Saturday, November 26, 2011

Hitting The Road

Sita and Rama wedding“Thereafter, in country after country the message of the king was sent, upon hearing which everyone became happy. Together with their caravans stocked with provisions, every community then came to King Janaka’s city.” (Janaki Mangala, Chand 1.2)

puni desa desa sandesa paṭhayau bhūpa suni sukha pāvahīṃ |
saba sāji sāji samāja rājā janaka nagarahiṃ āvahīṃ ||

“Did you hear the news? The famed King Janaka has announced that he is holding a svayamvara for his cherished daughter’s marriage. Whoever can lift up the illustrious bow originally belonging to Mahadeva, the greatest of the gods, will win Sita as a wife. We must go immediately, as this will bode well for our family. Not only will we be linked to Janaka Maharaja, who is known throughout the three worlds for his piety and dedication to virtue, but we will win acclaim for having lifted a bow that is famous for its incomparable weight. Ready all the provisions and stock them in the carts. We haven’t a moment to lose. Let us bring our entire clan to the sacred land of Janakpur, where we will vie for the beloved princess’ hand. An opportunity like this shouldn’t be missed.”

travelling caravanThat people from around the world would gather to one place for a particular event is not out of the ordinary. Companies hold conventions to show off their latest products, and widely anticipated annual sporting events are sometimes held in one particular city. People who are interested in the subject matter, in the topic at hand, will make the necessary arrangements to travel to these destinations, be it by automobile, train, or plane. The idea is that if the event is important enough, no amount of travel is too much. For the really important events, one needs to be there in person, to not only enjoy the scene, but to then later say that they were there. Many thousands of years ago, the vow of a famous king caught the attention of the many princes around the world. Just hearing about the king’s contest made them get ready for the trip of a lifetime.

The road trip is nice because you can get away. Prison life is considered a punishment not only for the fact that you are held in a house against your will, but you also have limited engagements. Variety is the mother of enjoyment, so if you take to the opposite extreme, monotony, the mind will feel trapped, so much so that any break in the routine will feel liberating. Even for the human being living outside the confines of a prison, life can get to be quite repetitive, especially if one is mature and working at a job that they attend regularly. In the larger scheme, the material universe itself is considered by enlightened minds to be an enlarged prison, with the confines spread further apart but having the same punishing prohibition on action, which is especially effective on those who are not spiritually conscious.

The road trip is best enjoyed when it comes about unexpectedly. On a whim you decide to pack up your stuff and travel somewhere by car, not having any set plans. Reaching the intended destination is the stated purpose to the trip, but the fun comes more from having a break from the grind, getting to escape from the doldrums of your stale life if but even for a weekend. The family vacations provide this sort of opportunity as well, as visiting a foreign city allows you to escape your accustomed surroundings and experience new things.

For the important trips, you’ll take items that you need, such as clothing, toiletries, and any gifts you would like to give to the people that will be hosting you at your final destination. The spirit of renunciation is more prominent in males, so they can get away with travelling with very little, just carrying the bare essentials. Not only are the females mindful of what they need for their own beautification, but they will consider what should be given to the people being visited as well. Even if you are going to visit just one person, they may have friends and family members around them. The mindful wife will remind the husband to pack gifts for those people, even if the husband is annoyed at having to bring extra luggage. If you’re travelling by plane, you will have to check-in the extra bags, which means that your items will not always be by your side. When not in your sight, there is the increased risk of the items getting lost. In addition, you’ll always have to carry those items around during transit.

presidential motorcadeThe extra burden is worth it if you really want to please the people you are visiting. Also, if you’re travelling with a lot of people, the heavier load is inevitable. With one event in particular many thousands of years back, families from around the world were preparing for a terrific road trip. These weren’t just ordinary families either. Picture every head of state congregating in one meeting place. A head of state travels with pomp wherever they go. Just as the President of the United States has the Secret Service and other entourage following him in his trips, the kings of ancient times would bring their royal families with them to important meetings. The family included not only wives and children, but also servants, priests, and important members of the community.

The news of this event was so appreciated that everyone in the notified communities wanted to go. The caravans for each royal family were filled with provisions; everything needed for daily maintenance in the foreign land. Relatives and other important community members were part of the travelling party as well. Such preparation only takes place when the event brings delight to the heart. People flock to pilgrimage sites on important holy days of the year so they can connect with God, to have the chance to think about Him and accumulate spiritual merits. If not for the relation to the Supreme Lord, these sites would not receive the attention they get.

Though this particular event many thousands of years ago didn’t openly relate to God, in the background it did. Janaka Maharaja was holding a ceremony to give away his daughter Sita in marriage. He had struggled with the decision up to this point, because he held great affection for her and he didn’t know who her birth parents were. Sita was Janaka’s adopted daughter; he found her as a baby when he was ploughing a field. Though a voice from the sky told him that the baby girl was his child in all righteousness, or dharma, Janaka still didn’t know any of the astrological signs at the time of her birth, which meant that he couldn’t get an accurate horoscope made that would be used to find a suitable husband.

Lord ShivaNot able to use matching qualities determined from the time of birth, Janaka did one better. He had been given an amazing bow belonging to Lord Shiva. This bow was so heavy that no one could lift it. Lord Shiva is one of the famous divine figures of the Vedic tradition. While in the Puranas reserved for those in the mode of ignorance, or the lowest mode of material nature, Mahadeva is sometimes described as the Supreme Lord, he is an elevated living entity who is very powerful. His greatest strength is his firm conviction to always chant the holy name of Lord Rama, who is none other than God Himself. This bow belonging to Shiva was meant to be lifted by that same Rama. Therefore wherever there is Mahadeva, the Supreme Lord can never be too far away.

Because of the bow’s origin, the contest relating to its lifting automatically had a religious significance. Add to the fact that Janaka was famous for his piety and renunciation from material attachment and you get an event that couldn’t be missed. After deciding on the rules of the svayamvara, or self-choice marriage ceremony, news was sent out to country after country. Hearing of the contest made people happy, for not only would they get to witness history by seeing if someone could lift Mahadeva’s bow, they would also get to see Janaka and his daughter.

What they didn’t know was that Sita was the goddess of fortune, Rama’s wife in the spiritual world. Shri Rama is the Supreme Lord who periodically incarnates on earth to enact pastimes. During Janaka’s time He had appeared as the son of King Dasharatha of Ayodhya. Rama’s family wasn’t part of the clan that travelled to Janakpur because Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana at the time were escorting the sage Vishvamitra in the forests. Since he had been harassed by terrorists capable of assuming false guises, the sage wanted Rama, an expert bow warrior, to protect him for a bit, to alleviate the distresses caused by the rangers of the night. Since Rama was the eldest of four sons, Dasharatha was not going to send anyone in His place to contest for Sita’s hand. When following strict Vedic regulations, it is considered a sin for a younger brother to get married before an older one does.

Rama lifting a bowThe guests eagerly travelling with their families and paraphernalia to Janakpur would get to see Rama nonetheless. In this way they were actually making a pilgrimage trek, one that is still followed to this day. Vishvamitra, seemingly by chance, would bring Rama and Lakshmana to Janakpur. After many princes had failed to even move Shiva’s bow, Rama would step up and lift it without a problem, giving the onlookers a sight worth seeing. The beautiful Shri Rama would be reunited with Lakshmi Devi, Janaka’s daughter, in front of the fortunate attendees.

Because of Janaka’s position and the outstanding qualities of his daughter, when people first heard the news of the svayamvara, they were immediately pleased and decided that they had to make the journey to Janakpur. They were certainly very fortunate to be there that day, but this doesn’t mean that sincere souls looking for spiritual awakening and transcendental pleasure today can’t have the same benefit. Goswami Tulsidas composed his Janaki Mangala specifically so that the people of his time, and many future generations as well, could focus the mind on the marriage ceremony of Sita and Rama. Hearing of the event is as good as being there, such is the absolute nature of the Supreme Lord. Just thinking of Janaka and his immense love for his daughter that wasn’t even biologically his brings so much pleasure to the heart. In one sense harboring parental affection for an adopted child indicates an even stronger love than that given to a child one is biologically linked to. It is a matter of duty to love your own children, but that duty isn’t inherently there with someone else’s child. Janaka found Sita and raised her as if she were his own daughter, his most prized possession. The same king that was famous for his dispassion was also appreciated for his affection.

There is no contradiction, for Janaka lived a spiritual existence,. Affection for Sita never goes in vain. Her transcendental features drew people to Janaka’s kingdom that famous day many thousands of years ago. That attraction would prove fruitful for the residents of Janakpur, the attendees of the ceremony, the families involved in the marriage that would come, and the many sincere listeners who would recreate the sequence of events many times in their minds in the years to follow. The royal families from around the world hit the road to see the wedding of a lifetime, and what they took away from that event was the vision of Sita and Rama, the sight for sore eyes, the union of God and His pleasure potency. In all the worlds, one cannot find a better vision than this.

In Closing:

“The King of Janakpur has made a solemn vow,

Lifter of bow marriage to Sita he will allow.

On path of righteousness that king remains steady,

So let our family, provisions and carts be ready.

To Janakpur we will all travel,

In joyous occasion let our hearts revel.”

Thus arriving in the city were kings in a throng,

To try to lift bow that to Shiva did belong.

From what they would see from that road trip,

Made the difficult travel worth it.

Seeing Sita and Rama, God and His wife,

Married in splendor, vision to keep for life.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Running Free

Lord Krishna“The need of the spirit soul is that he wants to get out of the limited sphere of material bondage and fulfill his desire for complete freedom. He wants to get out of the covered walls of the greater universe. He wants to see the free light and the spirit. That complete freedom is achieved when he meets the complete spirit, the Personality of Godhead.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.2.8 Purport)

Like a lion chasing after an elephant, the cows are quickly running after their caretaker, their very life breath, the soul of their fortunes, the keeper of their heart, the beloved child of Mother Yashoda and Nanda Maharaja. Whereas the lion looks to pounce, these cows simply crave association, another glance at the beauty of Shyamasundara, the enchanting youth with a blackish complexion who holds a flute in His hands and wears a peacock feather in His hair. The cows, deer, butterflies, and every other living resident cannot get enough of this vision. Every time the young child looks at them, their attachment increases even more. What then to speak of when He plays His flute? The sound is so intoxicating that the barriers imposed by the body become too inhibiting, for how could any form ever contain the loving feelings waiting to burst out from the liberated spirit soul? The only proper release for this love is through continuous running on the wonderful field, soaking up the beautiful vision and sweet sounds that belong to Shri Krishna, the most intimate friend of the spirit soul.

Lord KrishnaMore than just dogmatic insistence or reliance on rules and regulations of scriptures, the point to spirituality, a discipline that instills a regimen of dedicated activity, is to meet the needs of the soul. Only when one is in ignorance of these needs will they consider the postulates and truths presented by the oldest tradition of spiritual values, the Vedas, to be dogmatic, sectarian, sentimentalist, or mythological. Everything is pieced together perfectly in the Vedic texts to allow the soul to ultimately run free with transcendental love, to let its brightness of knowledge, eternality, and blissfulness shine everywhere. Those who are fortunate enough to follow the prescriptions presented by the authorized followers of the Vedas, those who are liberated from the inhibiting effects of matter, will be able to taste the fruit of their existence.

While in the premature assessment the Vedas are taken to be a set of written words, they are actually not different from the person they describe and glorify. The Vedas sing the glories of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The songs fulfill the same purpose as the many aphorisms, stories of historical events, and poems and descriptions found in the vast literature that follows the original Vedas, a set of information passed down by the Supreme Person Himself. The glorification of God serves to give pleasure both to the hearer and to the worshiping person. This glorification lines up with the qualities of the spirit soul, the essence of identity.

Though it’s a difficult concept to grasp, we will continue to live after death. We can take this as fact because our own body has undergone constant change since as far back as we can remember. Do you know that you once survived in the tiniest of spaces within the womb of your mother? You don’t remember this experience, but you understand from the statements of your parents and the direct perception of external events that this definitely happened. How in the world did you survive? You lived in the womb for nine months, and prior to that you had to be somewhere else. From the experience in the womb you also know that just because you don’t remember something doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen.

“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, Bhagavad-gita, 2.13)

Lord KrishnaWhat happened to that form that survived in the womb? Can we ever get it back? The Vedas shed light on these issues, with the most concise and complete explanation provided by Krishna Himself in the Bhagavad-gita, one of the widest read religious texts in history. The soul is so small that it can survive within even the form of an ant. Basically anything that we consider to be a life form has spirit inside of it. Indeed the absence of spirit, its departure from a particular form, is what causes death.

If you leave a particular room, does that mean your existence is finished? To the occupants of the room you may no longer exist, but you know that you’re only travelling somewhere else, with your identity remaining intact. Birth and death are similar travels, where the spirit soul either enters a new dwelling or gives one up in favor of a new one. The truths about the soul are presented in the beginning to the aspiring transcendentalist of the Vedic tradition because they form the knowledgebase from which one can launch into higher topics.

What higher topics could there be? Apprised of the travels of the soul, the obvious next question is why there must be birth and death in the first place. Moreover, why are there different forms? The constitutional position of the soul is what matters. The individual spirit gets placed into different bodies based on desire and work, which operate collectively under karma. The duties prescribed to a particular human being make up their karma, and the reactions that follow are referred to as karma-phala, or the fruits of action. Not all fruits taste the same, nor do they manifest at the same rate. A tomato plant may not grow as quickly as another plant, but this doesn’t mean that the reactions to the work applied during the planting stage don’t arrive.

“Krishna had actually entered the cave to deliver King Muchukunda from his austerity, but He did not first appear before him. He arranged that first Kalayavana should come before him. That is the way of the activities of the Supreme Personality of Godhead; He does one thing in such a way that many other purposes are served. He wanted to deliver King Muchukunda, who was sleeping in the cave, and at the same time He wanted to kill Kalayavana, who had attacked Mathura City. By this action He served all purposes.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 50)

krishna_QK11_lThe Supreme Lord sequences everything together perfectly so that rewards arrive just when they are supposed to. The spirit soul, however, is transcendental to every reaction, for it doesn’t even remain tied to its body forever. If we live in a room for only a short time, we can’t say that anything within it forms the basis of our identity. Since God manages the laws of spirit and matter, every spiritual being is inherently tied to Him.

The link to God is a loving one. This loving propensity is the very dharma of the soul, its essential characteristic. The soul’s dharma can never be removed, but it can be masked. The various bodies assumed mask the loving propensity of the soul to one degree or another. It is seen in life that some people are violent haters while others are always peaceful and kind to the people they meet. The loving propensity is responsible for both behaviors. If not for strong attachment, there would be no chance for intense feelings of anger, betrayal, or neglect to result from the interaction with other living beings. Love is the root cause of every emotion.

In the various material bodies assumed, the loving propensity cannot be housed properly, due especially to the inhibiting nature of material elements. If we don’t know who we are supposed to love, how will we ever properly project our energy? It’s like having a fire extinguisher that points in every direction except towards the actual fire. The fire extinguisher will still work, i.e. it will still dissipate the ingredients necessary to put out a fire, but if the flow of energy is not directed in the proper area, the output goes to waste.

With the living being, the output of energy continues in a perpetual cycle until eventually the proper target is identified. This can take many lifetimes, for even a person who realizes the need for self-realization, which includes understanding the properties of spirit and the need for following a spiritual discipline, is considered fortunate. This should make sense, for how many people do we know who actually make loving God their primary business in life? They may believe in God and follow religious principles, but the primary thought processes within their mind, i.e. their consciousness, will be monopolized by pursuits for material sense gratification.

“The individual soul in the body of a baby cannot show the full power and potency of a grown man, but the Supreme Personality of Godhead Krishna, even when lying on the lap of His mother as a baby, could exhibit His full potency and power by killing Putana and other demons who tried to attack Him. Therefore the spiritual potency of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is said to be eka-rasa, or without change.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 32)

Krishna with PutanaThe body can be likened to a holding cell, a container that limits the exercise of ability of the spirit soul. Based on the variety in species, we know that the soul is capable of doing so many things. A soul can fly through the air, live within the water, do complex mathematics, sing beautifully, write wonderful poetry, live within the ground, and even stand erect for thousands of years. Yet none of these abilities extract even a smidgen of the full potential for action that exists within spirit.

How do we break free then? Think of being pumped up, extremely enthusiastic for action. Imagine never requiring sleep or being alert even while resting. This is how the liberated souls feel, for they have found the proper target for the loving emotions from within that never exhaust. The ideal beneficiary is Krishna, or God. For the loving emotions to continually flow, it would make sense that Krishna would have to be extremely attractive. If something does not elicit heartfelt emotional responses upon contact, how could service continue?

We know how liberated souls behave based on the documented historical evidence presented by Vedic literature. The qualities and activities of countless great souls, or mahajanas, are described in these wonderful works. Though Krishna is the fountainhead of all spiritual manifestations and loving Him is the constitutional position of the soul, this doesn’t mean that all liberated souls behave the same way. Rather, there are multifarious outlets for the loving propensity found within spirit. Some worship God by chanting His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Others follow their prescribed duties and keep the Lord’s vision within their minds. Some take up direct service to Him, acting like menial servants who are entirely invested in the outcome of events so that their beloved Lord will be pleased. Some act as Krishna’s friend, while others love Him very intimately. Some derive pleasure through contact with His soft skin, while others delight in just hearing about Him.

This last method is the best way to unlock the dormant love for God that everyone has resting inside of them. The hearing process dissipates the nescience surrounding the pure soul and leads to further interaction with the Supreme Lord. Even those who have personally offered service to God delight in hearing about Him. If the Vedic literature available to them is not cutting it, if it doesn’t have enough information to satisfy them, these souls will write their own poems and songs, filling the mind with thoughts about Krishna; thereby fostering Krishna consciousness, which is the very definition of liberation.

Krishna and BalaramaDevotional service, or bhakti-yoga, is like playing on an open field, where there are no walls to stop the soul wanting to run to Krishna’s side. This analogy works both figuratively and literally. During Krishna’s time on earth some five thousand years ago, His closest friends would play with Him on the fields of Vrindavana. In this pristine environment, the cows and other animals were well protected. The cowherd boys had fun daily, for they were in Krishna’s company. Even the women and caretakers derived pleasure from doing their routine work, for they had Krishna by their side.

Many thousands of years prior to that, a group of extra hyper monkeys got to run free in the forests and travel to distant lands to offer service to God in His avatara as a warrior prince named Rama. These Vanaras got to scour the earth to look for Rama’s wife Sita. They built a bridge made of stones to Lanka where Sita was being held captive. They had the chance to use uprooted trees and rocks as weapons in a violent war against the Rakshasas of Lanka, who were headed by Ravana, the evil king who had tried to take Sita away for himself. The Vanaras were in the bodies of lowly monkeys, but their service was offered nonetheless. It was performed without motivation and without interruption. This means that even after Ravana was defeated, the Vanara devotees, of whom Hanuman was chief, continued to love God. Though the Lord eventually went back to the spiritual world of Vaikuntha, the same devotees continued to derive great pleasure just by hearing about Rama and His glories. The chance to hear about God is the very purpose of the Ramayana, the poem authored by Maharishi Valmiki which describes Rama’s life and pastimes.

Every living entity has a choice. Either continue the process of elimination, whereby one engagement after another is indulged in until the right target for the soul’s loving propensity is hopefully found, or take to bhakti-yoga right away. The flaw with the former option is that forgetfulness creeps in. This means that some engagement that we previously renounced due to boredom will be repeated later on once the past experiences are forgotten. It’s like chewing a stick of gum, spitting it out once the taste is gone, doing something else for a while, and then going back and picking up the same chewed gum.

With bhakti-yoga, the effects are not the same. Rather, the more one chants Krishna’s names and hears about His pastimes, the more attached they become to the process; the enjoyment they derive from thinking about God increases. The levels of transcendental ecstasy rise to the point that the liberated soul will settle for nothing less than serving their beloved throughout the day, not worrying about the limits imposed by material nature. The meeting with the Supreme Lord is destined to take place once this state of full Krishna consciousness is attained, for in the spiritual world there are no barriers. Matter, time and space do exist in Krishna’s realm, but their negative influence is absent; hence they are practically unrecognizable. The liberated spirit soul runs to where Krishna is, and once they find Him, they never let Him go. Should He run away again, they continue to follow, thus allowing their inexhaustible reservoir of love to continually pour out, keeping the soul in perpetual ecstasy.

In Closing:

The bonds of material nature constrict,

The loving nature of spirit they restrict.

Take one engagement after another,

To find a state of bliss like no other.

That can only be found in Krishna’s company,

Connect with Him through ways that are many.

Chant His names or glories do you sing,

Or offerings of prasadam to Him bring.

Whatever the method follow it with faith,

Let your soul free and arrive at heaven’s gate.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Beyond Complacency

Hanuman“Thus I have with a pure mind searched the entire inside of Ravana's apartment. Yet I still do not see Sita.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 11.44)

tad idam mārgitam tāvat śuddhena manasā mayā ||
rāvaṇa antaḥ puram sarvam dṛśyate na ca jānakī |

A new life starts with tremendous potential, as it is a fresh chance to seek out daily pleasures. No knowledge of death, sadness, temporary manifestations of matter, or even what a birth is; just a clean slate. Gradually, however, through maturation, the pile of stale and old, “been there-done that” experiences increases. Thus new engagements have to be found. Yet no matter how many new experiences are uncovered, there is failure and dejection at every step, as nothing seems to last forever. The person knowing the ultimate objective in life, however, is perseverant and sticks with the proper course no matter what. Despite the effort they have put in already and the troubles they have overcome, should they remain unsuccessful they don’t abandon hope and deem the mission unworthy of completion. On the contrary, the nature of the reward is so sublime that there is no choice but to fight on.

In the typical stint within a particular form of body, where enjoyments are sought through contact with matter, the perceived pinnacle achievement is to reach a point where there is a steady supply of material amenities. This usually comes about during adulthood, when a steady occupation is landed. All past effort is meant to culminate in this achievement, which then allows for family life to slowly solidify. Yet we know from the behavior of adults that finding material comforts is actually not the crowning accomplishment, the end to effort being expended. The spirit soul, the energetic spark within the body, must continually act; it never stops functioning for even a moment.

How do we know this? We can look to sleep as an example. Rest and relaxation are the antithesis of compulsory action. We sleep so that we can gain relief from the daily pressures and find a state of being where we don’t have to do anything. Yet the mind continues to operate during periods of rest, so much so that the dreams we have at night can cause intense emotions. If not even a sleeping state can stop desire and the pursuit of happiness, how will any amount of sense gratification?

When we speak of sense gratification we refer to the stimulation of the sense organs, such as the tongue, genitals, eyes, ears, etc. An astute observer may question how any activity can be beyond such distinctions. If we use the senses to interact with nature, how can any activities exist which don’t involve such interaction? As the soul is the spark for action, each individual is beyond the sense organs and the objects with which they interact. We know that our desires change drastically over the course of a lifetime, as how we view different objects of the phenomenal world also changes. During youth, there is no thought given to sexual relations, but in adulthood these urges are so strong that they can lead to misery and heartache.

Despite the changing viewpoints, the individual’s identity remains the same. Therefore we can conclude that the soul transcends whatever sense perceptions are made. As the soul’s satisfaction is what really matters, it is not surprising therefore to see people who are approaching the middle part of their material existence get depressed, dejected and bewildered by the monotonous routine of everyday life. “Is this all there is? You grow up, get a job, start a family, and then just wait for death?“ This attitude helps explain the impulse purchases of muscle cars and motorcycles, and risky behavior like climbing a mountain and jumping out of an airplane. Something needs to be done to break the routine, to inject a spark into life.

On the opposite side of material existence is the pursuit for higher knowledge, wisdom that alters activities so that the soul can find satisfaction. As there is no such thing as a utopia, there is sometimes frustration, dejection, monotony, defeat, sadness, pain, misery and despair in even the highest pursuit known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Though this sounds bad, it actually isn’t. The more one encounters these pains in their pursuit for true enlightenment, the greater the reward they will see at the end. And unlike the rewards previously sought after, this gift will keep on giving, like a wish-fulfilling tree that never runs out of fruits.

Rama darbarShri Hanuman, a divine figure of the Vedic tradition, was tasked with finding Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama. Sita, Rama, Lakshmana and Hanuman are worshiped by millions around the world in the Rama Darbar picture. In short, Rama is God and Hanuman is His dear servant. Rama is not a Hindu God. He is the same Supreme Lord that everyone worships, ignores, or strongly envies. During Rama’s time on earth, Hanuman was not involved in sensual pursuits. His kind lived in the forest of Kishkindha, so there was no need to worry about finding lodging, clothing, or food. The monkeys during the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, were more civilized than they are today. They were humanoids in a sense, but they were still less civilized than ordinary human beings.

Since Hanuman had every necessity of life, what need did he have to take up service to Rama? This is often the question pondered by the wealthy and those who don’t understand the purpose to spiritual life. “They must worship God because they have nothing. Otherwise, what is the point to religion? I never worshiped anyone and I’m doing just fine.” The pains encountered by the materially successful are the most glaring indication of the paltriness of the rewards available to those who are not God conscious. Hanuman too had everything he needed in life, but the wise never mistake the ability to remain complacent for the panacea of existence.

Hanuman was eager to serve Rama. Any task the Lord would give him, Hanuman would do. As if to correspond with his eagerness and supreme skill set, Hanuman was given the task of locating Sita, Rama’s wife who had gone missing. In his subsequent search, Hanuman would not have anything come easily. Nothing would be handed to him. If we feel pity for someone who is struggling in life or having a difficult time achieving their objectives, we may lend them assistance as a way to make ourselves feel better. With Hanuman, the situation seemed almost reversed. His mission was the most important, and yet no one was really helping him. He was only meeting obstacles at every turn.

HanumanFirst, there was the geographic hurdle to overcome. The place where Sita had been taken, the island kingdom of Lanka, was situated far away from any mainland. The monkeys in Hanuman’s search party were strong, powerful and intelligent, but none of them could leap over the ocean and reach Lanka. Only Hanuman could make the leap. Thus at the most critical stage of the mission, Hanuman had to go it alone. His aerial path was then impeded several times. The material nature acts in this way. If someone abandons their pursuit of increasing sense gratification, the wardens of the state, the entities in charge of providing every illusory enjoyment, ask, “Where are you going my dear friend? Don’t you want to continue enjoying all that material life has to offer?”

In Hanuman’s case, the opposition was a little more fierce. He was flat out told that he could not cross certain boundaries. If he did, he would die. Attachment to the swinging pendulum of acceptance and rejection is destroyed by one who takes to bhakti-yoga, and since no one is stronger than Hanuman, these impeding forces did not stand a chance against him. He finally made it to the shores of Lanka after much effort.

The hard part was over then, right? He did the unthinkable by leaping across the ocean, now he could just find Sita and declare victory? Actually, his difficulties were only beginning. Now that he was in Lanka, he had to rummage through a city which did not welcome his presence. Lanka was ruled by Rakshasas, who are human-like creatures given to sinful behavior. More than just meat eaters, they are human eaters. In Lanka their king Ravana could consume unthinkable amounts of wine with his ten heads. His ten sets of arms could fill his many mouths with loads of cooked meats as well.

HanumanSuch a pure and devoted soul as Hanuman did not belong in Lanka, especially since he was Rama’s messenger. Imagine going to some place where everyone hates you and wants to kill you upon first sight. Who would want to enter such an area? But Hanuman was given the task for a reason; he was capable of handling the thwarting elements. Taking on a diminutive stature, Hanuman carefully coursed through the extremely opulent city. Yet Sita he found not.

Hanuman’s hope was renewed when he stumbled upon Ravana’s palace, the most important of the many well-built structures in Lanka. There were beautiful women inside this palace, so Hanuman was excited that perhaps the most beautiful woman in the world, Sita Devi, would be among them. Sadly, she was not, though in the process Hanuman laid his eyes upon scenes that shouldn’t be viewed. Some women were drunk, some sleeping, and others not wearing very much clothing.

At this point, even the most adamant fighter would give way to frustration and dejection. After working so hard, after overcoming the greatest obstacles known to man, there still wasn’t success. To make matters worse, Hanuman was fearful that he had just committed a sin by gazing upon the wives of another man. In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, we see him rationally assessing the situation and rightly concluding that he had no other choice but to search in this way. After all, one searches for women amongst other women, not in a group of deer. There was no sin because Hanuman’s thoughts did not deviate. He was only concerned with finding Sita and making Rama happy.

With material life there will be frustration at every step, as the very meaning of maya is “that which is not.” When objects are divorced of their relationship to the Supreme Lord, they can never provide full satisfaction. On the other hand, someone as divine and pure as Sita Devi can keep one’s fire of devotion well lit when remembered on a regular basis. The difficulties faced by Hanuman in his search for Sita have never been encountered by anyone on this earth. He did not deserve any of the resulting frustration, for if life were fair, Sita’s location would have been revealed to him right away.

Hanuman with SitaBut Hanuman’s perseverance would pay off, as he would finally find Sita. Unlike with rewards not related to God, the fruit of the eyes that was the vision of Sita only led to more benefits afterwards for Hanuman. His devotion to Rama increased with every success, including his finding of Sita. Though the obstacles encountered would not cease after this triumph, the eventual victory of Rama and the rescue of Sita would occur nonetheless. To this day Hanuman’s level of devotion only increases. Lest we think he is poor or lacking in enjoyment, Sita Devi has vowed to meet all of Hanuman’s basic necessities in life for all of time. Therefore he is never in need of anything. As his main business is to regularly chant Rama’s names and think of His glorious activities now documented in the famous Ramayana, whatever resources are required to make that business profitable are kindly provided by the goddess of fortune herself, Sita Devi.

The mature human being immersed in material life is on a search similar to Hanuman’s except that the temporary triumphs aren’t really victories at all. On the other hand, even the distresses and failures in devotional life end up being beneficial. Therefore when presented with the choice as to whether to continue material pursuits or turn towards God, the correct decision shouldn’t be very difficult to decipher. By regularly chanting the Lord’s names, such as those found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the search for God can be undertaken in earnest, with steady progress made with each successive day. With the passing of time, the Supreme Lord reveals Himself more and more, making every day better than the previous one.

In Closing:

In material life struggle under duress,

So that eventually you’ll find success.

To have amenities in steady supply,

Is reason why hard in work we try.

Yet no happiness in remaining complacent,

Must find joy of which there is no equivalent.

No utopia, even in bhakti pain,

Fear of failure, that happiness will wane.

Divine vision keeps the proper goal in mind,

So that the ultimate reward spirit soul can find.

In Lanka, Hanuman looked and he looked,

For Sita, vision of Ravana’s queens he took.

Yet failure only made him in mission stronger,

Reaching ashoka grove, search he had to no longer.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

Mother Yashoda chasing Krishna“Yogis cannot reach Krishna, but for pure devotees like mother Yashoda, Krishna is already caught.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.9.9 Purport)

With the hustle and bustle that comes with the feverish pursuit to procure enough wealth and provisions to support oneself and a family, even a holiday turns into a time of turmoil, adding pressure to a day that is meant to relieve it. The increase in obligations is especially true with the Thanksgiving holiday.  Though carrying issues relating to travel and the comingling with family members you may not have seen in a long time, Thanksgiving is meant to be a day of prayer and remembrance, a time to give thanks to the Almighty for the bountiful gifts he heaps upon us. Thanksgiving brings the inevitable question of what we are thankful for. For the spiritualist trying to reach a better end in both this life and the next, there is one aspect to their practices that provides endless gifts, which can be appreciated every day, including on Thanksgiving.

thanksgivingThe first Thanksgiving celebrated a bountiful harvest that resulted from a major shift in the way food was produced inside of a small community. Settlers to what would be known as the New World had a difficult time in the beginning. There were very few colonists who had fled England for the “greener” pastures of America, but when they arrived after a long boat ride conditions were so unexpectedly harsh that many of them died during the first winter. To further add to their troubles, the colonists found that their food production was quite sparse, for everything was placed into a common store, to be shared by all the members of the community.

The governor of this group decided to shift gears, assigning a plot of land to each family, with the fruits of labor remaining in their possession. As a result, the next harvest was so large that not only was the starvation problem solved, but free trade with the neighboring native Americans could take place as well. Deciding that the harvest was too grand to let pass without commemoration, the Pilgrims held a grand feast, where there was an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. They thanked the Lord for their ability to eat and survive. The tradition then continued annually even into the founding of the United States of America, with George Washington, the first president, declaring the holiday be dedicated to serving the Supreme Lord, a time to give thanks for all that He has given.

“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor…Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be…” (President George Washington, Thanksgiving Day 1789, A Proclamation)

In the Vedic tradition, the oldest system of spirituality known in the world, there are different ways to reach the Supreme Absolute Truth, the source of everything. In any endeavor, there are multiple avenues one can travel down to reach their desired destination. Usually the one that is the simplest to implement is considered the best, but sometimes the simplest doesn’t equate to the easiest to accept. For instance, in weight loss, the easiest option to implement is a reduction in eating. Just don’t eat as much as you are now and you will lose weight. While reducing food intake is easy, accepting the option is difficult, for the individual is accustomed to act otherwise, especially when there are culinary delights available at every corner. Instead of curbing eating directly, roundabout options, such as exercise, diets involving specific foods, and tight controls on the combination of foods consumed, are accepted.

For realizing God, there is one simple and surefire method. This option is the easiest to implement but the most difficult to accept. Because this option is available to the most number of people, God is represented fully within it. The other avenues only have God represented partially and thus only bring the Lord’s partial association. A famous incident documented in the Shrimad Bhagavatam, or Bhagavata Purana, serves as an example to illustrate the difference. A Purana is a collection of ancient stories, historical incidents discussed between spiritual masters and their disciples. The events are not always presented in chronological order nor do they take place only on this planet, but they nevertheless reveal so much about spirituality, the position of the essence of identity, and what it takes to fulfill the primary mission in life.

The Bhagavatam states that the Supreme Absolute Truth, the Personality of Godhead Himself, descended to earth around five thousand years ago in Vrindavana, a small farm community. The fact that God can come to earth and behave like a child is very difficult to accept even for advanced spiritualists. The first instruction taught to aspiring transcendentalists in the Vedic tradition is that the individual living being is not their body. The outer covering is just a shell that comes together, shifts in appearance, and then ultimately gets destroyed. The soul is what counts, as it is not slain when the body is slain.

If we are not our body, then surely someone who is the fountainhead of all spirit and matter cannot be the same as His body when He comes to earth. The body has a strong influence, however, which operates through the illusory energy known as maya. Since we living entities are affected by maya, how can the Supreme Lord have the same defect? Either He is subject to maya also - which thus makes Him equal to us - or the listed incarnations aren’t really God but just some exalted personalities who had extraordinary abilities.

“Unintelligent men, who know Me not, think that I have assumed this form and personality. Due to their small knowledge, they do not know My higher nature, which is changeless and supreme.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.24)

Lord KrishnaLord Krishna, the original Personality of Godhead who came to Vrindavana, addresses this issue in the Bhagavad-gita, a talk on spirituality held much later on during Krishna’s time on earth. For God there is no difference between spirit and matter. Matter is only under maya’s influence for those who have no control over maya. God is the creator of both the spiritual and material energies, so He is never subject to either’s influence. He retains this standing even when appearing on earth in the form of a small child.

If God stays above matter and doesn’t require self-realization when coming to earth, why even make an appearance? Ah, here is where the opportunity for giving thanks comes in. In the roundabout methods of spirituality, different aspects of the Supreme Lord are uncovered. Even an atheist is a kind of spiritualist, though they don’t know who God is or that He exists. Rather, the atheist recognizes Krishna’s external energy expansion of maya, or material nature. Even in the theory of evolution, which is seen as the antithesis of the spiritual doctrine, a higher power is acknowledged. That stronger force is nature, which assumes the responsibility for the purported changing in the species. Even though such theories are based in ignorance, there is still an acknowledgement of one of Krishna’s energies. Since the Lord has no personal presence in the material energy, His personal association is denied such followers.

The jnanis and yogis connect with aspects that have more of Krishna’s influence. Instead of seeing material nature as the cause, jnanis consider the impersonal spiritual energy known as Brahman as the highest force. Think of how each individual has a spark of life inside of them that guides their activities. Then carry that same discernment across every autonomous being, from the tiny ant all the way up to the large elephant. In this way we see that there is a total collection of the spiritual energy, almost a singular energy in a sense. This force is known as Brahman, and it is beyond the dualities created by maya. The jnanis, through study of Vedanta philosophy, worship this energy. Though Brahman is pure spirit, it again lacks Krishna’s personal presence.

The yogis try to catch Krishna through His feature of Paramatma, which is the plenary expansion residing within the heart next to the individual soul. With Brahman the sum collection of energy is recognized, and with the Paramatma the localized aspect is honored, but in either case Krishna’s transcendental features are not noticed. Brahman and Paramatma can be described as nirguna, or without attributes, for the spiritualist connecting with these features doesn’t notice the qualities of sweetness belonging to the Personality of Godhead. God is nirguna in the sense that He never possesses material attributes, but at the same time He has spiritual features that can appear contradictory. Krishna is both formless and with form. He has eyes and doesn’t. He has legs and at the same time doesn’t.

Lord KrishnaHow can the human brain make light of these contradictions? The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Bhagavan, in His forms known as saguna, or with attributes, descends to earth every now and then to show the devoted souls what it means to have spiritual attributes. As Krishna, the Lord came to Vrindavana in His original form, one which was full of sweetness. The benefit of Bhagavan’s association is that anyone can connect with Him. Practicing meditational yoga and studying Vedanta are very difficult, thus the two disciplines are exclusive. Their necessary requirements automatically prohibit entry. The jnani must be very intelligent, capable of understanding high logic. The yogi must be renounced, capable of sitting in meditation for hours on end and blocking out the distractions of material life.

To connect with Bhagavan one must follow bhakti-yoga, which is available to every person, even if they are seemingly materially entangled. The residents of Vrindavana five thousand years ago weren’t jnanis or yogis, and they had never practiced self-realization. Nevertheless, they got to catch Krishna, to hold Him in their arms and bask in His sweet vision. How was this possible? They practiced bhakti, though they weren’t cognizant of the fact. Through many austerities from previous lives and a pious attitude guiding their activities, these residents were fully deserving of Krishna’s company. As they weren’t jealous of Him, why wouldn’t the Lord choose their land as the place to come and enact His pastimes?

Mother Yashoda with KrishnaThe residents of Vrindavana were certainly thankful for Krishna’s association, and the people who hear from the Shrimad Bhagavatam can share the same sentiments. One time, the child Krishna broke a pot of butter belonging to His mother Yashoda. When she came upon the broken pot, she knew that it was Krishna’s work, for He was angry that she had gotten up while feeding Him to tend to a pot of boiling milk on the stove. When she returned, Yashoda saw the broken pot and then found the culprit Krishna feeding butter and yogurt to monkeys. Delighting in the scene, Mother Yashoda was ready to catch her son and punish Him for His transgression.

Seeing Mother Yashoda with her whipping stick in hand, Krishna started to run away, pretending to be afraid. Though yogis and jnanis can’t catch Krishna, Mother Yashoda, a cowherd woman without much speed herself, was able to catch the Supreme Lord and bind Him in her motherly affection. The Lord allowed His dear mother to catch Him and execute her motherly duties, which gave her so much pleasure. From that association both sides felt tremendous delight, for the natural positions of the Supreme Lord and His devotees were on display.

On Thanksgiving we can give thanks to the Supreme Lord for having descended to earth to engage in these pastimes. Karma, yoga and jnana are available to try, but only through bhakti will we get Krishna’s association. The Shrimad Bhagavatam is a bhakti-shastra, a scriptural work focused on devotional service. Because of its contents, the Bhagavatam is as good as Krishna. It is honored as such in the homes of Krishna devotees. The vision of Krishna being chased by Mother Yashoda and her whipping stick cannot be remembered enough. For having this most heartwarming vision, we are forever thankful. The incident is so sweet that one only hopes to be able to give thanks for it every single day, for with remembrance comes Krishna’s association, which continues into the afterlife for anyone who is so desirous.

In Closing:

Seeing mother’s presence Krishna started to run,

Knew He did something bad, with mother enjoyed the fun.

A whipping stick in her hand to punish she took,

Trouble catching son, for not was she fleet afoot.

Materialist the presence of God can never see,

Brahman and Paramatma for jnani and yogi.

But Yashoda caught Krishna by bhakti following,

With ropes of affection her young son binding.

Thankful we are for that scene so pleasurable,

Krishna caught by mother’s love, a pastime so delightful.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Look What the Creator Has Done

Sita and Rama's wedding“After the king declared the contest relating to Lord Shiva’s bow, the svayamvara preparations started. The place became so beautiful that by looking at it one would think that Lord Brahma himself had created it, as if to show off every one of his abilities.” (Janaki Mangala, Chanda 1.1)

panu dhareu siva dhanu raci svayaṃbara ati rūcira racanā banī |
janu pragaṭi caturānana dekhāī caturatā saba āpanī ||

As the creator, Lord Brahma can generate something simply by thinking of it. As we all trace our ancestry back to him, his ability in the department of creating is stupendous. Just as when we see something so amazing that we think that God Himself had created it, followers of the Vedic tradition, knowing that Brahma is charged with the task of creating by the Supreme Lord Himself, make the comparison to Brahma whenever they see something very beautiful. The grounds for a famous wedding many years back were so wonderfully decorated that it looked like Brahma was showing off, that he had gone overboard in making things look so beautiful. Even if he had, there would have been good reason for it. The princess being married at this ceremony was the goddess of fortune herself, and her father was the most pious ruler. This marriage ceremony thus deserved the most beautiful setting with unforgettably elegant surroundings.

King JanakaWhy not just have a small marriage? Why all the pomp? The king hosting the ceremony certainly had no attachment to royal fanfare. Known throughout the world for his expertise of meditational yoga, King Janaka lived without attachment. Dispassion is known as vairagya in Sanskrit and it is considered an opulence. A noteworthy characteristic doesn’t necessarily have to revolve around the possession of a physical object or ability. Beauty, wealth and strength refer to physical possessions borne of the type of body one resides in. Renunciation is included in the opulence category because it is very difficult to acquire, and it proves to be beneficial. Typically, it takes many repeated attempts into a material endeavor before one realizes the futility of the effort. Only after recognizing how much effort it takes to find paltry happiness in so many material affairs does one even think of giving them up.

The drunkard swears to never drink again when they do something stupid or when they get so sick that they feel like they are going to die. The person overindulging in food vows to go on a diet to enhance their appearance, which will ideally improve their health at the same time. The person who has a health club membership and never goes swears that they’ll never join a gym again after paying for so many months. Life is a pendulum of acceptance and rejection, with the initial impulse being acceptance. If the proper justification for avoiding the inevitably rejected activities remains unknown, acceptance will surely follow in the near future; thereby leading to a repeat of the same bitter taste.

Renunciation is also an opulence because one who possesses it can limit their interaction with things that they don’t need. The senses are temporary after all, and they can be influenced by the mind. Through the efforts of the mind, the happiness we think we’ll receive from a particular material object’s association can actually be secured without any effort. In addition, through renunciation contact with the inhibiting forces of matter is strictly limited, which automatically creates a somewhat pleasant condition. If it is extremely hot outside and I decide to remain within the home to avoid the heat, I automatically gain some relief.

“The demoniac, taking shelter of insatiable lust, pride and false prestige, and being thus illusioned, are always sworn to unclean work, attracted by the impermanent [asat].” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 16.10)

Despite his world famous renunciation, Janaka was not beyond happiness or attachment. The difference was that his attachment was on the sat, or the permanent. Spirit is permanent while matter is not. Select worshipable personalities in the spiritual sky, who are intimately tied to the Supreme Lord’s service, are also eternal. Harboring affection for them is never harmful. The more one is renounced from material life, the more they can relish the interaction with God and with His closest associates.

Lord BrahmaThe supreme elation Janaka felt when he found a baby girl one day while ploughing a field proves this fact. The girl was the goddess of fortune, Shri Lakshmi, appearing on earth to correspond with the pastimes of her husband Narayana, who had appeared as Lord Rama. God exists, even if we may not recognize His presence. In the Vedic tradition, He is described by names which assess His position and give people a way to address Him and interact with His features. Narayana means the source of all men. Though Brahma is the creator, even he is Narayana’s son. Since Brahma took birth from the stem growing from the lotus-like navel of Narayana, Brahma is often referred to as the self-create.

The source of men makes trips to the manifested realm, the place we currently occupy, every now and then to share His resplendence with others. Just as Narayana retains His spiritual features when appearing on earth, Lakshmi remains the brilliant and beautiful wife of the Lord wherever she goes. Though Janaka did not know who this baby girl was, he immediately harbored affection for her. So much for his detachment. He took her in as his daughter and raised her under religious principles, considering her his most cherished possession.

Attachment is only harmful when it leads to a fall from grace, a deviation from the righteous path. For instance, if I have such an attachment to my dog that I forgo attending school or work in order to spend time with it, obviously my affectionate feelings are getting in the way of my important obligations. If I love to eat and sleep so much that I don’t pay attention to regulation, that I go so far as to eat unclean foods which carry bad karma and sleep through the important moments in life, obviously there will be negative consequences in the future.

The primary objective of the human form of body is to become God conscious. Whatever way allows us to go forward in reaching that goal should be tried, though there are authorized methods passed down since time immemorial to help keep one on the straightened path. Making up paths for self-realization is always dangerous, because the human mind is incapable of conceiving of the Supreme Lord’s position and features on its own. Renunciation is a key practice because the strongest attachments are formed with those things which have no relation to the ultimate goal of God consciousness.

Sita DeviJanaka turned out to be clever in this regard. He used his attachment to Sita to remain even more dedicated to piety. He combined both forces - his attachment to Sita and the requirement that he remain committed to religious principles. He was a king after all, so people would follow his lead. If the love for his daughter caused him to just make up rules and regulations, to forgo the pressing responsibilities in life, then the citizens would follow suit and chaos would result.

Part of his duties as a king and father required Janaka to get Sita married when she reached the appropriate age. Not wanting to give her up and not knowing who her birth parents were, Janaka decided to hold a svayamvara, or self-choice ceremony. Sita would be wedded to whoever could lift Lord Shiva’s bow. This compromise satisfied all the parties involved, including Janaka. He figured that no one could lift the heavy bow, and if that was the case then no one was worthy of his daughter’s hand in marriage. If someone could lift the bow, then fate had obviously decided that they should marry Sita.

The dispassionate king could have easily held a subdued ceremony with no pomp, but it was his duty as a leader of men to host a grand event. Why would people want to attend a gathering that wasn’t elegantly decorated, especially if the host had the ability to spend loads of money? Plus, this event was a ceremony involving the goddess of fortune. Lakshmi is the giver of wealth and opulence, and that gift is meant to further a purpose. Lakshmi is always with Narayana, trying to please Him in every way. This is the secret of devotional service; that by following the principles of religion aimed at pleasing God, the person offering the service finds the highest type of pleasure as well.

Lakshmi’s gifts are meant to be used for her service and the service of her husband. Therefore no amount of money was too much to spend on Sita’s svayamvara. No amount of decorating was overdoing it, for the beautiful things in this world are but God’s gift to us, to show us what the Lord is capable of creating. The scene of the svayamvara was so beautiful that one couldn’t help but think of Lord Brahma. Just as we say things like, “They broke the mold”, when describing people and objects of amazing and unique beauty, Goswami Tulsidas tells us that an onlooker at the svayamvara would think that Brahma was trying to show off, that creating this world and populating it with creatures weren’t enough for him. He wasn’t satisfied with being the original creator that everyone knew. Rather, he would reserve his greatest talents for this wonderful event held in Janaka’s kingdom.

Sita and Rama weddingThe decorations turned out to be worth it, as Lord Rama would come and lift the bow in front of a large assembly of onlookers. As a match made in heaven, Sita and Rama would be married through Janaka’s plan. The king’s attachment for her earned him God as a son-in-law, all the while making him even more famous for his dedication to piety and virtue. The time spent decorating his kingdom for the svayamvara was not in vain, as the scene was so memorable that people still talk about it today. Sita and Rama’s wedding was like none other, and the host of the occasion, Maharaja Janaka, was one of a kind as well.

In Closing:

After of Lord Shiva's bow taking vow,

Time for preparing for svayamvara now.

Upon seeing end result onlookers found,

That supremely beautiful was the ground.

Looked like four-faced creator from his abode,

Every one of his creating abilities showed.

Grand pomp deserved for fortune's goddess Lakshmi,

Place where God to reunite with wife Sita Devi.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Bird In The Cage

Lord Krishna“The body and the mind are but superfluous outer coverings of the spirit soul. The spirit soul's needs must be fulfilled. Simply by cleansing the cage of the bird, one does not satisfy the bird. One must actually know the needs of the bird himself.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.2.8 Purport)

Clean up the inside of the cage to remove the waste deposits and maintain a nice smell. The bird will appreciate this, as who besides a hog enjoys living in filth?  But is this all that the bird needs? Will a clean cage take care of everything? If the bird is ill, bored, hungry, stressed, or in want of activity, what will the clean cage do? The simple, yet insightful analogy to the birdcage effectively explains the difference between matter and spirit, and also highlights the fatal flaw in the proposals most commonly presented for finding happiness. Without addressing the needs of the spirit soul, no formula can prove effective in securing permanent happiness.

And why would we want happiness? The question should be, “why wouldn’t we want to be happy all the time?” The goal of every activity, even something as simple as getting up in the morning, is to reach a positive future condition. If you make the objection that the distressed worker arises early in the morning to avoid the punishment that comes from arriving late to the jobsite, even that pursuit represents a search for pleasure. The removal of distress, in this case represented by the chastisement from the establishment’s owner, is itself a pleasant reward, something sought after. Though the following happiness is short-lived, the pain from misappropriating time in the morning is so acute that it is worth avoiding.

birdcageWith a birdcage, there are debris and dirt deposits that build up over time. Though the cage is relatively small, the principles that go into cleaning it apply to even the largest scale. You could even use something as large as an automobile and apply the same principles. If the brakes aren’t working, you take the car to a mechanic to get it fixed. If you’re feeling adventurous enough, you may even try to do the job yourself, for nothing is more satisfying than using your own hands to complete a difficult task.

But what if the owner of the vehicle isn’t cared for? What if the person who drives the car has a fever or is suffering from a mental illness? What good then will a properly functioning automobile be to that ailing person? The vehicle will just sit in the garage or driveway and remain unused. It ends up being an expensive piece of furniture more than anything else. Those who operate on a higher level of thought give more importance to the needs of the occupant of the vehicle. If the driver is maintained, he can take the necessary action to ensure that the vehicle is functioning properly. It doesn’t work the other way around. The automobile cannot administer medicine, prescribe drugs, or take our internal temperature. Neither can the car engage in conversation, put a smile on our face through sweet words, or tell us where to go in life. The navigation system may tell us which turns to make along the route, but it cannot tell us how to find the one engagement where the thrills encountered meet the constant demands for pleasure within the spirit soul.

Is there someone who can teach us these things? This is the business of the bona fide spiritual master, or guru. The first lesson the guru learned in their own progression towards full enlightenment was that there is an occupant within every bodily form. That occupant’s needs are more important than the dwelling’s, for if the individual is functioning properly, they can act in such a way that their body can survive on minimal necessities.

Why would this be required? Why should we starve ourselves if we have ample food around? The issue relates to attachment and the priority system of importance. If we have a refrigerator full of the most sumptuous food, does it mean that we should eat more than we need to? And what exactly determines how much food we need? We know that some people are skinny and others are overweight; hence they have different eating requirements. How can we apply a universal benchmark for food intake?

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

Lord KrishnaThe rule of thumb is to consume whatever amount of food it takes to keep the body satisfied, to keep the vital functions running, to ensure that one is neither lethargic nor too stimulated by the senses. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, provides the simplest formula for bodily maintenance in the Bhagavad-gita by stating that a yogi should neither eat too much nor too little. And lest we think yoga is not for us, the level of connection to the divine consciousness is the true measure of an individual’s happiness. Yoga is the way to find peace and contentment without giving primary concern to the outer covering.

The yogi aims to link the individual soul with the Supreme Soul, the source of all pleasure. The individual soul is a mystery, for its presence cannot be detected by even the most powerful microscope. At the same time, the soul’s influence can be noticed at both the microscopic and macroscopic levels. The individual soul acts locally, causing otherwise dull lumps of matter to seemingly act on their own, while the Supreme Soul acts on the largest scale, causing the planets to rotate and revolve and the elements to affect large areas of land.

Just as the individual soul is the source of intelligence within a life form, the Supreme Soul is the mastermind behind the workings of the grand collection of material elements. Depending on the angle of vision used, the level of clarity acquired through accepting instruction from a teacher, that Supreme Soul can be known as nature, Brahman, God, Paramatma, or Bhagavan. Nature is thrown into the mix because that is how the least intelligent conceptualize the Supreme Soul. Nature is considered unintelligent; it is just there. The heat and light of the sun appeared randomly, sort of like how the millions of jobs operating in a large economy just happened to be created on their own. When you take something for granted and ignore its original cause, you will never be able to properly understand how to utilize the resulting output. With ignorance come vain attempts at understanding, sort of like throwing darts against a board while in a dark room. In philosophical circles, the ignorance results in theories like the evolution of species, man-made global warming, and the ability to control outcomes to people’s behavior through laws and regulations passed by governing bodies.

When one takes to a bona fide discipline of spirituality, they learn of Brahman; thus giving some identity to nature. The spirit soul is Brahman, and since every life form has a spirit inside of it, everything is Brahman. Even the material substance comes from Brahman, for Lord Krishna states in the Bhagavad-gita that He impregnates the total material substance and thus causes life forms to populate the world. Understanding Brahman is very difficult, for by outward perception we only see differences in species; thereby resulting in varying treatments. It is certainly valid to treat a tiger differently than a cow, but this doesn’t mean that at the core their identities are any different. The bodily manifestations result in varied behaviors, but the quality of Brahman is the same.

“The total material substance, called Brahman, is the source of birth, and it is that Brahman that I impregnate, making possible the births of all living beings, O son of Bharata.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 14.3)

Lord KrishnaA little more advanced understanding reveals that Brahman has intelligence and can be localized. The individual spirit souls are Brahman, but there is also a giant collection of spirit which expands to reside within every living entity alongside the individual aspect of Brahman. This plenary portion is referred to as the Paramatma, or Supersoul. Yoga is specifically meant for connecting with this Supersoul.

The first rule in yoga practice is regulation. Therefore everything from eating to sleeping is controlled in the practice of yoga, for without attention to the spirit soul and its counterpart residing within the heart, the tendency towards attachment to the material form will increase. For a yogi eating is curbed, limited to only what is necessary to keep the vital force within the body. If we should eat everything in the refrigerator, the chances of giving more attention to the body increase. The more attachment there is to matter, the more the concentration in yoga diminishes. Someone who receives no training in spiritual life and never learns of the difference between matter and spirit will ignore the presence of the soul completely, caring only for the needs of the body, which is like the cage for the bird.

Sad it is when this is the priority system adopted, for the more sense gratification becomes the ultimate aim, the less likelihood there is of remaining detached from the form which will ultimately be discarded at the time of death. To fix the situation the spiritual master teaches yoga, the most potent form of which is bhakti. We can think of bhakti-yoga as the most assertive approach in transcendentalism, the way of playing offense, going on the attack by finding the soul its most ideal counterpart in His complete form. This way, regardless of what progress is or isn’t made in gaining detachment from the interests of the cage-like body, at least the soul gets some positive association, at least there is some spiritual satisfaction.

Only in bhakti-yoga is the Supreme Soul identified for who He really is: Bhagavan. Bhagavan is most commonly known as God, but the Vedas tag Him with thousands of names to give the spirit souls a slight understanding of what the concept of God actually means. The term “bhagavan” says that the Supreme Lord is the most fortunate living entity. The individuals roaming the material land, on the other hand, are always unfortunate. How can we be considered fortunate if something as simple as eating can cause us so much trouble? The onset of disease is sped up through irregular habits, especially as they relate to eating. Fill up your stomach with food that you don’t need and your reward will be so much pain and discomfort. Constantly attack your body from the inside and it won’t have the strength to fend off the steady onslaught of diseases.

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

Shrila PrabhupadaBhagavan is the most fortunate because no one has more beauty, wealth, strength, fame, renunciation, or wisdom than Him. Since He is all-attractive, He is also referred to as Krishna. The spirit soul occupying the temporary dwelling composed of material elements is at its core a lover of Krishna. The spiritual master who follows bhakti, who knows Bhagavan, instructs everyone - including those who are not fully surrendered, those who are dedicated to other spiritual traditions, and even those who deny the existence of God and instead take shelter of an impersonal force known as nature - to regularly chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

The direct approach with bhakti is better because with other methods, the best one can hope for is a clean cage or detachment from material interests. While these are good steps, they don’t solve the issue of happiness, the pleasure the soul seeks. The spiritual master, from studying the Vedas thoroughly, reveals the hidden secret that Shri Krishna is the reservoir of all pleasure. Since the living entities emanate from Him, they inherit that blissful propensity, or ananda. Who better to fulfill your hankering for bliss than Krishna? If you crave pizza, it is best to satisfy that hunger in an establishment that makes the best pizza. If you desire a high-end television set, it is best to purchase it from a store that sells many of them that are the top of the line.

If you’re looking for transcendental happiness, connect with the beautiful youth who has a blackish complexion, who holds the flute in His hands and wears a peacock feather in His hair. Cast your glance on the sweet vision that is the son of Nanda and Yashoda, who is so kind to the fallen souls that He expands Himself as the Supersoul and resides within their hearts. Shri Krishna is the very same Brahman, but in the complete form. He is the nature that we take for granted, as He controls the heat and the rain. Understanding the different aspects in life can help us to cope temporarily, but this disposition will not address the needs of the soul. On the other hand, the yogi fully immersed in bhakti has all of their needs taken care of.

Lord KrishnaLet’s think of it this way. If our primary objective is to get to a specific destination, say perhaps even on a regular basis, we will make sure that the car is running smoothly and that it doesn’t have any problems. Should a problem arise, our goal of reaching our destination will be threatened. Since the goal has the highest priority, we’ll do whatever it takes to ensure that the car starts working again; otherwise happiness will be threatened. While the goal of travelling to a specific destination only handles a few other responsibilities like the maintenance of the car and time management, the aim of always connecting with Krishna is complete. Therefore it automatically handles every aspect of life, including the maintenance of the body. The yogi wanting to enjoy Krishna’s association through chanting His names, hearing about His pastimes, and visiting His temples ensures that they don’t eat too much or sleep too little because these extremes will jeopardize their ability to fully relish Krishna’s company. Since bhakti takes care of both the body and the owner, it is superior to any other system of maintenance.

In Closing:

The inside of the birdcage do you clean,

For tidiness and pleasant dwelling to be seen.

But needs of the resident bird do we neglect?

Is it good for attention towards home to deflect?

Effort to maintain the car do you make,

So that to destination you it will take.

The owner is more important however,

To move on its own car is not enough clever.

In similar way, the needs of the soul should be addressed,

From just concern over body evolution regressed.

Soul meant for the most auspicious destination,

To bask always in Krishna’s sweetest association.

Follow bhakti and to soul give top priority,

Other issues solved, happiness with regularity.