Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Songwriter

Mother Yashoda“While churning the butter, mother Yashoda was singing about the childhood activities of Krishna. It was formerly a custom that if one wanted to remember something constantly, he would transform it into poetry or have this done by a professional poet. It appears that mother Yashoda did not want to forget Krishna's activities at any time.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.9.1-2 Purport)

That a person would compose songs in their free time is not surprising. The content of the resulting material will obviously be influenced by the activities of the daily routine, the actions repeated which aim to further specific purposes for the individual. Consciousness is shaped through activities, and at the same time the thoughts within the mind direct the wanderings of the autonomous being, who is a spirit soul that is never bereft of its potential for action. Should you happen to be in the company of the sweetheart of sweethearts, the beloved jewel of Vrindavana, the songs you compose will be directed by the purest thoughts. Hence the songwriting of one particular woman was so glorious that sages and ardent listeners are enthralled just by thinking of her ability to compose beautiful poetry on the fly. Her songs had the most captivating subject matter, which was based on firsthand experience. From the writer in question’s situation, we know that the product of her work was brilliant.

Mother Yashoda with KrishnaMother Yashoda, the foster mother of the Supreme Personality of Godhead during His most famous descent to this world, is the songwriter we speak of. When would she compose her songs? Did she write them down on paper, meticulously craft the verses together using intricate meters and other tools of the poetry trade, and then practice them with public performances? On the contrary, in the oddest of settings, while performing menial housework was where this famous mother’s handiwork was born. The world was her studio, for she was always consumed by loving emotions tied to the gift the Supreme Lord had given her: His personal company in the form of a young child.

How can God come to earth? Isn’t the purported divine incarnation just an issue of dogmatic insistence, an ordinary human being whose exploits were later turned into mythology through the passage of time? That Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead is accepted by the stalwart authorities on Vedic culture. These personalities gained their exalted status from both their teachings and actions. Light years more intelligent than the shrewdest lawyers of today, who rely on the fallacies of tu quoque, ad hominem and straw man to convince others of their viewpoints, these acharyas, or teachers who lead by example, are well versed in logic, the truths of spiritual life, and the oldest and most difficult language to understand, Sanskrit. Though they can be considered high scholars, they take to devotion as their main business in life, for their intelligence only strengthens their dedication to the devotional path, supporting their conviction which was already strong like a pillar.

Who are these authorities we speak of? In India, they are quite famous even today. Shankara, Ramanuja, Lord Chaitanya, Shrila Rupa Goswami, Vyasadeva, Narada Muni and a host of other notable personalities consider Shri Krishna the Supreme Lord. Even in the cases of famous figures like Shri Hanuman, Agastya Rishi, Goswami Tulsidas and Janaka Maharaja, who worship Lord Rama as the Supreme Lord, the viewpoint is not different, for Krishna is the same Rama. Even amongst the many non-Vedic spiritualists from around the world since time immemorial there is no contradiction, as the concepts of God, Allah, and an Almighty correspond directly with Krishna. The Vedas are unique in that they give more details about the features of the Supreme Personality, such as His facial features, His tendencies with regards to interactions with His intimate associates, when and where He appears on earth, and what His teachings are. Coupled with this information, the Vedas, the original scriptures for mankind, provide the bewildered soul guidance on the proper course in life.

Lord KrishnaDo we need guidance? The more appropriate question would be, “when do we not need guidance?” Starting from when we exit the womb of our mother, we need help in doing everything. Even with the so-called self-starters, the people unwilling to ask for directions on how to get some place, who refuse to ask for help in a store when looking for a particular product, there is the reliance on the senses and mind. The mind is aided through experience and personal observation. The brain works off of the information fed to it, which it can then use to formulate conclusions.

“O my Lord, everything within material nature is limited by time, space and thought. Your characteristics, however, being unequaled and unsurpassed, are always transcendental to such limitations. You sometimes cover such characteristics by Your own energy, but nevertheless Your unalloyed devotees are always able to see You under all circumstances." (Stotra-ratna of Yamunacharya)

The Vedas take the guesswork out of the most difficult issues in life, such as those pertaining to time and space, which are unlimited. We don’t know where we were prior to our present birth and where we will go after our current life ends. We don’t know what lies past the outer limits of space, the infinite beyond that scientists have yet to penetrate. Even if scientists could reach these regions, they have no historical information about them, such as how they came into being and what the changes have been through the course of time.

The wisdom of the Vedas coupled with the teachings of the acharyas who follow them point to Krishna as being the Supreme Lord. Even if one wants to remain stubborn in their opposition, they can still take tremendous pleasure from hearing about Krishna, a method which is actually the same as being in His company. From the results that come from following prescriptions we can determine whether a reputed authority source has merit. In fact, these results are more important than actually accepting the words of wisdom on faith. Faith can be extended very quickly with a few words, but unless there are tangible benefits received, there is no difference between just saying you believe something and actually meaning it.

Mother YashodaMother Yashoda showed through her behavior that Krishna was God. The Lord’s name says that He is all-attractive. If something has this quality, it must be able to evoke blissful feelings in the people who interact with it. No one has more intimate dealings with a young child than a mother, so Yashoda had to always be happy if Krishna was really all-attractive.

How do we detect happiness? For the mother, her pleasure comes from the increase in parental affection. For a mother with a young child, an indication of this affection is the milk that is produced by the breasts. It is said that Krishna was so much loved by His mother that milk would automatically flow from her breasts whenever she would see Him. Krishna, for His part, would enjoy drinking the milk provided by His mother. Thus there was love from both sides.

“Dressed in a saffron-yellow sari, with a belt tied about her full hips, mother Yashoda pulled on the churning rope, laboring considerably, her bangles and earrings moving and vibrating and her whole body shaking. Because of her intense love for her child, her breasts were wet with milk. Her face, with its very beautiful eyebrows, was wet with perspiration, and malati flowers were falling from her hair.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.9.3)

The Supreme Lord cannot completely cover up His position as God, though He tries His best to conceal His superior standing from those intimately associated with Him. For a person in Yashoda’s position, what benefit would be gained by knowing that your son was God? How about if your best friend who you enjoyed spending time with suddenly revealed that they were the original creator? Would not the relationship be altered for the worse?

Krishna in VrindavanaSuch were the situations for the residents of Vrindavana. They each had a specific rasa, or transcendental mellow, applied to Krishna. If He were to reveal that He was God, those relationships would change, and thus the happiness derived would be affected. If the same loving emotions weren’t directed to Krishna by the residents, how could He take tremendous pleasure in their association? The Lord is already worshiped reverentially in the minds of those who are in awe of Him. The many temples around the world follow reverential worship as well.

Coming to Vrindavana some five thousand years ago allowed Krishna to experience the purest loving sentiments directed to Him by the most exalted devotees, those who didn’t necessarily know all the ins and outs of Vedic wisdom, but who lived by them regardless. Mother Yashoda spent so much time in Krishna’s company, seeing His amazing displays of strength and agility. A king in a neighboring town wanted the young Krishna dead due to a prophecy previously made. Demon after demon came to Vrindavana to try to kill Krishna, but the Lord miraculously escaped each attempt with His life intact. In reality there was no miracle, for Krishna cannot be killed. He gave salvation to each of these fiends by remaining within their consciousness as they quit their body.

To the residents Krishna’s feats of strength were amazing. His childish pranks were also a source of great joy. As Mother Yashoda was always happy, even while taking care of a simple chore like churning butter she would compose songs about her young child. Always in yoga, or transcendental connection with the Supreme Lord, the quality of her songs reflected her perfectly pure consciousness. Filthy songs, raunchy films, and nonsense books can only be created when consciousness is not in the right place. If we spend our time around garbage, naturally the mind will be mired in filth, and whatever is produced as a result of that association will be contaminated.

Krishna and Mother YashodaOn the flip side, remaining in the company of the Supreme Lord proves to be auspicious. Mother Yashoda, through no extra effort, managed to sing beautifully about her son, whom even meditational yogis, Vedantists and fruitive workers are not able to catch. Only through transcendental love, or prema, can Krishna be brought to one’s heart to stay. He already resides within us in His unmanifested feature of the Paramatma, but through bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, one can see His presence more clearly and relish His transcendental form and pastimes.

Even if we can’t imitate the songwriting capabilities of the sweetheart queen of Vrajabhumi, there is still one sequence of words about her son that we can recite over and over again, even putting it into song format. “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, is the mantra authorized by Lord Chaitanya to deliver the fallen souls of the Kali Yuga, the current age of quarrel and hypocrisy. In the Kali Yuga falsehoods will be spread about both God and His devotees, and men will argue over nonsense issues. Despite the inauspicious conditions, reciting Krishna’s names in an authorized way and following regulative principles passed down by the acharyas can purify our consciousness to the point that soon all of our time will be spent in Krishna’s association. From that transcendental link comes affection which will permeate even our speech. Mother Yashoda set the trend in this area, and her behavior reminds us of why Krishna chooses to delight her with His personal presence.

In Closing:

Mother Yashoda loves her Krishna very much,

His speech and activities her heart do touch.

Songs about her son’s behavior she does compose,

Thus turns churning butter into time of repose.

Work her yoga does not encumber,

For always God does she remember.

Her songs are perfect due to association,

Always with Krishna, splendid her glorification.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Avoiding Scorn

Lord Shiva's bow“Seeing that his daughter was unmarried and at an age suitable for marriage, the king spoke with his guru and relatives to see what should be done. They advised him to plan a svayamvara, so the king decided upon a contest, where whoever could lift Lord Shiva’s bow would marry his daughter.” (Janaki Mangala, Svayamvara Ki Taiyari, 8 )

nṛpa lakhi kum̐ari sayāni boli gura parijana|

kari mata racyau svayaṃbara siva dhanu dhari pana ||

Rather than individually strive for specific good qualities, just by following the highest system of regulation, the pinnacle of spirituality, the only discipline that is all-inclusive, as an aftereffect, an almost insignificant result will be the possession of every noteworthy attribute. Try to find goodness on your own and you will be tested to the limit by the impiety of others. Try to be kind to others and you’ll find someone who is so unkind that they’ll make you question your sanity. Try to be honest and you’ll be tempted to lie to achieve your cherished benefit. Once the failure arrives, the dedication to holding on to the quality in question will diminish. With bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, the only aim is to remain connected in consciousness with the Supreme Personality of Godhead. As a result of the divine trance, every activity gets dovetailed with service to Him, the original creator. Since the beneficiary is pure, the actions taken up by the devotees are pure as well. Since the actions will be pure, the qualities exuded will be top notch as well, as was shown by King Janaka, who was a king like no other.

Pandavas with BhishmadevaHow can a king have all good qualities? Especially in ancient times, were not kings required to fight with enemies? We know that King Yudhishthira, the eldest of the five Pandava brothers, felt tremendous remorse after emerging victorious in the Bharata War. Though he was abiding by dharma, or religiosity, and thus had no sin attached to his killing, he nevertheless felt terrible that millions of soldiers had lost their lives on account of his fighting. Indeed, violence can be so grotesque that many believe that fighting of any kind is sinful, that violence should never be an option.

“According to Vedic injunctions there are six kinds of aggressors: 1) a poison giver, 2) one who sets fire to the house, 3) one who attacks with deadly weapons, 4) one who plunders riches, 5) one who occupies another's land, and 6) one who kidnaps a wife. Such aggressors are at once to be killed, and no sin is incurred by killing such aggressors.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 1.36 Purport)

Without knowing the original Personality of Godhead, the person most of the world refers to as God, these issues will perpetually remain a mystery. No guiding principle can be considered absolute because of duality. What is considered beneficial for one person may not be so for another. With respect to violence, while refraining from aggression is considered pious by the person not wanting to hurt others, the lack of force then allows for miscreants to run rampant with their evil ways. From their violence comes the loss of innocent life, with no one around to protect those needing protection. Thus what one person considers pious all of a sudden becomes the cause of supreme distress to others. How then can we say that any one system is universally applicable?

With the Supreme Lord, His association is the highest benefit for every living being. The soul is naturally meant to offer love, as is seen through the behavior of living entities. Regardless of the level of maturity or intelligence, that attraction to love will be there. With the Supreme Lord, you get the reservoir of pleasure, the storehouse of virtuous qualities. The guiding virtue, the one principle of dharma that has no duality, is to remain connected with God. Those who are actually connected with Him through a bona fide system exhibit all good qualities, even when their behavior may hint at duality to others.

King Janaka with wifeKing Janaka’s dilemma taxing his brain was an example of a situation where there appeared to be duality but the right choice was made regardless. Though a ruler of a country wielding tremendous power, there was not a hint of sin in Janaka, who ruled over the kingdom of Mithila many thousands of years ago. He never did anything wrong, for he followed the advice of his gurus. The kshatriya, or warrior caste, is responsible for protecting; therefore they can use force when necessary. The gurus belong to the brahmana, or priestly class. A bona fide priest is a teacher of spirituality, giving advice to those looking to remain connected with God. The kshatriyas serve the Supreme Lord by protecting the innocent members of society. Through their work coupled with detachment to the outcome, they steadily ascend the planes of consciousness. It is the consciousness that determines one’s disposition; happy or sad, elated or morose, transcendentally situated or materially entangled.

The soul is meant to be free. The soul is so tiny that it cannot even be measured or noticed with blunt instruments. Its presence is felt through the visible actions of an autonomous living being. The covering is what limits the soul’s exhibition of qualities. For instance, there is no reason to sleep; it is just that the body demands it. The soul never sleeps; it is constantly active. The soul’s inherent properties are nicely reviewed in the Bhagavad-gita, the Song of God spoken on the Battlefield of Kurukshetra to Yudhishthira’s younger brother Arjuna.

Since Janaka followed the advice of his royal priests, the resultant reactions of his work did not belong to him. Moreover, these priests were God’s representatives, so the king was essentially following the divine order. Through this system life becomes much easier, as the burden of responding to life’s difficult questions can be shifted to others, people who are more than willing to accept the challenge because of their wisdom.

One particular dilemma had Janaka puzzled and worried at the same time. One day he found a baby girl while ploughing a field, which was to be cultivated for a sacrifice. He was childless at the time, and the girl was so precious that Janaka took her in as his own daughter. Even when he found the girl, he was a little worried that maybe he was doing the wrong thing by harboring affection for her and wanting to take her home. As if the authorities above knew what he was thinking, a voice suddenly appeared on the scene and told Janaka that this girl was indeed his daughter in all righteousness. His concerns vanished, Janaka named the girl Sita and then handed her over to his wife Sunayana, who raised her with the affection of a mother.

Though Janaka was trained in mysticism and knew how to stay detached from the senses, he was very fond of his daughter, whom he viewed as his prized possession. Sita’s qualities are what won Janaka over. She was just as pious as her father, and she was learned in the scriptures and considered unmatched in beauty. Janaka wanted to personally protect her for the rest of her life, but that did not square with dharma. When she reached an age suitable for marriage, the pressure really started to mount on the king. For one who is deferent to dharma, having an unmarried daughter who is at an age suitable for marriage is considered very bad. For starters, it is the father’s duty to ensure that his daughter is protected throughout her life. Marriage exists to uphold this principle. Secondly, others follow the example of great men.

“Whatever action is performed by a great man, common men follow in his footsteps. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.21)

Lord KrishnaIf Janaka did not marry Sita off, he would invite scorn and ridicule from others. No longer would he be the pious king so dedicated to righteousness. Not that he cared himself for the glory, but Janaka knew that if he didn’t follow dharma, then he could not expect the citizens to either. In this way the execution of his duties as a king would be hampered by his transgression of keeping Sita unmarried.

To add further complexity to the matter, Janaka didn’t know who Sita’s parents were, so he couldn’t match her horoscope up to any prospective candidate’s. The horoscope created by a brahmana at the time of the child’s birth is considered flawless, and it predicts the qualities of the child. These qualities are then paired up during the search for a prospective spouse, with an ideal match foretelling that the marriage will go off well.

So, what did the king do? The secret to Janaka’s success was his love for God, which up until this point he harbored only through connection to the impersonal feature known as Brahman. When he got Sita as a daughter, that love extended to the Supreme Lord’s wife. Sita was actually an incarnation of goddess Lakshmi, who is Lord Narayana’s eternal consort. Narayana is the Supreme Lord, whose name means the source of all men. The very same Narayana had descended to earth at the time as the prince of the Raghu dynasty, Lord Rama. As Lakshmi and Narayana can never remain separated for long, Janaka served as an instrument to unite the divine pair, though he had no idea what role he was playing.

Sita DeviHis connection in yoga to Brahman and his love for God’s wife guided Janaka along the proper path. He did not need to explicitly try to develop the qualities of righteousness, for that route is very difficult. Sita is the very embodiment of dharma, so just having love for her is enough to not only get you tremendous fortune, but also to imbibe the divine qualities in you. Worried about facing ridicule from his family and losing Sita as a daughter, Janaka made the right decision by approaching his gurus and relatives. They advised him to hold a svayamvara, or self-choice ceremony. This way the choice wouldn’t necessarily be made by Janaka. Svayamvaras were rarely held, only in those circumstances where the daughters were considered really exceptional by their fathers.

The svayamvara was a good idea, but Janaka needed to decide what kind it would be. He didn’t want Sita to marry just anyone. Again, he tapped into his love for God and His associates to find the answer. Many years back, Janaka’s family had received an extremely heavy bow belonging to Lord Shiva. Mahadeva is Narayana’s number one devotee. Lord Shiva is himself so powerful that he destroys the entire cosmic manifestation at the appropriate time, and yet he is so humble that he prefers to just sit in quiet meditation and recite Narayana’s name of Rama. Though this bow was impossible to move, Sita had one day lifted it with ease when she was a child. Therefore Janaka’s beloved daughter was already connected to the bow.

“Having obtained the bow, my truthful father first invited all the princes of the world to an assembly of great rulers of men, and spoke to them as such.” (Sita Devi speaking to Anasuya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 118.41)

Rama breaking Shiva's bowThe decision was that the svayamvara would host a contest to lift Lord Shiva’s bow. In this way the ceremony would honor Mahadeva, keep the relatives happy, follow the advice of the gurus, and at the same time make it extremely difficult to find a suitable match. Who in the world was going to lift this bow? Even if everyone from around the world came and couldn’t lift it, at least Janaka would be off the hook. He would know then that no man was worthy of marrying his daughter, which was his inclination anyway.

What Janaka didn’t know was that his decision borne out of tremendous love for God would bring to him the fruit of his existence. The result of penance, austerity, sacrifice and charity performed in the devotional mood is that one eventually gains the audience of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the person to whom such kind acts are dedicated. Janaka already had one piece of the puzzle in Sita, and from the svayamvara he would get the other half, the Supreme Lord in the form of Shri Rama. The savior of fallen souls, the kindest living entity there is, the glorious husband of the goddess of fortune and the protector of the surrendered souls would arrive in Janakpur at Sita’s svayamvara and effortlessly raise Mahadeva’s bow; thus giving the world at the time and countless future generations a glorious occasion to sing about, study and remember constantly. As God’s glory naturally extends to His immediate family and associates, the person who was responsible for that blessed event also earned high praise and an exalted position. Because of his devotion, King Janaka is known today as one of the twelve authorities on devotional service. His example is the best to follow, as there was no king like him in the past, nor will there be one like him in the future.

In Closing:

“My precious daughter is now at an age appropriate,

For marriage, to be given to a husband is she now fit.

But in qualities Sita is like no other,

The jewel of this earth is my beloved daughter.

Let me consult with my gurus and family,

Their opinion on the matter let me see.”

Hold a svayamvara, self-choice was what they advised,

With that King Janaka a contest with bow devised.

“Whoever can lift Mahadeva’s bow will win,

Hand of Sita, in whom exists not a hint of sin.”

Janaka was pious but devotion is what he followed,

To earn eternal fame and virtue for him this allowed.

Gained company of Rama, God in His sight,

He who married Sita, of the devotee’s heart delight.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Endless Love

Radha and Krishna“When one is absorbed in temporary designated existence, he hankers after sense gratification and liberation. However, love of Godhead is the eternal nature of the soul; it is unchangeable, beginningless and endless. Therefore temporary sense gratification or a desire for liberation cannot compare with the transcendental nature of love of God.” (Teachings of Lord Chaitanya, Ch 19)

Try to love your children with all your heart, give them the attention they deserve, follow their every move throughout their lives, and you’ll still reach a point where your love is checked. Not that you’ll ever abandon affection for your little loved ones, but instead they will reach a stage in life where they no longer require assistance. Isn’t that the point after all? We raise our young so that they can one day raise their own young, so that the dependents can survive in our absence. Yet the enjoyment through association is bittersweet, as maturity for the young ones means an end to the necessity of the service offered by the elders. While we can still hold the same affection for the dependents, there will come a time when the outflow of emotions is checked. With one person, however, there is never a state of maturity, as it is impossible to love Him too much. Not only can He continue to accept our love offered to Him for the duration of our existence in a particular form, but He can also accept any amount of love offered at any time; there is no smothering Him. Once we become familiar with the properties of the spirit soul, the essence of identity, we’ll see that it is only this one person who is meant to be loved without interruption and without motivation, and that fraternal, paternal, romantic and all other types of affection derive from that supreme service.

Krishna with Mother YashodaMotivation and interruption go hand in hand. In fact, interruption serves as the motivation. What do we mean by this? Think of working hard in school so that you can pass a certain class. Passing represents the end, the successful completion of the course. Hence finishing a class automatically brings interruption, the end of instruction in that particular area of study. Since completion is the end-goal, and since it is equivalent to interruption, the motivation in the particular task is to reach interruption. This is seen with practically every endeavor, though it takes a sober and keen observer to notice the fact.

As another example, let’s say that we are looking forward to going out on a particular night. We take care of our obligations during the day so that we can celebrate with friends and loved ones without any worry. Again, the motivation to perform the work is the interruption. But when we’re out at night, eventually we’ll want to return home. Hence the motivation for doing whatever it is we’re doing out on the town is the eventual interruption in activity marked by sleep.

In the arena of love, of any variety, the tag-team of motivation and interruption seems to dissipate. In a romantic relationship, there is never a desired end. There isn’t a time when we say that we have loved our wife enough and that now it is time to move on. The wife doesn’t think that she has offered enough service to her husband so that she can then do other things without suffering negative consequences. The nature of love is that it is offered without expectation of reciprocation. Just being in love, the offering of love, is the reward, for “tis better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all”.

“Those with the vision of eternity can see that the soul is transcendental, eternal, and beyond the modes of nature. Despite contact with the material body, O Arjuna, the soul neither does anything nor is entangled.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 13.32)

Lord KrishnaThe loving propensity is found within the spirit soul, which is the essence of identity. Information about the soul is provided to us by the Vedas, the original scriptural tradition of the world. The simplest way to picture the soul is to think of a traveller occupying different dwellings. Just as the dwelling changes during boyhood to youth, from adulthood to old age, at the time of death the shift continues. In this way the afterlife is not different from the previous life. One week from today is the future, but after some time, that same day will become the distant past. When it was situated in the future, that day was filled with unknowns; it had a mystery to it. When it turned into the past, it wasn’t that amazing, just another day in the many spent in a particular lifetime.

The afterlife should not be very difficult to conceptualize, though it obviously carries the greatest mystery to the human being who can’t remember their experiences from previous lives. Because of this defect, the concept of transmigration of the soul, or reincarnation, can be accepted on faith in the beginning stages. The scientific explanation of reincarnation is nicely presented in the Bhagavad-gita, the most concise and complete treatise on the truths and values of spirituality emanating from the Vedas. Not surprisingly, the speaker of the Gita is the same person who instituted Vedic wisdom: Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

As it is difficult to unquestionably accept any person with defined features and qualities as being God, it is helpful to first gather more information about who we are. If we have an understanding of our real position, we can make better decisions about the proper future course of action. Misidentification leads to misdirection in activity, which in turn leads to unfavorable circumstances. The child identifying with college students will obviously not do very well in the classroom. It also works the other way around, as the adult has no business taking instruction from elementary school students.

The first instruction provided by the Vedas is that identification with the body is incorrect. If something is going to change on its own, irrespective of what we do or don’t do, we can never take our complete identity from it. At one time we were in the body of a baby, but as we grew older that form turned into a distant memory. Nevertheless, at one time we identified with that smaller form, thus proving that our identification was flawed. In adulthood identifying with our bodily traits is just as flawed because at some point in time even the adult dwelling will be renounced.

“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.13)

Lord KrishnaIf we are not our body, then what are we? The answer is aham brahmasmi, “I am a spirit soul”. Immediately, this foundational truth reveals that we have an identity that survives through the changes of body. The essence of identity, though very small in size, is extremely powerful. Just as electricity is the life of appliances, gasoline of cars, and oil of a furnace, the spirit soul turns otherwise dull matter into vibrant life. The hands and legs are collections of material elements on their own, but when attached to a form that has the spiritual injection, they transform into useful objects.

The soul is filled with potential for action, but what determines what type of action it takes up? In addition to being eternally situated, transcendental to the changes of material coverings, the soul is blissful. It seeks out activities which match its desire for bliss. As the need is constantly there, the engagements to find happiness are repeated. The bliss is best received through service, for this is the dharma of the soul. An essential characteristic of something constitutes its dharma. Dharma can never be removed from the relevant object; though it can be forgotten or hidden.

In the Vedic tradition, dharma also means a set of rules and regulations that are aimed to keep that essential characteristic alive. Think of a fire that is burning and the steps taken to ensure that it doesn’t burn out. The fire’s burning propensity is its dharma, and the actions taken to ensure that the fire keeps burning also constitute a dharma. For the spirit soul, its dharma is its characteristic of wanting bliss through loving service. When travelling through various species, the soul retains this characteristic, but its exercise is checked by the forces of material nature. Therefore the loving propensity gets directed in every area except the one that matches the constitutional position of the living entity.

Lord KrishnaThe autonomous action of the living entity indicates the presence of the spirit soul. The engagements taken up also reveal the dharma of the soul, its desire for service. The problem with service directed to areas relating to bodily coverings is that there comes a time of interruption. Motivation is present as well. Even in pure love when motivation is apparently absent, interruption must come in the form of separation and the ultimate exit from the body. In the relationship with the speaker of the Gita, however, there is no such defect. He can accept an endless amount of love, and He never has to leave the side of the devotee.

Based on these features we see that we are constitutionally situated to love Krishna, or God. The more we know about God, the better we can serve Him. Krishna is so kind that He can never be smothered. It is impossible to love Him too much. Since He is absolute, just thinking of Him is as good as being with Him. It is for this reason that Vedic literature is so vast. The original Vedas consist only of short hymns and prayers, because the name of the Lord is a complete incarnation. Krishna is not different from His name. Therefore, the most effective way to love God without interruption and without motivation is to constantly chant His names, like those found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

The original Vedas expanded through the efforts of Vyasadeva, the famous sage, and those following his lead because of the benefits the expansion would bring to those wanting to offer their service. The more pages that are produced containing Krishna’s names, glories, attributes and activities, the more opportunities there are for people to associate with God. The more association that takes place in a loving mood, where no material benedictions are sought and no interruption to the service is desired, the more the inherent dharma of the soul gets uncovered. The full blown stage of transcendental ecstasy is known as bhava, and it comes only from serving God without inhibition.

Radha and KrishnaThe son will one day no longer require the loving devotion of the mother, and the paramour will feel too much obligation if smothered in affection by the counterpart in the relationship, but with Krishna there is no check. He is in need of nothing, so there is actually never a time when He requires our services. Yet He accepts them because they provide Him pleasure, and He also knows that the soul’s natural position is to be a lover of God. Krishna is so kind that He rests within every living entity’s heart, just waiting for them to turn their eyes towards Him. There is no quota in transcendental love, no reservoir that can be completely filled. This is Krishna’s gift to us, and if we are fortunate enough to become immersed in bhakti, we can finally find that someone who is willing to let us love them without hesitation.

In Closing:

Love your precious child with all your heart,

Smother them with affection right from the start.

Though with your efforts they will be pleased,

A day will come when your love they no longer need.

Defect is there with every type of loving exchange,

Smother your paramour too much and them you will estrange.

With one person however there is no such defect,

An unlimited amount of affection He can accept.

No surprise, that person is Shri Krishna,

Service to Him is the soul’s dharma.

Show Him your affection and happy you will feel,

Chant holy names, internal love no longer to conceal.

No motivation and no interruption in bhakti,

Thus there is no match for devotional life’s shakti.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Among Their Own

Hanuman“I certainly could not have searched for Vaidehi [Sita] anywhere else. When searching, one always looks for women in those places where other women are.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 11.42)

na anyatra hi mayā śakyā vaidehī parimārgitum ||
striyo hi strīṣu dśyante sadā samparimārgaṇe |

In the drive to uphold righteousness, to ensure that the bad guys are taken care of and to root out the evil elements of society, the authority figures must infiltrate areas they otherwise would not frequent. Nevertheless, this doesn’t make them sinful, for they are just doing their job. Without brave fighters around to carry out the tasks others are not willing to do, how would criminals ever be caught and how would justice ever be served? To carry out the mission of the Supreme Person, Shri Hanuman is always willing to take every risk, even if by his behavior he brings for himself ignominy and invites scorn from the less intelligent. On the surface, gazing at other beautiful women in the inner sanctums of the bedroom with their husbands is considered a grievous transgression of propriety. But Hanuman had a higher purpose to fulfill, so he wasn’t going to let mundane rules and regulations prevent him from finding the most beautiful woman in the world, Sita Devi, the beloved wife of Lord Rama, who had been taken away from the side of her husband.

lane markersThe need to sometimes bend the rules or ignore them outright shouldn’t be that difficult to understand. On the busy highways and streets, there are signs and traffic signals that tell motorists when to stop and where they are allowed to drive their vehicles legally. One of the most obvious signs of regulation is the lane marker, especially that which separates the two directions of traffic. On one side, cars are travelling in one direction, and on the other they are going in the opposing direction. Without a lane marker to divide the two sets of traffic, there would be collisions and a dangerous situation at every moment.

The lane marker indicates that no one should cross the specific line unless it is legal to do so, such as with a turn into a driveway. The reason for the restriction is that violating the lane boundaries would result in a dangerous condition. But what if you’re on a small street and there is a large vehicle parked on the other side of the lane marker, the side adjacent to the curb. This is especially common during the daytime because of the mail delivery and sanitation trucks travelling from house to house. Let’s say that we’re driving in our lane on an American road, obeying the laws, when all of a sudden there is a mail truck to our right side. We now have a choice. Either continue forward in our lane and hit the mail truck with our car, or veer left and violate the lane boundary in the middle to avoid hitting the mail truck.

The right choice is rather obvious. Hitting the mail truck is not an option, for the whole point of having traffic laws is to avoid striking another vehicle. The lane boundary in the middle can be temporarily violated if it is safe to do so. This simple examples shows us that the rules are not absolute; rather, they are to be understood in the proper context. The ultimate objective of safe driving and prevention of collision and injury is what should steer the driver’s decision making. If a driver were to hit the mail truck and then use the excuse, “Well, I didn’t want to cross the center line”, they wouldn’t get much sympathy from anyone else.

In every field of activity there are certain unwanted aspects. For a firefighter, running into a burning building to save occupants isn’t necessarily eagerly anticipated. For the average person, as soon as there is a fire they must evacuate the building immediately. The fireman has the exact opposite responsibility; his job is to go into dangerous situations and save people. In a similar manner, the doctor in the emergency room is expected to treat even the most gruesome injuries. He does not have the leeway to faint at the sight of blood. For non-medical professionals, the gruesome images are too much to take and should thus be avoided.

FletchAlong the same lines, police officers, detectives and investigative reporters find their way into areas frequented by criminals in order to get their investigations completed. Sometimes they have to go undercover and pretend to be one of the criminals, while other times they must immerse themselves in the underground culture to get a feel for what is going on [think of the famous Fletch movies]. A criminal will be amongst other criminals after all, so the investigator has no choice but to associate with the bad elements in order to find the person they are looking for.

A long time ago, Shri Hanuman, in his search for the princess of Videha, had to cast his glance upon the most beautiful women in the world who were not married to him or associated to him in any way. Sita required finding because she was taken away against her will by the Rakshasa king Ravana. She was kidnapped through a ruse, with her husband Lord Rama lured away from her side temporarily. Ravana lived far away on an island so opulent that the floors of the buildings were inlaid with crystal. Though Sita never gave in to Ravana’s advances, the king still had plenty of other women around with which to enjoy. Hanuman got to see Ravana’s playboy lifestyle firsthand in his search for Sita in Lanka.

In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, we see Hanuman thinking over the potential transgression of having looked at another person’s wives. In the Vedic tradition, such peeping is considered sinful, for it has a negative influence on the consciousness. The marriage institution was put into place by God to allow for spiritual advancement coupled with simultaneous controlling of the sense urges. The more we force ourselves to do things that are good for us that we may not like, such as austerity, charity, sacrifice and regulation, the more advanced we become in terms of consciousness. If there is no regulation in sex life, which results from the strongest sense urges, the human being is no different from a dog or pig. Who would ever think of imitating a dog? Who would ever want to be like a pig? Rather, the animals, if they had real intelligence, would want to model their behavior after mature human beings.

HanumanThe greatest benefit of the human birth is the ability to think rationally and control urges that dominate the lifestyle of an animal. The penchant for illicit sex is very strong, so the recommendations of spiritual life are there to help curb its influence. The marriage institution allows for sex life in a regulated manner, keeping the sense urges in check. Every other sinful activity is related to illicit sex and its increase in frequency. Hanuman was not married to these women, so he had no reason to look at them. They were inside their husband’s palace enjoying in different ways, so they didn’t even know that somebody was watching them.

But Hanuman is not an ordinary worker. He is not interested in advancing in consciousness or controlling sense urges. Rather, these things take care of themselves through his allegiance to Lord Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead roaming the earth at the time in the guise of a warrior prince. Just as the driver’s objective is to avoid collisions on the road while travelling, the worker steadily engaged in bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is only interested in pleasing their beloved lord of their life breath, or prana-natha. Should there come a circumstance where sinful activity is unavoidable, the devotee will not hesitate to carry out their actions.

This was the situation Hanuman found himself in. As he so accurately points out, to find a woman one must search amongst other women; otherwise how would the search ever be successful? If Hanuman didn’t look inside Ravana’s apartment, his search would be limited. His mission was not to abide by rules of piety and virtue aimed at developing consciousness. His consciousness was already purified, so he had no reason to give deference to rules and regulations. In reality, any activity Hanuman adopts in his service to Rama is the very definition of virtue. If he had avoided searching through Ravana’s palace out of fear of committing sin, he would have actually been worthy of derision.

HanumanDespite his exalted status, Hanuman is so humble and kind that he is always attentive to piety and sin. If he is known to be Rama’s devotee, he would want to show that he has a good character by always upholding righteousness and treading the virtuous path. Others would look to him as an authority figure after all, so if he were to throw the rules by the wayside without cause, others would have an easy excuse to follow suit. His ability to gaze upon other women and not be affected in consciousness is not easily acquired. Therefore his actions should always be appreciated but never imitated, for the common man is not so strong.

Lord Chaitanya, the preacher incarnation of Godhead who travelled extensively throughout India some five hundred years ago, once had an incident where one of His associates fell prey to the advances of a woman. Lord Chaitanya was a sannyasi at the time, so aside from being renounced from worldly life, there was a self-imposed restriction barring association with women. A brahmana sannyasi is the most respected member of society due to his unique status. Therefore if he associates with women, he loses his reputation and is taken less seriously when he preaches about the glories of bhakti-yoga. Even though this associate was in the company of the most exalted sannyasi, Lord Chaitanya, he still became victim to the temptations of illicit sex life. Therefore Lord Chaitanya had to abandon his company.

Hanuman’s search through Ravana’s palace was not sinful because there was no detrimental effect to the mind. The intent going in was not malicious either. We see that the laws of the government take intent into account when judging a person’s actions. For instance, if someone is struck with a vehicle accidentally, there are no criminal charges filed. However, if there was an intent to injure, the same act can lead to jail time. Similarly, if there is no intent to alter the mind, to be lured into sense gratification or commit a sinful act, and there is every attempt made to carry out the Supreme Lord’s business through the righteous path, even something as sinful as gazing upon other beautiful women while in their inner apartments carries no negative consequences.

“Even if one commits the most abominable actions, if he is engaged in devotional service, he is to be considered saintly because he is properly situated.”  (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.30)

HanumanHanuman’s activities only bring positive consequences to whoever hears of them. His steadiness of mind while in a distressful situation further substantiates his stature as Rama’s greatest devotee, a person truly worthy of worship. A sweetheart like Hanuman is one of a kind; scour the earth for someone like him and you’ll be searching forever. It is not surprising, therefore, to learn that Hanuman would eventually find Sita, after all his troubles and struggles within his mind. While looking at others’ wives may be frowned upon, looking at the beautiful princess of Videha with the proper mood brings the greatest benefit. Hanuman met Sita and temporarily allayed her fears about her immediate future. He gave her Rama’s ring indicating an authenticity of purpose. He would later return with Rama and the army of monkeys residing in Kishkindha to do away with Ravana once and for all.

To please Rama, Hanuman is ready to risk sinful behavior and public scorn. He is only interested in the opinion that Shri Rama and His close associates have of him. And to try to measure their love for Hanuman would be a silly task, as there has yet to be found a quantitative measurement that can accurately weigh the strong affection that Sita, Rama and Lakshmana feel towards Hanuman. The reward for his bravery in the most daunting mission and his dedication to the ultimate righteousness, God consciousness, was the ability to worship and think of Rama every single day for the rest of his life. Just thinking about Hanuman worshiping Rama brings so much auspiciousness. If we can remember Hanuman’s dedication and highest virtue, our time in this troublesome land will be well spent.

In Closing:

While in Lanka carrying out his mission,

Hanuman only thought of task he was given.

To find a woman, among other women he had to see,

Though from this chance of committing sin there would be.

Never mind, for what else could he do?

To objective of finding Sita he remained true.

Rules are always meant for fulfilling higher purpose,

Therefore sometimes specific rules one must transgress.

For Hanuman, all of his acts are auspicious.

Because of loving God he is always conscious.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tunnel Vision

Lord Krishna“He who meditates on the Supreme Personality of Godhead, his mind constantly engaged in remembering Me, undeviated from the path, he, O Partha [Arjuna], is sure to reach Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.8)

The purpose of maintaining a “tunnel vision” in terms of thought processes is to stay focused on the task at hand. From the practice’s effectiveness we see that one should limit their distractions if they are to complete their assigned duties properly. For instance, if our job is to drive an automobile to a certain destination, it is advisable to keep the eyes fixed on the road, the hands on the wheel, and the ears open to external sounds. If any of the necessary senses should be diverted elsewhere, the effectiveness in executing the primary tasks gets hampered. The more one can focus, the greater the chances of following the intended action. In the larger picture, meeting the ultimate aim of human life involves a sort of tunnel vision focused on one person, about whom when more is known, the best opportunity for feeling unmatched bliss can be found. In this endeavor, the more distractions that occur, the less likely it will be to find that eternal felicity.

Lord KrishnaWhat sorts of distractions can arise? Moreover, how do we know that focusing on this person brings us to the ultimate destination? How can any person say that with full certainty? “One person may claim that the human beings evolved from monkeys while another says that God created everything, but in the end there is no way to tell for sure who is correct.” While this viewpoint, which is rooted in skepticism, seems logical enough, there is still the issue of trust. We know that man has the propensity to cheat, to commit mistakes, to be easily illusioned, and to be affected by his imperfect senses. Any of these defects can crop up at any second.

Based on the deficiencies, should we just sit in a corner of an isolated room twenty four hours a day? Should we not eat anything because it might be contaminated? Should we not believe anything anyone tells us because they might be lying? Should we not trust the documented sense perceptions found in books, newspapers and journals? In reality, we already invest so much faith in others, trusting that what they tell us is true. If the information turns out to be invalid, then at least we think that the person espousing the beliefs has faith in them.

weather forecastAuthority in this sense is established by the results that follow from extending faith. For instance, if the weatherman on television says that it is going to rain tomorrow, we may or may not believe him. He will show us his computer model, his extended forecast, and data from previous weather events as support for his assertion. If we trust him and it does happen to rain on the following day, we can increase our faith in him the next time he gives a weather forecast. We actually do this instinctively with so many things, from the insignificant to the very important. The emergency room doctors and nurses provide powerful drugs to curb our pain, but there is no telling that what they give is going to help in the end. The trust is put into the hospital and its staff based on the accreditations they received from licensing boards.

For deciphering the ultimate aim in life, the same faith needs to be extended. The reason there is such difficulty in this area is that there are competing visions, isolated roadmaps leading to different destinations. Especially when the champions of each faith rely on dogmatic insistence and fear as their primary preaching tools, it becomes difficult to apply faith wholeheartedly. For instance, if someone tells us that we should worship a specific personality or be doomed to hell in the next life, how can we ever tell if their statements are correct? The afterlife is a foggy concept, of which nothing will be concretely known until life actually ends. And if said people turn out to be incorrect, then the valuable human birth goes to waste.

The proper way to confidently follow a path in life that fulfills the ultimate mission is to find that set of procedures which gives benefits both in the current life and the next. In this regard, the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, provide the most detailed and useful information. Though Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is the fountainhead of Vedic wisdom, the instructions provided by His Vedas are so widely applicable and comprehensive that one needn’t even explicitly worship the Lord to find benefits.

Lord KrishnaHow does this work exactly? For starters, from Vedic information the picture of the afterlife is cleared up a bit. The next life is similar to the current one. Indeed, the current life is the afterlife of a previous existence. So from applying a little intelligence, we see that there’s nothing really special about the future. Lest we think this is just a dogmatic belief exclusive to the Hindus, we can tell from our own experiences that the future ended up being the past at some point. For example, during our youth we may have looked forward to starting high school, the upper classes of the educational system. High school, at one time, represented the future. In old age, however, high school turns into the past, a time long ago when the individual was much younger.

The concept of the future turning into the past extends beyond the current life. This is how karma works. Every action taken which carries a commensurate reaction falls under the jurisdiction of karma, or fruitive activity. Do something today and see the reaction tomorrow. The reactions sometimes aren’t visible nor must they remain manifest for long. When we exhale, the result is the release of carbon dioxide into the air. This happens so often during the day that the releases aren’t even noticed. In colder weather, we may be able to see the vapor, but this doesn’t mean that the vapor isn’t there every other time we exhale.

Sometimes the results arrive long after we have forgotten about the original work. As a simple example, when a person votes by absentee ballot in an election, their ballot may not be received until after election day. The vote was actually cast prior to the election, but it is not noted until after everyone else has voted. Just as the prior act of voting has consequences that extend past the day of election, the actions undertaken during one lifetime carry consequences into the next life. A lifetime is thus just a relative measurement of time, with the essence of individuality remaining the same throughout.

If the principles of Vedic teachings are taken to heart, not only will there be benefits found in the next life, but even the current life becomes easier to handle. Revisiting the issue of taking on tasks, we know that if there are fewer distractions, there is a better chance of reaching the objective. With knowledge of both reincarnation and the immortality of the spirit soul, which is the essence of identity, comes an ideal position.

“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.20)

Krishna and ArjunaThat position is one of purity. The purest form of anything is the state when the object assumes its natural qualities to the fullest degree. For instance, the constitutional position of fire is when it burns and effuses light. If the fire is covered up, doused with water, or contained, its constitutional position remains hidden. The original position of the spirit soul is to be a lover, to be engaged in service. This propensity actually never leaves the soul, but when the individual gets covered up by material elements, the service gets misdirected. Think of holding a fire extinguisher and pointing it in every direction except to where the fire is. Obviously the extinguishing capabilities will still be used, but the necessary target will not be reached. Hence the fire extinguisher will not be properly used.

With life in the material world, the engagements adopted in the 8,400,000 unique body types all involve service that hovers around the ideal beneficiary. Some engagements are closer to the soul’s essential characteristic, or dharma, than others. The animal species has virtually no chance of reassuming their dharma, as they don’t have the ability to accept education and follow the principles necessary for reaching a better end. The human being, on the other hand, is blessed with potential, the chance to develop a higher intellect. When knowledge of self-realization and the concepts of dharma are well established within the mind of the sober individual, the potential for service which exists within the soul can be directed at the matching beneficiary.

Not surprisingly, that ideal beneficiary is God. Ironically enough, knowing that He is God, or just addressing Him through His feature of all-pervasiveness, doesn’t exactly release the soul into bhava, or the state of transcendental ecstasy. Knowing that God exists and recognizing His supremacy represent the initial stages of self-realization, wherein one gets awfully close to meeting the ideal target of work.

Lord KrishnaThe true potential for service is released when the Supreme Lord is recognized for His spiritual attributes, which include attractiveness. Since no one is more attractive than God, He is addressed by the name “Krishna” in the Vedic tradition. Since this beautiful form provides supreme transcendental delight to those who connect with Him in full intimacy, another name for God is Rama. These names form the cornerstone of the sacred formula used for addressing the Lord in a loving way, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

How do we know that Krishna is God? Isn’t this assertion just like the ones coming from every other preacher? Skepticism can be used to debunk any assertion and thus give the skeptical individual the cover they need to avoid extending faith. Nevertheless, there will be some faith applied somewhere. Might as well put that faith in Krishna then, for that trust will be validated with the results that follow. How can we say this with full certainty? Krishna is the reservoir of pleasure, the one person who can accept an unlimited amount of love offered to Him by an unlimited number of people. Since He is the greatest enjoyer, His happiness is shared with those who offer their service.

The benefits are not exclusive to the afterlife, though Krishna promises in the Bhagavad-gita, the most concise and complete treatise on spirituality ever to be revealed to the fallen souls of the material world, that anyone who thinks of Him at the time of death never has to suffer through reincarnation again. The departing soul that is Krishna conscious is welcomed by the sweet vision of Shri Krishna in the spiritual world, Shyamasundara holding a flute in His hands and wearing a peacock feather in His hair.

“Those who worship the demigods will take birth among the demigods; those who worship ghosts and spirits will take birth among such beings; those who worship ancestors go to the ancestors; and those who worship Me will live with Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.25)

ShyamasundaraThe benefits of serving Krishna are also seen in the present life, as the source of all distresses is the forgetfulness of God and His personal feature. Look at everything that causes unhappiness and you will see that the pain is rooted in attachment to the senses which are tied to the temporary body. We know that the body is ever-changing and subject to destruction, so anyone who gets distracted by its accompanying temporary pains and pleasures remains forgetful of their constitutional position. If I get sad every time one of my shirts gets a hole in it or when my shoes start to wear out, the emotion is not warranted. We can always get a new shirt or pair of shoes, so what need is there to feel sad over a temporary loss? As soon as the shirt was accepted, there had to come a time when it would be rejected. A wise person is always cognizant of this, so they don’t overly lament misfortune or overly rejoice temporary happiness.

The attachment to the body serves as the strongest deterrent to enlightenment, the most effective distraction. The primary aim of life is established through Vedic teachings: think of God always and offer Him your undivided service. This doesn’t mean that you have to quit everything and take up the life of a mendicant. If this is what you are inclined to do then great, but service can be offered by any person at any stage in life simply through chanting and remembering. To remember, you need an image. To get an image, you need a person. To get the best image, you thus need the best person. The best person is he who never changes in spiritual qualities, whose attributes never exhaust. That person is Shri Krishna, whose body and spirit are not different from one another.

The mission in life is to stay God conscious, and success in that task is aided by limiting distractions. While eliminating inhibiting behaviors like meat-eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex proves helpful, the primary focus should be on remembering Krishna. His image can be created in the mind by regularly hearing the sacred words found in Vedic texts like the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita. The distracting images borne of sense attachment cause deviation from the purified consciousness, a focus on redressing issues relating to the temporary body. The more the negative images can be eliminated and the positive images kept safely within the consciousness, the greater the chances of finding peace and happiness within the current lifetime. If the soul is in Krishna’s company before the end of life through association with the Lord’s name and image, that link will continue well into the afterlife.

In Closing:

Be benefitted by thinking of Krishna always,

Follow what the Supreme Lord in Gita says.

Distractions hinder success, know it for a fact,

To keep a tunnel-vision on end-goal is proper tact.

Why should not this be the pathway towards ultimate success,

To find company of the best person and forgo all the rest?

Trust in others you already do invest,

The results that follow are the defining test.

Trust in Krishna and in this life benefits you will see,

Endeared to Shyamasundara and His devotees you will be.

In the afterlife waiting for you is Krishna’s embrace,

And vision of His most beautiful, sweet smiling face.

Monday, November 14, 2011

What Is Auspiciousness

Janaka with Sita“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 ||

What is the best for our welfare? Can there be just one thing that applies universally? If one person is puffed up by the false ego resulting from excessive material opulence and enjoyment, obviously what’s good for them will be a humbling of that pride, something to remind them that they are not in control of everything. On the other hand, someone who is destitute, barely getting by each day with a few morsels of food, can really use some security, the peace of mind that comes with knowing that material amenities will be available in steady supply. Thus what is auspicious for one person is not necessarily beneficial to another. Yet one woman’s company is so delightful that regardless of one’s position, whether they are a powerful king or a renounced yogi, everything beneficial comes as a result of meeting her. She is the ocean of mercy, the reservoir of beauty, and with love offered to her in genuineness comes the fruit of our existence.

Sita DeviIt should be noted that even in spiritual life, which is above the temporary pitfalls of acceptance and rejection that swing perpetually like a pendulum, there is not uniformity in desires. The materialist enjoyer is referred to as a karmi in the Vedas. This word points to fruitive work, something performed for a specific benefit. The work has reactions, which are referred to as fruits, or phala; hence the translation of karma into “fruitive work”. The reactions aren’t always intended, nor are they always expected, making karma a complicated business. The enjoyments of even the cherished results don’t last forever, requiring repeated endeavor in fruitive activity.

The jnanis, yogis and bhaktas are above karma. A jnani is in search of jnana, or knowledge. In this sense there is some work applied, but it is only through the mind, so there are no visible fruits that result immediately. Rather, through theoretical exercise, the mental speculator hopefully can alter their behavior in such a way that the reactions to their work are always what they intend and that the enjoyments do not bind them in further misery. The yogis are similarly engaged in a higher cause. Through meditation they hope to block off the influence of the senses, to remain in trance so that the consciousness can stay pure.

For the karmis, yogis and jnanis the cherished rewards are not the same. For instance, the karmi considers success in their ventures to be auspiciousness. A tired worker desiring a nice vacation destination spot views a healthy bank balance and the ability to travel as favorable circumstances. The yogi, on the other hand, considers a sacred place that is quiet and peaceful as an auspicious blessing. The jnani lives off of mental speculation and the ability to accept higher knowledge. The intelligentsia class can be likened to the jnanis, so what they consider auspicious is high knowledge in the form of books and the ability to think rationally.

Lord KrishnaOnly the bhaktas, however, are all-inclusive. They can follow any of the activities of the karmis, jnanis and yogis and find auspiciousness through maintaining a purified consciousness. For the bhaktas, the aim is love, the transcendental variety. When dovetailed with spirituality, bhakti is known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Karma, jnana and meditational yoga can also be linked with spirituality, but again the conditions deemed beneficial are not uniform. For the bhakta, the only requirement is the ability to remain in divine trance, to be able to contemplate on the Supreme Lord.

How is this different from the yogis who sit in meditation? For starters, the conditions for performing meditational yoga are very difficult, so much so that the path is not recommended at all for the people of this age. These recommendations come from the Vedas and their derivative scriptures, which represent the original source of knowledge in this world. The entire world consists of various branches of Vedic culture, which started with the instructions of the Supreme Personality of Godhead that were imparted to the first created living entity, Lord Brahma. From Brahma’s teachings, the initial systems of religion were created, and as further time elapsed from the start of creation, deviation from the original principles increased, so much so that now there are too many spiritual denominations to count.

Common to any system of maintenance is a desired end-goal. Bhakti is the summit of religious practice because it has the highest end-goal that exists: constant association with God. The Supreme Lord is a personality with divine features, qualities which provide Him pleasure and also attract the sincere souls, who are miniature versions of God. Any being that is autonomous in its movement is a small version of God, but since their exercise of that freedom is limited, they are not equal to the Supreme Person. Fear not, however, as there is no need to try to equal God. The Supreme Lord is meant to be enjoyed through His association, a link which thus represents the most auspicious condition.

Sita and RamaHow can we say this with certainty? The Supreme Lord is described as having a transcendental body full of sweetness. He is the most beautiful, wise, strong, renounced, wealthy and famous. We are already attracted to famous and successful people, those who have bucked the odds and reached the tops of their respective fields. Beauty is attractive to pretty much anyone, as are strength and knowledge. In this way we see that God’s attractiveness is not a sectarian assertion or something that can only be enjoyed by people born and raised in a certain place. Rather, God is attractive to every single person, including the atheists who deny His existence. In the absence of personal interaction with the Supreme Lord and His brilliant features, what the living entity will find appealing are various impersonal aspects, separated energy expansions. Only in these areas are there varieties of auspicious conditions, dualities in what people find beneficial. This, of course, is because of the lack of the Supreme Lord’s personal presence.

In bhakti, the divine’s features are talked about, relished, honored, and most of all, enjoyed. When we have the most attractive person’s image within our minds, our activities will be driven towards maintaining the sight of that image. Thus the bhakta can be doing something as simple as eating and still enjoy full auspiciousness. For one king a long time ago, he was doing the odd job of ploughing a field, when in an instant he felt the thrill of a lifetime, a jolt of happiness that he had never felt before. This moment would forever change his life.

“One is understood to be in full knowledge whose every act is devoid of desire for sense gratification. He is said by sages to be a worker whose fruitive action is burned up by the fire of perfect knowledge.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.19)

King JanakaWhy was a king ploughing a field? Wasn’t this an act of karma? If so, how could the happiness he found be the source of pleasure for others as well? Though outwardly engaged in fruitive work, this leader of men was actually doing his occupational duty, remaining unattached to the result. He was a fruitive worker who had burned up the reactions to his work by being fully in knowledge. In one sense, this wonderful king of ancient times could be thought of as a combination jnani/yogi. He had knowledge of dharma, or religiosity, which then guided his behavior. He also had control over his senses, which earned him the title Videha, which means “one who is bodiless”.

As mentioned before, the karmis, yogis and jnanis each have respective definitions of auspiciousness, conditions whose merits may not apply across disciplines. Though he was known as an expert yogi, King Janaka was actually a bhakta, or devotee, at heart. This meant that through his pious acts, he was qualifying himself to gain full auspiciousness, which would arrive on the day he would find the precious baby girl in the ground. Of all the places to find gold in the form of another human being, Janaka found his little treasure in the ground that was being tilled for a sacrifice, or yajna.

What was so wonderful about this event? How would this help Janaka’s piety? Aren’t the karmis the ones enchanted by familial attachment, which is only temporary? This was no ordinary girl. Just as the Supreme Lord is the reservoir of attractiveness, His eternal consorts possess similarly brilliant features. In many ways God’s companions are more glorious than He is, for they are completely devoted to Him. Having the audience of a devotee is the greatest blessing for the person wandering aimlessly through life in search of a higher taste, one that doesn’t leave bitter aftereffects or vanish in an instant.

Lakshmi DeviThe girl Janaka found was the Supreme Lord’s wife in the spiritual sky. Since God is the source of all men, He is given the name Narayana. Since He is the most fortunate entity in the world, His wife is known as Lakshmi, who is the goddess of fortune. That same Lakshmi appeared in Janaka’s sacred land to bless him, to give him full auspiciousness. Janaka was the most pious king and thus fully deserved having Lakshmi’s presence.

But why come as a little girl? Why didn’t Lakshmi just visit Janaka’s home and bless him? Bhakti is an eternal engagement; hence it is also known as bhagavata-dharma. In every other area of endeavor there is a state of maturation, where the cherished fruit is received and then enjoyed for some length of time. Bhakti is divine love, so it can never stop. The greatest blessing, the most auspicious condition, is to be able to continue one’s bhakti unabated. God’s presence and the association of His dearmost devotees are considered universally auspicious for this very reason. Whoever comes in contact with such divine figures and knows how to make use of that association will find an eternal engagement that brings forth tremendous delights. The hungry man looking for a meal finds temporary auspiciousness by being fed a few morsels of food, but he who has a tree on his land that produces endless fruits is blessed every day. Having Lakshmi appear as a little girl in his kingdom gave Janaka a wish-fulfilling tree to fulfill all his desires.

Though he was Videha, Janaka immediately had affection for the little girl, deciding to raise her as his own daughter. Since she was found in the ground, he named her Sita. Goswami Tulsidas, in writing his Janaki Mangala, which describes how Sita’s marriage would take place later on, remarks that Janaka is the most fortunate, and that there was never a king like him, nor will there be one like him in the future. He received Sita as a daughter, which meant that it was his obligation to smother her with parental affection. Who can imagine receiving such a benediction? People pray to have Lakshmi, or fortune, all the time, but if they misuse her benedictions, they can lose everything. Thereby Lakshmi can end up harming someone as well, if they are not deserving of her association.

Sita DeviOn the other hand, someone like Janaka was so pious that he was desirous to love God and His devotees without hesitation. What better way to allow for that love to continue than by giving him Sita as a daughter? The Supreme Lord knows all. He watches the behavior of the pious and sees whether or not they are qualified for receiving full auspiciousness. In addition to raising Sita as his most precious daughter, on the day of her marriage Janaka would receive Narayana Himself, in the guise of a warrior prince named Rama, as a son-in-law.

Though Sita is Lakshmi and thus a divine figure, Janaka’s love for her never stops. He found real auspiciousness by gaining the ability to practice bhakti as a way of life. To extract his heartfelt emotions, Lakshmi came herself to play the role of his daughter. The king made the most of the opportunity by increasing his bhakti more and more, so much so that he is today considered one of the twelve authorities on devotional service. As Tulsidas states, there is no king like him, and by the same token, for the pious there is no auspiciousness like that of Sita’s association. Just remembering her, her devotion to Rama, and the gloriousness of her father, the mind can find peace, comfort and happiness in any situation.

In Closing:

Something as auspicious do I take,

But not for others also does it make.

One side is looking for much wealth,

While another wants less for mental health.

That Janaka found greatest fortune is true,

Gives happiness to all men, both me and you.

Chance to love Sita in affection, God’s wife,

Keeps flame of bhakti alive, gives eternal life.

Keep on searching past, present and future,

But won't find man like Janaka, king like no other.

King's greatest fortune came from Sita alone,

For she would bring Shri Hari to his home.