Saturday, October 29, 2011


Sita's wedding ceremony“That country is looking so beautiful, and the Vedas have described its purity. Known in the three worlds, Tirahut [Janakpur] is the tilaka of the earth.” (Janaki Mangala, Svayamvara Ki Taiyari, 4)

desa suhāvana pāvana beda bakhāniya |
bhūmi tilaka sama tirahuti tribhuvana jāniya ||

For the Vaishnava, the tilaka is the sacred marking on the body representing the link to Lord Vishnu, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. More than just an enigmatic figure to be contemplated on within the mind, the person who is the reservoir of all energies has features that are identifiable through accessing authorized information passed on in a chain of disciplic succession. The highest form of worship is to concentrate on those attributes and become attracted to them. The devotee of Vishnu wears a tilaka on several parts of the body, and most prominently on the forehead, to indicate the various marks of Vishnu, to show that there is a dedication to worshiping Him, in any of His non-different forms. For Goswami Tulsidas, the sacred mark on the earth, the place where Vishnu’s impression is very nicely felt, is Tirahut, or the ancient kingdom of Janakpur where Vishnu’s incarnation of Rama married the beloved daughter of King Janaka, Sita Devi.

Sita and RamaWhy this land over others? Why not declare Ayodhya to be the tilaka, or even Vrindavana, where Vishnu appeared as Krishna? In the Janaki Mangala, the poet is mentally travelling back in time to when Lord Rama was about to win the hand of Sita Devi. The marriage of the Supreme Lord to His eternal consort is as anticipated for devotees as the marriage of a close friend or relative is for the average person. A wedding is a time to come together, an excuse for people who haven’t seen one another in a long time to meet up. The event itself focuses on the shared love and commitment of two people.

Since the wedding already has purity built into it, the higher the character of the participants, the more important the event will be. With Sita’s marriage, there was an air of uncertainty, as it was to be a self-choice ceremony, or svayamvara. No one knew going in who the groom was going to be. The reason for this was that the king giving away Sita’s hand in marriage had no idea who Sita’s parents were. He had found her as a child one day while ploughing a field. Based on her characteristics, the king knew that he couldn’t just give her away to any man when the time for marriage arrived. After feeling helpless, like a man stuck in an ocean without a raft to get him across, he decided to hold a contest, where the person who could lift Lord Shiva’s illustrious bow would win his precious adopted daughter’s company for life.

“Knowing me to be one not born of any mother's womb, the king, after great thought, was unable to find a suitable husband for me.” (Sita Devi speaking to Anasuya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 118.37)

Based on Sita’s spotless character, there could only be one match for her. Though at the time of writing, the poet was well aware of who would win the contest, for the pleasure of his mind he still travelled back to that fateful day and relived the events. The land that hosted the contest is known as a tilaka, or most important mark on the earth, because of Sita and Rama’s presence there. Another benefit of the tilaka is that it immediately reminds others of Vishnu. Just as we can recognize a police officer by their uniform and a priest by the type of shirt they have on, a Vaishnava, a devotee of Vishnu, can be easily spotted by the tilaka mark on the head or the tulasi beads around the neck. Even if these things should be absent, the person who always chants the glories of Vishnu stands out as a Vaishnava.

HanumanWhat is the significance in noting the tilaka? For the person immersed in Rama-lila, just hearing the word Tirahut or Janakpur immediately brings to mind the time Rama lifted up Lord Shiva’s bow and married Sita. What better image could there be for the mind to contemplate on? The sacred places on this earth are marked with the footprints of Vishnu during His several descents in avatara forms. The places of pilgrimage are those where noteworthy events relating to the Lord took place. Janakpur was certainly one of those places.

Tirahut also brings to mind King Janaka and his pious character. He was very famous throughout the world during his time, for his dedication to piety was unmatched. He was also an expert mystic, which meant that he was above the influence of the senses. For a king that is a very rare accomplishment, for the appeal of being king is that you get to enjoy heavenly delights and opulence while still on earth. The President of the United States flies around on Air Force One and can eat whatever he desires at any time of the day. He even gets to vacation in wonderful places. Kings similarly are supplied with whatever they desire at a moment’s notice. How then could a king like Janaka be above the influence of the senses, especially when his desires could be met so easily?

Let’s think of it this way. Imagine being known for your control over eating. You meticulously measure the portion sizes of the food you are going to eat, and you never indulge in anything that will be bad for you. Thus you maintain a slim physique and never suffer from illness. Keeping the internal airs of the body in balance, you never put stress on yourself from eating. Surely you are not that rare, as many people aren’t overweight. But what about if we said that you did this while sitting in front of a buffet cart for eight hours a day? Let’s say that you worked in a place where you could eat whatever you wanted at any time of the day, at no charge. These circumstances make your controlled eating all the more impressive.

King JanakaTake the example of getting to eat whatever you want and extend it out to every sensual pursuit, and you have what the average king’s lifestyle is like. Yet Janaka was so dedicated to piety, so knowledgeable of dharma and how to maintain one’s essential characteristic, that he was known as Videha, or bodiless. The senses had no influence on him. What’s more is that he even advanced past the stage of mystic yoga and became a full-fledged devotee, someone so devoted that he is today known as one of the twelve mahajanas, or authorities on devotional service.

“Lord Brahma, Bhagavan Narada, Lord Shiva, the four Kumaras, Lord Kapila [the son of Devahuti], Svayambhuva Manu, Prahlada Maharaja, Janaka Maharaja, Grandfather Bhishma, Bali Maharaja, Shukadeva Gosvami and I myself know the real religious principle.” (Yamaraja, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 6.3.20)

A mahajana is a great soul because of their qualities exhibited in dealings with others and also their ability to teach others about the right path in life. The twelve mahajanas relating to devotional service are listed in the Shrimad Bhagavatam, or Bhagavata Purana. It should be noted that not all the personalities mentioned are direct worshipers of Lord Vishnu. For instance, Prahlada Maharaja was a devotee of Vishnu, but he got to offer prayers to the Lord in His half-man/half-lion form of Narasimhadeva. Lord Shiva especially prefers to worship Vishnu as Lord Rama. Regardless of who was specifically worshiped, their interactions with Vishnu and their staunch devotion to him made them eligible to be known as authority figures, people that others can look to for guidance.

What did Janaka specifically do to be listed as one of the authorities on devotional service? For starters, his Videha position did not preclude him from picking up the baby in the ground and harboring affection for her. Janaka, though above the influence of the senses, immediately harbored parental affection for this precious little girl found in the field. As if the keepers of heaven knew what was in his mind, a voice in the sky then came upon the scene and said that this girl was Janaka’s daughter in all righteousness, or dharma. Janaka needed to hear this because he never did anything outside the bounds of piety. The voice basically gave him the okay to love this girl as his daughter and take care of her.

Sita and RamaFrom the events described in the Janaki Mangala, we learn that Janaka would also get a tremendous thrill upon meeting Shri Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana. Vishnu is not alone in the spiritual world. God has a family like we do. His eternal consort is Lakshmi Devi, who is Sita. His protector, His number one servitor, is Ananta Shesha Naga, who is Lakshmana. Janaka did not break his high position of being desire-less when meeting Sita, Rama and Lakshmana for the first time. Rather, his mastery over mystic yoga and his pious nature made him eligible for experiencing the transcendental bliss that comes with God’s association.

That same thrill can be felt by those who hear of Sita and Rama’s glorious activities. The stage for one of their most memorable interactions was the land of Tirahut, which thus made it worthy of being called a tilaka. Just as Janaka’s kingdom is sacred for its rich history and the pious people who lived there, the incomparably brilliant works of the saint Tulsidas are forever sacred. He wrote the Janaki Mangala to stay connected in the mind with Sita and Rama, and we read his works so that we can gain his association. No other benefit in life can compare with the company of the saints, who are like travelling tirthas, bringing auspiciousness and good cheer wherever they go. The pages that house the words born in their minds thus also become sacred, like tilaka, for they immediately remind one of Vishnu and devotion to Him.

In Closing:

Tilaka is the sacred mark to treasure,

Reminds one of Vishnu, reservoir of pleasure.

The tilaka on the head Vaishnavas do show,

So that their link to Vishnu others can know.

Tulsidas says that earth of Tirahut is the tilaka,

Place where Sita lived with father Janaka.

Hosted the greatest marriage of all time,

Brought princes from around the world, every kind.

Land earned tilaka status with Rama’s arrival,

His lifting of Shiva’s bow, secured Sita’s nuptial.

Works of the saints are like travelling pilgrimage place,

Its pages bring God’s company, put smile on the face.

Janaka forever celebrated for his pious nature,

His ceremony for Sita’s wedding mind’s treasure.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Endless Cash Flow

Lord Krishna“I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who know this perfectly engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.8)

“Can I have this? Can I have that? Why not? But I want it now?” A good parent prevents their child from becoming spoiled, from being given every single item that they want. No matter how persuasive the presentation may be, no matter how intense the temper tantrum they throw, the resilient caretaker will hold firm in their vow to instill discipline and show the true value in what is procured through labor. The child can’t be blamed for their ignorance, for they don’t know any better. To them, money just comes on its own. When you go to the store, your mother or father just whips out a credit card or a wad of cash and pays for whatever they need. There is no concept of affordability or the fact that something can’t be bought because the money required must be allocated for something else. The children following this mindset can be likened to the materialists who believe that the elements of nature just appear on their own and are thus meant to be continually exploited. Just as the spoiled child is in for a rude awakening in adult life, the ignorant human being not apprised of the highest scientific truths of spirituality is in for a world of hurt.

Does not the latter condition apply to pretty much everyone? And, what is the difference really between acknowledging God and ignoring Him? Are we going to hell just because we fail to profess allegiance? The punishment actually comes not from a vengeful Lord looking to punish those who forget Him. Rather, the inflicted pain is sourced directly in the misuse of the materials provided. Just as a fire can do great things when used properly and cause tremendous harm when not, the gross collection of material elements can do wonders for the spirit soul transmigrating through different bodies. On the other hand, when used improperly, the same elements can cause continued nescience and a renewed sentence to life in temporary realms.

So we’re basically saying that matter is neither good nor bad? Yes. Neither extreme is absolutely beneficial or detrimental. Adopting a favorable view towards matter for the purpose of exploitation is based on the ignorant mindset adopted at the time of birth; the animalistic tendencies to eat, sleep, mate and defend without restriction. When this sort of lifestyle proves to be too painful, the opposite extreme of full renunciation is taken. Yet even this is painful, for through it the penchant for activity is unnaturally checked.

“The senses are so strong and impetuous, O Arjuna, that they forcibly carry away the mind even of a man of discrimination who is endeavoring to control them.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.60)

So what can we do? How do we learn the right way to use the elements around us? The child eager for gifts is taught the value of money so that they eventually learn to curb their desires. Moreover, getting everything you want right away is not good for controlling the senses. For starters, getting what you want doesn’t actually equate to happiness. Our impulse may tell us to eat the entire pizza pie placed in front of us, but if we do so, pretty soon we’ll have a stomach ache. Despite the numerous studies conducted about how to prevent disease through avoiding and accepting certain foods, the key to healthy living is actually regulation. Just follow regular habits based on moderation, leave your body enough room to breathe without difficulty, and you will avoid so many ailments. Just think of how many problems are caused by straining the body, pushing it to the limits of action and thought. Too much stress at work results in painful conditions, as do excessive travel and exercise. Eat more than you need to and you will cause an imbalance in the body that will bring negative consequences.

Through control over sense gratification, eventually the same person that kept asking for things from the parents reflects back on their past behavior with regret. “I can’t believe I wanted all of those things. They seem so useless now. I’m glad my parents instilled some discipline in me and had the courage to say ‘No’.” At the heart of the conversion is maturity in thought, which comes through both education and the practice of regulation. Without this maturation, the same spoiled child will have difficulty dealing with the rigors of the real world, where there is not an endless cash flow available from the parents. When money has to be earned, the necessary restrictions on spending are automatically imposed on the earner, even if they weren’t expecting them.

In the larger picture, if we continue to operate under the mindset that the material elements around us just happened to appear on their own, without the hand of an intelligent creator, we will have a difficult time succeeding in the mission of life. And what exactly is that mission? As the soul is eternal, it must have an eternal occupation. To perform the duties in that occupation, an eternal home is required. The supreme destination is referred to as sugati, or auspicious home. The sugati is attained only by the favor of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. People in the past have earned it by performing wonderful devotional service directly for the benefit of the Supreme Person during His various descents to earth. This is the information given to us by the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India.

“Shri Rama personally gave liberation [sugati] to Shabari, the vulture Jatayu and those who performed wonderful devotional service, whereas the holy name has liberated countless wretches; a fact well-established in the Vedas, which sing of its glories.” (Dohavali, 32)

Lord RamaWhile steadfast devotion personally offered to the Lord has resulted in attainment of the supreme destination, which is akin to gaining liberation, for a few notable personalities, the chanting of the holy names has liberated countless people, even the lowest wretches in society. The holy name is non-different from the Supreme Person it addresses. The only reason we have distinctions between God and His names is that we are unaware of their equality. Which names should be chanted? The Vedas provide countless names, which each reference specific qualities or pastimes. The names Krishna and Rama are considered the best, as they can be recited by anyone looking to evolve from the ignorant mindset adopted at the time of birth. These names are best chanted together in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Chant this mantra, having full faith in its ability to take you to the sugati. Why is the supreme destination better than the present one? Anything created must be destroyed. When there is birth, there has to be death. If there is acceptance, there must be rejection. These are the rules of the temporary realm, which means that everything in it must eventually end in misery. A miserable place cannot be the natural home for something that is permanent, something which does not ever get destroyed. The soul always carries the properties of eternality, knowledge and bliss. In a substandard destination, ignorance takes over and the mind considers the objects around it to be useful only for its own pleasure. No thought is given to God and His amazing abilities. The difficulty in perfecting consciousness is so strong that even if the Lord is acknowledged, His influence is taken to be for the benefit of further exploitation. This is similar to if the child would think that their parents go to work simply to give them the stuff they ask for. “My dad works hard at the office so he can buy me whatever toys I want.”

Surely the parents will provide gifts to the child every now and then, but the home, clothing and food are provided to maintain life, to help the child mature to the point that they can become independent. The material elements serve a similar purpose, except the independence relates to freedom from nescience. The human birth represents the best opportunity for the conditioned soul to fully develop consciousness. In pure God consciousness, everything is used to perform divine service. The holy name is the best tool to further this end because it carries the least restrictions. One needn’t even start out with the desire for renunciation, proper education, or purification of consciousness. Just chant the holy name with faith, in the company of other wonderful servants, and see how rapidly you make progress from within.

“Though engaged in all kinds of activities, My devotee, under My protection, reaches the eternal and imperishable abode by My grace.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.56)

Lord Rama with JatayuWhat is the difference between an adult materialist and an adult devotee? Don’t devotees go to work, eat food and enjoy leisurely activities? In this sense how are they any different? The key distinction is with consciousness. Whatever thoughts are on our mind at the time of death determine where our next destination will be. Those servants who were personally liberated by the Lord thought of Him while quitting their body. It was difficult for them not to, for God was standing right in front of them. In the case of the vulture Jatayu, Lord Rama, the avatara of the Supreme Personality of Godhead appearing in the Treta Yuga, was holding him in His arms. If God is on the mind at the time of exiting the body, the next destination is the Lord’s home, a place where no one ever has to leave.

Chanting the holy name, which is a cornerstone practice in the discipline of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is meant to further the aim of reaching God’s kingdom. On the flip side, by thinking that the material elements just appeared from random collisions, the continuing mindset will be one focused on exploitation. Not only is this detrimental towards attaining the proper destination in the future, it also leads to misery in the immediate aftermath. Even if one doesn’t want to believe the statements about reincarnation so nicely presented by the Lord in the Bhagavad-gita, the Song of God, they can see the harmful effects of a materially conditioned consciousness in their own lives. Indeed, every ailment, mental or physical, is related to the forgetfulness of God. The “world peace” that is so desperately wanted can only come about when the nature around us is understood for what it is. If we think that everything is “Mine”, and other people harbor the same mentality, how can there not be constant conflict?

Karma continues for he who does not know about God and His abilities to create the wonderful nature around us. On the other side, the mature living entity keenly aware of the differences between spirit and matter knows how to tailor their behavior just perfectly so that they can remain fixed in divine trance, or samadhi, even while performing their daily routine. The ultimate reservoir of pleasure is the Supreme Lord, who is thus known as Krishna. He is all-attractive, giving sweetness to anyone who interacts with Him in the proper mood. The discipline of bhakti-yoga, with its do’s and don’ts, is meant to purify our consciousness so that we can fully appreciate our spiritual counterpart, our eternal life partner, who also happens to be the source of the abundant resources present before us.

Lord KrishnaIn Closing:

Ignorant child thinks parents have endless cash flow,

To provide for their needs, supply of toys to grow.

Think that the credit cards in stores work like magic,

To harbor this attitude as adult is tragic.

Mature adult not knowing God thinks the same way,

That material nature came through randomness’ sway.

Understand who is God and what He provides,

Learn how the soul through time always survives.

From knowledge follow the proper behavior,

Look to Shri Krishna as your only savior.

Work for Him to find supreme destination,

Abandon your drive for sense gratification.

Know that elements given by God for pleasure to feel,

To appreciate His beauty, blessed fate to seal.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Associated Risks

Hanuman“My having glanced at the wives of others sleeping in their home will certainly do a great harm to my virtue.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 11.37)

para dāra avarodhasya prasuptasya nirīkṣaṇam ||
idam khalu mama atyartham dharma lopam kariṣyati |

Celibacy and sobriety of thought, two vital components in making progress in life’s most important mission, are difficult to maintain in the face of visual distractions that come at every turn, wherever one looks, even if they don’t mean to be searching for unwanted sights. Nevertheless, in the Vedic tradition, the ancient system of spirituality instituted at the beginning of time by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, there is heavy emphasis placed on the need to restrict both illicit sex and intoxication. Indeed, if we were to look around us and analyze major problems, we’d see that illicit sex is most commonly the root cause. The very existence of the phenomenal world, which guarantees heartache and separation pains with the arrival of each new temporary reward, continues on specifically because of the desire to enjoy sex life that bears no relation to spirituality. One who even looks at another woman that is not his wife does tremendous harm to his spiritual merits. One person in particular had no choice but to gaze upon others’ wives. Since he was engaged in the most sublime mission, he was able to maintain his clarity of thought, all the while becoming even more committed to pleasing the beloved lord of his life breath, Lord Rama.

Lord RamaWhat does the Vedic restriction on sex life actually involve? And is it meant to just be a punishment for sinners? If that’s the case, aren’t many people today considered sinners? To understand the restriction, one must first juxtapose it with the aim of human life. The spirit soul is the identity within any life form, large or small, human or nonhuman. Different desires cause a variety in species, with some being intelligent and others being rather stupid. What we consider to be stupid is just an intelligence that has yet to fully develop, a consciousness driven solely by sense desires. The hog is considered an ignorant animal because it will eat its own stool and have sex with its own relatives without any qualms. An unintelligent person is likened to an ass, because the animal itself takes on loads of gear on its back simply for the paltry enjoyment of a few blades of grass. The grass is already available to the ass even if it shouldn’t listen to the commands of its master. A human being who operates without intelligence is likened to the ass that doesn’t know any better.

Real intelligence comes when the individual can ask the question, “Who am I?” When the guaranteed nature of birth, death, old age and disease are noted and analyzed, the human mind can reach the higher stages of thought. “Why do I have to take birth? Why must I die? Why do I even exist?” The Vedas provide many answers, both short and detailed, to satisfy the inquisitive mind. The short answer to the question of identity is that the spirit soul is a part and parcel of God, who, among many other things, is the ultimate reservoir of pleasure. As pleasure is the guiding force to activity, operating in God’s interests would then have to be the most worthwhile activity. The mature human being no longer engages in childish activities because they don’t provide any pleasure. Similarly, the most developed consciousness finds the ultimate reservoir of pleasure and remains attached to His interests through every thought, word and deed.

The influence of the senses can be very detrimental. The mature human being has advanced past the stage in life where everything is driven by sense desires. The mature adult knows how to limit food intake, regulate sleeping habits, and refrain from harmful behavior. Again, these regulations are accepted with a purpose, to actually increase enjoyment in the future. Similarly, the Vedic restrictions placed on sex life are there to provide a future benefit. The unintelligent act simply off of their sense demands, so conversely, the intelligent act only off of their soul’s demands. The soul and the material senses are strange bedfellows made to cohabitate due to the initial seed of desire for material enjoyment.

Lord KrishnaAs long as sense demands man the helm and steer the ship, there is no chance of finding the reservoir of pleasure, whose form and beauty are so amazing that His most potent name is Krishna, which means all-attractive. As He is not lacking anything in the pleasure department, the same Krishna is also referred to as Rama, for He gives transcendental pleasure to whoever associates with Him. The urges for sex life and intoxication are driven by maya, which lacks Krishna’s personal presence. Maya is illusion, something that promises one thing but delivers something completely different.

The Vedic regulation is that one only indulge in sex life to procreate. Any other type of sex is considered sinful. By sinful we mean an act that is guaranteed to provide a future detriment. In this case the primary negative consequence is the further thickening of the cloud of nescience enveloping the otherwise pure soul situated within the heart. To realize God’s blissful nature and the need for accepting His service, a clear head is required, one which isn’t a slave to impulses instigated by maya. When the individual is given to illicit sex life, to cavorting with people they are not married to, there is every chance of fall down.

If we look around us, the major scandals we see revolve around sex life. One congressman is texting pictures of his nether region to women not his wife; another man is engaging in illicit affairs with other men; a man is cheating on his wife; a female teacher is seducing her young male students; a priest is molesting young children, etc. When sex life is not controlled, the results can be disastrous, even to those who are not explicitly seeking spiritual merits.

For these reasons the Vedic regulations on sex life are very strict. During ancient times when adherence to Vedic principles was high, men and women were never allowed to freely intermingle, and every woman except the wife would be addressed as “mother” by a man. A wife would only decorate herself nicely for the pleasure of her husband; otherwise what need would there be to look exceptionally attractive? The strippers in the night clubs dress attractively to please other men, but the men aren’t allowed to do anything beyond seeing. Thus there is really no purpose to the attractive attire.

The restrictions on male-female relations may seem antiquated and outdated today, but what do people lacking God consciousness know anyway? The Vedic prescriptions have passed all quality control tests and they needn’t be apologized for. While the modern practices seem to be more evolved, all they do is create more trouble. The age old question of, “Can a guy and a girl just be friends?” is answered with an emphatic “No” by the shastras. Sex life is the root cause for the material existence and the fueling of reincarnation, so how on earth is it expected to be controlled when one is constantly in the company of members of the opposite sex? The sex drive is especially strong in men, as it is typically easier for an innocent woman to view other men in her life as being platonic friends.

Sita and RamaThe Vedic regulations were weighing heavily on the mind of one of the most celebrated divine figures in history as he made his way through enemy territory. The same reservoir of pleasure meant to be the object of penance, sacrifice, charity and austerity descended to earth in a beautiful human form many years back. Known as Lord Rama, this prince of the Raghu dynasty was the same Supreme Personality of Godhead, but appearing in a spiritual form that allowed others to get a glimpse of what God looks like, what pleases Him, and what His nature is like. To provide real opportunities for service beyond simple adoration, Rama created situations where He could use some help. The most important of these situations related to the rescue of His wife, Sita Devi, who had been taken to the island kingdom of Lanka.

For the initial reconnaissance mission, Shri Hanuman, soon to be Rama’s most faithful servant, stepped up to the plate. Hanuman is an eternally liberated figure, forever devoted to God, but during Rama’s time on earth, he had not yet met the lord of his life. This fateful meeting would take place in Kishkindha, shortly after Sita had been taken away behind Rama’s back. Upon meeting Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana, Hanuman knew that he had found the person he would dedicate the rest of his life to. Though all of the monkeys living under the rule of Sugriva in Kishkindha were tasked with finding Sita, only Hanuman was capable of making it to the enemy city of Lanka, which was situated far away from the mainland.

Just getting to Lanka was a struggle, but now the real difficulties were starting for Hanuman. He was all alone in enemy territory; no one around to help him or guide his activities. All he had was his fervent desire to please Rama and his extraordinary skills given to him by the higher authorities. He was not known for having exceptional scholarship, expertise in yoga, or material wealth. Nevertheless, he could make use of the highest intellect and every mystic perfection, or siddhi, when the situation called for it. Taking shelter of his tools, Hanuman scoured through the city of Lanka in a very tiny form. Several times he felt dejected over not having found Sita, whom he had never met. He knew that she would stand out, though, for Rama’s wife must be the most beautiful woman in the world who would be tremendously aggrieved upon separation from her Lord.

HanumanHanuman finally made his way into the palace of the king of the Rakshasas, Ravana, who had taken Sita. Just as Hanuman is forever in the light of pure goodness, Ravana and the grossly sinful perpetually remain in darkness. What Hanuman saw in Ravana’s place was incomparable in beauty and also in dedication to the mode of ignorance, the lowest of the material modes of nature. The animal kingdom is considered to live in ignorance since it lacks the ability to think beyond the sense urges.

What Hanuman saw in this palace reserved for drinking was astounding. He saw beautiful woman after beautiful woman sprawled out in all sorts of positions. They had been drinking all night, and due to their inebriation they had passed out here and there. Some were too affected by drink to even make it into bed, so they fell asleep clutching various musical instruments. Some were so drunk that they didn’t even know who or what they were holding onto while sleeping. Every kind of animal flesh was laid out elegantly across the different rooms. Ravana, as a Rakshasa, had a voracious appetite for meat, as he even ate human flesh on a regular basis. The palace was not lacking anything in terms of meat. The various kinds of food were seasoned very nicely and just ready to be enjoyed. The increased appetites caused by the intoxicating beverages consumed made the meat eating even more enjoyable.

Seeing so many women asleep, with some even touching one another, Hanuman had to step back for a minute. He knew that he shouldn’t be gazing at them, for it is considered sinful to look at another man’s wife, especially while she is sleeping. These women weren’t wearing much either, and they were in vulnerable states. Any normal person would have become mentally agitated, thrown off of their righteous path, but not Hanuman. He is so kind, sweet, and pious that he even felt bad for having seen all of this.

HanumanAnd what could he do? Hanuman was not in Lanka of his own accord. He was looking for Sita, and even if he had to risk sin to find her, he would not stop. One can’t help but be inspired by Hanuman’s example. In the modern age especially the temptations of illicit sex are everywhere. It is practically impossible to avoid seeing beautiful women, some scantily clad and some not, unless one hides in a cave or gets locked up in a room. Despite the inauspicious conditions, if we can remain dedicated to the path of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, and chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, there is every chance at success in spiritual pursuits.

Hanuman would forge ahead and continue his search for Rama’s wife. There exists no sin in Hanuman, as his mind can never deviate from the divine consciousness. He is always connected with Sita, Rama and Lakshmana in thought, word and deed. Therefore he was able to brush aside these unwanted visions and keep his eyes fixed on the prize. He would indeed find Sita, and eventually all would end well. The deity form of the Lord, which resides in the temple or the home, can be gazed upon every single day, giving the eyes something pleasant to look at. And the mind can always remember Hanuman and his dedication to Rama. These two practices can keep us on the righteous path and help us to avoid the pitfalls of sinful life.

In Closing:

Urges for sex most difficult to control,

Of otherwise sane man do they grab hold.

In every which direction is one led astray,

Just like the boat by wind carried away.

Thus Vedas on sex do provide limits,

So that no cap will be on soul's happiness.

Call mother to all women except the wife,

In this way restricted will be sex life.

No worry about sin or future pain,

From penance for the Lord comes real gain.

Yet Hanuman in Lanka saw so much,

Women affected by liquor's touch.

They were married and seen while vulnerable,

Yet Hanuman still of sin not capable.

Felt bad rules of propriety transgressing,

Yet on the march for Sita he kept progressing.

Who is greater than Hanuman who takes all risk?

The chance to please Sita and Rama he'll never miss.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Govardhana Puja 2011

Krishna lifting Govardhana Hill“My dear father, don't delay. The sacrifice you propose for Govardhana and the local brahmanas will take much time. Better take the arrangement and paraphernalia you have already made for sacrificing Indra-yajna and immediately engage it to satisfy Govardhana Hill and the local brahmanas.” (Lord Krishna, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 24)

There are vengeful gods. There are heavenly personalities who get angry at those who neglect their worship, especially when the neglecting worshipers think deep down that they are making a mistake. There are divine figures who give rewards to their worshipers but then later punish the same people if they should happen to surpass them in areas of opulence, which include beauty, strength and knowledge. The Lord of Lords, the Supreme Personality, however, is complete in Himself. Therefore when He asks us to surrender unto Him, the recommendation is there to provide pleasure for both sides. The neglect of that worship is itself a punishment, for the worshiper misses out on the association of the most blissful entity. Just to show that no harm can come from fully surrendering to Him, the Supreme Person explicitly protects those who abandon other worshipable figures, the ones that get angry at them for neglecting their worship. The occasion of the first Govardhana Puja very nicely proved this fact.

What would a young boy know about religion? If anything, he will probably look for ways to get out of attending religious functions. “Do I have to go? Why does God make us do these things all the time? Can’t you and Dad just do it and I’ll go do something else?” Forcing the children to participate in spiritual functions is a good way to get them exposed to the sublime life of connecting with God on a regular basis. There must be coercion with children, for that comes with the territory if you want to be a guardian. If children are forced into studying, eating, and sleeping on time, why then should they not be coaxed into attending religious ceremonies?

Lord KrishnaThe common lack of affinity for religious life within young children makes the request that came from Nanda Maharaja’s son seem all the more puzzling. Nanda was the king of a small farm community known as Vrindavana. The residents lived off of the grains produced on the land and the milk products produced by the cows. The cows were equal residents of the community; therefore the land belonged to them as well. From their grazing not only were the calves fed milk, but so were the residents of the community. As the cows were well protected and loved by the children, including Nanda’s own son Lord Krishna, they produced heaps of milk products, so much so that there was enough of a surplus to sell in the neighboring town of Mathura.

As a pious soul following the recommendations of the priestly class of men, the brahmanas, Nanda made sure to observe the annual rituals aimed at pleasing the devas, or gods. We can think of a deva to be like a department head in a government administration. Similar to paying the tax collector, giving homage to the devas in charge of the various elements of material nature ensures that there is enough rainfall and that pains in life are limited. In one particular year, Nanda Maharaja was preparing for the annual Indra-yajna, or sacrifice offered to Lord Indra, the king of the heavenly planets. Providing rain is one of Indra’s duties, which he does after receiving his share of the sacrifices made in his honor. A yajna is a sort of formal religious ritual where offerings are made in a ceremony that has a fire pit at the center. The remnants of the yajna are known as shishta and are considered free of sin.

Aside from the benefit explicitly tied to the specific yajna performed, there is the gradual shift in consciousness that results in the worshipers. The animal community lives off of the same grains that grow from the rain provided by Indra, yet they do not perform any specific worship. This means that the material nature is ready to supply everyone whatever they want and that the human form of life is meant more for advancing in consciousness. As the second grade classroom is important in molding the thinking abilities of the young student to eventually be able to think rationally as an adult, the many yajnas prescribed for the honor of the devas are meant to keep the human being tied to spiritual life, to help him break free of the possessive mentality inherited at the time of birth. We come into this world with nothing and we leave with nothing, so what do we really own?

Nanda Maharaja with KrishnaAs the Indra-yajna seemed rather benign, Nanda was a little surprised that his young son Krishna started asking questions about it. Typically, you’d expect your children to ask about a yajna so that they could find ways to get out of attending it, but with Krishna the interest was a little different. After hearing about why the sacrifice was taking place, Krishna suggested that the same preparations be used to worship the neighboring Govardhana Hill, which was supplying so much to the community with its grass. The cows were pleased with the hill, and once the cows were pleased the rest of the community thrived as a result. Therefore why shouldn’t there be a celebration for the hill instead?

Charmed by his son’s words, Nanda eventually relented. “Why not please Govardhana Hill? Sounds like a good idea.” Nanda then suggested that since the preparations were already made for Indra-yajna, they should do two sacrifices, one for each. Amazingly, Krishna rejected this idea. What could be wrong with offering Indra his share and then worshiping Govardhana Hill? Through His yoga-maya potency, Krishna had hidden His real divinity, His standing as the Supreme Lord. Yajna is actually another word for Vishnu, who is known as the chief deva, or deva vara. Vishnu is the same Krishna, which means that following the Lord’s insistence in this case would actually favor Nanda Maharaja and the residents of Vrindavana more so than any other kind of worship.

Though Vishnu is Yajna, if the specific sacrifice isn’t directly meant to please Him, the full benefit to the worshiper is not there. What does this mean exactly? Material rewards are as temporary as the body types accepted by the spirit soul. Asking for temporary things like rain and good fortune really have no standing with Vishnu, who is replete with transcendental qualities. The true benefit of worshiping God is gaining His association, being able to bask in His sweet vision. A yajna for a demigod is a sort of indirect worship, where Vishnu is essentially pleased but doesn’t reveal His full association to the devotee who is not even asking to receive it.

PrasadamThe decision was made, at the insistence of Krishna, that Govardhana Hill would be worshiped that year instead of Indra. On the one side you had Indra, the king of heaven, and on the other you had a hill, which was a collection of earthly elements. Was not the choosing of the latter a little strange? Govardhana Hill was Krishna’s proxy on earth, a way to directly accept the offerings of the devoted residents of Vrindavana. The residents would be worshiping Krishna’s hill at the Lord’s insistence. After creating a wide variety of sumptuous preparations and offering them to the hill, Krishna Himself assumed the role of the hill and spoke to the residents, telling them that He was pleased with their offering. Worship of Govardhana Hill was thus totally in the mood of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, which is not tainted with material motives.

As if to give us a further reminder of why the worship of Govardhana Hill was the right move, Lord Indra became outraged that his sacrifice was neglected on this particular year. Lord Vishnu does not succumb to the temptations of jealousy. If He did, He would be perpetually angry, as practically every spirit soul roaming the material universe has chosen a worshipable figure that is not He. The atheists worship material nature and the senses, the monists the impersonal effulgence known as Brahman, the yogis the process of meditation and the plenary expansion of the Lord residing within the heart, and the spiritually inclined materialist the many devas, or demigods, capable of offering benedictions. If Vishnu were to give way to jealousy, He would have a lot to be jealous about.

Part of being God means that You don’t require anyone’s respect. Rather, the master-servant relationship is already part of the constitutions of both parties. This means that serving God is our ideal position, and should we neglect that worship the punishment will automatically come. If we use a fork to try to eat soup, we will have great difficulty. The spoon, not the fork, is made to be used with soup. Similarly, the soul is made to be tied to Krishna in a mood of loving devotion kept alive with constant service. If the soul’s eternality, bliss and knowledge are used to further other purposes, the results are not pleasant.

heavy rainIndra released an onslaught of rain upon the residents as revenge for their transgression. It should be noted that Lord Indra is in great favor with Lord Vishnu, as are all the devas in the heavenly planets. If our children should make a mistake, we don’t hold it against them for too long, for our love for them washes away the anger that arises from disappointment. In a similar manner, Krishna’s love for Indra is unbroken, but in this particular incident He decided to teach both Indra and many future generations of listeners a valuable lesson.

That the devas would strike back against people that worshiped them previously was also not out of the ordinary. In his Kavitavali, Goswami Tulsidas remarks that there is no master like Lord Rama, who is the same Vishnu but in a different personal form. Tulsidas notes that other devas grant benedictions for as long as you worship them, but as soon as you rise a little in stature, they get jealous and come after you, trying to take you down from your prestigious position. Shri Rama is not like this, for He appreciates even the most insignificant act of devotion made with sincerity, so much so that he’ll often give His devotees a more exalted position.

Indra’s jealousy was rooted in the fact that his worship was neglected and that the residents of Vrindavana were following this young boy’s advice. The subsequent onslaught of rain instigated by Indra’s samvartaka cloud caused an immediate flooding. It would have been understandable for the residents of the town to get angry at Krishna and Nanda Maharaja. “Not only did we neglect to worship Indra, but he is punishing us as a result. This is what we get for listening to Krishna.”

IMG_0160But this was not their attitude. Rather, the residents had seen Krishna’s ability to save them from danger before. Therefore they instinctively looked to Him to save them again. And rescue them He would. Taking the same Govardhana Hill that was just worshiped, Krishna lifted it up and held it above His head with His tiny finger. Acting as a massive umbrella, the hill provided shelter to the residents, who were thus saved from the massive flooding in Vrindavana. That a young child could lift a massive hill like this and hold it up over His head sounds amazing, but for Krishna it is all part of a day’s work. The story of the lifting of Govardhana Hill hints at mythology, but then so do the changing of seasons and the rising and setting of the sun to the young child. If a massive solar body can continually effuse heat and light for billions of years without requiring an external energy source, why should not Krishna, the creator of the sun, be able to lift up a hill and hold it over His head?

A defeated Indra relented with the rain and then approached Krishna to offer His prayers of contrition. The worship of Govardhana Hill subsequently became an annual tradition, for not only does it please Krishna, it also reminds us of His lifting of the massive hill, which earned Him the name Girivaradhari. There are jealous men and vengeful gods, but Krishna is always in ananda, or bliss. Those who connect with Him by regularly chanting His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and observing His festivals will be granted the same protection that was afforded Nanda and his community.

In Closing:

In Indra-puja, to king of heaven items to offer,

In return rain upon the land does he confer.

Krishna had another idea in mind,

Indra a lesson from episode would find.

The young boy told His father to worship the hill,

The stomachs of the lovely cows with grass did it fill.

Nanda liked the idea but had already prepared,

For Indra-yajna, a most extravagant affair.

Asked Krishna to be able to do both,

Puja for Indra and hill they would hold.

Upon only Govardhana worship did the Lord insist,

Nanda gave in, for on love of son did he subsist.

Though the ceremony was completely religious,

At ignoring his worship did Indra become jealous.

From his anger harboring bad blood,

Vrindavana with rain did he flood.

Fear not for Krishna saved the day by lifting massive hill,

Worshiped as Girivaradhari to this day is He still.

Indra felt sorry for what he did, that he lost his cool,

Forgot Krishna’s position, acted like a fool.

Lord was pleased with Indra and his words,

Not angered by the commotion he stirred.

Rely only on Krishna, who accepts loving devotion,

Depend on no other, for He provides all protection.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Diwali 2011

Riding home on the Pushpaka“O Sita, see the golden lord of mountains [Mainaka], which is golden-peaked and which rose up, piercing the ocean, to provide rest to Hanuman.” (Lord Rama speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Yuddha Kand, 123.18)

hiraṇyanābhan śailendran kāñcanaṃ paśya maithili ||
viśramārthan hanumato bhittvā sāgaramutthitam |

Lord Rama, the victorious son of King Dasharatha, having just slain His enemy who had unrightfully taken His religiously wedded wife away from Him, was riding home in the aerial car known as the Pushpaka. An arduous many months had just culminated with the rescue of His wife Sita Devi, and now came the time to go back home, to return to His land where He had not been for fourteen years. The last memories Rama had of that place were from the day He was almost crowned as the new king, with His father King Dasharatha ready to hand the throne over to Him, as He was the eldest son. Fourteen years having passed and Dasharatha having quit His body, Rama would return home nonetheless. He would be received with a tremendous welcome consisting of so many lights that the occasion became celebrated thereafter as Diwali or Deepavali, which means a row of lamps. On the way home, Shri Rama, happy to be reunited with His wife, pointed out to her a collection of important places which were soon to become sacred pilgrimage sites. Always mindful of the services offered to Him, Rama even noted the important areas relating to His dearmost servants, which included the best of them all, Shri Hanuman.

Sita and RamaIf you haven’t seen one of your closest friends for a while, when you do actually meet up with them, you’ll want to know what they have been up to. “What have you been doing? What did you do for such and such occasion? How are your friends and family doing?” With Sita, her meeting with Rama piqued an even stronger interest, for she had been held captive in a tucked away grove of Ashoka trees for many months. The wicked ruler of the island kingdom of Lanka had taken her away from the side of her husband and then threatened to kill her if she didn’t give in to becoming his wife. Lord Rama is the Supreme Personality of Godhead in the guise of a human being, someone who is spiritual in every way. The fact that Rama is still celebrated to this day and His glorious qualities and activities still studied and taken delight from shows that He is no ordinary human being. The shastras already reveal to us Rama’s divinity, but as if we needed further convincing, annual occasions like Diwali remind us that Rama is God not only based on His own displays of strength and valor, but also from the merits of His associates, who substantiate the Lord’s supreme position with their every act.

Try to imagine the most beautiful woman in the world and you’ll get a slight idea of Sita Devi’s appearance. One way that the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, describe God is to say that He is the source of all energies. He is also the most fortunate living entity; hence He is known as Bhagavan. One of these fortunes involves having the most beautiful consort by your side. It would make sense then that Rama’s wife would be lacking nothing in terms of beauty. Since having her company is one of the greatest rewards in life, she is known as the goddess of fortune. Since God is married to the goddess of fortune, He is known by such names as Shripati, Shrinatha, Madhava, Lakshmipati and Sitapati.

Based on the definitions of Rama’s names, Sita cannot be with any other man. It is simply not possible. During her marriage ceremony on earth, many kings came to Janakpur to try to raise the bow handed down by Lord Shiva, which would earn them Sita’s hand in marriage. Yet only Shri Rama could lift the bow, as He is the only person worthy of being Sita’s husband. The external events always seem to be manageable, that if we can just manipulate things a certain way we’ll achieve our end. The Lord’s constitutional position, however, is absolute. As spirit souls, we too are knowledgeable, blissful and eternal, but our brilliant qualities can be covered up from time to time based on the type of body we assume. Hence we go through temporary ups and downs, gains and losses. With Rama there is never a loss. Even when it seems otherwise, Rama will rise to the challenge and maintain His constitutional position as the supreme enjoyer and husband of the goddess of fortune.

Rama lifting Lord Shiva's bowAs if having learned nothing from the contest in Janaka’s kingdom, Ravana thought he could have Sita even after she was married to Rama. He took her away through a backhanded plot, for he couldn’t survive in a fair fight against Rama. Ravana was proud of his strengths achieved through pleasing divine figures, but he liked his opulence and good standing too much to try to jeopardize them by fighting with someone who he was told could defeat him. Thinking that by taking Sita away Rama would then wallow in despair and not continue to fight, Ravana figured he was safe in Lanka.

“Just as a tree starts to blossom during the proper season, so the doer of sinful deeds inevitably reaps the horrible fruit of their actions at the appropriate time.” (Lord Rama speaking to Khara, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 29.8)

Little did Ravana know that Rama doesn’t work alone. Just as the rewards of karma come to the worker at the right time -similar to how the trees blossom in season - Ravana’s punishment and Rama’s reunion with Sita were in the works as soon as the beautiful princess was taken away. Though the odds seemed stacked against Rama - as He was roaming the forest with only His younger brother Lakshmana by His side while Ravana had a massive army in Lanka - the Lord is never bereft of accompanying divine associates. He can even take monkeys and turn them into devoted fighters. Ironically enough, that’s exactly what He would do.

How did this transformation happen? As a touchstone turns iron into gold, communion with the divine consciousness turns an individual from any species into a surcharged soul capable of carrying out their devotion to the Supreme Lord. The Vanaras in the kingdom of Kishkindha were guaranteed of success in their mission simply based on their desire to serve Rama. The most capable Vanara was Hanuman, and he would play an integral role in Sita’s rescue. The first step in Ravana’s demise was learning where he was living, which meant finding where Sita was. It wasn’t even known for sure if Ravana had taken her or if Sita was still alive. Therefore a search party had to be sent out to scour the earth, to leave no stone unturned.

HanumanSugriva, the leader of the monkeys in Kishkindha, dispatched his massive monkey army to perform this task, while in the back of his mind he knew that only Hanuman would be able to succeed. Sure enough, the burden would fall upon Hanuman to leap to the island of Lanka once it was learned that Sita was there. Not having an aerial car with him, Hanuman’s only option was to jump from a mountaintop and fly across the ocean. Since he was carrying out Rama’s work, the celestials in the sky and other powerful figures around the scene watched with rapt attention. The ocean personified was one such onlooker, and he wanted to help Hanuman.  The ocean had a link to the Ikshvaku dynasty, the family in which Rama appeared.  Hanuman was helping Rama, thus the ocean felt that it should help out someone who was doing work on behalf of the Ikshvakus.  Whoever would help Hanuman would also play a part in the sacred sequence of events that would be celebrated for millions of years in the future.

The mountain Mainaka acted on behalf of the ocean. He was told to rise out of the ocean and act as a resting place for Hanuman during his journey. When Hanuman approached, Mainaka revealed what he had been told and how he would be supremely honored to offer at least some service to Hanuman, who was carrying out Rama’s business. Hanuman did not want any help though, for he was determined to fly ahead. Nevertheless, since he was asked so nicely, he honored Mainaka and the ocean by touching his hand on the top of the mountain and then proceeding on with his journey.

Shri Rama is antaryami, or the supreme witness, which means that He resides within the heart of every living entity. Therefore He knew what Hanuman was up to, but He still took great delight in hearing about his journey later on. On the trip home to Ayodhya, while riding in the aerial car Rama pointed out the mountain Mainaka to Sita and told her that this was where Hanuman was granted rest in his flight to Lanka. During this trip home, Rama had pointed out to Sita various places where Rakshasas had been killed and other things had taken place relating to her rescue. Sita was in captivity while the final battle was going on, so she really had no information of what transpired. Moreover, she had no idea where the notable events took place.

Pushpaka flying homeRama knew that the victory was a team effort, and He was supremely pleased by the faithful dedication shown by the Vanaras, including Hanuman. For these reasons He thought that the specific locations relating to Hanuman were as important as those relating to His own achievements. From her own observations and the descriptions given to her by Rama, Sita could understand what the Vanaras had sacrificed, and how they were forever devoted to both she and her husband. When Rama later pointed out Kishkindha, Sita asked for the car to stop to pick up the wives of the monkeys, for Sita understood what it was like to be waiting somewhere while your husband was off fighting to the death with a powerful enemy. She wanted the chief Vanaras and their wives to accompany them on the journey home, where they would be ceremoniously greeted.

“Seeing the city of Kishkindha, which was formerly protected by Vali, Sita, who was feeling shy out of love, then spoke the following humble words to Rama: ‘O King, I wish to enter Your capital city of Ayodhya with You, accompanied by the beloved wives of Sugriva, headed by Tara, as well as the wives of the other Vanara leaders.’” (Valmiki Ramayana, Yuddha Kand, 123.23-25)

Diwali reminds us of Rama’s triumphant return home and the wonderful service that the Vanaras provided. With Rama come Lakshmana and Sita, and also Hanuman and his many monkey friends. With a transcendental family like that, how can anyone who thinks of them ever feel alone? On the day where they lined up a row of welcoming lights, the faithful residents of Ayodhya would get to see their beloved Rama again, and they would get to hear of the events relating to His fourteen year exile and how Sita was eventually rescued. What they didn’t know was that their celebration would itself spark an ageless tradition, one that continues to this very day.

From the journey home and the celebration now known as Diwali, we see that any service rendered to Shri Rama or one of His servants never goes in vain. Every kind act is noticed by Rama Himself, and He takes so much delight from them that He shares His sentiments with Sita, taking great pleasure in being so honored. Therefore it was not surprising that the residents of Ayodhya would lay out a massive collection of lamps to welcome back their beloved Rama. That same Supreme Lord can eternally reside within our minds by regularly worshiping Him and His associates and chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

In Closing:

Shri Rama shows to Sita the mountain with golden peak,

Which gave rest to Hanuman while Lanka trying to reach.

The couple returning to Ayodhya, on the way home,

Flying in aerial car with closest friends, never alone.

Sita, captive in Lanka for months that were many,

So seeing places related to rescue made her happy.

Shri Rama Vanaras with Hanuman did help,

Their devotion to the Lord Sita could tell.

Therefore she was happy to see places of significance,

Relating to Hanuman, immeasurable in importance.

With the output of devotion Rama does not bother,

Looks for sincerity only, like Him no other.

Residents of Ayodhya had not seen Him for fourteen years,

Aligned rows of lamps when of His arrival they did hear.

Festival so grand that annual tradition it did spark,

To remember Rama’s arrival home, to please the heart.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Simple Living

Shrila Prabhupada“By keeping regular habits and eating simple food, any man can maintain his health. Overeating, over-sense gratification, overdependence on another's mercy, and artificial standards of living sap the very vitality of human energy.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.1.10 Purport)

Overindulgence in sense pleasures is eliminated through regulation, and regulation is a byproduct of following a disciplinary system. A disciplinary system is followed to reach a certain end, to condition the living entity towards success in a particular venture. Since there is a chain linking these different practices, if the ultimate purpose, the end being furthered, is pure and of the topmost quality, then naturally the other areas will improve in their effectiveness. In the Vedic scriptures this top down approach is ironically likened to “watering the root”, wherein the living entity, who is spirit at the core, takes to their constitutional engagement first, making the pleasure of the Supreme Personality of Godhead their primary business. Through following this non-circuitous route, the ancillary concerns in life get taken care of at the same time.

Lord KrishnaAnd what are some of these ancillary concerns? Without a properly situated consciousness, what the spiritualists would view as being secondary in importance actually becomes the primary focus for hankering in the conditioned soul. The mind has two businesses: hankering and lamenting. There is hankering after those things that we want, such as places to go and future situations. Then there is lamentation over what was lost. “I can’t believe how horrible that was. I can’t believe I said that to such and such person. Why am I so stupid?”

Through a regulative system, the mind gets to focus on something more important, thus eschewing its tendency towards hankering and lamenting. Without the proper focus, however, the hankerings can deal with all kinds of issues that are only temporary in their manifestation. For instance, health is an important target for the mind worried about the future. What will happen if we get sick? Will we have enough money to pay for medical treatment? Will our health insurance still be there? Moreover, how do we prevent disease? Can we eat certain foods and be safeguarded that way? Should we try to exercise regularly, for that seems to help keep weight down?

To label these concerns as secondary in importance seems a bit silly, for if we don’t properly maintain our body, how can we perform any vital functions? But in the Vedas, the importance is given first to the spirit soul, who is transcendental, beyond the dualities of health and disease, heat and cold, and happiness and sadness. The body is known to be temporary, for we have been diseased in the past and somehow managed to feel better afterwards. Once the particular ailment was cured, life didn’t suddenly miraculously get better. When we are suffering from a cold or flu, when we wake up in the morning the hope is to just have the disease go away. “When will I get better? When will this stupid cold go away?”

stethoscopeIf the health of the body were of primary importance, then on the days that we weren’t diseased we would be ecstatic, no? On most days when we wake up and don’t have the flu, do we say to ourselves, “Wow, I feel great today. I’m so happy that I don’t have a cold or any other disease.”? This may be the sentiment in the immediate aftermath of the disease’s departure, but after a while the healthy condition becomes the norm, something taken for granted. Then the mind focuses on other areas, places where it seeks pleasure.

Lasting pleasure cannot be found through temporary sense enjoyment; so say the Vedas and the wise person who has experienced every variety of temporary sense pleasure. Disease or no disease, if the soul is not intimately tied in a loving bond to its life partner, the Supreme Lord, no condition can be deemed beneficial. On the other hand, one who follows the highest system of religion, bhakti-yoga, automatically finds a way to maintain their health and keep the rest of their lifestyle maintained. The issue, of course, is which religion to adopt and which system to follow. After all, everyone seemingly has their own religious icon, the person who insists on worship. “Jesus says that he is the only way to the father. If you don’t worship him, you’re going to hell.” “Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita that you simply surrender unto Him and be delivered of all fear.”

So which version is correct? Using dogmatic insistence, groups can argue for years and years and never reach a conclusion. One set of scriptures has their particular deity and another has their own. In the Vedic tradition, there is a singular Supreme Lord, but He is not limited to just one form. Neither is there only one doctrine of spirituality. Rather, depending on time and circumstance, only certain pieces of information are given to the people at large. This is because, for whatever reason, the people of the time are not equipped to handle every single piece of information. Indeed, the human mind is severely limited in its thinking abilities, even if it may think otherwise. In this sense there is no real way to completely understand God.

If different groups are only told certain things, how do we find the root, the real beneficiary of religion? While many spiritual traditions espouse the belief in God and the need to worship Him, the Vedic tradition, and especially its works describing bhagavata-dharma, or devotional service, gives more details into the features of the Supreme Lord, His tendencies, His qualities, and His relationship to the living entities, which include us mortal human beings. One who follows bhagavata-dharma actually doesn’t violate the principles of any other religion. Indeed, every single aspect of maintenance and regulation in spiritual life is meant to lead up to the point of devotion to God in full surrender, or sharanagati.

“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.66)

Lord KrishnaLord Krishna does say that one should surrender unto Him, but this does not come with any threat of punishment, nor is it intended to instill fear. Rather, Krishna declares this in the Bhagavad-gita only after having explained so many other intricate topics, such as reincarnation, the position of the spirit soul, the relationship between spirit and matter, the reason for the creation, the Lord’s position as both personal and impersonal, the three modes of material nature, and what results from following different classifications of behavior.

Even if there is a profession of faith towards a spiritual personality, the words are empty unless acted upon. For instance, if someone insists that we surrender unto such and such person or go to hell, what should happen if we say, “Okay, you’re right. I agree with you. I believe in him now.”? Is that it? Are we free then? We will not suffer in hell? We can just go about doing whatever we want and not suffer the consequences? Obviously the logic is flawed, for a person could then say that they are law-abiding while going out on nightly robbery runs.  From applying a little intelligence, the fanatical insistence of religious zealots is exposed to be a complete joke, something which already isn’t taken seriously by the sober mind; hence one of the causes for the rampant lack of religiosity seen around the world.

With the more detailed information provided by Krishna and His Vedas, we understand that as soon as the living entity turns its back from God there is trouble. This means that a hellish condition is automatically created; it doesn’t need to be explicitly inflicted in the future. Reincarnation itself is seen as the worst kind of punishment, because the individual soul voluntarily surrenders to material nature, which doesn’t bring it the happiness that it wants. Even if one doesn’t want to believe in the transmigration of the soul, they can understand that their own bodies have changed many times during their lifetime. At the same time their identities haven’t changed; thus proving that the soul remains unchanged while travelling within a particular body that does always change.

Lord KrishnaBhagavata-dharma turns the tides by pointing the living entity back in the direction of the spiritual world, where they get to see the Supreme Lord and His smiling face. The aim of reaching the supreme destination is best furthered by regular chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. More than just a profession of faith, chanting in this way sacrifices time and effort. Moreover, consciousness gets changed. If the prevailing thoughts within our mind are directed towards furthering the goal of loving God, then naturally the activities we follow will be altered as well; thus giving meaning to the original profession of faith.

The quickest way to find true happiness is to simply hear about God. That is why the Vedic scriptures exist; to allow the hearing to take place for many generations of mankind. The crown jewel of Vedic literature is the Shrimad Bhagavatam, whose most blissful message is found in the tenth canto, which nicely presents the early pastimes of Lord Krishna, who is considered the original form of Godhead. Yet in order to truly relish these pastimes, one must purify themselves. This makes sense if we think about it. If someone’s worldview, their ultimate conclusion in life, relates to sense gratification, then when they hear about Krishna they will apply an incorrect filter. They will judge all of Krishna’s actions and teachings in the scope of their relationship to sense gratification. The same defect is there in every kind of worldview not related to love of God.

When one follows the principles and regulations of spiritual life as passed down by the Vedas, they get to purify their consciousness to the point that they can really relish Krishna’s pastimes and understand them for what they are. The first instruction taught to aspiring transcendentalists of the Vedic school is aham brahmasmi, which means “I am Brahman.” If we understand that we are not our body, then we can accept that sense gratification, the accumulation of huge amounts of wealth, the possession of worldwide fame, the enjoyment of endless sex life, and so many other things have nothing to do with us. With this knowledge, we will better be able to relish Krishna’s glorious lila.

“There is no possibility of one's becoming a yogi, O Arjuna, if one eats too much, or eats too little, sleeps too much or does not sleep enough.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 6.16)

Lord KrishnaThe practice of regulative principles is meant to culminate in loving devotion to God. Therefore one who follows bhagavata-dharma from the start will gradually ascend to the liberated platform. Lest we think the ancillary concerns in life won’t be covered, the system of maintenance provided accounts for everything. Even health is accounted for. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna states that the transcendentalist aiming for perfection in consciousness, the yogi, does not eat too much or too little. He also doesn’t sleep too much or too little. Seems like a pretty simple regulation to understand. Follow a dedicated routine, and don’t go down either extreme. From regulation comes sobriety of mind and a better opportunity for understanding the highest concepts of spiritual life.

Those following bhagavata-dharma keep a steady routine, wherein they eat just the right amount of food and follow basic principles on a daily basis. The first guiding principle is the regular chanting of the holy names, up to sixteen rounds of japa meditation on the maha-mantra daily. Then there is abstention from meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. The rest of the time is spent immersed in bhakti, which can follow pretty much any avenue of activity. Arjuna, the famous bow warrior, remained in bhakti even while fighting. The aim is to stay connected with Krishna and to act in a way that will increase one’s God consciousness. Overindulgence in sense gratification, overeating, being too reliant on other people, and other extremes keep the body in an unsteady state.

Through simple living, the vitality of the body can be maintained. Rather than try to force this upon oneself through rigid austerity, if one simply keeps the goal of God consciousness in mind, the rest will take care of itself. Just as we know to fall asleep at a certain time to avoid being tired the next morning for work, if our aim is to follow our religious principles to stay connected with God, we will think twice before doing something that will jeopardize the successful outcome. Simple living and high thinking is the Vedic motto, and one who follows it will find happiness at every step in life.

In Closing:

Motto is to follow simple living,

Leaves extra time for high thinking.

Keep the goal of God in mind,

For happiness in life to find.

Difficult to keep track of regulation,

Without knowing the proper direction.

By trying to reach God with devotion,

Other pieces fall into place without effort.

With eye on prize one will use discretion,

So that aim of reaching God will not be hurt.

Harmful is overindulgence in sense gratification,

And relying on others and eating too much.

Follow devotion to Krishna with dedication,

To gain knowledge and feel transcendental touch.

With goal in mind to stay with the spiritual,

Comes ability to easily handle the material.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Good Day To Be Alive

Sita's wedding“It is the good day of the svayamvara, which gives auspiciousness. By hearing of this Sita and Rama stay in the heart.” (Janaki Mangala, Svayamvara Ki Taiyari, 3)

subha dina racyau svayaṃbara mangaladāyaka |
sunata śravana hiya basahiṃ sīya raghunāyaka ||

Goswami Tulsidas herein creates the setting for his poem called the Janaki Mangala, or the auspiciousness relating to Janaki, the daughter of King Janaka. She is also known as Sita Devi, for the good king found her one day while ploughing a field. She came out of the ground and then became his adopted daughter. The day of the svayamvara, or self-choice ceremony, was when Janaka would give her away to a suitable husband. Little did he know that the match would be Shri Hari Himself, the Supreme Lord roaming the earth in the guise of a warrior prince named Rama. From the opening stanza, Tulsidas also reveals the purpose for his composition.

Sita and RamaDoes there need to be a reason? Does the poet need to provide an excuse before writing? If we abstract every activity to the highest level, we’ll see that the desire for pleasure is what motivates each and every one of us. Even doing something as painful as dieting or intense physical exercise is meant to provide a pleasurable benefit at some point in the future. With this particular poem, the story it was meant to describe was already well known at the time of composition. Sita and Rama are worshipable figures of the Vedic tradition, taken to be God’s energy coupled with God. Depending on the exact tradition followed, Sita and Rama are the original set of God and His eternal consort or they are incarnations of the same, which means they are just as good as the original.

Because of their extraordinarily brilliant qualities, Sita and Rama’s wedding story was well known in the land that Tulsidas lived in some four hundred years ago. Moreover, even during Sita and Rama’s time, the Treta Yuga, which was many thousands of years ago, the sequence of events relating to their marriage was famous throughout the land. The short version of the story is that Janaka held a self-choice ceremony, but it wasn’t as though Sita directly picked her husband. These ceremonies were called svayamvaras, or self-choice, because the groom wasn’t determined beforehand. Many times the princess would get to choose her husband, but in Sita’s case it was a little different. The ceremony still qualified as a svayamvara because the groom would be selected from a host of men vying for the beloved princess’ hand in marriage.

Instead of having Sita choose directly, Janaka decided that whoever could lift an extremely heavy bow belonging to Lord Shiva handed down in his family would be Sita’s husband. In this way the occasion of Sita’s marriage was quite auspicious; the svayamvara itself brought auspiciousness that day to the participants and onlookers, and the winner would gain the goddess of fortune’s hand in marriage.

Sita DeviBut what does it mean exactly to be the goddess of fortune? Is this not some mythological status assigned to Sita? The wise person knows that the gifts they receive in life are not due entirely to personal effort. We can try as hard as we want to in a certain endeavor, but if someone else shows up who is better, we’ll have no chance at succeeding or being the best. Moreover, so many impeding forces have to avoid us if we are to get to where we want to go. Even something as simple as driving to work in the morning requires outside intervention. Though the external forces seemingly operate randomly, we know deep down that every person has their own desires which they act upon, which means that there is consciousness behind actions.

“Another name for Lakshmi is Chanchala. She does not stay in one place for a long time. Therefore, we see that a rich man's family sometimes becomes poor after a few generations, and sometimes we see that a poor man's family becomes very rich. Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune, is Chanchala in this material world, whereas in the Vaikuntha planets she eternally lives at the lotus feet of the Lord.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 34)

The good fortune that one receives comes from Lakshmi, who is the same Sita. Since Sita is always with Rama, it means that God is the most fortunate person. The goddess of fortune is known as chanchala because she doesn’t stay in one place for too long, but when she is in God’s company, she behaves in just the opposite way. Even if during Sita’s time people didn’t know her real identity, just getting her as a wife was considered a terrific blessing. Aside from being very beautiful, she was Janaka’s daughter. As a king, there was no one more pious or more respected. He had mastery over mystic yoga and was therefore considered to be beyond personal desire. Strikingly enough, he had full affection for Sita, which started on the day he found her. This meant that his attachment to his daughter was not materially motivated; it didn’t break his status as Videha, or bodiless.

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

Janaka and SitaAs those things personally relating to God are absolute, the auspiciousness from the day of Sita’s svayamvara carries over to those who hear of the event. Even Anasuya, a famous female sage, asked to hear about what happened that day many years after the fact from Sita herself. While Sita and Rama were travelling through the forests on a fourteen year trip, they stopped at Anasuya’s home, where she lived with her husband Atri Rishi. After exchanging some pleasant words, Anasuya asked Sita to describe her marriage ceremony. Anasuya had already heard what happened; the news had spread across the world. Nevertheless, she didn’t tire of hearing about it. Taking advantage of having the main character from that famous day staying at her home, Anasuya wanted to hear the story again.

The same desire to hear was there in Tulsidas when he composed the Janaki Mangala. In the above referenced verse, he reveals that from hearing of what happened that day, Sita and Rama remain in the heart. In the beginning stages of practicing the highest form of religion, bhakti-yoga, there may be some requirement to follow rules and regulations that are passed on by the instructing or initiating spiritual master. Perhaps one forces themselves to chant mantras like, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and abstain from sinful activities like meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. This is all done to train the devotee on how to forge the proper consciousness, to be able to relish a higher taste in the future.

Once immersed in God consciousness, the devotee feels intense loneliness when not able to think about God and His activities. Therefore refuge is sought in outlets like hearing and reading books, for they help to alleviate the pain of separation. In even more extreme cases, the person will try to recount the Lord’s most notable pastimes within their mind. Expressing these thoughts down on paper is a great way to recreate the actual events, to bring to life the characters and their qualities. By mentally going back to that day of the auspicious svayamvara, Tulsidas wanted to bring Sita and Rama to his vision and keep them in his heart, a place where they would feel right at home.

Sita and RamaWith this motive, how could the poet fail in his endeavor? The beloved couple’s marriage would be described wonderfully, with the underlying purpose being satisfied with each successive verse composed. The transcendental effect continues well past the time of composition, as the point of writing something down is to record sound vibrations that can be reproduced. This means that when we read sacred texts, we are actually hearing the sound vibrations, essentially giving audience to a great sage who practiced bhakti. Just by adopting the proper mindset and hearing of the svayamvara and what happened that day, we can keep Sita and Rama in the heart. God is already there as the Supersoul, or Paramatma, but with practice in bhakti that presence can be realized. As hearing is the most effective tool for the aspiring transcendentalist, setting aside some time for reading or listening to how Rama lifted that amazing bow and won Sita’s hand in marriage proves to be auspicious in every way.

It should be noted that during Rama’s time on earth, the Lord enacted many wonderful pastimes. The original accounts of these activities are given in the Ramayana of Valmiki. With so many important events in Rama’s life, why would Tulsidas choose to dedicate a specific song to the Lord’s wedding ceremony? For starters, who doesn’t enjoy a good love story? The plotline has been played out in movies and dramas since time immemorial, and with Sita and Rama we got the original love story, one which showed how transcendental love operates. As part of a play perfectly performed on the stage of real life, the setting was such that it looked like no one was going to win Sita’s hand in marriage. Many kings came to the scene, but none of them could even move the bow, let alone lift it.

Sita and Rama's marriage ceremonyWhen Rama stepped up, He lifted and strung the bow without a problem, breaking it in the process. Thus there could be no doubt as to who was worthy of Sita’s hand in marriage. Their match was made in heaven, and it was there for everyone to see on that wonderful occasion. To this day, in the Vedic culture if a boy and a girl prove to be a perfect match in marriage, people will remember Sita and Rama. The whole aim of Rama-lila, or the divine pastimes, is to instill this type of consciousness in everyone. As nuptials are an important aspect of life that get a lot of attention, who wouldn’t love to bask in the sound vibrations that describe how Sita married Rama?

The attention paid to this aspect of Rama’s life was well worth it from the poet’s perspective. It gave countless generations of sincere souls the chance to further discuss that day and sing about the glories of its main participants. As man is given to glorifying someone, why not direct that attention to the people most deserving of it? As Sita is the goddess of fortune, those who hear of her self-choice ceremony in the proper mood will gain the greatest fortune in life: Sita and Rama residing within their heart.

In Closing:

The poet to embark on writing marriage story,

Of Sita and Rama, endowed with every glory.

The self-choice ceremony held on a good day,

Auspiciousness with listener to stay.

Man to love stories given to hearing,

Which in mind creates visions worth seeing.

Apply same technique but to the Supreme Lord,

Reservoir for divine service in heart is stored.

Story of wedding where Rama did win Sita’s hand,

Was so known to everyone across the land.

Yet still Anasuya to hear it again wanted,

Love for divine couple in her heart implanted.

To have Janaki and Rama in his vision,

To write song Tulsidas made the decision.

Svayamvara is where the story does start,

Hearing of which Sita and Rama stay in the heart.