental happiness, those not born into good circumstances, and also those who were considered the vilest creatures.

To show that His mission was real, Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the most merciful incarnation of Godhead, dispatched two of His most dear friends to deliver a pair of drunkards, veritable plagues on society, Jagai and Madhai. Though Mahaprabhu’s divine nature is hinted at in the Shrimad Bhagavatam, which is the crown jewel of Vedic literature, one needn’t immediately accept His position as Krishna to be benefitted. Just by regularly hearing about Him and His kind mercy, even the hardest heart will be softened.

Jagai and Madhai were brothers born in a brahmana family, but they exhibited the worst traits. This shows that one doesn’t automatically acquire a high status by their birth; a fact which is just common sense. Anyone who says otherwise is simply parroting words taught to them or trying to unfairly acquire fame when they don’t deserve it. We may respect someone for who their parents are, but unless they exhibit praiseworthy qualities, how can we look to them for guidance? The brahmanas are meant to be the brains of society. Not everyone will know how a government should run, what is sin and what isn’t, and what the meaning of life is; nor do they need to. If a few brahmanas are present and not afraid to teach, then everyone can learn the knowledge necessary for making advancement towards pure God consciousness.

Nityananda Prabhu and Haridasa Thakura were Lord Chaitanya’s trusted associates, beloved by all. As part of their daily routine, they went around village to village, house to house, asking people to chant the names of Shri Hari, who is the Supreme Lord. God is bestowed thousands of names in the Vedic tradition because of His unlimited attributes and features. These names give pleasure to the devotees who chant them. “Haribol” is a call to chant the names of Hari, for in the present age of darkness, the holy name is the singular vehicle for deliverance.

Lord KrishnaOf the names for God found in the Vedas, Krishna is considered the topmost, as it best describes the Lord’s position. He is all-attractive, which means that every single person is naturally drawn to Him. The atheists are enamored by Krishna’s separated energy expansion of material nature, while the devotees are attracted to His original form holding a flute in the hands and wearing a peacock feather in the hair. Krishna’s smile is so beautiful that the sober person who looks at it will instantly lose their pride accumulated over many lifetimes. Just one pure recitation of Krishna’s name catches Hari’s attention. He will then make sure that such a person eventually becomes God conscious and gains release from a temporary realm full of miseries.

Nityananda and Haridasa wanted others to say Krishna’s name purely, for this was the mission they were carrying out for Mahaprabhu. Jagai and Madhai seemed like they would never agree to chanting, nor would they even remain peaceful while being preached to. Who likes to be told what to do anyway? If someone on the street comes up to us selling something, the natural reaction is to brush them aside, pretend like they’re not even there. “Stop bothering me man; just leave me alone.” Jagai and Madhai took unfriendliness to an extreme. They would attack innocent people for no reason.

While on the way to deliver the two brothers, Nityananda and Haridasa chanted out loud that Krishna had come to save everyone. They boldly asserted that everyone should chant the holy name of the Lord, taking it as the mother, father and life. In one sense they were asking for trouble, as they knew that if Jagai and Madhai heard this, they would not be happy. Sure enough, the brothers would be so incensed that Nityananda Prabhu would get injured, being cut on the head from an object hurled at him by Madhai. When Mahaprabhu heard about this, He immediately came on the scene and was ready to kill Madhai. Nityananda then stepped in and asked the Lord to be merciful and not harm him. Seeing this amazing affection, both brothers became devotees. They agreed to stop their sinful ways and always chant the names of Krishna.

Nityananda PrabhuIf even the worst men can be delivered by the power of the holy name transmitted through an empowered human being, just imagine how many other people can. Lest we think we don’t need to be delivered, for as long as there is aversion to divine love, there is every chance of rebirth. Would you want to take birth and have to go to school again? Would you want another life of constant repetition, where nothing brings permanent happiness? Maybe some would, but the sober individual recognizes the pattern of material life and looks for a way out.

Chanting of the holy names is best done through recitation of Mahaprabhu’s favorite mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Recite this sacred formula as often as you want. To keep a routine going, it is best to chant this mantra daily on a set of japa beads, but the sequence of words can also be sung in countless melodies. Even while travelling through this world full of danger, one can keep the holy name with them, chanting it fearlessly as Nityananda and Haridasa did. The two saved countless individuals, including even the most fallen. There should be no doubting then that, if we approach the same saints and ask them to instill in us Krishna-prema, or love for God, they will kindly oblige. Mahaprabhu’s mercy continues to be bestowed upon humanity today through His extended family of associates and their branches of disciplic succession. Indeed, the popularity of the Hare Krishna mantra is due entirely to them. The best way to repay the kindness shown to us is to regularly say “Krishna” and say it with love.

In Closing:

Jagai and Madhai, their influence on society did steadily mount,

Yamaraja, god of death, their sinful reactions couldn’t count.

Yet salvation not available to only highest class,

Can even come for those who in behavior are crass.

Lord Chaitanya specifically came to deliver all,

With sounds of the holy name heard from devotee’s call.

His friends Nityananda and Haridasa bhakti did spread,

Not even the influence of the vilest men did they dread.

From sounding Krishna’s name sinners did they hope to save,

Facing Madhai and Jagai, Nityananda did remain brave.

Cut on the head from pot of Madhai, blood from Nityananda did spill,

Mahaprabhu then arrived on the scene, culprits wanting to kill.

Nityananda stepped in and Mahaprabhu did he mollify,

Brothers then agreed to give up sin, holy names would they glorify.

The mercy of Mahaprabhu has the greatest reach,

Through His friends how to purely love God does He teach.

Monday, October 17, 2011

On Second Thought

Shri Hanuman“Separated from Rama, that noble lady is not able to sleep, eat, drink, or even decorate herself.” (Hanuman thinking about Sita, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 11.2)

na rāmeṇa viyuktā sā svaptum arhati bhāminī |
na bhoktum na api alamkartum na pānam upasevitum ||

“Alas, I have finally found her. My hard work has paid off; it was not in vain. This most beautiful woman must be the person I am looking for, for her features do not resemble any of the others’ that I have seen thus far. I am so excited; I can’t wait to tell her why I have come here and how her rescue will arrive shortly.” But wait! Upon further examination, after careful consideration, this divine warrior realized that he was mistaken. Pounding his chest and kissing his tail in happiness were a little premature, for what could the princess of Videha, the religiously wedded wife of Lord Rama, be doing in the inner chambers of the palace of the King of Lanka, Ravana, who was now fast asleep, passed out in a drunken stupor? Though Hanuman’s elation was short-lived, the false hope ended up revealing some more of his wonderful qualities, which are impossible to fully enumerate or measure. Let’s just say that of all the good people to have ever graced this earth, no one has been as eager to put a smile on the face of Lord Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, as Hanuman.

HanumanThe princess Sita had been taken from the side of her husband while she was living in the forest of Dandaka. Ravana was famous throughout the world at the time for his tremendous fighting prowess, with the opulence of his kingdom giving the appearance of a heaven on earth. He really had no need for another wife, a fact confirmed by Hanuman’s observations in the city of Lanka. Learning that Sita was missing, Shri Rama, as the most merciful of all beings, gave the opportunity for service to the monkeys residing in Kishkindha. Hanuman was their most capable warrior, and through a series of events he would end up in Lanka alone. The mission’s success rested in his hands, and he was up for the challenge. When the pressure really gets applied in a big game or when there is a deadline at work, you want your best people on the job, those who cast aside the pressure of the moment and keep the end-goal in mind. Otherwise the fear of failure would creep in and hinder the exhibition of the qualities in the individual that made them eligible for the task in the first place.

Hanuman didn’t have time to get scared over the danger of the mission, which called for him to find Sita and return the information of her location to Rama. It was Hanuman against an entire city of powerful demons. Moreover, there was no shortage of protection or opulence in Lanka. Even the floors were inlaid with jewels; so in this sense poverty was nonexistent in the city. Hanuman forged ahead anyway, as he was the only Vanara in his party who could cross over the massive ocean that separated Lanka from the mainland. After searching far and wide throughout the city, Hanuman finally made it into Ravana’s palace. This was the most elegant building, and it had the famous Pushpaka car situated outside. The Pushpaka can be likened to an ancient airplane, one created by the demigods and used by Kuvera previously. After Ravana drove Kuvera, his half-brother, out of Lanka, he took ownership of the Pushpaka. He used it to fly around the world and inflict terror wherever he went.

When Hanuman entered Ravana’s palace, it was nighttime, so everyone was asleep. Nevertheless, Hanuman couldn’t believe what he saw. The most beautiful women in the world, people who really didn’t belong on earth, were everywhere, elegantly dressed and drunk from a long night of partying. Some of the women were so intoxicated that they were passed out on each other. Some were sitting on each other’s laps, and some were resting on areas of the body not appropriate for mention. Needless to say, what Hanuman saw was not suitable for children. The ruler of this palace could be considered a swinger of ancient times, a playboy who had no shortage of sinful enjoyment. Wine and women were everywhere, however, so why did this miscreant need to take away a woman who was already married and living with her husband, the sweetheart jewel of the Raghu dynasty, Lord Rama?

Sita DeviThough most of these princesses were won by Ravana after defeating other kings in battle, Hanuman concluded from his observations that none of them were forced to enjoy with the demon. Rather, they were all won over by the king’s qualities and thoroughly enjoying his company. After Hanuman saw beautiful woman after beautiful woman enjoying in different ways, he finally came upon Mandodari, Ravana’s chief queen. She was the most beautiful of the women thus far, so Hanuman thought that she might be Sita. Hanuman had never met Rama’s wife, but he had heard of her divine qualities. He knew that she would stand out in Lanka, that she wouldn’t look like any of the other women.

Thinking that he had found Sita, Hanuman became elated for a brief moment. When he came back down to earth, he thought the matter over for a second. The obvious question in his mind was, “How could Sita be living in Ravana’s palace? She would never look at any man except Rama.” In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, we see Hanuman reviewing Sita’s qualities as a way to validate his new assertion that indeed this beautiful woman he was looking at couldn’t be Sita. For starters, Mandodari was sleeping, as were the rest of the queens. Hanuman knew that Sita couldn’t be capable of sleep, especially the type caused by drunkenness. Of all the chaste women in the world, none could compare to Janaki, the daughter of King Janaka, whose hand in marriage was won by Rama during the famous bow-lifting contest held in Videha.

“As Rama drew the bow back fully, the force He applied caused the bow to break in half. The sound that resulted was as fierce and frightening as that of a falling thunderbolt.” (Sita speaking to Anasuya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 118.49)

Rama lifting the bowSita’s devotion to Rama was certainly in line with dharma, or religiosity, but it was actually caused by her deep love and affection for her husband, who had won her over with His divine qualities. Sita’s behavior reveals the hidden secret that God doesn’t need to be surrendered to out of fear, obligation, or the recommendation of others. Surely preachers can come up to us and advise us to give up sinful behaviors like meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex, and turn our lives over to God, but unless and until we learn about the Supreme Person’s qualities and His worthiness of being worshiped, the devotional efforts we put forth will not bring the height of pleasure.

A half-hearted effort will not bring the same result as one driven by full-fledged enthusiasm. Therefore the central recommendation of the religion of love, bhakti-yoga, is that one regularly chant the holy names, like those found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Through this method, even if there is resistance at the beginning, just hearing the transcendental sound vibrations describing the Supreme Lord will slowly bring about a change in consciousness. Though the activity seems forced, if one can follow this chanting practice for at least six months, a huge difference in consciousness will result. The recommendation is that one chant the maha-mantra at least sixteen rounds daily on a set of japa beads. One round equals one hundred and eight recitations of the mantra, so sixteen rounds will take some time each day to complete, but the investment is well worth it.

Because Sita was won over by the qualities of her husband, she devoted herself to him in thought, word and deed. More than just for her benefit, this exclusive and unmatched affection brought great pleasure to Rama as well. In the spiritual sky, where God and His associates are situated, it is said that the Lord’s eternal consort is capable of bringing Him more pleasure than anyone else. Therefore Sita was just living up to her role, showing everyone just how wonderful it is to be in God’s company.

Understanding how devoted to Rama Sita was, Hanuman knew that she wouldn’t be able to sleep while separated from her husband. She must have been worrying the whole time whether she was ever going to see her beautiful darling again. She was not very much afraid to die, as she had no attachment to her body. If there was any fear in this area, it was over how Rama might react to her departure from the world. What’s amazing about Sita is that rather than bemoan her plight and complain over the fact that no one had come to rescue her, she was more concerned over how bad Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana were feeling over the incident. Rama had gone to chase after an illusory deer, which was really Ravana’s associate Maricha in disguise. Lakshmana was still with Sita, but she drove him away after insulting him. Sita wanted Lakshmana to go see if Rama was alright. Obviously once Lakshmana left, Ravana had no trouble coming in and taking Sita.

Sita and RamaHanuman knew that Sita wouldn’t be able to eat either. Though eating is required for the maintenance of the body, a devoted person like Sita would always first offer anything she ate to Rama and Lakshmana. The remnants of the food then become prasadam, or “the Lord’s mercy.” This ancient tradition of eating is followed even to this day by devotees of Vishnu, who are known as Vaishnavas. The Vedas reveal that the Supreme Lord has many different forms, with the original being Krishna. There are many different gods, but only the Vishnu-expansions are equivalent to the original. Thus any person devoted to Krishna, Rama, Vishnu, or any other Vishnu form is referred to as a Vaishnava. As Sita couldn’t get prasadam in Lanka, she wouldn’t be eating like the rest of the queens seen by Hanuman.

Sita also wouldn’t decorate her body. Though the practice may seem strange when juxtaposed with the fashion conscious modern society, women of the Vedic tradition typically don’t dress themselves up very nicely unless they are in the company of their husband. This guiding principle makes sense if you think about it. The main purpose of looking good is to attract your lover. If the amorous feelings are increased, the relationship will be enjoyed even more. Since Sita was away from Rama, there was no way she would be as elegantly dressed as Mandodari and the other queens were. What need did Sita have to be dressed opulently? Her aim was to repel Ravana as much as possible.

Lastly, Sita certainly wouldn’t be intoxicated. Looking at Rama’s beautiful face and thinking of His wonderful qualities with respect to beauty, wealth, strength, fame, knowledge and renunciation bring natural highs. Intoxication is not necessary in devotional life. Actually, getting drunk, smoking up, or shooting in are practices reserved for those who have yet to understand their inherent link to the Supreme Spirit. Intoxication brings a perverted version of the real high that the soul is meant to experience through God’s association. Therefore the drunkenness of Ravana’s queens revealed that Ravana himself was incapable of fully satisfying them. The women needed intoxication to enjoy each other’s company; thereby indicating the defect in Ravana’s qualities and also the strong presence of the mode of ignorance in Lanka. The material world is governed by three qualities: goodness, passion and ignorance. For the human being to make advancement towards full enlightenment, activities in the mode of goodness should be taken up as much as possible. The mode of passion maintains a neutral state, while ignorance leads to future demotion and a hellish life. Bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is actually even more pure than the mode of goodness, so we can just imagine how beneficial it is for the spirit soul.

Despite temporarily thinking that he had found Sita and then realizing he hadn’t, Hanuman forged ahead. The characteristics enumerated by Hanuman reveal just how wonderful Sita Devi is. Moreover, just contemplating her behavior and her love for Rama is enough to please the heart for a considerable period of time. If you add on top of that Hanuman’s devotion and fortitude in pushing forward with the mission given to him by Rama, you’re left with endless opportunities for associating with people of the divine nature. While intoxication, the mode of ignorance, and fruitive activity bring the false hope of lasting enjoyment, thinking of Hanuman and his undying love for Sita, Rama and Lakshmana brings real hope for the brightest future, that of eternal residence in the spiritual sky.

HanumanIn Closing:

Seeing Mandodari after searching around,

Hanuman, excited, jumped up and down.

Afraid that in his mission to find Sita he would fail,

Now he had success, so happily did he kiss his tail.

But stepping back for a moment he started to think,

“Women in palace are all affected from drink.

If in her heart Rama’s image did she keep,

Then how was she capable of having any sleep?

Sita, always focused on her husband’s feet,

Separated from Him cannot even muster to eat.”

Thus Hanuman did realize his vision’s error,

That woman wasn’t Sita, of amazing grief’s bearer.

Yet one thing from incident we can learn,

Is that to please Rama does monkey’s heart yearn.

Though he sometimes wrongly gets excited,

From his eagerness, hearts of saints still delighted.

To think of Sita did error in vision give the chance,

Hanuman’s glory and fame did it also enhance.