Saturday, November 5, 2011

Exclusive Love

Krishna and Mother Yashoda“When Krishna and Balarama were crawling about Vrajabhumi, They were enchanted by the sound of ankle bells. Thus They sometimes followed other people, who would enjoy the crawling of Krishna and Balarama and exclaim, ‘Oh, see how Krishna and Balarama are crawling!’ Upon hearing this, Krishna and Balarama could understand that these were not Their mothers They were following, and They would return to Their actual mothers.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.8.22 Purport)

The difficulty in worshiping something that is seemingly inanimate is that there is no immediate recognition of the attention offered. Whether we sit in quiet meditation and worship the entity we know to be God or stare at the archa-vigraha, or deity manifestation, which has the Supreme Lord’s features more fully drawn out, there isn’t a visible response to our dedicated efforts, something to indicate that the beneficiary recognizes the attention. If we think of our beloved friends and family members when they are not in our presence, they have no idea that we are trying to connect with them. If this is true of dealings with worldly entities, how can someone we can’t even really see hear our prayers and recognize our devotion to Him? To clear the doubts, that worshipable figure in question descends to earth every now and then and shows everyone that not only is He listening, but He very much appreciates the most heartfelt devotional sentiments.

How do we know that God can come to earth? If He is all-pervading, if He is so powerful, how can there ever be a moment when He is not on this planet? The distinctions can be likened to the way specific energies diffuse their influence. If we start a business, we don’t necessarily have to go to the office to have our influence recognized. Our decisions, the people we hire as workers, and the establishment infrastructure we create are always present, thereby acting as extensions of our original effort. The Supreme Lord is more powerful than we are, so His extensions have much more potency. He is present within every atom and also within every living being. This presence is not easily recognized; therefore it is considered formless, or bereft of attributes, according to our vision. But we know that just because we can’t see in a dark room, it doesn’t mean that there is nothing there. Similarly, just because we can’t recognize the nirguna feature dispersed across the creation, including in the spiritual sky, it doesn’t mean that the all-pervading witness is absent.

“The Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is greater than all, is attainable by unalloyed devotion. Although He is present in His abode, He is all-pervading, and everything is situated within Him.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.22)

Lord KrishnaTo give a glimpse into His transcendental features, to show what it means to be a worshipable figure and to reveal just how much He recognizes devotional efforts, the seemingly invisible entity becomes visible during various descents to earth. His impersonal feature, the one which we either cannot recognize immediately or think is devoid of spiritual influence, is coupled with His personal feature, which consists of spiritual attributes that are identifiable and not limited in their abilities.

Since the Supreme Lord is the most attractive entity, the Sanskrit word Krishna is used to address Him. This word is considered the best fit for the supreme divine being, who is addressed by many names across the plethora of spiritual traditions in place around the world. Even those opposed to spirituality have a name for Krishna. They refer to the Supreme Lord as “death” or “nature”. As these forces are considered bereft of intelligence, operating under a perceived randomness, the benefit of the spiritual attributes of the Personality they actually represent is not gained.

Krishna descends to earth in forms which are considered saguna to the conditioned eye. Saguna means with qualities, or attributes, and through these forms the living entities can actually see God. The trained eye sees Krishna’s influence everywhere, but since this training is difficult to follow and accept, the distinctions between nirguna and saguna are made, though there is really no difference between the two. Nirguna can be likened to the numeral representation of a specific number, while saguna is the written out version, the word that represents the numeral. Both are equivalent in value, but the numeral can be easily misidentified, not understood through a quick glance. With the written out version, there is practically no chance for mistake. Therefore saguna worship is always superior, as it greatly reduces the chances for the living entity to mistakenly think that they are God or that the Supreme Lord is bereft of a spiritual form.

Lord KrishnaShri Krishna descended to earth five thousand years ago and showed off His transcendental features. Normally the Lord comes as an avatara, which can be likened to a saguna manifestation that is an expansion of the original Personality of Godhead. With Krishna’s appearance, however, the original Personality comes to earth and shows off His spiritual attributes. He assumes a body that looks ordinary, but the effect He has on others reveals that He is not conditioned in the same way that others are.

Is this done as a magic trick then? Why give the appearance of being ordinary if you’re not? Why not just show up and tell everyone that you’re God? For starters, part of being God means that you never have to support your position through declarations of supremacy. Only those who are challenged in their authority and not secure in their position require constant praise and veneration to feel like they mean something. The Supreme Lord accepts heartfelt sentiments rooted in the desire to remain connected with Him. The desire for this connection is ideally sourced in attraction to the transcendental features of the Supreme Personality. If we force someone to love us based on the threat of punishment, how can we enjoy the resulting association? In these instances, if the coercion wasn’t there, the person associating with us would be doing something else.

The sincere souls worship God constantly. They may only know Him as being nirguna; hence they will meditate on the abstract concept of God, praying but not necessarily knowing what the worshipable entity’s position is. Then there are those who know of the Supreme Lord and His transcendental features, worshiping His deity manifestation and chanting His names found in sacred mantras like, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. In either case, there is no guarantee that the personality being worshiped is being pleased. How do we know that Krishna hears us and that He is pleased with our efforts?

Lord Krishna with Mother YashodaTo reveal the image of who is being worshiped by those attached to the nirguna feature and to settle the doubts relating to whether or not He hears the prayers of the saguna worshipers, Krishna takes part in specific pastimes that teach so many lessons. Even as a small baby crawling on the sacred earth of Vrindavana, He can teach so much. After His initial descent, Krishna grew up in the farm community of Vrindavana, where He and His elder brother Balarama, who is the servitor God, the closest associate to the Supreme Lord in the spiritual sky, were raised on the love of the mothers, who were known as gopis.

Vrindavana was a community that survived on cow protection, so there were many cows around. The residents lived in the mode of pure goodness, which meant that their activities were not material. Through their love for God, they harbored affection for one another and took even their neighbors to be close family members. Balarama accepted Mother Rohini as a foster mother and Krishna Mother Yashoda. That Krishna and Balarama were God and His immediate expansion was not known to the residents. They were naturally drawn to the qualities of the two boys.

The two glorious mothers would tie bells around the children’s ankles when they reached the age that they started to crawl. Thus Krishna and Balarama would move about on the dirt where the many cows had walked over. When they would crawl, their ankle bells would make noise, which would delight the hearts of the residents. Sometimes the other mothers in the community would be so thrilled by the sight that they would remark on how Krishna and Balarama were crawling. Hearing this, the two boys would crawl towards the women, but when they saw that they weren’t Yashoda and Rohini, they would become afraid and turn the other way.

Krishna and BalaramaNow, isn’t this a little mean? Why were they afraid of these other women, especially when they loved God so much? It was their enthusiasm that made them call out to the young children, so why would Krishna and Balarama reject them so abruptly? Witnessing a sincere display of affection is so heartwarming for a human being, giving justification for having eyes. The displays of affection from a child are the most sincere because children are considered innocent, not mature enough to harbor ulterior motives. Since Krishna and Balarama turned away to find their real mothers, it showed everyone just how much they loved Yashoda and Rohini. There was no insult taken by the women; rather, they were so touched by how much attachment the young children had towards those who took care of them.

Yashoda and Rohini had no other business in life except tending to their little bundles of joy. Though they didn’t neglect their household duties, the two mothers remained in perfect yoga by singing of the glories of their children. Mother Yashoda would compose songs about Krishna’s activities and then sing them while doing routine work like churning butter. A good parent essentially worships their child through offerings of love. When you make funny faces at your son or daughter, you hope to see some reaction. If they show that they are pleased with the attention you show them, you feel as if your efforts are worth it.

Krishna and Balarama showed that the love their mothers offered was accepted and fully appreciated. The boys could not speak, nor could they even walk, yet they managed to somehow affirm their mothers’ commitment anyway. By showing that they were looking for their mothers when they heard different sounds, they revealed their transcendental attachment. The Supreme Lord thus hears every prayer offered to Him and accepts every kind of authorized service performed in His honor. Just as the devotee remains attached to Him, Krishna seeks out the devotee and always stays by their side.

Lord KrishnaEven if Krishna is not personally present before us, if we can’t recognize His influence, He still hears our prayers and can remain attached to us. He proved this many times during His short stay on this earth. Once Krishna grew up and had to leave Vrindavana for Mathura, the gopis had to spend their days separated from their beloved. They would have to worship Him in separation, but the auspicious results were the same. By remaining in their minds, Krishna showed that He was pleased with their devotion. The proof that our devotional efforts are fruitful comes in the form of Krishna’s association, which can arrive through simply chanting His name or looking at His form. Not only will the devoted soul who makes bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, their way of life gain that association, but Krishna will be so pleased that He will guide the sincere soul from within, telling them how to behave so that the divine association remains with them in every circumstance.

In Closing:

The sound of ankle bells so delightful to hear,

The movements of two young crawling boys they steer.

From their movements happiness mothers found,

Krishna and Balarama then followed the talking sound.

Became afraid when they looked up from the ground,

Not their mothers, thus they suddenly turned around.

Looked for Rohini and Yashoda did the bell shakers,

Emblems of motherly affection, best caretakers.

Seeing love for their mothers, women offended were not,

To see recognition of affection from Krishna they got.

Every sincere prayer offered the Lord does hear,

Though we may not see Him, in bhakti nothing to fear.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Assessing Sin

Hanuman“Though all of these unsuspecting wives of Ravana were seen by me, my mind has not been disturbed even a little.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 11.40)

kāmam dṛṣṭvā mayā sarvā viśvastā rāvaṇa striyaḥ ||

na tu me manasaḥ kimcid vaikṛtyam upapadyate |

Despite the best efforts taken to safeguard against grievously transgressing the established codes of conduct, there are times when there is just no way out of committing sinful acts. Though the pious never seek such opportunities, when they find themselves in the wrong situations, they keep their minds steady, thus showing that what would be considered sin under normal circumstances actually maintains the path of virtue for them. Shri Hanuman found himself in this type of situation while roaming through the royal palaces in Lanka. He was searching for a missing princess, and since he didn’t know what she looked like, he had to place his gaze upon many beautiful women, who did not suspect that other men would be looking at them.

HanumanThe unscrupulous “Peeping Tom” is considered a pervert, a person bereft of morals who takes delight in looking at other women while they are changing clothes or wearing next to nothing. Such an act is a violation of privacy and also sinful by any standard estimation. After all, the women don’t know that others are looking at them, and if they did, they wouldn’t show off what the peeper was looking for. Shri Hanuman, for his part, had no desire to look at any of these women. His eyes were fixed on a search mission, to find a beautiful princess who had been taken away from the side of her husband. If he had to risk committing even the most sinful act to find this beloved woman, the mother of the universe, the wife of Lord Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Hanuman would not hesitate in moving forward.

Despite his staunch faith in the mission presented to him, which was to find Sita’s whereabouts and return that information to Rama and the monkeys living in the Kishkindha forest, Hanuman still shows from the above referenced verse from the Ramayana that he is very conscious of piety and sin. The righteous always try to stay on the path of dharma, which as a word can mean religiosity or the general law codes of spirituality aimed at maintaining the essential characteristic of the soul. The soul has intrinsic properties which are not reflected in the features of the outer coverings assumed. An animal may take to activities that human beings would never consider adopting, and a human being may take up sinful activities, but the soul itself is always pure. The soul is knowledgeable, eternal, blissful and most importantly, a servant of God.

Following dharma brings the soul’s properties to the forefront, which at the same time curbs the influence of the external senses that inhibit the free flow of transcendental love. Therefore, when determining whether an activity falls under sin or piety, the resultant effect of the act should be juxtaposed with the ultimate mission in life, that of becoming purely God conscious by the time of death. One who knows the properties of the soul, how it never takes birth and never dies, how it remains in existence throughout the various changes of the body, including the complete change at the time of death, can never commit sin. Even if they were to kill someone else, since they know dharma and abide by it, since they know that the soul never dies, they don’t actually kill.

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

Krishna and ArjunaThis point was stressed by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Godhead and non-different form of Lord Rama, around five thousand years ago on the Battlefield of Kurukshetra. On the eve of a great war, the leading fighter for the Pandavas, the side Krishna favored, became hesitant to fight. It was expected that Arjuna, known for his excellent fighting prowess, would dominate the other side in battle. The Kurus, the opposing army, previously unjustly usurped a kingdom that belonged to the Pandavas. Therefore Arjuna had every right to fight fiercely for securing a victorious outcome.

Yet he was a little hesitant. He understood that the primary fruit of victory would be a kingdom, something he didn’t want very badly. Moreover, he didn’t want to have to kill his cousins, teacher, and elder family members fighting for the opposing army to gain that kingdom. He rather would have seen them remain alive, while he lived a life of destitution, begging for food. Such sentiments revealed Arjuna’s kind character, but Krishna did not consider this display of affection to be very wise.

Who was correct, Krishna or Arjuna? While the sentiments were indeed noble, Arjuna’s behavior was actually against piety. How can killing others be considered pious? Lord Krishna settled these doubts in Arjuna’s mind by reminding him of the eternal existence of the soul and how no one actually ever dies. If no one dies, then why the need to kill or fight in a war? While the soul never dies, it can get placed into up to 8,400,000 different body types that roam the phenomenal world. For the human species, there are occupational duties tied to the qualities of the body type assumed at the time of birth. Arjuna was part of the warrior class, so his duty was to uphold righteousness in the face of even the strongest opposition. The Kurus had violated piety by wrongly taking a kingdom; therefore it was Arjuna’s duty to punish them, to remedy the situation.

Krishna and ArjunaArjuna’s hesitancy to fight rooted in concern for the bodily welfare of the opposing members indicated a temporary lack of God consciousness. While he was worried for their wellbeing, he had no reason to be. Whether he fought or not, the souls of the fighting members would always remain in existence. But if Arjuna didn’t fight, he would not only be shirking his obligations to society, but he would also be giving in to ignorance and illusion borne of contact with material nature. As Krishna’s friend, Arjuna was above all this. Krishna persuaded him into fighting on religious grounds, on performing his duties with detachment, not being concerned with the result. Since he fought valiantly and under the proper mindset, even his killing was in line with piety.

Hanuman was in a similar circumstance. Just as Arjuna was ordered to fight by Krishna, Hanuman was given the task of finding Sita by Rama Himself. Many years prior to Krishna and Arjuna’s talk on that famous day on the battlefield, the same Supreme Lord came to earth in the guise of a warrior prince. His wife, not surprisingly, was the most beautiful woman in the world, the embodiment of chastity and virtue, Sita Devi. The most foolish miscreant, a person operating completely under the bodily consciousness, desired to have Sita so much that he stole her away from Rama through a ruse while the couple was living in the forest of Dandaka. Rather than find Sita herself, Rama allowed others to take up the search, giving them a chance to directly offer service to the Supreme Lord, whom everyone is searching after. The ignorant man looks for God through his sensual enjoyments, the king through his power and kingdom, the yogi through his meditation, the mental speculator through his study of Vedanta, and the fruitive worker through his hard labor. But only the bhaktas know where God is, and once they find Him they never give up His service.

The first part of Hanuman’s journey involved many hurdles and obstacles, but very few questions relating to piety and sin. He had to strike a female Rakshasa once, which he felt bad over, but she was blocking his way into Lanka, the enemy territory where Ravana had taken Sita. Hanuman’s search for Sita in Lanka was when things got tricky. When Hanuman roamed through Ravana’s majestic palace, he saw things no one in this world has ever seen. There were so many beautiful women, all elegantly dressed and enjoying various amorous pastimes. Since he entered the palace at night, Hanuman saw that the women were in garbs conducive to enjoying conjugal affairs. Some of them were so drunk that they had passed out in different places, with some using musical instruments for their pillows.

HanumanHanuman even saw Ravana in the palace, passed out from a night of hard drinking. Being privy to such impure sights, Hanuman considered his avowed deference to dharma. Just as Arjuna was beyond sin because Krishna was always with him, Hanuman never had a chance of getting off the path of virtue, for he kept Rama and His mission always within his heart. Nevertheless, Hanuman felt bad for having seen women that weren’t his wife dressed in such a way.

Though initially feeling remorse, Hanuman stopped for a moment and thought the matter over. From the above referenced verse we see that he realized that even though he saw such beautiful women, his mind had not been altered. Rather, he was even more focused on finding Sita. This one incident reveals so much about the nature of piety and sin. Sinful activities are labeled as such because of the effect they have on the consciousness, which is the determining factor of the future fortunes of the soul. The consciousness of the living entity at the time of death is measured by higher authorities, who then determine what type of body is given in the next life. If the mind is always thinking about women, wine, eating meat, or gambling, the next birth will involve a life where such delights are readily available.

These enjoyments are not in line with the soul’s properties, for that is why they are referred to as maya, or that which is not personally God. The soul is eternally a servant of God, so whatever steps can be taken to reawaken that dormant consciousness and keep it in an active state represent piety, and anything which keeps the cloud of nescience firmly hovering around the otherwise pure consciousness gets tagged as sin.

Does this mean that we can risk seeing naked women and drinking wine as long as our mind doesn’t get affected? Can we just kill anyone we want to if we are happy about it later on? The rules and regulations are put into place for a reason. Sinful acts are enumerated so that we know which activities will be most detrimental on our progressive march towards a purified consciousness. Therefore the four regulative principles of avoiding meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex should be followed, for addiction to any of these behaviors equates to a declared allegiance to maya. Surrender to maya brings negative consequences too many to count.

HanumanAs far as piety goes, no practice is more recommended than the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. More effective than working, studying high philosophy, and even sitting in yoga postures for hours on end, the chanting of the holy names directly tackles the conditioned consciousness and gradually brings it to the spiritual realm. The secret in chanting is that hearing takes place as well. We may study the differences between matter and spirit and what really goes into sin and piety, but it is much easier to absorb these concepts when we hear the holy name or about devotee’s experiences and thoughts. Hearing about Hanuman’s consciousness in Lanka and how it wasn’t affected after unwittingly gazing upon a scene out of a brothel is very heartwarming and can only help in the purification of consciousness.

Piety brings one closer to God, and there can be nothing more pious than thinking about Hanuman and hearing about his wonderful activities. Irrespective of the engagement, sin can never touch Hanuman. Nevertheless, he is always concerned about pleasing Rama and remaining in the proper mindset. For this concern his glories and worthiness of worship never diminish. His dedication to Rama and pleasing Him would eventually lead him to Sita, a woman whose vision purifies the heart, for she is directly associated with Rama. Devotees like Hanuman always prefer to envision Sita and Rama together, and because of the risks he took and the bravery he showed, Hanuman played a pivotal role in reuniting them. Ever since that time they have taken up residence in his heart and in the hearts of countless other devotees. Sin can never touch he who realizes the presence of the divine couple and hears and chants their names at all hours of the day.

In Closing:

Sleeping wives of Ravana Hanuman gazed upon,

Knew that normally such an act is wrong.

Yet what could he do, Sita Devi had to see,

Which meant eyes must move, even on those asleep.

Yet from path of righteousness he never swerves,

Even seeing other women not his mind disturbs.

What looked like sin really was not,

Path of righteousness he always trots.

Gambling, meat eating, illicit sex are sin’s primary host

But effect on the mind is what really matters most.

From changing of mind every behavior do you assess,

If making you forget God, that shortcoming do you address.

Just chant the holy name to avoid taking chances,

Sweet felicity for him who upon God’s face glances.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Coming Up For Air

Lord Krishna“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)

It’s a typical summer travel day in America. You’re ready to head home after a weekend of fun with family and friends, where you got to share experiences and valuable time with each other. As you get older, these experiences occur less frequently, as the rigors of everyday life and the pressures of family and work commitments keep you grounded. But today you are ready to head back into the air, as two flights will take you home. The weather seems fine where you are, so you start to make plans as to what you will do when you get home, provided that you get home on time. Little do you know that this day will be like no other. It will be filled with moments of frustration, utter panic, total calm and relief, followed by a renewed enthusiasm to reach the final destination. In the end it amounts to just another day in your journey through life, but many valuable lessons on the purpose of existence can be taken away.

airportThe rollercoaster ride starts when your connecting flight home gets delayed. This is quite normal, as in the summertime there are intense thunderstorms that quickly travel through different areas. These storms are short in duration but very intense, so trying to take off or land an airplane through them is very difficult. The airline tells you that your flight home is delayed because the airplane that is supposed to take you is currently stranded somewhere else, where there is bad weather. Ah, but if only the frustration stopped there. A few minutes later, you notice that the monitors displaying the time and gate of your flight say “cancelled” underneath your flight’s new scheduled departure time. No announcement has been made, but you decide to get up and visit the ticket counter just in case. After you get on line, they make the official announcement that your flight is cancelled. Now a throng of people is lined up, all essentially competing with one another to get on the next flight, which leaves in an hour.

It seems like it’s your lucky day, as you are able to grab a spot on the earliest departing flight. All is well again, so you sit back, relax, and wait to go home. Thus far there have been a few inconveniences, but it’s no sweat off your back; that is until a new announcement comes over the loudspeaker. The storm that you had just seen pass through your airport has now made its way towards your home, or at least it seems that way. Your new flight is now delayed by an hour. Wouldn’t you know it, an hour later, they say that it’s delayed again. This time they don’t tell you a new flight time. The airline officials just say that they’ll have another announcement in a half hour. This same announcement continues every half hour for about 3 hours. Finally, they make the announcement that the plane is boarding. Seems well, no? The bad weather must have moved off by now.

After boarding, as you’re ready to take off the captain says that there might be some bumps during the flight, as there is bad weather to maneuver around. No big deal, as you have now figured out that turbulence often comes from flying through clouds. If there are rainclouds, the turbulence gets more intense. Because you think you know what is causing the turbulence, perhaps you won’t get as nervous. It’s now nighttime, however, so you can’t even see anything outside the window. If the airplane starts shaking you really have no idea what is going on.

airplaneAs the short flight home progresses, you start thinking that maybe the captain was just bracing you for the worst. Thus far there has been little to no turbulence, and the plane is ready to make its descent into the destination airport. This is where things get really interesting. As you start the descent, the turbulence picks up. “Okay, no sweat, right? Obviously we’re going through rainclouds, so that’s why the plane is shaking so much.” As you get further down, however, the shaking and the sudden jolts within the aircraft intensify. As the turbulence seems to reach its apex, you notice something strange. It appears that the plane is heading back upwards. Not only that, but the intensity of the upward motion is quite severe, so the airplane’s interior is not as quiet as it normally is. No one has said anything, so you’re not sure what is going on. Then the turbulence really intensifies. No more is there quiet around you; just utter panic. You start wondering if this is it. The only thing you can compare the experience to is a fighter jet trying to get away from enemy fire. “It’s obvious that we’re now going somewhere else, but why hasn’t anyone said anything?”

After the most violent shocks to the aircraft, things finally calm down. No more loud noises; just calm coasting. The pilot gets on the PA system and says that he tried to land the plane but it was just raining too hard for him to see the field. Therefore he decided to head back up and wait out the storm. He says the rain was moving pretty fast, so he’ll definitely get the plane landed the next time. Ironically enough, the comfort felt while hovering above the rainclouds cannot be described in words. It is so soothing to know that you’re not going to have to experience that turbulent descent again, at least not right away. But if only you could remain up in the safe air forever. You know that eventually they’ll have to try the landing again. The plane can’t hide from its responsibility forever. Eventually, you’ll have to suck it up and go to your intended destination. On the second try, the plane descends just fine, with almost no turbulence, and everything goes well. The passengers on the plane applaud the pilot as he lands on the runway.

A safe landing is the intended destination for every single soul, but the comfort of material life keeps the individual from taking the difficult steps necessary for fulfilling that destiny. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, reveal that God is not sectarian nor is He the exclusive property of any one person. He is not a myth either. He is the one person to whom we are all intimately tied. As a person, God is spirit. He is the fountainhead of all spirit and matter; therefore there is no difference between His body and His form. He is both with form and without it. He is both loud and silent. Every possible combination of mutually contradictory attributes exists within Him. Duality is but a product of the mind accepted by His tiny spiritual expansions, which are struggling very hard with material existence.

Lord KrishnaWhat is material existence exactly? Think of being far away from home and not wanting to return because of the difficulty of the journey. The airplane passengers felt comfort when hovering above the rainclouds, but unless the difficult landing was again attempted, they would remain shut out from their real business. Similarly, the individual spirit souls travel through the cycle of birth and death, or reincarnation, until they are ready to become fully God conscious. Just mention the word “God” in public and you will turn people off. And why shouldn’t they be turned off? What does God have to do with eating, sleeping, mating, or defending? What does the Lord have to do with gambling, intoxication, meat eating and illicit sex life?

When wrongly presented or not properly understood , religion is taken to be a sectarian system of faith, one promising punishment for the sinners. Under this system, if a simple profession of faith is made, then one is safe from being punished in hell in the afterlife. The real situation, however, isn’t so black and white. Punishment is already built into fruitive activity. The example of the hectic travel day alone carried so many hellish conditions. Is it a positive experience to almost have a heart attack over worrying about the airplane not landing? Is it not hellish to have to sit in an airport and wait indefinitely for your flight home?

Actions have consequences. Sometimes they are favorable and other times they are not. Moreover, the natures of the reactions don’t apply universally. For instance, the stranded passengers suffered through a hellish condition because of the rainstorms, while the grass and plants in the affected fields enjoyed the nourishment tremendously. This is what material existence entails. Duality means that things aren’t always taken the same way. Depending on the type of activity and the intended desire, things that are neutrally situated are viewed either positively or negatively. Hence we get temporary hellish and heavenly conditions all the time. There is no need to wait for an afterlife to suffer or enjoy these experiences.

Lord KrishnaWith the Supreme Lord, however, there is only bliss. This is part of His constitution. Since we come from God, our properties are similar to His, except we don’t possess them in the same proportion. The most auspicious destination, or sugati, for the spirit soul is the company of the Supreme Lord. God is actually situated everywhere, but the material existence is considered separated from Him because His presence is forgotten. God is within every single atom, but unless we realize His presence and take advantage of it, we suffer in ignorance. Therefore the aim of life becomes quite simple. Follow a bona fide system of spirituality and gradually elevate yourself to the position where you’re always thinking about God.

God consciousness helps us both in the present and future. By knowing and understanding the Supreme Person, we learn a lot about ourselves too. Reincarnation not only tells us about action and reaction, but it also shows us that we are not our bodies. The different appendages attached to our form, and even the subtle elements like mind, intelligence and ego, do not represent our identity. The soul is the identifiable aspect, and its future destination is what matters most.

Why the difficulty in adopting spirituality as a way of life? Material existence gives us short bursts of satisfaction, a false sense of security, similar to what the hovering aircraft awaiting a good time to land provided. The plunge into spirituality is difficult in the beginning because connecting with God is seen as a chore, something to be segregated from other activities. In the higher stages, however, one can be doing pretty much anything and stay connected with the Lord through consciousness. This connection is known as yoga, and one who is always thinking of God is the best of yogis, or those striving for transcendental satisfaction through meditation. This is declared by Lord Krishna Himself in the Bhagavad-gita.

“And of all yogis, he who always abides in Me with great faith, worshiping Me in transcendental loving service, is most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.47)

Lord KrishnaWho is Krishna? The Vedas say that the original Personality of Godhead has a bluish hue and a transcendentally sweet form. He carries a flute in His hands and wears a peacock feather in His hair. Since this form is all-attractive, it can be described by the Sanskrit word Krishna. This same supreme person can then expand into many other personal forms, such as Lord Vishnu and His different incarnations. Each manifestation is there to be taken advantage of by the spirit soul looking for a permanent link to the spiritual world.

What are the initial steps required for practicing yoga? Should we be seated in difficult positions and follow breathing exercises? The exercise version of yoga may help to alleviate the tension felt from the senses, but it doesn’t take care of consciousness. The best way to find real yoga is to follow bhakti, or divine love. The best way to jump into bhakti and remain in the loving mindset is to regularly chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The holy name is non-different from the Lord. The soul trapped in a material existence will have a difficult time understanding this, but if they somehow force themselves to chant, avoid sinful behavior, and remain dedicated to connecting with God in yoga, the wisdom necessary for achieving liberation will arrive in the palm of the hand.

A reward for the God conscious soul is an end to reincarnation. The final destination, the pleasant runway that is the spiritual world, is reached. In that place there is peace of mind and comfort, and there is no need for temporary alleviation from the raging storm caused by the constant changes of the material world. Shri Krishna’s personal presence provides the heat and light and the nourishment for the soul hungry for transcendental association. With this reward available, why should we wait another second? Regardless of how comfortable we may be, nothing can beat the satisfaction that comes from always thinking about our beloved Lord.

In Closing:

Up above the clouds do you feel safe,

From the turbulent rainstorm you did escape.

But the plan for landing must again be deployed,

The trip to the bottom you can’t forever avoid.

In safe waters material life gives comfort,

Avoid tough situations and you won’t get hurt.

But human form meant for a higher purpose,

The chance for salvation one should not miss.

Initial plunge into spiritual life may hurt,

Reward of God’s company worth the effort.

Yogi who thinks of Krishna is the best,

At end of life suffering put to rest.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Every Kind of Happiness

Sita Devi“Supremely famous is that city of Janakpur, where Sita Devi, the goddess of fortune herself appeared, making it like an ocean full of every type of happiness.” (Janaki Mangala, Svayamvara Ki Taiyari, 5)

taham̐ basa nagara janakapura parama ujāgara|
sīya lacchi jaham̐ pragaṭī saba sukha sāgara ||

“Don’t think that I’m wasting your time”, is the undertone to this verse from Tulsidas’ Janaki Mangala. The poet is setting the scene for his song about the marriage of the most beautiful couple. Should one be unfamiliar with where these events took place, Goswami Tulsidas is ensuring that they know that the place is supremely famous nonetheless. Even if one has never followed any Vedic teaching and doesn’t know who Sita Devi and Lord Rama are, hearing of their marriage ceremony and how it took place on that fateful day many thousands of years ago can still prove to bring every type of happiness to the heart, which can accept an unlimited amount of nectar, provided that it is of the transcendental variety.

Sita and RamaWhy the qualification? Why is the soul limited in accepting happiness of the material variety? If we find something pleasurable, how can we say that there is a limit to enjoying it? For instance, does a dog tire of enjoying sex life, a drunkard his beer and wine, and an obese person their fatty foods? Actually, the overindulgence in these areas is considered detrimental. The alcoholic may love getting drunk all the time, but deep down they know that something is wrong, as do others. The obese person has the most visible negative consequences to their behavior, and the dog is not viewed to be very intelligent for its lack of discrimination in conjugal affairs.

These defects point to the fact that the living beings are limited in their ability to enjoy certain things. There is a constraint put on the individual by their body type. The skeptic at this point may raise the argument that the limit is there for everything, so what is the point to even mentioning it? Ah, but there is no limit when one is swimming in a pool of spiritual nectar. What is the difference? How can we tell if something is spiritual? Isn’t everything we see around us a collection of earth, water, fire, air and ether manifested in different ways and perceived of by the senses attached to the body? If everything is seen through the material medium, how can we claim anything to be spiritual?

The spiritual is detected by certain properties, the foremost of which is eternality. Every living being is limited in the duration of their outward manifestation, even the trees that live for thousands of years. Spirit is the energy behind such manifestations and their movements, and since there is always energy, we can understand that spirit is always in existence. From the Bhagavad-gita, we learn that the spiritual energy is localized within each individual, which means that there are many fragments of spirit. Those embodied fragments existed prior to their current births and they will remain in existence even after impending deaths. We can take the information from the authority of the Gita, and we can also perceive for ourselves the importance of spirit, how it ensures that the living being can eat, sleep, mate and defend only when there is the vital force within the body.

“While contemplating the objects of the senses, a person develops attachment for them, and from such attachment lust develops, and from lust anger arises.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.62)

Krishna speaking to ArjunaThe spiritual is tied to the fountainhead of all energy. Generally, that origin is referred to as God, but since He is also knowledgeable, eternal and blissful but on a larger scale, He can be described as the Supreme Spirit. Unlike the material energy, the spiritual energy provides lasting happiness. We can tell that we’re in connection with the spiritual energy when there is a fervent desire to remain connected with God, and when all good qualities descend from there. Among the many detriments to overindulgence in the material energy is the loss of rationale, the rise of anger and frustration, and the misguided belief that more indulgence will lead to more happiness. The sober person is always more capable at treading the difficult waters of life than is the intoxicated person. Intoxication is marked by the effect it has on the behavior of the person. In this sense intoxication can also come from greed, lust, anger and other emotions that arise from the failure to satisfy the senses, despite repeated attempts at material interaction.

The spiritual interaction, however, has the opposite effect. Therefore we can realize the presence of the spiritual by the effect it has on behavior. Rather than just study examples involving others, one can take the plunge themselves, extending some faith to the words of the Vaishnavas, those who always remain connected with the divine consciousness, which is the all-pervasive aspect of the Supreme Spirit. Tulsidas says that the city of Janakpur is like an ocean full of every type of happiness because he has experienced it himself. Not that he necessarily lived there or went there regularly. Rather, just by situating the mind there, especially at the time of the svayamvara held by the famed King Janaka, one can find peace and felicity for extended periods of time. Moreover, no amount of repeated mental trips to this place will prove detrimental to the mind. On the contrary, with each successive visit, the pool of nectar becomes sweeter and sweeter, leaving the pilgrim wondering why they ever left in the first place.

Where do these delights come from? Why Janakpur and not another place? The goddess of fortune, Lakshmiji herself, appeared in that great land many thousands of years ago. In addition to being the Supreme Spirit, God is also described as the husband of the goddess of fortune by the Vedas. We may think that we are responsible for the results of our actions, but in actuality the material nature is a much stronger force, as is the influence of the countless other living entities populating the earth. Therefore any good fortune we do receive actually comes from Lakshmi. Money is considered a type of incarnation of Lakshmi, good fortune that can come and go on a whim.

Lakshmi DeviIs Janakpur considered sacred because the kingdom was wealthy? Did Lakshmi appear in Janaka’s land to make him a rich king, full of every type of opulence? As the wife of Lord Narayana, the Supreme Lord who is the source of all men, Lakshmi always serves her husband and tries to make Him happy. She is never divorced from this role, which means that wherever she goes she has the same objectives in mind. When one is graced with Lakshmi’s presence, they are meant to use her association for Narayana’s benefit and no one else’s. As the Supreme Spirit is individually tied to the individual spirit, this proper use of fortune is beneficial to the individual as well.

In Janakpur, Lakshmi appeared as Sita, who was so named by Janaka, a famous king of the time. He found her one day while ploughing a field, and thus named her Sita because she came out of the ground. Her marriage ceremony marked the occasion where Janaka would reunite Lakshmi with Narayana, who had similarly appeared on earth in Ayodhya as Lord Rama, the famed prince of the Raghu dynasty. Janaka had not a hint of sin in him, so he was worthy of having Lakshmi as a daughter. Through her appearance would come Rama as a son-in-law, thus making Janaka supremely fortunate.

What about the happiness? How is Sita’s association full of every type of delight? Well, to find lasting happiness, wouldn’t it make sense to connect with the fountainhead of the spiritual energy, which is inexhaustible? Sita is herself part of the spiritual energy, and coupled with Rama she can give anything to anyone. But the fruit of one’s existence is to taste the happiness that comes from the beloved couple’s association. This means that just by having Sita live there, Janakpur became purified and the source of every type of happiness.

Sita and RamaThere was variety in activity in Janakpur during Sita’s time. Not everyone was a yogi given to meditation. Janaka, though a pious king, was famous for his mastery over mystic yoga, which results in many beneficial qualities, including renunciation. The ability to be dispassionate towards the temporary changes in life is considered an opulence, a praiseworthy trait. George Washington, the first President of the United States, is honored because he voluntarily stepped down from office after serving two terms. He did so to set an example, to show that a ruler shouldn’t remain in power in perpetuity. Janaka had full possession of renunciation, so much so that he was known as Videha, which means bodiless.

Was renunciation the fortune granted to him by Sita? Actually, when Janaka first found his soon-to-be daughter, he immediately became thrilled to the heart. This did not break his Videha status, for spiritual love has nothing to do with the swinging pendulum of enjoyment and renunciation that is concomitant with a material existence. Rather, in spiritual life there is only bliss. Separation and meeting both produce bliss, as do loss and gain, provided that one is connected with the divine consciousness.

The people in Janakpur had different occupations but they all loved Janaka and his eldest daughter very much. In this sense they were better than yogis, as they weren’t purposefully trying for self-realization, renunciation, or enlightenment. They were happy all the time simply because of their association with the goddess of fortune. Their eyes would serve their true purpose when they would see Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana approaching for the svayamvara.

Rama and LakshmanaThe onlookers had different emotions running through their minds at this time. The svayamvara was set up to decide Sita’s nuptials because Janaka did not know anything about her family history or her qualities based on the time of her birth. He decided that whoever could lift Lord Shiva’s bow, which was very auspicious, would win his daughter’s hand in marriage. Seeing Rama approaching, the residents of the town gathered to observe the bow-lifting contest felt a variety of emotions. Some were happy to see such a beautiful youth accompanied by His younger brother, who appeared as almost a twin, except with a different complexion. Rama is of the shyama color, which is dark, and Lakshmana is gaura, or fair. While some were eager with anticipation from the sight of Rama and Lakshmana, others started to worry. They thought that the king had made a mistake with his promise to give away Sita through the contest, for what if Rama couldn’t lift the bow? Lakshmana was the younger brother, so he wouldn’t have tried to lift the bow in Rama’s presence. In ancient times when the strictest rules and regulations of the Vedas were followed, it was considered a sin for a younger brother to get married before the older brother was married. As Lakshmana’s only dharma in life was to please his older brother, he was never really a candidate for marrying Sita.

When the contest took place, nervousness borne of anticipation penetrated the atmosphere. Just like watching a big moment in a game where everything is on the line, many onlookers were so afraid of what might happen should someone else lift the bow or Rama be incapable of rising to the challenge. Some knew that He was going to do it, while others prayed to God to be allowed to have Sita wed Rama.

Sita and RamaThus we see that there was every type of enjoyment available in Janakpur, except that they were all of the spiritual variety. Moreover, that happiness extends to anyone who listens to the accounts of what happened that day. To provide even more emphasis on just how wonderful spiritual happiness is, even someone who is intimately familiar with the marriage of Sita and Rama can listen to the story over and over again and still find tremendous delight, as if the heart auto-expands to make more room for the renewed inflow of spiritual nectar. From the words of his song, Tulsidas revealed the purpose for his writing. Send the mind back to the time of Sita’s marriage, which was situated in the ancient kingdom of Janakpur. As that was the place where the goddess of fortune appeared, it became an abode of auspiciousness. Just compiling the words gave Tulsidas so much pleasure, and that happiness extends to this day to anyone who is fortunate enough to connect with his writings. Every type of spiritual happiness is available to those who love Sita Devi and understand her position as Rama’s beloved.

In Closing:

Janakpur is the most auspicious place,

For its earth did Sita Devi grace.

She is the goddess of fortune, giver of delight,

Divine is her vision, so sweet is her sight.

Residents felt all types of happiness,

Having her around, joyful was even sadness.

Day of ceremony Shri Rama they got to see,

With brother Lakshmana, devoted to Rama was he.

Seeing two princes arrive that day,

Felt boundless joy coming their way.

In bhakti life anything but dull,

Vision of Lord supremely delightful.

Of all good things in Janakpur Sita was the center,

Allowed for residents path of liberation to enter.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Hate Me Now

Worship of Radha and Krishna“The symptoms of a sadhu are that he is tolerant, merciful and friendly to all living entities. He has no enemies, he is peaceful, he abides by the scriptures, and all his characteristics are sublime.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.25.21)

“Dad, I hate you. I can’t believe you are making me do this. Mom, you’re the worst. You’re always nagging me and telling me to do this and do that. Why can’t you guys just leave me alone?” Every good parent has provoked these thoughts in their child at some point or another. How can one be considered a guardian if there is not some discipline involved? If the child knows how to behave all the time and what to do and what not to do, what need is there to even have a parent around? A guardian guards, irrespective of what the dependent thinks of that guardianship. Since accepting the responsibility of someone else’s welfare is very difficult to do, the behavior is considered a sacrifice, a sort of short-term absorption of punishment for the purpose of furthering a long-term goal. Because they accept a thankless task, the glories of a good parent are many.

Mother Yashoda with KrishnaWhy does the child harbor the above mentioned sentiments? It is the intrinsic nature of the spirit soul, the essence of identity, to crave freedom, to exercise its property of free will. The child has the least inhibitions because they just don’t know any better. Immaturity means not knowing about imminent death, the social etiquette pertinent to time and circumstance, or the fact that you’re not supposed to do certain things. Instead of following regulation, the penchant for the free exercise of activity takes over in full force, with the child automatically diving into any venture that piques its curiosity.

Obviously, following this mindset isn’t always the best choice. What if there is a fire around? Should the child look at the bright light and feel the inviting heat and decide to place its hand into the fire, they will get burned. Depending on the intensity of the fire, contact with it can be extremely detrimental. The same principle applies for poisonous substances found underneath the sink and electronic sockets located around the house. If you live in a multi-story dwelling, you’ll also want to keep the young children away from stairs, as they may not know how to ascend or descend them. The human body is not made to react well to a tumble down the stairs.

Overseeing the behavior of the children are the good parents, who are mature, so they know the do’s and don’ts, what the child can do and what they shouldn’t be involved in. A good parent will not worry about whether or not their dependent likes them during the period of this supervision. The only reason this needs mentioning is that not caring what others think about us is very difficult, especially when the person in question is a loved one. Who actually enjoys being hated, mocked, made fun of, or vilified? Unless you are playing the heel character in professional wrestling, jeers and curses thrown your way don’t put a smile on your face.

But the good parent makes the sacrifice. At some point in time, the child is going to hate them. This is a sign that discipline is being instilled, that boundaries are being set. One may argue, “Why punish children in this way? Shouldn’t their childhood be happy?” As in adulthood there is full freedom in the choice of endeavor, it is best to instill discipline when there is the chance. There is also a logical basis behind this. If a child is spoiled, they will have a difficult time coping with adult life. Chronic dependence on government and constant hatred and envy of the wealthy and those successful in life can only manifest through ignorance, not being taught the value of money, discipline, hard work and perseverance during youth. If your parents give you whatever you want growing up, how are you going to react when the people you meet in the real world don’t behave the same way? How are you going to react when you have to live without very much, when you have to implement some austerity measures?

schoolThe most important disciplinary system imposed upon the growing child is education. In America every child is compelled to attend school; such is the importance stressed on education. This is a disciplinary measure because the natural penchant for the child is to play all day, to sit in front of the television or go out and play games with their friends. Education is generally not accepted with open arms. “Why do I have to learn this? When am I going to need this in my life?”

But what does the child know? If they harbor hatred for authority figures simply because of the discipline they instill, is their anger well founded? If someone is angry at us because they are uninformed, and they won’t become fully informed until later on in life, should their anger be taken seriously? A good parent knows that later on in life their child will thank them for having been raised properly, for being shown the right path.

In the bigger picture, the entire purpose of human life can be fulfilled if there is proper discipline instilled and followed for all activities, not just those accepted during youth. In this respect, what is required is a spiritual teacher, who is known as the guru in the Vedic tradition. The Vedas are the ancient scriptures of India, but they should not be considered sectarian or even sentimentalist. There is devotion to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna, expressed, but this is done to show everyone that the person they are meant to worship is full of form and all-attractive. Not that Krishna is the only form of Godhead or the insisted upon object of worship for the entire world, but He is the fully featured Supreme Person. The Vedas simply fill in the details omitted in other spiritual traditions about who is being worshiped.

Lord KrishnaMoreover, the Vedas provide intricate detail on how life should be managed, what the point to having an existence is, and how the nature around us can be utilized towards furthering the proper end. In a specific playing field, if the component objects are used properly, the objectives of the player can be furthered. For instance, in tennis the objects of the playing field are the racket, the tennis balls and the court. If these things are used properly, following the rules of the game, the player can increase their chances of victory. Similarly, in an office environment, the tools can be things like the computer, phone and coworkers. Proper interaction with these elements can help further the goal of increasing profit for the firm selling their particular good or service.

The Vedas are the only scriptural writings that account for the entire playing field, which consists of nothing more than many manifestations of matter. There is a difference between spiritual substance and material substance. Spirit is always superior to matter. Spirit is immutable, unchanging, undying and primeval. The spirit soul is the essence of identity, and it is not slain when the body is slain. These are the basic tenets provided nicely in the short, compact, and brilliant verses of the Bhagavad-gita, the Song of God sung by Krishna Himself on a battlefield of all places some five thousand years ago.

Understanding the differences between spirit and matter is very important. We can realize its importance by noting just how rare it is for this information to be taught to anyone. Something as basic as, “I am not my body; I am a spirit soul”, is unknown to most adult human beings, who are considered the most advanced species. That’s right, you live for decades in a world where you gather intelligence on everything from the stock market to quantum physics, yet you’re not informed about something as basic as the changing body. The dwelling you occupy changed completely since the time you emerged from the womb, yet somehow these changes don’t tickle the curiosity of the occupant. Instead, the interaction with matter and how to exploit it for sense interests are given precedent in thought.

That the properties of spirit are not well known shouldn’t surprise us. The Vedas even account for this deficiency in society. For many lifetimes the spirit soul has wandered through various body types. There are up to 8,400,000 different combinations of matter that the spirit soul can occupy. The human species is considered the most advanced because only the human being can take the necessary steps to understand spiritual science and use that king of all education to further the highest goal, to find the most potent form of happiness.

“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.34)

Shrila PrabhupadaHow can this happen exactly? Just as the good parent makes the sacrifice of instilling discipline in their child at the cost of being hated every now and then, the spiritual master, or guru, instructs their humble disciples in the matter of spiritual science, not caring what ill will is harbored by others, including their students. The parents make the sacrifice so that their children can grow up to be self-sufficient adults capable of handling the rigors of the real world. The guru similarly devotes their time so that their students will achieve full enlightenment by the time of death, and thus return to the imperishable land, where even the material substance is spiritual.

In the present world there is a difference between body and spirit. The body is constantly changing and it has nothing to do with our identity. If we get our hair cut, nothing has changed about us except our appearance. We can even lose all of our hair and nothing will be different about us, except for what others see when they look at us. You can actually take the same concept and apply it to every aspect of the body, including the entire collection of material elements. In this sense death is just the relinquishing of the body that has grown old, a form that has ceased being useful. In the case of premature death, it is understood that the laws of karma, which govern action and reaction, have determined that the particular body was no longer fit to be used.

Not to worry, though, as a future body is granted immediately. This occurs even within the same lifetime. We take specific actions which have consequences, either favorable or unfavorable. Weight loss is meant to shrink the body, while overeating expands it. Thus there is always a change going on. That the changes would stop at the time of death is a sentiment harbored only by those ignorant of the laws of spiritual science, which are so nicely presented in the Vedas. The bona fide spiritual master has studied Vedic science by following his own guru. The chain of gurus begins with Krishna, who first imparted sublime wisdom to the creator, Lord Brahma.

japa malaEven if one is unwilling to accept these pieces of information found in the Vedas, if they can somehow follow the prescriptions of the Vaishnava spiritual masters, they will find full auspiciousness. For the people of this age, who are short-lived and always distracted due to the lack of spiritual education, following all the rules and regulations of spiritual life is very difficult. Even accepting a spiritual master during youth almost never occurs. But the Vaishnavas, the devotees of Vishnu, the personal forms of the Lord, advise that we simply chant the holy names of the Lord as often as possible, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Accompanying this recommendation is the restriction on meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex.

The chanting routine is more important, and its benefits shouldn’t be difficult to comprehend. We sing songs to feel pleasure and we dance when we are uninhibited in our feelings of elation. If the pleasure can be directed towards the Supreme Lord, who is everyone’s best friend, the true potential for bliss found within the soul can be untapped. The accompanying restrictions are there to increase sobriety and thus enhance the devotional experience. Chanting is not the only assertive action but it is the most potent and easiest to instantiate. The most number of people can become liberated simply by hearing the transcendental sound vibrations that represent the Absolute Truth, He who is beyond the dualities of matter and spirit, love and hate, heat and cold, and happiness and sadness. Indeed, the spirit souls, who are part and parcel of God, are also the same as God constitutionally, but they can choose in favor of residence in a land ruled by ignorance.

The enlightened soul no longer has to live in a place where there is a difference between body and soul. The spiritual land is full of bliss because everyone there is fully God conscious, looking to meet the desires and wishes of the Supreme Lord. Bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, a discipline which includes chanting and regulation in terms of avoidance of sinful behavior, can create heaven on earth when implemented properly. The guru makes the sacrifice by teaching their student how to do this. Obviously, the guru’s words will not be taken with a pleasant attitude all the time. If we need instruction, it means that we are ignorant. If we need discipline, it means that we are currently doing something wrong. If someone harshly criticizes us for our errant behavior, how will we not feel offended?

Shrila PrabhupadaBut the guru doesn’t care who he offends, because he speaks the truth. Because of this kind sacrifice his glories can never be fully appreciated. Behind every successful spiritualist is a guru who made the sacrifice to spread the glories of the Supreme Lord and bhakti-yoga. Behind every successful Vaishnava poet, lecturer, preacher, or teacher is a guru who followed their own guru’s teachings, taking the words instructed to them to heart. The heart is where the plenary expansion of Shri Krishna resides, so when the heart is purified, the chaitya-guru, the Lord from within, directs us along the proper path. He is always there to love us, but without following proper guidance we’ll continue to ignore His presence. The guru thinks, “Hate me or love me, but by following my prescriptions you will find the true happiness that only comes with Krishna’s association.” In this way the spiritual master is forever worthy of our honor and respect.

In Closing:

“Mom and dad, why are you making me do this?

Can’t I go play outside and that way find bliss?

You make me do this and that, and I hate it,

When giving these impositions will you quit?”

For reputation a good parent will not care,

Harsh words from dependents them do not scare.

In a similar manner guru the truth does he speak,

Knowledge of Krishna and spirituality does he teach.

Discipline required in one who does not have any,

Teacher must point out the defects which are many.

Love him or hate him, one thing guru knows,

That only from Krishna happiness grows.

World benefitted from the sacrifice he makes,

From guru’s teachings, supreme wisdom disciple takes.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Purifying Through Presence

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 |

After his eyes travelled everywhere around the room, seeing the ins and outs of the palace, placing his glance upon the most beautiful women in the world Shri Hanuman caught himself for a second. “What I am doing is surely sinful. I should not be looking at another man’s wife while she is sleeping. Yet what can I do? I’m looking for someone who was taken away from her husband, and my duty is to search every single inch of space in this horrible land ruled by the cruelest of ogres.” Ironically enough, to the leader his lifestyle wasn’t bad at all. Indeed, to many who take sense gratification to be the ultimate aim in life, the lifestyle found within the inner apartments of the king of Rakshasas in Lanka would have to be considered a paradise. Women, wine and meat were in abundance, so much so that the body could not handle so much enjoyment and simultaneously fend off the urge to sleep. Yet to Hanuman none of these allures were palatable. He was looking for the purest of the pure, Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Though the two divine figures, Sita and Hanuman, were worthy of living in pure conditions, their very presence in the most sinful of places would eventually lead to its purification as well.

HanumanIf we see a homeless person sprawled out on the street with an empty bottle of whiskey beside them, it’s natural for feelings of pity to come over us. After all, only someone with a serious drinking problem who has major issues with depression, anxiety or mental stability would become so intoxicated that they would call the street their home. Even amongst people who hold steady jobs, having an addiction to intoxication is always a cause for concern. The drunkard is not looked upon too well, as their internal cleanliness is destroyed through their unsavory habit.

With Ravana, he seemingly had everything going for him - thousands of the most beautiful women in the world as wives, material opulence that couldn’t be accurately measured, and a fighting ability so strong that the entire world feared him. He had the animal activities of eating, sleeping, mating and defending well accounted for. If an animal can take care of these four activities without a problem, it can live comfortably. But the human beings, as an advanced species, are meant to transcend these activities, with Ravana’s dedication to sinful life proving this fact. Though he had every enjoyment imaginable at his fingertips, Ravana essentially lived the life of a drunkard.

Was Ravana asleep on the floor? Was he homeless? How was his lifestyle harmed by his dedication to drinking wine and eating meat? When Hanuman went to Lanka, he saw that Ravana’s palaces and community resembled those found in the heavenly realm. Hanuman, though in a monkey form, was sent to Lanka to search for Sita Devi, whom Ravana had taken away from the side of her husband. Though he had won the hand of many princesses through victories in fair fights with powerful kings, Ravana knew he couldn’t get Sita that way. She was married to the most powerful bow warrior of the time, Shri Rama, who happened to be living in the forest of Dandaka for a short period of time.

Sita DeviThough he had ten arms and the boon granted to him that no celestial creature could destroy him in battle, Ravana still used a backhanded method to take Sita away. When Rama learned that she was missing, He frantically searched the forest for her whereabouts, eventually forming an alliance with the king of monkeys, Sugriva, who then dispatched his massive monkey army to look for Sita around the world. Hanuman was the most capable of the members of the search party, so the burden of finding Sita would eventually fall on him. Learning that she was staying on a distant island called Lanka, Hanuman did what was necessary to make the journey.

Hanuman knew that Sita was in Lanka, but that was the extent of the information provided to him. He had actually never met her, so he had to search every inch of space in Lanka and then rely on his knowledge of Shri Rama to decipher who Sita was. Hanuman knew that Rama was the very life and soul of all human beings, the knower of the self. Rama was God Himself appearing in a transcendental form capable of accepting worship from those willing to offer it. For Sita to be His wife, she must have been endowed with every virtue imaginable, divine qualities not found in any other woman. Her foremost characteristic would have to be her devotion to Rama, which would mean that she would be the saddest person in Lanka. Attachment to God results in extreme distress and sadness when separated from the Lord’s company, especially when Rama happens to be your husband.

Hanuman, assuming a diminutive stature to remain unseen, searched through Lanka, eventually making his way into Ravana’s giant palace, with its many inner chambers. What Hanuman saw was incomparable in its beauty. There were so many beautiful women inside, enjoying in various ways. These were not low class women, for they looked like they had taken birth from gods and other celestial figures. He saw that most of them were drunk, passed out from a night of enjoying with their husband, Ravana. Hanuman saw the king of Rakshasas himself passed out, also from drinking and enjoying. There were empty and full glasses of wine everywhere, with the finest meats seasoned to perfection laid out as well.

HanumanThough on the outside conditions appeared opulent, Ravana’s life was really no different from that of a drunkard, someone to be pitied. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, consider the human form of life to be the most auspicious because of the potential for acquiring the highest type of knowledge. Children and adults don’t find the same activities enjoyable because in the adult the level of consciousness has evolved. You can’t put on a children’s television show or movie in front of an adult and have them enjoy it as much as a child will.

With that advanced consciousness comes a new set of corresponding activities. Yet when the adult is not trained properly, not given the proper education on spiritual matters, the activities they will take up will fail to match up with the full potential for maturity accompanying a human birth. The human brain is so advanced that it can realize the impending arrival of death and how temporary life is. The mind can understand that the seasons come and go on their own and that happiness and distress occur as regularly as the rising and setting of the sun. Armed with this information, one can travel down one of two avenues.

Based on what Hanuman saw in Lanka, Ravana obviously chose the wrong path. His method of enjoyment was really no different from that of a person wasting away their life through despair or depression. If there is sadness, is the proper remedy intoxication, overeating, or oversleeping? Obviously not, as these activities do nothing to uplift one’s spirits. Similarly, when there is knowledge of impending death, of the mortality of man, the answer is not to indulge the senses even more, to revert to a less intelligent mindset just to find enjoyment. There is one simple way to make the same activities from childhood enjoyable again: revert back to the intelligence of a child. What easier way is there to devolve in consciousness then to become inebriated through drinking, overeating and excessive indulgence in sex life?

Lord RamaIn this way we see that Ravana’s life in Lanka was to be pitied. Ironically enough, the king thought that Rama was the poverty stricken person, someone not wise enough to realize what was important in life. Rama was known as the most capable warrior, yet somehow He was roaming the forests for fourteen years. The king of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dasharatha, Rama’s father, ordered his son to leave the kingdom and not return for fourteen years. To Ravana, Rama’s acceptance of this edict did not make sense. “If He’s so strong, why didn’t He just overtake the kingdom for Himself? Why on earth would He choose life as a hermit in a place amidst animals instead of the regal lifestyle? Obviously He mustn’t be very strong. He doesn’t deserve His wife either, for a woman should be with a strong man capable of providing everything for her.”

What Ravana didn’t know was that Rama was Lord Vishnu, the four-handed form of the Absolute Truth residing in the spiritual sky of Vaikuntha. At the behest of the heavenly figures, Vishnu came to earth to do away with Ravana. Vishnu is known as being atmarama, or self-satisfied. Therefore Rama didn’t need anything, including a kingdom. Sita was with Him in the forest at her insistence. She too didn’t require wine, meat, or opulent jewelry. Her wealth was her devotion to her husband, and she refused to allow Him to suffer alone in a forest. Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana also felt the same way towards Rama, so he came along for the journey too.

The other path in life that all of us have the option of choosing is that of dharma, or religiosity. Dharma is the set of law codes instituted by Vishnu at the beginning of time. More than just a way to regulate activity and keep one from committing sin, dharma is meant to bring the foremost characteristic of the soul to the forefront of consciousness. Though there are temporary changes of the outer covering - from boyhood to youth, from youth to old age - the essence of life does not get affected. Even death has no bearing on the spirit soul. Only the sober man can understand these truths and know what to do with them.

By following dharma, the properties of spirit rise to a fully active state. By nature the spirit soul is knowledgeable, blissful and eternal. When encased in a body composed of the three modes of material nature, these three properties manifest in perverted ways. Eternality is forgotten, so it results only in the constant changing of bodies. Knowledge is used to find further sensual delights, things already available to even the most ignorant animal. And the blissful propensity manifests through service offered to every person and thing except God. Though the soul can take on bodies which are ever changing, its original position is that of servant of Krishna, or God. jivera svarupa haya nitya-krishna-dasa, as Lord Chaitanya so nicely says.

Sita, Rama and LakshmanaFollowing dharma allows one to reassume their svarupa. Therefore following principles of virtue is very important. Sita, Rama and Lakshmana had no requirement to follow dharma, but they did so to set a good example. Though the rules and regulations can sometimes conflict, when the ultimate goal of having an attachment to God is kept in mind, the proper course of action can always be deciphered. Rama followed dharma by ensuring that His father’s promise to the youngest queen Kaikeyi was not violated. Dasharatha had promised the queen any two boons of her choosing. It was actually her request that Rama leave the kingdom; so to ensure that Dasharatha wouldn’t be made out to be a liar, Rama agreed to leave.

Similarly, Sita and Lakshmana were following dharma by always staying by Rama’s side and seeing to His pleasure. They never wanted anything from Rama; rather, they were always looking to offer something to Him. The same went for Hanuman, who was not in Lanka on any personal business. He had no hankering for travel or for seeing beautiful women. He was in Lanka strictly to do his master’s business, but he nevertheless kept religious principles always in mind. He knew that it wasn’t wise to see others’ wives in vulnerable situations where they were scantily dressed. But what could he do? He even risked sin to ensure that Rama’s interests would be met. In this regard there was no possibility of Hanuman ever deviating from the path of dharma.

Hanuman meeting SitaOn the one hand you have Sita and Hanuman, two divine figures pure in every way, and on the other you have Ravana and his life of debauchery. Obviously the two sides don’t mix, but Sita and Hanuman found themselves inside of Ravana’s kingdom. In the meeting of these forces, the side abiding by dharma would win. Not only would they emerge unscathed, but their presence in Lanka would also indirectly purify Ravana. The saints go to where the sinners are, so Hanuman’s presence in Lanka brought the king of Rakshasas direct audience with the most worshipable and honorable person to have ever roamed this earth, Shri Rama. Sita was the catalyst for Ravana’s purification, Hanuman would keep the ball rolling, and Rama would provide the ultimate end through His arrows shot into the demon’s stomach, ending his life and granting him liberation. Anyone who is directly killed by the Supreme Lord is delivered of their sinful reactions and promised an end to rebirth. Similarly, anyone who hears about Hanuman’s exploits, his dedication to virtue, and his undying devotion to Sita, Rama and Lakshmana with sincerity will be purified and eventually find their original position as servant of God. Hanuman’s presence, either in person or through the words and songs describing his glories, is always purifying, even to those who don’t know it.

In Closing:

Ravana, in opulent kingdom thought he had it all,

Unaware that coming soon was his downfall.

Of inviting sin Hanuman not fond,

Yet wives of others his eyes gazed upon.

Felt remorse for this transgression of dharma,

Accidentally seeing life devoted to kama.

The drunkard through habits life does waste away,

Though a king, Ravana’s life going the same way.

Knowledge of impending death leaves us with choice,

To follow path of sin or in talks of God rejoice.

Ravana followed sin, but through saints was saved,

Sita there and across ocean Hanuman braved.

Saints travel to where the sinners are,

Stand out there like a visible scar.

Sita, Rama, Lakshmana and Hanuman are forever dear,

To the devotees, who see with divine vision so clear.