Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Monkey’s Mind

Hanuman“It is certainly the mind that is instrumental in causing the senses to act in ways that lead to either auspicious or inauspicious conditions. And my mind right now is positively situated.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 11.41)

mano hi hetuḥ sarveṣām indriyāṇām pravartate ||
śubha aśubhāsv avasthāsu tac ca me suvyavasthitam |

“So, you’re telling me that a monkey can talk? He and his other monkey friends travelled around the earth looking for a princess who was taken away by a guy with ten heads? Then eventually they talked to a bird who told them where she was? After that the lead monkey expanded his size and jumped from a mountain peak and crossed over the ocean? This same monkey then changed to a small size to search through the streets and inner palaces of the city for the princess? Obviously these are just mythological stories meant to enliven the spirit, to keep those desperate for an escape from the doldrums of everyday life hopeful of a brighter future. We see such amazing things portrayed in film all the time, so the events from the Ramayana sound like they are an ancient time’s version of fables and stories.”

Hanuman and his activitiesSuch a line of thinking seems plausible enough, except for the fact that nowhere do the authors of the famous Vedic texts say that any of the important events they document and discuss are made up or exaggerated. Every verse is presented in carefully composed Sanskrit, a language reserved for the highest class of men. While the feats of strength bordering on the amazing seem easy to dismiss as mythology, the high philosophical points presented by the relevant characters are not. Rather, their words of wisdom are unparalleled in their brilliance, as they cannot be found in any other scriptural tradition. The thoughts of Hanuman referenced above serve as a reminder of this fact.

The same monkey who expanded his size and leaped across the ocean is herein providing the real meaning to piety and sin, auspiciousness and inauspiciousness. The basic sins are easy to identify. Don’t covet your neighbor’s wife, don’t kill innocent people, and don’t steal. Piety is the opposite of sin – respect other people, tell the truth, and believe in God. But what is the purpose to piety and sin? Moreover, isn’t it sometimes a good thing to tell a lie? If someone attacks us or our family, should we not use violence to protect ourselves and our loved ones? If we don’t, aren’t we committing sin by shirking our duties?

Piety and sin are certainly more complex than their surfaces reveal. The living entity is himself complex, for he lives in a form that is like a bubble. This comparison to the bubble is also provided by that same amazing monkey, who is famed throughout the world as Hanuman, the eternal servant of Lord Rama. The monkey-god, as he’s known to those unfamiliar with his true superior standing, not only performs amazing feats in his quest to please his beloved Rama, but he also provides pearls of wisdom that can be appreciated by the highest class of scholars. A mythological character could never be so wise, nor could he have such a profound influence on people’s lives many millions of years into the future.

The knowledge of the spirit soul, its constitutional position, its travels through various body types, and what it needs to find the most auspicious condition is found only in the Vedic tradition, of which the Ramayana is part. Sublime wisdom is available to you should you decide it is worth your time to try to learn. You can even take your pick when deciding how you want to absorb the information. You can go for the Vedanta-sutras and Upanishads to learn about the high concepts of spirituality through short and concise verses which can be contemplated upon for years on end. Or, you can follow the pastimes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead described in texts like the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas to learn the same information through stories describing historical incidents.

scenes from the RamayanaIf God decides to act, His actions won’t be ordinary. The behavior of His dearest associates will not resemble anything normal either. Add to the mix that the events of the Ramayana took place so long ago, when man and every other species were more pure in their existence, and you have descriptions that are difficult to accept as fact. Nevertheless, just from hearing them with an open mind, not only can you associate with exciting adventure stories, but you can also get sublime wisdom that uncovers the meaning of life and how to fulfill it.

"Whom are you lamenting for when you yourself are pitiable? Why do you pity the poor when you yourself have now been made poor? While in this body that is like a bubble, how can anyone look at anyone else as being worthy of lamentation?" (Hanuman speaking to Tara, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 21.3)

The spirit soul is the essence of identity, and the body types it occupies can be likened to bubbles that don’t remain in existence for very long. When we see bubbles in the air, we know that they can dissipate pretty quickly. The term “quickly” references a relative measurement of time. For instance, to a human being that can live upwards of one hundred years, one second is very quick, as it is insignificant compared to the large timeline representing their lifetime. On the other hand, for a living being that doesn’t live very long, say for maybe a day, one second is very significant. It is not quick at all, but rather represents a significant portion of their duration of existence.

The bodies of living beings are likened to bubbles because, in the grand scheme of things, even someone who lives for one hundred years only occupies but a blip on the complete timeline of the creation. And living for one hundred years is a rare occurrence today, as the body can perish at any moment, even if we make the best attempt to protect it. The spirit soul is thus given more importance in the Vedic tradition, as it exists beyond the temporary manifestations. If we don’t want to believe in reincarnation, which is just a fact of spiritual science, we can understand the same effects by studying the changes of our own body. Do we mourn over the fact that our childhood body is now dead? Take a look at old pictures of yourself if you have them. Perhaps as a child your parents took you to a photo session in a store, where you were dressed up nicely and placed in front of fake scenery to have pictures taken. Perhaps you were even seated next to your brother and sister, thus giving your parents a nice memory of your childhood forms.

When you get older, you realize that you’ll never get that moment back. You will never be in a child’s body again, no matter how hard you try and how strongly you want it. Is it wise to lament this loss? Since you still have your identity, as you are able to consciously contemplate the fact that your body has changed, there is little reason to lament. You still exist, even though you’re now occupying a completely different form. Therefore that childhood form was like a bubble, as it was gradually destroyed over the course of time.

From the sober man’s realization of the changing body comes a pursuit for a higher end. Instead of worrying about a form that constantly changes, why not take the time to understand the essence of identity and what can be done to find a permanent auspicious condition? This is where piety and sin come into play. Pious acts are those which gradually bring one closer to their constitutional position, whereas sin brings temporary negative conditions that keep one further immersed in the consciousness tied to the body.

Lord RamaWe can understand these facts from explicit Vedic instruction presented by a spiritual master and also from the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, which invites us into Hanuman’s thought processes during a difficult moment in his journey in Lanka. Lord Rama, the Supreme Soul, the one person whose body and soul are always identical, descended to earth to enact sweet pastimes and give the sincere souls a chance to glance at Him, to see what their constitutional position could bring them. Hanuman played an integral role in helping Rama, for the Lord enjoys associating with those eager to offer service. If you’re the Supreme Lord, what can anyone offer you anyway? If you have everything, what can people do beyond offering respect from afar? As there is not much pleasure derived from this type of association, Shri Rama creates circumstances that allow for the devotional spirit to bloom in full, keeping the spirit soul occupied in its constitutional engagement.

Hanuman was in Lanka to find Sita Devi, Rama’s wife who was taken away from His side through backhanded means by the King of Lanka, Ravana. Since Hanuman was looking for a woman, he obviously had to place his glance upon as many women as he could, for how else would he properly identify Rama’s wife? The downside to this was that Hanuman risked looking at women that were married to someone else. Indeed, he would have to gaze upon them while they were enjoying in various ways inside of their bedrooms. Hence the chance of sin increased, something with which Hanuman was not comfortable.

In the above referenced verse, Hanuman is mulling the serious matter over. He has just looked at many of Ravana’s queens while they were in their apartment, but he notices that his mind has not been altered. From this moment of contemplation the famous monkey-god reveals the true meaning behind piety and sin, which lead to auspicious and inauspicious conditions. It is the mind which influences the senses to act in ways that lead to the various conditions. For instance, the person sentenced to prison for many years for having killed an innocent person was instigated to act based on the desires of the mind. If the mind had been properly situated, he would not have found the inauspicious future condition of prison life.

HanumanSince Hanuman’s mind was properly situated even after having seen Ravana’s wives, it meant that he had not committed sin. Does this mean that as long as we don’t feel bad afterwards, we can do horrible things like kill people and steal? The conditioning of the consciousness is what matters most, not necessarily if we feel remorse or not. By remarking that his mind was still in an auspicious condition, Hanuman was saying that he was still committed to the righteous path of trying to find Sita. Work done for God is known as bhakti, or divine love. Bhakti is above the temporary conditions brought about by mundane piety and sin, for loving devotion to the Lord is the soul’s constitutional business. Bhakti-yoga can continue uninterrupted and unmotivated for life after life; thereby making it the most unique occupation.

A person who commits sins like killing and stealing without discrimination shows that their mind is tied to the body, which is temporary. A properly situated mind understands the temporary nature of material affairs and thus does not unnecessarily impede the evolutionary progression of other living entities. And neither do they take property that belongs to others, for only a miser operates under the mentality of enjoying as much as they can within their short lifetime. Someone who knows that everything belongs to God is happy with their allotment in life, taking others’ property to be off limits, for they are rewards given by God for others to enjoy.

Though outwardly what Hanuman did was considered a sin, since he was not tied to bodily consciousness at all, since he was properly situated in mind, he was not tainted. The so-called sin had no effect on him. The reaction from his act was like a bite coming from a snake with no fangs. It was like a pin prick that the body couldn’t feel. Indeed, just the fact that Hanuman knew about the source of piety and sin and how the mind is the real determining factor shows that he could not possibly be tainted by his actions. One who knows the position of the spirit soul and how it is transcendental to matter can never kill anyone or cause harm, for they act under the direction of the highest authority figure.

“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)

Hanuman would also later on engage in violence in Lanka, killing many of Ravana’s soldiers. He was not interested in violence, but since he was in an enemy territory belonging to a ruler who had perpetrated the worst crime, Hanuman was not attached to a bogus system of blanket nonviolence either. When searching out the most auspicious condition of pleasing the Supreme Lord, trying to remain connected with Him in consciousness, sometimes outwardly sinful acts even turn out to be pious. While Hanuman’s looking at other women shouldn’t be imitated, his dedication in his search for Sita shows that everything he did in Lanka was pious.

Hanuman thinking of Sita and RamaWhile he resembles a mythological character to those who don’t know any better, to the sincere soul looking to rekindle their constitutional engagement, Hanuman and his actions are a delight, creating an ocean of nectar that can be enjoyed repeatedly. Though he knows that he is above sin and piety, Hanuman is still conscious of the righteous path, keeping it always in mind. For his dedication, Sita and Rama would be extremely pleased, and they would reward him with their presence in his heart for all of time. Hanuman is so glorious that an entire section of the Ramayana, the Sundara-kanda, is dedicated to his exploits. Since he works for Rama and always thinks of Him, there is no difference between the effectiveness of hearing the Sundara-kanda and hearing any of the other sections. That hero among monkeys continues to save countless souls by the example he set many thousands of years ago, when he displayed both physical and mental excellence. While for the less informed his feats of strength may be too amazing to accept as real, what’s even more unreal is his undying devotion to Sita and Rama. Through his example, Hanuman proves that both God and the reward that comes to those who love the Lord through bhakti-yoga are real.

In Closing:

Thinking Hanuman is a myth is a mistake,

None of his thoughts, words, or deeds are fake.

That his forms and feats are amazing we don't deny,

Bounds of logic and experience they defy.

Even though in the form of a monkey,

Travelled to Lanka to look for Sita did he.

Can try to dismiss his form but words you cannot,

Unmatched wisdom of the Vedas he has got.

Do you think fake monkey could know about piety and sin,

And how to practice devotion, love of God to win?

From Hanuman take proof of God’s existence,

Trust in his example, give up your resistance.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Attached To The Result

Krishna and Arjuna"The Lord advised that Arjuna not be inactive, but that he perform his prescribed duty without being attached to the result. One who is attached to the result of his work is also the cause of the action. Thus he is the enjoyer or sufferer of the result of such actions." (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 2.47 Purport)

“What are you doing man? Who told you to do that? Why would you on a whim do something that nobody asked you to do?” Picture being at an important jobsite where specific instructions are handed down by the superiors. They have their own interests in the establishment, ends they are trying to reach. To help speed up the process, they hire workers, paid employees who can boost productivity and thus allow for the desired outcome to arrive more quickly. The worker in this scenario has two options. He can do as he’s told or he can follow his own desires. The latter is the more risky choice, as the worker then assumes responsibility for the outcome, whereas the former keeps the burden upon the proprietor, irrespective of the end result. In the big picture of life, there is a grand proprietor who has assigned prescribed duties to every single one of us. When these duties are performed with detachment, we don’t bear the burden of responsibility for the outcome, for we are not the cause of the action. On the other hand, when personal enjoyment takes over and drives our activities, keeping us attached to the results, we become the cause. The cause bears the burden of suffering or enjoying. Since our enjoyment is temporary, taking the responsibility of the cause ends up being not worth it.

Let’s work through an example to get a firmer understanding. Staying with the office scenario, let’s say that we decided to follow our own instinct on a particular task. We had our own end to reach, something which may not have paired up with what the proprietors wanted. With every action there is the potential for two outcomes: success or failure. Let’s take the positive outcome first. We defied the orders of the superiors and went our own way and things worked out. As a result, we enjoy the credit for the success. After all, the proprietors didn’t tell us to do what we did. We took a risk and thus we own the result. Since there is attachment to the outcome, the enjoyment is there for us to take.

On the flip side, when there is failure, the burden of responsibility is heaped directly upon us. We get all the blame for not following orders and for letting our own desires take precedent. The negative, unsuccessful outcomes must be attached to us as well, for we made the decision based on personal desire to go against the instructions given to us.

school closingThe risk in following our own instincts is that we may not be as familiar with the nature of the task and the final end being supported as the proprietors are. The proprietors keep a big picture vision, while the workers are there to earn a paycheck. The worker enjoys time off and vacations, while the owner dreads these days, for they halt productivity. Think of it like the difference between the students and the teacher in a particular classroom. If there is a massive blizzard hitting the area that closes school, the students love it, but for the teacher there is not that much happiness. The class exists for a reason, to provide instruction to students, valuable information that they can hopefully use in the future. If class is cancelled, what benefit is there to be gained? The students, however, don’t know any better. Their position is completely different from the person providing the instruction, the teacher. Therefore, should the students act on their own whims, becoming attached to the outcomes, either favorable or unfavorable, they won’t be guided by the proper vision. Even a blind man can find the right way to go by chance, so not every divergence from instruction will lead to failure, but even the successes in these instances won’t correspond fully with the desires of the leader.

What does this all mean in the grand scheme of things? Religion exists to guide mankind in his conduct. The person instituting the principles of real religion understands the highest goal; He knows what is ultimately best for all of us. We, on the other hand, require instruction at every stage in life. If this weren’t true, we would just play throughout our time on earth and never get educated. Instruction and discipline are imposed on children because they don’t know any better; kids are less intelligent than adults.

Lord KrishnaWhile the young child eventually matures into an adult and thus increases their intelligence, there is one person who never has to mature. He has always possessed complete knowledge and bliss. This means that He has never lost His intelligence, nor has He found periods of sadness that He needed to get out of. Moreover, He never takes birth or dies. He remains in His spiritual body for all of eternity.

We spirit souls are like His children. We too never take birth or die, but we can travel through different species. With each change in residence the maturation cycle resets, wherein we have to become educated again on how to live. Depending on the dwelling accepted, the educational needs can vary. For instance, a cow’s primary duties are different from a pig’s. A bird has to acquire tools that a tiger may not have to. All in all, the animals are the same in that they follow eating, sleeping, mating and defending as their primary behaviors.

A human birth, on the other hand, is considered the most auspicious because with it the highest information can be attained. Lest we think this relates to only personal sense enjoyment, the information to be accepted serves a higher purpose. An eternal body similar to that belonging to our spiritual father can be acquired through the proper channels. Since we have no clue about the difference between body and spirit, the need for education, the travels through the many species, and the benefits of following the advice of superiors, we need something to guide us through life, to keep us on the straightened path. Hence we see why religion exists. Some prefer not to use the term “religion”, since it evokes memories of phony leaders who are either after money or telling everyone that they are being punished for not swearing allegiance to a specific personality.

In the Vedas, religion is referred to as dharma, which means one’s occupational duty. Dharma as a term says that it has always been the soul’s business to follow the law codes handed down by the Supreme Person, and that adherence to these codes will continue to be the foremost occupational duty going forward. Dharma in this sense is not a punishment, but rather the greatest blessing. Think of it as the instruction manual for life, intended to allow one to assemble everything properly, to make sure that unexpected deviations from the auspicious path do not take place. With every setback comes an increase in the number of hardships encountered, with the chances of meeting the highest end put into jeopardy. Dharma is there to teach us how to push the massive rock symbolic of the spirit soul to the top of the hill, where it belongs. Deviation from dharma helps to make that task more difficult, with the worst sins causing the rock to roll back down the hill.

Lord KrishnaWhen dharma is followed, there is no need for attachment to the result. For instance, if dharma calls for us to be honest in our dealings, to follow religious rituals and regulations on a regular basis, and to protect our loved ones, whether we receive successful outcomes or not is out of our control. Dharma comes from God, so He assumes the responsibility for the results coming from its practice. Moreover, when we act without attachment, we are not even the cause of the actions and their results. The person instituting the rules bears the burden of responsibility; and since He is the Supreme Person, He is more than happy to accept it.

On the other hand, when we don’t follow dharma, there is attachment to the outcomes. With attachment comes responsibility. Lest we think this is the better option because of the potential for enjoying success, look at what happens when a little success is encountered. The taste of victory seems very sweet, but it does not last very long. Therefore another plunge into the engagement is required. Just because we were successful once doesn’t mean that we will be again. For someone who has succeeded many times in the past, defeat brings a bitter taste. Someone who is unattached will not feel as morose over defeat, but someone who has tasted victory will hate losing.

Even the successes that do come from deviating from dharma don’t carry any progression along life’s ultimate path. Though dharma can be targeted to different people based on their natural qualities and their positions in life, the Vedas have delineated four activities as being the most detrimental, the strongest deviations from the righteous path. They are meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. Each of these behaviors carries an enjoyment, but even with the successful outcome there is no progress made. The person instituting dharma created its laws to allow for consciousness to gradually shift to the spiritual plane. Consciousness is the determining factor not only in present happiness, but also in the future fortunes of the soul. The God conscious individual doesn’t have to reset the cycle of maturation by accepting another body. They assume their natural form, or svarupa, upon exiting the body.

“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)

Lord KrishnaThe benefits of following dharma and remaining unattached to outcomes are nicely described in the Bhagavad-gita, the Song of God sung by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. While dharma entrusted to spiritual leaders is enough to give us guidance in life, the Supreme Lord knows that following it will be difficult. The material world is conducive for violating the righteous path. It’s as if someone constantly stays with us and whispers in our ear to buck authority and go against the grain. “Don’t follow religion. God is dead. You are God. Why should you worship anyone else?”

The Bhagavad-gita is a theoretical treatise coupled with a real-life situation that allowed for the principles discussed to be implemented. The work opens with the plight of a warrior who was about to engage in one of the bloodiest wars in history. His side was justified in fighting, as they were unjustly kicked out of their kingdom. Moreover, they were members of the warrior class; so they were obligated by dharma to protect and defend the innocent. Just imagine if someone breaks into your home, you call the police, and they say that they don’t feel like defending you. The police say that they don’t think it’s right to punish someone for stealing because they, the authorities in charge of upholding the law, have decided that stealing is not immoral. Obviously the policeman in question would hopefully get into trouble, for he is not following his prescribed duties.

The lead fighter on this particular day was hesitant to enter into hostilities, not wanting to harm the family members fighting for the opposing army. Violating dharma and following his own whim, this fighter decided it was better to throw in the towel, to just give up. Krishna, knowing full well the influence His material nature has on the consciousness, stepped in and educated His cousin and disciple, the hesitant warrior Arjuna. In trying to convince him of the proper path, Krishna told him that by harboring attachment to outcomes, one must suffer the result. Such workers essentially become the cause of their fortunes and misfortunes. This meant that if Arjuna gave up, he would be the cause for whatever would follow. God could not be blamed.

ArjunaOn the other hand, if Arjuna followed his prescribed duties, which were originally put into place by Krishna Himself, the Lord would assume responsibility for the outcome. Arjuna had no reason to be attached to the results of his actions, for he would just be acting in the interests of the self. The self is the soul, or atma, which is the identifying agent within every life form. The real self-interest is to follow dharma, for the law codes handed down by God are meant for benefitting the soul only. The body is temporary, as are the senses. One who gives in to the temptations to violate dharma does so at the behest of the senses, which will eventually be discarded. Therefore the enjoyment that results will similarly be limited; it cannot transcend the bounds of birth and death.

Arjuna would heed Krishna’s advice and fight on, all the while remaining unattached to the outcome. As strong as his dispassion was, he was more firmly dedicated to Krishna’s service, to pleasing his beloved friend and cousin. Krishna, or God, is everyone’s father, so following dharma automatically pleases Him. The person who institutes the laws and takes responsibility for the outcome of actions performed under their direction ensures that the outcome is always the right one. If our primary occupational duty is to serve Krishna and make Him happy, how could anything we do that follows that mindset be incorrect? Moreover, how could we ever fail? Krishna controls the outcome, so He will never deny the soul sincerely interested in following dharma, a system which keeps them in line with their ultimate characteristic, that of servant of God.

In Closing:

The orders of commanders with attention do you hear,

Follow them for the consequences of not you fear.

But if you go against, if to orders you don’t listen,

For the outcome, good or bad, you will bear the burden.

If you are successful, what did you really learn?

Only a false sense of control did you earn.

If you follow orders, for outcome you’re not responsible,

Person who instituted the rules is liable.

In the grander scheme follow the Supreme Lord’s laws,

Of every outcome He is the original cause.

Work without attachment so you don’t have to worry,

Follow path of Arjuna, who shot arrows in a flurry.

He worked for Krishna so there was no question of failure,

With sincerity in devotion, to see success one is sure.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Daughter of Janaka

Sita Devi and King Janaka“Never in the past was there, nor in the future will there be, a man like Janaka, who had Sita as a daughter, full of all auspiciousness.” (Janaki Mangala, Svayamvara Ki Taiyari, 7)

bhayehu na hoihi hai na janaka sama naravai |
sīya sutā bhai jāsu sakala mangalai ||

When writing a song describing the marriage of the sweetest woman in the world to the man most dedicated to protecting the innocent, a host of potential titles can come to mind. Yet Goswami Tulsidas specifically chose to use the name “Janaki” in the title of his song describing the daughter of Janaka’s marriage to the prince of the Raghu dynasty, Lord Rama. A person with good qualities shows that their guardians had a role in their upbringing, that they were taught discipline at a young age and instilled values that would be beneficial to both them and the people with which they interacted. Sita was endowed with all good qualities, and though they were remarkable, they weren’t that surprising considering who her father was. Already a king famous around the world for his chivalry, the day he found Sita was the day that would bring him the most auspiciousness.

King JanakaLimited by time is the human being. There is only so much that can be accomplished in a given day, for there are so many responsibilities to take care of. During the week there is the grind of the forty hours of work during the daytime coupled with the responsibilities pertaining to home and family at night. Then on the weekend one can tend to all the chores they skipped during the busy week. In this way there is not much that can be done to introduce new activities into the routine of the average adult. Therefore the activities that one does take up become even more important. The more inclusive they are in scope, the more they take care of multiple needs, the better the benefit derived will be.

In spiritual life the task becomes even more difficult. The initial plunge into a discipline aimed at finding real happiness indicates that the life already followed is not cutting it. The individual contemplating acceptance of a spiritual discipline wants more out of their activities; they want to see tangible, lasting benefits from their work. The problem, however, is again related to time and what can be accomplished with the efforts that one does put forth. The more time you put in, the greater the rewards that are expected. At the same time, the more serious the engagement, the higher the benefit should be as well.

If I start out in spiritual life with just simple meditation, I gain the initial benefit of avoiding the hectic life I am accustomed to. At the very least, I get to sit quietly and avoid thinking of all the pressures, what I have to do tomorrow and what went wrong with the just completed day. Depending on the tradition I’m following and who my teacher is, I may also focus on God directly, realizing His transcendental features and basking in His sweet vision. These features are known through disciplic succession, with people being around during the Lord’s advents, noting down their observations, and then passing that information on to successive generations. Tapping into this information is like hopping on a train that is passing through your city. Once on it, you can not only learn about God, but you can even create your own line off of it to bring the glorious news from the spiritual world to many other people.

Lord KrishnaIn the Vedic tradition, the most inclusive type of meditation involves focus on the transcendental form of the Personality of Godhead, who is known as Krishna because of His sweetness. He is so attractive that one who has removed the influence of the senses can’t help but remain devoted to Him. Indeed, it is only the influence of the material nature that causes any living entity to become forgetful of their constitutional position of lover of God. When afflicted by the material disease, the same loving spirit is present, but it gets directed towards areas that don’t merit the attention. Moreover, the love is then qualified, almost a type of lust. The “love” only lasts for as long as there is a benefit received. As soon as that stops, the loving spirit gets directed elsewhere.

For one who is following meditation on Krishna’s lotus feet, their progression is aided by reciting the holy names, like those found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. From constant recitation of this mantra in meditational trance, one can gradually learn more about the transcendental features of the Supreme Lord and how remaining in His company is so beneficial. The more one chants in a pure mood, the more they become attached to the process; so much so that even the most elevated transcendentalists keep the chanting routine as part of their baseline practices.

It’s ironic to think that something that was first viewed as novel and separate from the activities we perform on a routine basis soon becomes so routine that it gets pushed to the backburner, though still not neglected. Why would it get secondary status? From the revival of Krishna consciousness comes the fervent desire to continually connect with the Supreme Lord, even during times outside of explicit meditation. In one sense the meditation never breaks, as the desire to stay with God is still there, but as the human being can follow a variety of engagements, the contemplative individual finds their way into other endeavors, new outlets for service.

Again, the constraints of time creep up. The devotee immersed in Krishna consciousness wants to glorify not only God, but also those exalted figures intimately associated with Him. Krishna is complete with His entourage both in the spiritual and material worlds. In this land they are roaming about playing different roles to show others what it means to be connected in yoga, and in the spiritual land they are by the Lord’s side giving Him pleasure through a variety of transcendental mellows, or rasas.

Bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is the constitutional engagement of the vibrant spirit because it directly addresses the root of all creation. Once the root is watered, the branches and leaves are fed at the same time. In this sense one only has to glorify Krishna to take care of their obligations. Nevertheless, devotees like Tulsidas try to glorify other important characters as well, people they love because of their relationship to the Supreme Lord. For the poet who authored the verse quoted above, his worshipable figure of choice is Lord Rama, who is considered an incarnation of Krishna, or Vishnu. In the Vedic tradition there is a divide between personalists and impersonalists. We can think of an impersonalist as someone who doesn’t yet know about God’s position as a personality, whereas a personalist is fully aware of it. Among the personalists, the worshipable figure is not uniform, though He always represents the same original Lord. Rama is the same Krishna but with a different manifestation and different activities enacted during His time on earth.

Lord RamaIf Tulsidas worshiped Rama exclusively through bhakti, why would he author a poem called the Janaki Mangala. Once we find out that Janaki is Rama’s wife and that the mangala refers to the auspiciousness of her marriage ceremony to Rama, the purpose behind the composition becomes self-evident. If you love God, you’re going to love His wife. Just as Rama is non-different from Krishna and Vishnu, Sita is non-different from Shrimati Radharani and Lakshmi Devi. The Vedas describe God as the energetic and His immediate pleasure potency expansion as His energy. The two are the perfect match. We are also part of God’s energy, meant to give Him pleasure, but in a conditioned state we have to first take to a yoga discipline to be able to realize that position. From realization comes action.

Shri Rama has many different names that reference His attributes, features, and position in the universe. Along the same lines, Sita also has many different names, of which Janaki is one. We can speculate as to why Tulsidas chose to use Janaki instead of Sita in the title for his poem, but we know for sure from the above referenced verse that one of the reasons was his love for King Janaka, Sita’s father. Janaki as a word reveals that the person being addressed has a father named Janaka. In ancient times, that King Janaka was famous around the world. There was no other king like him in the past and there will never be one like him in the future.

What is so special about Janaka? For starters, he was wholly dedicated to piety, which isn’t so commonplace among kings. A king lives by administering justice and levying taxes on the citizens. Without proper adherence to religious principles, the king will be degraded and so will his citizens. Janaka was also an elevated transcendentalist, to the point that he was above happiness and sadness. Nothing could faze his stoic demeanor.

King JanakaOr so it was thought. When he found a baby girl in the ground one day while ploughing a field, his life would change forever. The same king that was already famous for his dedication to religious principles would gain supreme auspiciousness in accepting this girl as his daughter. Since she came out of the ground he named her Sita, and through her he would gain Shri Rama as a son-in-law. In this way Janaka proved himself ever worthy of God’s favor, for the Supreme Lord’s wife chose him as a father during her time on earth.

Through addressing Sita as Janaki, the great king is automatically praised. Shri Hanuman, Rama’s most faithful servant, would often refer to Sita as Janaka-atmaja, or the daughter of Janaka, when thinking about her. Hanuman had to think about Sita a lot because it was his duty to find her after she went missing. Sita would be married to Rama in a grand ceremony held in Janaka’s kingdom. This ceremony was the main subject matter of the Janaki Mangala. After being married for twelve years, Sita and Rama would sojourn through the forests. One day Sita would be taken away from Rama’s side behind His back, and to try to find her, the Lord enlisted the help of a band of Vanaras living in Kishkindha. Hanuman was their most capable warrior and also the one most dedicated to Rama. He had to travel to the city of Lanka by himself and try to find Sita there. Therefore he often thought of Sita’s qualities, remembering King Janaka’s pious nature and family ancestry at the same time.

From the title of his poem and the verse referenced above we see that Tulsidas was able to offer high praise to Janaka while writing about Sita and Rama. The task for the devotional writer is quite difficult, as there are so many saints deserving praise, so many noble characters who are intimately tied to the Supreme Lord and His pastimes. Janaka is so exalted that he is listed as one of the twelve mahajanas, or authorities on devotional service. Though he deserves many books dedicated to his activities and character, just by saying the name Janaki once, so much praise and honor are given to him. By appearing in his family, Sita ensured that the king would be famous forever. Receiving his beloved daughter and showing her unmatched love, Janaka found the highest auspiciousness. The pleasure increased to unimaginable heights when she received Shri Rama as a husband, making Janaka arguably the most fortunate king to have ever graced this earth.

In Closing:

Travel back in time and all kings do you study,

Review their characteristics and natures carefully.

Keep on searching but none like Janaka will you find,

Who always kept the welfare of Sita in mind.

Obvious that he was king that Tulsidas did prefer,

With poet’s sentiment we wholeheartedly concur.

With task of praising so many saints writer does fight,

Yet mahajana king honored when Janaki name you recite.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Focus On The Positive

Krishna's lotus feet“When the positive form is realized, the negative forms are automatically eliminated. Therefore, with the development of the bhakti cult, with the application of positive service to the positive form, one naturally becomes detached from inferior things, and he becomes attached to superior things.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.2.7 Purport)

If something is bad for you, just avoid it. If you keep inviting pain into the mind by thinking about something traumatic from the past, just stop thinking about it. If certain foods give you bodily discomfort after consumption, don’t eat them. If you feel lingering pains in the stomach and have to constantly vomit from intoxication, stop drinking. These solutions seem simple enough, no? The problem is that to actually consciously avoid something is very difficult. Imagine being forced to sit in one place for hours on end knowing that you aren’t allowed to get up or leave the room. This is what passengers aboard long flights face all the time. Yet instead of just trying to not think about their journey, they try to focus on something else, keeping the mind engaged on those positive things that simultaneously maintain their emotional wellbeing. This technique works with something trivial like an airline flight, and it can work with spirituality as well, which represents activity on the most macro level.

Spiritual life is the antithesis of material life. By antithesis, we mean the opposite in terms of both engagement and outcome. Eating soup is somewhat the opposite of eating ice cream, but the outcomes aren’t that much different. The body is nourished in both cases, and depending on the disposition of the consuming person, the food items can be quite tasty. Spiritual life exists for finding a permanent happiness, which is secured through activities not immediately known.

Are there naturally known activities? Think of what a child does. Play all day, eat to refuel, sleep when you get tired, and then continue playing. With proper conditioning, there is some regulation imposed, and the kinds of play may change a little, but the natural instincts are still there. While the mind may be driven to indulge in specific activities, the outcomes aren’t always palatable. For instance, if the instinct is to play instead of study, the outcome from following that inclination is a failing grade on an assignment or test, which further harms the chances of successfully completing the course. Education for children is required for becoming self-sufficient later on in life, when parents aren’t around to clean up after your messes, when you are yourself responsible for paying for life’s essentials.

“O best among the Bharatas [Arjuna], four kinds of pious men render devotional service unto Me — the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.16)

Lord KrishnaWhen the enjoyment from activities following natural inclinations wears thin, when the mind is tired of the repeating cycle of happiness and dejection, when the living entity has grown fatigued of swinging on the pendulum of acceptance and rejection, answers are sought to life’s most difficult questions. In the Bhagavad-gita, it is said that the people who initially approach God in a devotional mood are of four kinds. There are the inquisitive, the desirers of wealth, those looking for alleviation from suffering, and those in knowledge who are looking to go beyond their realization of a formless Absolute Truth. The last group, when following the devotional path, is considered the best because they are already in a good position, though it doesn’t matter at what point one starts. Where they end up is what counts.

The fact that activities in spiritual life are considered different from our other indulgences is well known. This is because the beginning of any dive into spirituality involves a review of the restrictions. “Okay, if I follow this religion, I won’t be allowed to do this. In this other religion, this is allowed but other things are not. This particular religion seems way too strict for me.” The prohibitions are there for a reason. Just as activities that cause us pain should be avoided, those pursuits with a faulty aim need to be rejected outright; otherwise no progress can be made towards a higher destination. Lest we think we’re all going to the same place, in no other area of endeavor does just any behavior result in a uniform destination. You can’t just board any train and expect to go where you want to. You can’t just follow any tract in life and expect to have the same results that others who follow different tracts have.

The initial restrictions in spiritual life are not meant to be the end though. They are meant to foster a change in consciousness, a mindset where the proper outlook in life can be used. Why is this necessary? Imagine trying to read a book while you are intoxicated. Imagine trying to pay attention during a conversation with your friend while your mind constantly replays the traumatic incident that just occurred. Imagine trying to sit through a play performance while you are in constant pain due to indigestion. Obviously these negative conditions are distractions; they don’t allow you to focus on the task at hand.

In a similar manner, if the living entity is mired in activity that keeps it distracted, there is no way to properly decipher which actions should be adopted and which ones shouldn’t. The restrictions in spiritual life are there to bring about sobriety of thought, so that when the decision is voluntarily made in favor of service to that one person who can accept everyone’s service without interruption, the enjoyment that results will be unmatched. Moreover, the commitment to the decision will be firmer once negative distractions are eliminated.

So, what are the most important restrictions? What works best at keeping the mind away from sobriety? In the Vedic tradition, the spiritual law codes passed down since the beginning of time, the most harmful sinful activities are meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. A sin is an act that carries a negative consequence. Think of doing something the wrong way and paying for it later on. Stealing is wrong not only because of the potential for punishment from governing bodies it carries, but also because of the harmful effects it has on one’s karma. That good and bad reactions come as the result of previous work applied is inherently understood by so many people, though its scientific basis may not be. The fact that the reactions can continue to arrive after the fact isn’t given consideration either.

“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)

Lakshmana and Rama protecting VishvamitraBut time delivers all results at the appropriate moments. For instance, if we were to mail in our absentee ballot in a particular election, if election day comes without the voting board receiving our ballot, this doesn’t stop the old mail from being delivered. Indeed, in close elections, the people counting the votes wait a few weeks for absentee ballots that might have been mailed from overseas to arrive. The end point of the election is reached, but the reactions to past work are still coming in.

In a similar manner, the sinful and pious acts we take up accumulate future effects. They don’t always arrive when we want them to. Death is not the end; it’s the beginning of a new life. The circumstances of the next birth are determined by the results that come pouring in like the absentee ballots after an election. From this example we have a rudimentary understanding of karma and how it continuously operates.

Taking away sin not only removes the harmful effects due to arrive in the future, it also has a positive effect on consciousness. One who doesn’t perpetrate unnecessary violence against animals has a better chance of understanding Brahman, the all-pervading spirit. Think of every life form you see on a given day. They are all equal in their constitutional position, but the dresses they assume are different. Spend a day at the shopping mall and you’ll see people dressed in so many different ways, but this doesn’t mean that they are inherently different. The physical characteristics assumed as the result of past karma don’t create dualities in existence. The ant, the germ, the cow, the learned man, the poor man, the woman, the child, and so on are all the same. One who thinks that the animal has no soul will be stupefied by the concept of Brahman, and thus be stunted in their spiritual growth.

rouletteGambling, intoxication and illicit sex are the most effective weapons at keeping consciousness unsteady. This should be rather obvious based on an honest personal assessment made by anyone who has ever indulged in these activities. Give up drinking and you won’t have to worry about so many problems. Gambling can not only make you lose your house, it can make you lose your mind. Illicit connection with members of the opposite sex leads to the most problems, both financial and emotional. The marriage system was instituted by the original person to allow for sex life to be conducted in a regulated manner, where the mental disturbances would be limited.

A sober person has a better chance at realizing Brahman and thus knowing that the forms accepted by spirit souls in their travels through reincarnation are composed of ignorance. Attachment to temporary things and aversion to divine love accompany a material existence. Therefore the restrictions in a bona fide discipline of spirituality focus on detaching one from their senses tied to their temporary form. If I know that my clothes will be taken off at the end of the day, I have a better chance of understanding that the clothes aren’t the most important thing in my life. One who knows the temporary nature of material life understands that their spiritual identity is what counts and that temporary gains and losses aren’t that important.

But detachment from the negative forms is not the ultimate aim, and neither is focusing on elimination of the negative the best way to make progress. Spiritual life is so difficult to accept for the person attached to sense gratification because all that is known is the negative. Why would someone want to voluntarily punish themselves when all that is promised is a better condition in the afterlife, of which nothing is concretely known?

Lord KrishnaIn the highest system of spirituality, which champions transcendental love, the focus on the positive is emphasized more. While the material forms give us so much misery and act as the playing field that yields future fruits of karma, there is a positive form that is meant to be our eternal source of pleasure. This positive form belongs to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna. Not to be confused with a sectarian figure important to just the Hindus, Krishna is the very embodiment of pure spirit. He is all-attractive, kind to His devotees, and universally benevolent. Every type of energy emanates from Him, and all knowledge and renunciation are meant to culminate in service to Him in unalloyed devotion, a spirit of work that is accepted voluntarily.

What’s so amazing about Krishna’s positive form is that association with it automatically purifies the other forms that were formerly negative. What does this mean exactly? Think of using a spoon to try to cut something. A spoon is not sharp, so it is practically useless in trying to cut food. In this scenario we can think of the spoon as negative, something to be renounced. But if we want to eat something like soup, the spoon is the handiest tool. When the spoon is used properly, it becomes an invaluable utensil.

Similarly, the material bodies we are given by nature are meant to act in God’s service. We have ears so that we can listen to talks about Krishna and songs glorifying Him. We have hands so that we can wash the floors of the sacred houses holding discussions about Krishna. We have eyes so that we can gaze at the deity manifestation, which uses material elements to show forms that depict Krishna’s spiritual attributes. We have a stomach to enjoy foodstuff that is first offered to Krishna and then returned as His mercy, or prasadam.

Lord KrishnaThe positive form reveals that service to God is done for our enjoyment. It is not meant as a punishment or a way to get people to stop following others that we may or may not like. If the negative forms are used properly, then there is no question of renunciation. If I am immersed in Krishna consciousness, what need do I have to constantly worry about avoiding certain behavior? If someone completely quits drinking, do they have to worry about driving drunk? Or even better, if a person is constantly high on life, do they have to worry about the temptation to drink?

The superior things in life are those that are related to God. The Lord has many forms, not just His original of Krishna. Though everything is God, not all objects carry His personal presence. Following the instructions of a bona fide spiritual master dedicated to the Personality of Godhead can help us decipher where the personal presence is present and where it isn’t. In the highest state of understanding, Krishna is remembered everywhere; thus eliminating the need for focusing on the negative. Ascension to God consciousness is best facilitated through constant recitation of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

In Closing:

Focus on Shri Krishna, the most positive form,

To hearing His names recited let your heart warm.

Realization of the Lord’s form more important,

Than just knowing that spirit and body are different.

Rejection of the bad leads to our benefit,

But bliss must be found before body we quit.

Otherwise the cycle of karma will continue,

Which brings misery and pleasures that are few.

Material body is nature’s gift to you,

For connecting with God to be used.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Determining Factor

Hanuman“It is certainly the mind that is instrumental in causing the senses to act in ways that lead to either auspicious or inauspicious conditions. And my mind right now is positively situated.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 11.41)

mano hi hetuḥ sarveṣām indriyāṇām pravartate ||
śubha aśubhāsv avasthāsu tac ca me suvyavasthitam |

Shri Hanuman, the heroic Vanara warrior, a person whose vision is always a sight for sore eyes, the ones grown weary through repetition of happiness and sadness, loss and gain, and joy and dejection felt in the many days spent on earth, is incapable of sin. Not even a hint of impropriety can be found in him. Lest we think this is just hyperbole or flattering words offered by his admirers, Hanuman’s very activities substantiate his superior stature. His mind concentrates on only one thing: how to please his beloved Shri Rama. Though Lord Rama is the Supreme Personality of Godhead in the avatara of a warrior prince, Hanuman looks well past this high status. Rather, he loves Rama purely, without motive. This love extends to anyone else who loves Rama, including the Lord’s beloved wife Sita Devi. Through his travels and activities undertaken out of duty, Hanuman never forgets the one person who gives him more pleasure than anyone else. Though he is sometimes unwittingly forced to follow behavior that hints at impropriety, since his consciousness is always fixed in righteousness, on the supreme objective, Hanuman is never tainted with sin.

Sita DeviWhile in the enemy grounds of Lanka, Hanuman had no reason to obey any standard law codes. The king of the city, Ravana, had unjustly taken the beloved wife of another man while she was residing in the forest. Sita Devi, the daughter of King Janaka, had such a high character that her marriage was arranged through a svayamvara, or self-choice ceremony. The festivities involved a bow-lifting contest, with the winner gaining Sita’s hand in marriage. In this way Shri Rama, the leader of the Raghu dynasty, the eldest son of Maharaja Dasharatha of Ayodhya, proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that only He was worthy of having Sita as a life companion. Though these events took place in the earthly realm, the divine couple remains forever in each other’s company in the spiritual world. As Goswami Tulsidas so nicely puts it, even Goddess Lakshmi and Goddess Parvati marvel at Sita’s character, chastity and devotion to Rama.

Ravana, though, was not so concerned with rules of righteousness. At the time of birth, the otherwise pure soul is enveloped by a gross covering that constantly demands attention through sense pleasures. Therefore from the very beginning of life one who can harness the immense potency for action concomitant with an existence and control the sense urges will find success and happiness. Though the sense urges for eating sumptuous foods, seeing beautiful women, touching nice fabrics, smelling pleasing fragrances, and hearing melodious songs constantly flow in like the waves of an ocean, it is the mind that can control all of them. Therefore, depending on how the mind is situated, one’s desires and activities will follow either piety or sin, leading to auspiciousness or inauspiciousness.

With Ravana, the sense urges were never controlled, as his mind was only interested in eating, sleeping, mating and defending. Though he had so many beautiful princesses as wives and an opulent kingdom, still his mind was intent on sin. He could not control his sexual urges. When he heard of the most beautiful woman residing in the forest of Dandaka, he had to have her. Never mind that she was married to the one man capable of lifting the illustrious bow of Lord Shiva during the contest in Janaka’s kingdom. Never mind that Rama could soundly defeat any person in battle. Indeed, He had defeated and killed 14,000 of Ravana’s own men, his best fighters. Intent on having Sita, Ravana created a ruse that temporarily lured Rama away from her side, paving the way for the demon to come in and take the princess back to Lanka.

Rama was intent on getting Sita back, but first he had to learn where she was. For this task, the faithful Hanuman was sent to scour the earth. Millions of other monkeys acting under the direction of the monkey-king Sugriva accompanied him. Hanuman eventually made his way into Lanka alone, for none of the other monkeys could cross over the massive ocean that separated Lanka from land. While in the city, Hanuman searched the different palaces for the most beautiful princess in the world. Though he had never seen Sita up to this point, he knew some of her distinguishing features. Aside from being supremely beautiful, she would surely be in a distressed condition, as there was no chance of her being happy without Rama by her side.

HanumanHanuman’s mission was to find Sita. His task was not to abide by regulative principles, attend a church a certain number of times per day, avoid telling lies, or recite a prayer a specific number of times. All hope for Sita’s rescue initially rested with him, for he was the most capable of the Vanara warriors. Aside from his physical dexterity and mental acuity, Hanuman was also the most devoted to Rama. This, more than anything else, made him supremely qualified to search for Sita amidst one of the most sinful lands in the world at the time.

Hanuman had to do whatever he could to find Sita. Unfortunately, this meant searching through Ravana’s exquisite palace, which was full of the most beautiful women in the world enjoying in different ways. Some of them were sleeping and others were enjoying wine, while others weren’t fully dressed. Hanuman could have closed his eyes and not looked, but then how would he have found Sita? Under normal circumstances, it is sinful to carefully gaze upon another man’s wife, especially when she is in a vulnerable position. But what could Hanuman do? Could he just say, “Okay, this is sinful; I’m going to turn back. Or, let me just call Sita’s name and see if she hears me.”? Obviously he couldn’t do the latter because that would give away his presence to the enemy Ravana. Hanuman had to find Sita without being noticed by anyone else.

In the discharge of duties it is understandable to get frustrated from time to time. If we have a major project due at work, sometimes it seems like everyone is just getting in our way and that nothing is going right. In the struggle for existence, adversity is the name of the game, especially for one who has an important task to complete. In Hanuman’s case, we see that almost everything was against him. He had to find a princess he had never seen before, avoid frightening her with his presence, and also make sure that no one there saw him. If any of these conditions weren’t met, the entire mission could fail. As if he needed further complexity, Hanuman now had to look at scantily clad women against his will. Hanuman is forever virtuous, so he doesn’t even like to think about doing anything sinful. Though we may not perpetrate a horrible deed, just contemplating it is harmful enough for our psyche.

In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, we gain insight into Hanuman’s thought processes as he mulled the matter of looking at Ravana’s wives over in his mind. Hanuman knew that the act itself was sinful, but he was surprised that his mind hadn’t been altered in any way. Viewing pornography or harboring lusty feelings for wives of other men is sinful because of the effect it has on consciousness. The underlying aim is to satisfy lusty desires, which feed the hankering for illicit sex life. The Vedas consider any type of sex life outside the bounds of marriage and for purposes other than procreation to be sinful. This stipulation is there because of the negative effects had on consciousness. Of all the sense urges, the desires for sex are the most difficult to control; thus they act as the strongest inhibiting force towards true enlightenment.

HanumanHanuman, despite seeing what he saw, did not have his consciousness altered. If anything, he became even more determined to find Sita. This gives us yet another reminder of how his greatness knows no limits. He saw beautiful, attractive women, and yet he had no desire to talk to them, find out their names, play jokes on them, get them to smile at him, or have any other type of personal interaction. If anything, Hanuman thought, “These women are beautiful, but they are nothing like Sita. She would never be in such a place, for she can never deviate from worshiping Rama for even a moment. For this she is ever worshipable. I pray for the day when I can have the darshana of her lotus feet.”

Hanuman would not have to wait much longer, as this brief reflection further strengthened his resolve. As he so nicely reveals from his thoughts, there are a variety of acts that lead to auspicious and inauspicious conditions, but it is the disposition of the mind which truly determines the effect of an activity. Sin is just any behavior that has a negative reaction, something unwanted. Piety is the opposite; those actions that have positive consequences. Sometimes piety and sin both exist within one activity. For instance, if we take out a loan to attend college, the pious act of attending school will ideally lead to a positive consequence of a degree and the landing of a good job. The sin in taking the loan leads to the burden of debt that will pile up after graduation. When student loans are forgiven, essentially the negative reactions to the original activity are removed.

In the larger scheme of things, when we take sin and piety on a more abstract level, if something has a negative consequence on our consciousness, it can be considered sinful. Conversely, those behaviors which have a positive influence on our mindset will be considered pious. In this age there is no more pious a behavior than the regular chanting of the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This is the cornerstone practice of the ancient art of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Along with a steady routine in chanting, if the four most dangerous sinful activities of illicit sex, gambling, intoxication and meat eating are avoided, there is every chance of a successful outcome to life. The purely God conscious soul reaps the highest reward from their temporary stay in a material body by ascending to the spiritual sky after death.

Hanuman thinking of Sita and RamaSince Hanuman’s mind is always fixed in worship of Sita and Rama, it is impossible for his consciousness to be negatively affected through any activity. Rather, he is so amazing that even apparently sinful behavior increases his resolve in devotional service. Therefore, along with chanting and following regulative principles, anyone who is fortunate enough to even say Hanuman’s name just once gains immeasurable spiritual merits. What then to speak of those who regularly remember Hanuman, his unflinching devotion to Rama, his determination to find Sita, his swatting aside of the temporary doubts and fears that arose in his mind about success, and his dedication to piety even when it wasn’t required? Based on what Ravana had done, Hanuman had every right to destroy the city of Lanka, but he wouldn’t take that step unless it was necessary. He was only interested in finding Sita, and he tried his best to stay on the righteous path during this search. Since his mind was steady in yoga, always connected in consciousness to the Supreme Lord, his success would eventually come. And all the while his worthiness of worship and the magnitude of his divine attributes would only increase.

In Closing:

Good and bad states through actions find,

But these driven by senses instigated by mind.

Thus real importance is mind's situation,

Tells if one is in good or bad condition.

Hanuman saw women but on mind no effect,

On the worthiness of action did he reflect.

Thus sin on Hanuman can never touch,

Because he loves Shri Rama so much.

Through his actions real virtue he teaches,

The heart of devotee his influence reaches.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Negation Defined

Lord Krishna“Naishkarma means not undertaking activities that will produce good or bad effects. Negation does not mean negation of the positive. Negation of the nonessentials does not mean negation of the essential. Similarly, detachment from material forms does not mean nullifying the positive form. The bhakti cult is meant for realization of the positive form.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.2.7 Purport)

An aspect of Vedic teachings unique to its discipline is the information presented about the soul, its position with respect to matter, and the need for avoiding harmful behavior, i.e. sin. The concept of sin surely isn’t exclusive to any single spiritual tradition, but the most complete explanation provided for its existence and the cause of its harmful effects is found only in the Vedic tradition, the oldest system of spirituality in the world. Despite the importance of sin the highest perfection of life does not come from only avoiding the bad. If it did, the roadmap in life would be pretty straightforward. Just steer clear of harmful influences and live happily. The key ingredient for spiritual merits, in finding bliss that transcends both good and bad, is to accept behavior that is all positive, having only a beneficial influence on the future. That acceptance comes through bhakti-yoga, or devotional service.

Shrila PrabhupadaAre good and bad pretty much the same? This is the secret known to those who humbly submit before a spiritual master, a guru who follows the teachings of his own spiritual master to perfection. The bona fide guru belongs to a chain of succession that originates at the Supreme Person. How do we know that there is an original person? Is this the mythical character we refer to as God? If God is the origin, who created Him? Obviously the human mind is incapable of comprehending concepts beyond its thinking power. Moreover, the thinking power of the human brain, even one belonging to the most intelligent person, is limited. Just the fact that we can’t recall every single sense perception we have ever made indicates a flaw. A person may be able to do quantum physics, but if they can’t remember things like what they ate for breakfast exactly one year ago to the day, they don’t have perfect knowledge.

Bearing this in mind, the existence of an original person, He who passes down supreme wisdom aimed at furthering a better position, must be accepted on faith in the beginning. Lest we think this is a dangerous road to travel, the practice of extending faith is already widely prevalent in society. Every single person puts tremendous faith in others, even those who are known to be unworthy of it. The politician is the classic example. Although they promise this and that, the constituents inherently know that their political leaders lie to get ahead, that they follow whatever line of argument suits them for a particular day. This is why the popularly elected governments are filled with lawyers. A good lawyer can argue any position, using the written words of existing law codes to support their argument. In this sense when a politician who is a lawyer by trade is called out for their duplicity, for their hypocrisy in statements, they are essentially being complimented, for their ability to change positions with conviction shows that they are good at practicing law.

Faith is extended to others because of the results that come from believing in them. We trust that what our teachers are instructing is valid. We don’t know any better; otherwise we would have no reason to sit in the classroom. We accept the statements made by the television news anchors and we believe that the video footage they show is not fabricated. Following a similar tact, when faith is extended to the words of the spiritual master belonging to a line of instruction connected to the original person, there are inherent benefits that must come about. The arrival of these benefits validates the authenticity of both the instructor and his original teacher.

This is where some issues arise. If a spiritual leader tells us that we’re going to hell if we don’t openly declare allegiance to a particular personality, the validity of their statement will not be known until the afterlife. If the existence of the afterlife is already in question, why would the fear of punishment in it be taken seriously? Thus we see one of the major causes for the rampant lack of religiosity pervading the land today. “Follow me or you’re going to hell”, doesn’t work as a selling point because there is no tangible information provided about the person being surrendered to or what the hellish condition is. Moreover, why would punishment be coming to those who are kind, honest, decent and generally pious?

Bhagavad-gitaThe Vedas, through their mouthpieces of the scriptures and the words of those who follow the lessons from the texts of these works, reveal a lot more information about heaven, hell, sin, piety, and the ultimate purpose in life. The first instruction taught to aspiring transcendentalists is aham brahmasmi, which means “I am Brahman.” Is Brahman a person? Is Brahman a thing, some type of exalted post? Brahman is spirit. Why is it important to know this? Knowing that I am Brahman means that I have properly identified myself. In any other identification, there is a flaw, or at least a limitation. If a limit is introduced, there will come a point when enjoyment is checked. When enjoyment is checked we get an unpalatable situation, which means that we encounter our own mini version of hell.

How does this work exactly? Let’s suppose that I identify myself as a human being instead of Brahman. This seems like a broad enough generalization, something which transcends the sectarian boundaries formed off of religious tradition, skin color, nationality, etc. Essentially all of the ills caused by factional strife are rooted in false identification. If I know that I am a human being, these issues will go away, at least for me. The problem is that if I only identify as a human being, I might have the tendency to disrespect other forms of life. I may not have a problem killing an innocent cow, a being who is kind enough to provide milk, which can then be used to create so many other products. The cow eats, sleeps, mates and defends. It has children that it cares for as well. What need would there be for me to unnecessarily kill it, especially when so much other food is available?

Thus far the flawed identification would result only in harm to other creatures, as needlessly killing a cow or other non-human life form seems like it wouldn’t carry any personal negative consequences. Man has dominion over the plants and lower animals. God made man superior for a reason, no? Karma becomes especially relevant in this area. Every action has a reaction, even if that reaction is not known. This fact is especially evident in the behavior of children. A young child has no idea that if they place their hand into a fire, they will get burned. Ignorance in this respect has no bearing on the consequence of the action. The fire will burn because that is what it is meant to do.

Similarly, just because the human being doesn’t know about karma doesn’t mean that they will be saved from the negative consequences to action. If we kill innocent creatures, we are bound to suffer the same fate in the future. This is only fair after all. There can be endless debates over what is fair and what is not, but in the end everything works out. Karma is the ultimate system of fairness. We just think that life is unfair because we don’t always see karma’s results or we forget about past transgressions. Sometimes the effects are short-lived and sometimes they manifest in the future, when the soul accepts another body.

“The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste] .” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 5.18)

Lord Krishna with cowsThe soul can accept new bodies? Here we start to uncover the importance in identifying oneself as Brahman. A unique aspect of Vedic teachings is that information about Brahman is presented. Not only are all human beings equal constitutionally, so are all living entities. A learned sage sees no difference between a gentle brahmana [priest], a cow, a dog, and a dog eater. It seems a little strange when you first hear of this, but there can be no doubt as to its validity. After all, not all human beings are the same. Some are tall, while others are short. Some are intelligent, while others are lacking mental acuity. This doesn’t mean that there is any inherent difference, for we all start from the same point in infancy.

The lower species are spirit souls who possess bodies not conducive to the development of consciousness. Residence in these forms can be considered punishment for bad behavior, or it can be taken as a sign of spiritual evolution, the gradual upward progression towards a human birth. But there is another aspect to identifying with Brahman besides having respect for other creatures. For starters, if we know that we are spirit soul, we will be better able to learn about karma, material nature, the difference between body and spirit, and the equality of good and bad. These truths are very nicely presented in the Bhagavad-gita, the most concise and wonderful discourse on spirituality ever held on this earth.

Since we are Brahman and not our body, any temporary situation cannot be considered worthwhile or detrimental. What does this mean exactly? If I get time off from work should I not be happy? If I get stricken with a debilitating disease should I not be sad? Since spirit is transcendental to matter, none of these situations are permanent. Do we get sad at the onset of winter? Do we have tremendous elation when summer comes? The wise person knows that the seasons will come and go each year, so there is no reason for overexcitement or dejection. In either direction, the reaction is tempered because of the guaranteed delivery of the future outcomes.

In a similar manner, every condition, either heavenly or hellish, is temporary and the result of karma. Spirit, or Brahman, is above this, though when there is an improper identification, concepts such as good and bad are accepted. It is on this plane that most systems of spirituality hover. “Pray to the Lord, for He will grant your request. This day is going to be good; God will give you what you want. Pray to God and He will hear you and make your life successful.” Granted, these are wonderful practices, as the worshiping mind is dedicated to someone who is above Brahman. At the same time, what is it that we’re praying for? If it’s a temporary condition, we know that it has nothing to do with our identity. Both good and bad are the same for as long as the spirit soul identifies with the body.

It is where to go next that the spiritualists following Vedic traditions diverge in their opinions. If we’re Brahman, obviously we have no business with material nature. Hence to remain Brahman realized, the proper course of action is to negate. Renounce activities which are reserved for the bodily conditioned, those identifying with temporary forms. This means that one should give up intoxication, illicit sex, gambling and meat eating, for these carry negative consequences in karma and also harm the consciousness. If our mind is feverishly engaged in something that only brings flickering happiness, how will we stay Brahman realized?

Lord KrishnaThose who follow bhakti-yoga, however, know that negation is not the final destination. Brahman has spiritual tendencies, penchants for activity. Though we are all Brahman, it doesn’t mean that we lack individuality. That there can be spiritual variegatedness is known only to the bhaktas, or devotees. Who are they devoted to? While there is Brahman, there is also Parabrahman, or the Supreme Spirit. This is the person most of the world refers to as God. Since He is described as being above Brahman, already the Vedas provide more clarity about the Supreme Lord’s position. He is above Brahman, which means that He has more capabilities than the individual sparks of Brahman do.

What does this mean exactly? For starters, for Parabrahman there can never be a false identification. Everything is Him regardless, so how could He ever misidentify with something? But if everything is God, what need is there for worshiping? God has different energies, with even Brahman being one of them. The personal influence of the Supreme Person is only present in His internal energy. Material nature is an expansion that is made specifically for those sparks of Brahman desiring to be deluded into false identification and thus a false sense of enjoyment. Why would anyone want this? Just look around you. How many people worship God on a regular basis? How many people actually love Him? How many people balk at the mere mention of the word “religion” or “God”?

Hence the land we occupy is quite conducive to irreligiosity. If someone doesn’t want to worship God, why would the Lord keep them in His company against their will? In this way we see that karma continues for as long as a spirit soul desires it to. The temporary hellish and heavenly conditions repeat in a cycle, like a wheel that keeps spinning. Just from turning one’s back to God, the negative condition is automatically created. That we have to spin around this wheel of material existence is evidence enough of the hellish condition arising from forgetfulness of our constitutional position.

In addition to being above material nature, Brahman is naturally attracted to Parabrahman. This attraction results in service, as that is the ideal situation for both parties. One side is meant to be served and the other is meant to provide that service, voluntarily. If Brahman is not fully convinced of the need to serve Parabrahman, no bliss can result. In this respect we see that negation of harmful activities cannot possibly provide the final solution in life, for there will be no interaction with the Supreme Lord. The next step into bhakti must be made in order for spiritual life to fully mature.

Radha and KrishnaWhat does bhakti involve? As Parabrahman is transcendentally situated above all of His component energies, He has His own features. He is blissful, knowledgeable and eternal. He has sportive tendencies which require spiritual forms. The sportive exploits need participants as well. Obviously the Lord will choose only the most exalted devotees with which to enjoy. Hence our ideal position becomes quite clear. Follow the path of devotion and become one of these associates. Always in the company of the Lord, one can bask in the transcendental sweetness that emanates from the Supreme Person.

The absolute nature of the Supreme Lord provides that wonderful gift of association even to those who lack God’s personal presence. In bhakti, just thinking of God - His sweet smiling face, the sounds of His flute, the beauty of His figure - is as good as being in front of Him. God plays a flute? In His original form the Lord is described as being all-attractive; hence He is addressed as Krishna. Not to be confused with a sectarian figure or local folk hero, Krishna is the same God that everyone either worships or forgets. It is not that there is one God for the Hindus and another God for another group. Not everyone may know what He looks like or that He is Parabrahman, but this doesn’t mean that there are multiple personalities.

Krishna is so kind that He even expands into many non-different forms, such as Lord Vishnu and His avataras. The personal expansions are equally as approachable as Krishna, but the prerequisite of adopting the bhakti mindset is still there. One has to know that negation is not enough, that positive action in bhakti is what should be accepted wholeheartedly. The best way to connect with Krishna is to regularly chant His names found in the sacred maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Lest we think this is some strange sequence of words aimed only at curbing negative influences, one who follows a chanting regimen coupled with abstention from sinful behavior gradually realizes Krishna’s presence in their life. This means that deliverance from hellish life is found within the current lifetime. Heavenly pleasure is also found, as nothing can be more pleasing than constant connection with God in yoga.

Lord KrishnaShri Krishna is the positive form, for He has a transcendental body. He possesses mutually contradictory attributes, something unfathomable to the human mind. If these facts are accepted with a little faith in the beginning, they will be realized with full confidence eventually from within. The prescriptions provided by the Krishna devotee are validated by the resultant effects. Negation of bhakti activities is always harmful, as it leaves the Brahman realized soul stuck in a world of nothingness. Though such a world is free of misery, it is also free of bliss, which is what the soul craves. Accepting the positive form of Krishna’s beautiful face and the sounds of His names is so potent that it can automatically take care of the renunciation aspect. One who follows bhakti-yoga thinks of Krishna and His pleasure all the time. Thus what time is there left for indulgence in negative behavior, in forming material attachments? Through His association Krishna proves that He is above good and bad, that He can provide transcendental happiness that never has to vanish.

In Closing:

Who am I, what am I supposed to be?

With my eyes my temporary form all I can see.

Identify as human being, how is that bad?

From this no prejudice can be had.

Vedas say that Brahman realization is higher,

That spirit is same from species human to lower.

From Brahman we know that body we are not,

An existence beyond duality we have got.

To stay realized, material attachment we negate,

At the same time influence of senses we try to abate.

Yet beyond Brahman knowledge there is more,

Sublime bliss we have got existence for.

Reservoir of sweetness, Krishna is Brahman’s source,

Connect with Him to let real love show its course.

Only through bhakti realize the positive form,

The soul’s constitutional position it does inform.