Saturday, December 10, 2011

Combing The Earth

Hanuman“I have searched all this earth: pools, ponds, lakes, streams, rivers, marshes, woods and difficult to access mountains - but still I do not see Sita. Sampati, the king of vultures, said that Sita was here in Ravana's abode, but still I am unable to see her.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.4-5)

palvalāni taṭākāni sarāmsi saritaḥ tathā |
nadyo anūpavana antāḥ ca durgāḥ ca dharaṇī dharāḥ ||
loḍitā vasudhā sarvā na ca paśyāmi jānakīm |
iha sampātinā sītā rāvaṇasya niveśane ||
ākhyātā gṛdhra rājena na ca paśyāmi tām aham |

Shri Hanuman, fighting his way into the enemy territory of Lanka - which was guarded by the most wicked Rakshasas of terrible might, having fear for their prowess and the flesh of dead living entities for their fuel - could not find the person he was looking for. Hanuman had crossed Lanka’s well-guarded city walls, the impenetrable fortress protecting the land full of ignorance headed by its leader, Ravana. Despite the wickedness of the inhabitants, there was one particular gem that lay hidden in a place difficult to find. It was Hanuman’s mission to discover that beauty, and seeing that his chances for success were dwindling, he took some time to reassess the situation, review what he had already done.

HanumanIn the above referenced verse from the Ramayana Hanuman lists the different areas of water in Lanka that have been searched already. The person he was looking for, Sita Devi, the princess of Videha, is known in the spiritual world as Lakshmi Devi, the wife of Lord Narayana. From one entity come many; from God emanate the various energies, of which we living entities are part. The living beings, the individual spiritual life forces responsible for the autonomous activities of creatures, are the same in constitutional makeup as the Supreme Person. The spiritual energy diffused off of the original being consists of smaller particles that have qualities similar to the origin, but in limited quantities.

In Sanskrit the human beings are known as “naras”, which can also mean “men”. Since God is the source of all men, He is known as Narayana, who is also a spiritual personality residing in the eternal realm of Vaikuntha. Narayana is the four-armed form of the Supreme Absolute Truth, opulently adorned and typically worshiped in a mood of reverence. Worship of Narayana is different from other types of worship because there is no intent to receive the opulence belonging to the worshipable figure. For instance, demigods and powerful saints are honored because of their ability to grant rewards to those who honor them. If you want material opulence, you worship a particular personality; if you want to do well in school, you honor someone else, and if you want to enjoy your time on earth without difficulty, you approach another specific personality.

Worship of Narayana takes place in pure goodness, however, which means that even if the worshiper has an ulterior motive, the defect is overlooked by Narayana. In all cases, the Lord ensures that the sincere worshipers get what is good for them, rather than necessarily what they desire. This may seem impolite, but we actually follow similar behavior with our own dependents. If our child should ask for an expensive toy or a trip to some place that is unsafe, we will deny their request not out of hatred or stinginess, but out of love. Before acquiescing a good parent takes into consideration whether the desired benediction is beneficial for the child.

Lord VishnuNarayana follows a similar mindset. At this point, the question may be raised as to how anyone could ever be in a distressful situation if Narayana is the original father of creation. Why are their natural disasters, horrific tragedies, and seemingly unfair bouts of bad luck? The rule is that Narayana personally takes care of those who approach Him in earnest. In the Vedic tradition the living entities in the material world are often compared to inmates in a prison. In a free society, everyone has a choice of whether or not to abide by the law. Those who follow the law live in continued freedom, not having too many interactions with the law enforcers. Those who choose the rebel route have to be punished every now and then. The prison is not to be blamed for the punishment, and neither is the government. The choice was there from the very beginning, and because of the way freedom was exercised the negative consequences resulted.

In a similar manner, those who turn their backs on Narayana take shelter of the material energy. This turns out to be a very poor decision, as the threefold miseries of life are not very kind. Without the shelter of Narayana, the influence of other living entities, the body and mind, and nature inhibit enjoyment at every second. When the initial reaction is to go to a saintly figure or divine personality for redress, the protection of Narayana still remains far away. Without surrender to the Personality of Godhead, there cannot be any permanent alleviation from distress.

One of God’s primary features is that He is the supreme enjoyer. This means that the people He associates with are of the highest caliber. Narayana’s eternal consort is Lakshmi Devi, who is also known by names like Padmini and Kamala. Narayana is the supreme swan, or the essence of purity. His spiritual home features a wonderfully pure ocean, which has many lotus flowers floating in it. Lakshmi Devi only stays with purity, so she is always associated with the lotus flower. During the Treta Yuga she descended to earth as Sita Devi, the daughter of the famous King Janaka. Narayana similarly appeared as the warrior prince named Rama.

Goddess LakshmiSince the divine figures are incapable of fully masking their inherent features, Sita Devi remained tied to pure goodness, always choosing purity of association. Lord Rama maintained His vow to give the devotees what they deserve and not necessarily what they ask for. Shri Hanuman, when searching for Sita after she had been taken away to the island of Lanka, looked through various bodies of water. Sita is originally Kamala after all, so perhaps she was near pools, tanks, or rivers. All of these bodies of water were searched thoroughly by Hanuman while in Lanka, but he could not find her.

Why was Rama not looking for Sita? If He is God, how could He allow her to be taken away from His side? The real question should be: “If Sita hadn’t been taken away, how would we have gotten to know Shri Hanuman, whose very name carries transcendental enchantment?” Indeed, no matter how much pride we may accumulate through our worldly successes, just hearing of Hanuman’s thoughts and level of devotion is enough to humble us in an instant. His concern over failing to find Sita after performing an exhaustive search can only bring tears to the eyes, as he is such a dedicated servant that he puts everyone else to shame.

Lord Narayana is the supreme master, so he arranges everything into the proper place at just the right time. With Sita in Lanka, Hanuman, who was very eager to offer service to his beloved Rama, was allowed to shine. And what better way to increase Hanuman’s stature than to put impediments in his path? First, Hanuman had to battle ridiculously powerful forces blocking his way to Lanka. Then while in Lanka he had to risk committing sin by looking at Ravana’s many wives while they were in their bedrooms. Nothing was easy for Hanuman; he was never handed victory, though he completely deserved it.

HanumanHanuman searched the mountains, marshes, woods, and pretty much entire land of Lanka and still couldn’t find Sita. After a while some doubt crept into his mind. Perhaps Sampati was mistaken in his assertion that Sita was in Lanka. Hanuman didn’t start off the search for Sita alone. Shri Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana first had made an alliance with the king of Vanaras in Kishkindha, Sugriva, who then dispatched his enormous monkey army around the world to look for Sita. The monkeys were divided up into different search parties, with Hanuman’s group believed to have the best chance for success.

Though their group had the most capable warriors, they too faced tremendous difficulties. At one point, it looked like they were going to fail, for the time period allotted for the search had elapsed and they hadn’t gotten anywhere. They didn’t even know where Sita was. Resolved to starve to death, the monkeys came upon good fortune by meeting the vulture Sampati. He was the brother of Jatayu, who had tried to stop Ravana’s initial kidnap attempt. Jatayu was slain in the conflict, so Sampati was happy for the chance to avenge his brother’s death. He told the monkeys that Sita was in Lanka. Hanuman then made the leap across the massive ocean separating Lanka from the mainland.

Was Sampati incorrect? How could he be? He had the impeccable vision of an eagle. Hanuman hadn’t been lazy, nor had he been careless. He searched everywhere, did everything asked of him. Why could he still not find Sita? Ah, but the ways of the Supreme Lord are a mystery. While this period of frustration seemed like it was unnecessary torture on Hanuman, it would only serve to further glorify him. Anytime we can be privy to the thoughts of the devoted souls, the notable personalities like Hanuman, it is a great blessing.

Material endeavors operate under competition. The mentality of ignorance assumed at the time of birth leads us to think that there are finite resources in the world and that if we accumulate enough before others do, we’ll be alright. This thought is actually behind many of the popular fringe movements, such as eugenics and population control. It even plays a role in environmentalism.  The global warming movement lures in many souls who are sincere about maintaining the ecology of the planet, but in actuality the leaders are only interested in hoarding resources they believe to be dwindling. Evidence of this fact is seen in their behavior, for the leaders do not even follow the prescriptions they lay down for everyone else. The underlying mentality is: “Look at these commoners burning so many fossil fuels and destroying the environment. We need to stop their behavior right now before everything runs out.” Meanwhile, the elite personalities echoing these sentiments are found to be using more fossil fuels than the average person. Even ordinary fruitive activity is driven by competition, the idea of besting another person in the race to accumulate money.

In spiritual life, however, there is no such thing as envy, at least as we know it. Even if envy is present, it only serves to further the cause of devotional service, or bhakti-yoga. The pinnacle of religious practice is to regularly recite the Lord’s names in a mood of love, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. When we see someone else who has already perfected the practice, the devoted onlooker thinks: “Wow, this person is such a better devotee than I am. They must make Krishna so happy. I think I am so great, but when I see this person I know that I am nothing.”

HanumanJust imagine then how one feels when they hear about Hanuman and his level of dedication. He is the role model for every single person, for he isn’t even aware of how amazing he is. The quickest way to make progress in spiritual life is to see others succeeding at it. And what helps even more is to see people succeeding who are deemed to have very little chance at success. For instance, with Hanuman he had to face the strongest opposing elements in the Rakshasas of Lanka. Then he had to deal with the time factor, not knowing what Sita looked like, and most importantly, not knowing where she even was. Then he had to contend with mental demons, worries and concerns over failing. Who can imagine the pressure Hanuman was feeling, for he loved Rama so much and had yet to find His wife?

But anyone who is under Narayana’s protection can never fail in their sincere efforts of trying to please the Lord. Narayana doesn’t always give us what we want; but He always grants what is good for us. Hanuman’s troubles in Lanka would benefit him in the end, as the joy he would feel from finding Sita would be terrific. And for future generations, the joy they would feel from hearing about his perseverance would provide unending inspiration to make this human life successful by keeping the thoughts fixed on the Supreme Lord all the way up until the time of death. In this way Hanuman’s troubles can benefit everyone.

In Closing:

Through rivers, ponds, forests, mountains and lakes,

Exhaustive search of Lanka he makes.

Yet the daughter of Janaka he finds not,

Perhaps wrong info from vulture he got.

From his encounter with frustration,

On reader leaves negative impression.

But Narayana has got a larger plan,

Supplies what is good for devoted man.

Hanuman’s troubles his stature would augment,

Hearing of his thoughts and deeds time well spent.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Smoking Gun

Krishna stealing butter“Seeing the pot broken and Krishna not present, Yashoda definitely concluded that the breaking of the pot was the work of Krishna. There was no doubt about it.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.9.7 Purport)

A young child can show signs of cleverness and yet can be quite careless as well. Whilst a mature culprit would make sure that the evidence of his wrongful act is carefully removed from the vision of the soon to arrive investigators, a young child doing something wrong out of anger hardly takes the aftermath into consideration. The rapid rise of unhealthy emotions is what caused the act to begin with, so that same loss of rational thought ends up giving away their involvement in the act. For one mother in particular, seeing the result of an unpleasant event and deducing who the culprit was actually gave her so much pleasure. It would also turn out to thrill the minds of countless generations of sincere worshipers, philosophers, mental speculators, and yogis alike.

Krishna and Mother YashodaWho was this mother and what did she see? Situated in a farm community many thousands of years ago in the area of land today known as India, the scene for the crime in question was most pristine. Not filled with the hustle and bustle of the city, Vrindavana’s beauty came from the cows and sacred vrinda plants, which are also known as tulasi plants. Followers of the Vedic tradition know Tulasi Devi to be the goddess of devotion. Her blooming presence indicates that she feels at home in a particular area. If she is pleased then the people around her are blessed with devotion to the Supreme Lord, who is both with and without form. In His impersonal feature, He pervades the immeasurable space. He is the giant energy making everything move.

But energy has intelligence, or it is at least rooted in the agitation of an intelligent, independent entity. While there is a singular energy running through nature, there is still a separate controller, who is actually non-different from that energy. Since that controller is one and the same with the energy, the philosophy of advaita accurately describes the oneness shared between God and His many fragments. At the same time, saying that there is a lack of duality immediately implies that there are at least two entities in question. When you have more than one entity, there are personalities involved - parties, people, persons, or whatever the preferred nomenclature is.

The impersonal comes from the personal, just as darkness comes from the absence of light. Without light there is no question of darkness, and without form there is no concept of formlessness. The Supreme Personality of Godhead has spiritual attributes, forms and features that are inconceivable in their reach and scope, but also pleasurable to those attracted to them. Tulasi Devi ensures that devotion to the personal aspect of the Supreme Lord can flourish.

Tulasi DeviLest we think the power of Tulasi Devi is a myth, the residents of Vrindavana during the time period in question showed that they were indeed fully attracted by the personal features of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He even graced them with His presence, roaming the land as a small child, the son of Mother Yashoda. This young boy was named Krishna because of His all-attractiveness. That God can take the form of a young child belonging to a mother and father can only be accepted by those who are not bewildered by life and death, heat and cold, high and low, and so many other contradictory states.

A form brings the potential for activity, which can further enthrall the hearts and minds of those affected by Tulasi Devi’s presence. Vrindavana was a field of devotion, so at every second there was some type of worship going on, even if the people didn’t know it. Just looking upon the scene of a petty crime turned into an act of devotion. The devotional quality was present for the mother viewing the scene and also for those hearing the accounts of the incident later on.

Why would the defiant act of an angry child be documented at all? Children break things all the time. Moreover, they try to get away with it and not take responsibility. Was this incident documented in sacred texts to provide lessons on parenting? The story was first told to a dying king, a man who had done nothing wrong in his life. He was the embodiment of piety and virtue, and his kingdom was free of cow killing. So conscious of protecting the innocent was the king that he rightly viewed the cows and other animals as equal citizens of the state.

Yet due to the hand of Providence, he made an inadvertent transgression and was thus cursed to die in seven days. Rather than cram as much sense gratification as possible into that time, the dying king was interested in learning about the meaning of life and hearing what would be most beneficial to him. He approached a bona fide spiritual master, one well acquainted with the difference between the personal and impersonal aspects of the Supreme Lord and the real purpose of advaita philosophy. In the discourse that followed, which was directed at the king, the pastimes of the personal aspect of the Supreme Lord, including His childish temper tantrums, were included.

Though advaita philosophy is the preferred study of those unfamiliar with the personal aspect of the Supreme Lord, it still has relevance, for it comes from the Vedas, which are the original scriptural texts of India. Advaita means “non-dual”, and its philosophy indicates that the infinitesimally small spiritual sparks roaming this and many other lands in temporary bodies have an inherent link to the Supreme Soul, who is known as Paramatma. From the non-duality comes the ideal loving relationship, which can be rekindled through the practice known as yoga.

“A yogi is greater than the ascetic, greater than the empiricist and greater than the fruitive worker. Therefore, O Arjuna, in all circumstances, be a yogi.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.46)

Lord KrishnaThere are different methods of yoga and even different stages of elevation. From understanding advaita philosophy, the living entities looking for ananda, or bliss, can at least become convinced of the need for practicing yoga. Knowledge of advaita ideally culminates in the understanding of the Supreme Lord’s personal features and pastimes, which the spiritual master nicely spoke about to the king. Just from hearing these pastimes one can find both happiness and enlightenment. Knowledge and renunciation from sinful activities are but prerequisites to the constitutional position of ecstasy in God consciousness. On the higher stages of transcendental love achieved through the yoga known as bhakti, there is not even consideration given to the concepts of knowledge and renunciation.

Mother Yashoda proved this with her actions. Her beloved Krishna one day got angry after she got up while feeding Him to tend to a pot of milk that was boiling over in the kitchen. The boiling milk takes no time to fix, as you just get up and take it off of the stove. How could a child get angry over this? Yet Krishna was so attached to His mother, so much enjoying her parental affection, that He didn’t like it when she got up. She had previously been churning a pot of yogurt into butter, so when she got up, Krishna decided to break that pot, which was obviously important to her, in protest.

He ate some of the butter and then ran off. When Mother Yashoda came back, she saw the damage done and immediately concluded that it was the work of no one but Krishna. The scene delighted Mother Yashoda to no end, for though it meant that she had some work to take care of, it also revealed that her son loved her very much. He loved to be fed by her, for He was known for not being shy in His eating preferences. Krishna and His elder brother Balarama would hatch elaborate plots to steal the supply of butter from the neighbors’ homes. Even though the boys would get caught, the cowherd women did not protest very much, for they liked seeing Krishna’s sincerity in trying to steal their carefully tucked away supply of sumptuous butter.

Lord Krishna eating butterAs much as Krishna enjoyed eating butter, He likely enjoyed the milk provided by His mother even more. Therefore He gave her an idea of just how attached He was to her when He broke the pot of butter she had worked so hard to fill. The mother got out her whipping stick and chased her beloved around until He was finally caught and bound up to a mortar as punishment. From that incident Krishna earned the name Damodara, and every year in the month of Kartika devotees offer a lamp to that form of Krishna, remembering His sweet pastimes with His wonderful mother.

The cowherd women in Vrindavana lived yoga, though they didn’t practice it explicitly. They showed what advaita really means, that the living entities have a connection to God, one based on love of the transcendental variety. In ordinary affectionate dealings, the relationship can sever very quickly over disagreement. Say the wrong thing or follow your sensual impulses towards other members of the opposite sex and you’re liable to violate the fidelity of the relationship. In transcendental love, even the temper tantrums of the beneficiary in question further strengthen the attachment. The broken pot of butter was the smoking gun in the crime of passion committed by young Krishna. For this He would have to pay the punishment of being bound up by His mother, which was really a blessing. The Lord showed that He can only be captured by love. Philosophical study, pious deeds, meditation, sacrifice and charity can only take us so far. But any path of religion becomes fruitful when it leads us to the vision of the darling butter bandit of Vrindavana, Shri Krishna.

In Closing:

The broken pot of churning butter,

Gave away culprit to seeing mother.

Knew that work was of her precious son,

After deed into other room did He run.

The butter to monkeys He was feeding,

With His sweet vision their eyes pleasing.

To where Krishna was mother headed toward,

Whipping stick in hand she moved forward.

Non-duality says to Krishna we’re connected,

So to His pastimes keep your mind directed.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Next in Line

Kings watching bow contest“Some are moving, some are on the way, and some are entering the city. Some are grabbing the bow, offering their respects to it, and then sitting down after having failed to lift it.” (Janaki Mangala, 11)

eka calahiṃ eka bīca eka pura paiṭhahiṃ |
eka dharahiṃ dhanu dhāya nāi sirū baiṭhahīṃ ||

In the Vedic tradition, the image of a throng of people moving systematically, as if on a conveyor belt, in an attempt to offer respects to a particular worshipable item is not out of the ordinary. The predominant message of the spiritual tradition of India is love, the divine variety. As is obvious to the sober person, love does not flow through only one outlet. There is a variety in activity for a reason, as not every person has the same desires or inherent qualities. The spirit soul is provided a playing field that is the body, so there is also variety in the recommended auspicious activities. For instance, chanting the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, is considered the most effective method of the discipline of bhakti-yoga, but this doesn’t mean that one who can’t chant is shut out from spiritual life. Rather, every tool and practice of bhakti is aimed at cementing a consciousness fixed on the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who has a blissful form. The lines of people formed generally relate to worshiping a deity manifestation of God or offering a specific item of worship, but in one case many thousands of years ago, the assembly had the purpose of winning the hand of the goddess of fortune in marriage. Though many suitors came and kept this line moving along, they failed to win the prize of the day. Nevertheless, their participation earned them tremendous spiritual merits.

Why was there a line formed to marry a princess? Was she looking at these men and then deciding who was worthy based on appearance? Isn’t that kind of shallow? The marriage ceremony was a self-choice, or svayamvara. The groom was not decided beforehand, so anyone was open to compete to have Sita Devi, Janaka’s daughter, as a wife. In the time period that the event took place, most marriages were arranged by the parents, as they would match up the qualities of the participants and then from there decide if the marriage was suitable.

King Janaka faced an issue in this area. His daughter came to him as a baby lying within a field. Therefore he couldn’t use the time of her birth or the ancestry of her biological parents to determine her future qualities. Moreover, he didn’t want to give her up. She was his precious daughter, full of every virtue imaginable. In fact, whoever gets Sita as a daughter should be considered the most fortunate human being. Janaka knew this, as the thought of her marriage made him feel like he was losing his fortune. Sita Devi, in describing the circumstances many years later to the female sage Anasuya, herself said that Janaka felt the way that a rich person would feel if they were about to lose their entire fortune.

“After seeing that I had reached an age suitable for giving me away to a proper husband in marriage, my father became overcome with fear and anxiety, like a man who was about to become poor.” (Sita Devi speaking to Anasuya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 118.34)

Sita DeviThat’s a pretty lofty comparison to make, but Sita was correct. Janaka was a chivalrous king in charge of the welfare of the kingdom of Videha, but despite his duties he was not materially attached. He was famous for having conquered over the senses. Just as we think someone is superior in their willpower when we see that they are able to control their eating habits in the face of the many delights available from restaurants and fast food places, just imagine how much respect you garner if you are controlled in every aspect of your behavior.

Janaka didn’t follow virtue, piety and dispassion to gain any acclaim. Renunciation is a virtue championed by the Vedas, which try to give mankind the tools necessary for becoming God conscious by the time death arrives. Since affixing your thoughts on God at the time of death is a rare feat, just by following the rules and regulations without knowing the meaning behind them can provide much help. For instance, if a person from the laborer class should honestly serve the three higher classes, in the next life they can take birth in circumstances more conducive to yoga.

Janaka was in the royal order, or second highest division. But he was a rajarishi, or saintly king. Though he had material delights available to him, he was a transcendentalist through and through. When he found Sita, however, his renunciation went right out the window. From his behavior that followed, he showed everyone the right way to view attachment and detachment. Caring for family members, having a large heart, and being compassionate are only detrimental when they take you off the righteous path. Though he had full affection for Sita, that did not stop Janaka from carrying out his prescribed duty of getting her married.

Oh, but his piety would be handsomely rewarded. Even when carrying out his duties as a matter of protocol, Janaka kept the higher authority figures in mind. Janaka decided that for Sita’s marriage he would hold a contest to see if anyone could lift Lord Shiva’s bow. Mahadeva is the expansion of the Supreme Lord in charge of the material mode of ignorance. Every type of person is granted a worshipable figure, even if they are unaware of it. Mahadeva is known as Ashutosha, which means that he is easily pleased. He is only interested in worshiping the Supreme Lord in His form of Shri Rama, so anyone who comes to him with requests for material benedictions is quickly granted whatever they want. This way Lord Shiva can go back to concentrating on Shri Rama - uttering His name and thinking about His lotus feet, which are so soft and beautiful.

“Shambhu, or Lord Shiva, is the ideal Vaishnava. He constantly meditates upon Lord Rama and chants Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Lord Shiva has a Vaishnava sampradaya, which is called the Vishnu Svami-sampradaya.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.23.1 Purport)

Lord ShivaLittle did Janaka know that his decision to insert Lord Shiva into the mix would bring him the company of Shri Rama. The news went out across the land about the contest, and since the parties involved were Janaka, his daughter Sita, and Lord Shiva, everyone was excited to come. Even members of other classes and races decided to dress up and attend the event. There was no restriction imposed, as the bow was considered impossible to lift. If anyone should miraculously raise it, then certainly it would be an indication of Providence declaring them worthy of having Sita as a wife.

In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, Goswami Tulsidas is continuing his description of the scene on the day of the svayamvara. Kings from around the world are flocking to Tirahuta, Janaka’s capital city. Some parties are just starting on their journey, packed together with their royal paraphernalia and entourage. Some are travelling into the city, while others are in between the two parties.

Since there are so many people arriving, the scene looks like the world’s largest conveyor belt. One after another, princes are approaching the bow, paying their respects to it, attempting to lift it, and then sitting down. There is no counting how many princes are arriving, for the line just keeps on moving, similar to the gathering that forms in front of a temple on the day of an abhisheka ceremony.

“Seeing that greatest of bows, which had the weight of a mountain, the kings offered their respects to it but then left on account of being unable to lift it.” (Sita Devi speaking to Anasuya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 118.43)

Sita Rama deitiesThe deity is the worshipable figure that depicts the spiritual attributes of the Personality of Godhead. We should all worship God; that is not a novel concept. Every major religion espouses this belief. How that worship should take place is where the details are sometimes lacking. If we don’t know what God looks like, how are we to remember Him? If we can’t remember someone, how can we worship them? If we don’t know where they live, what they want out of us, and how they’ll react to our offerings, how is anyone supposed to ever worship them?

The Vedas provide the missing details by describing God as both formless and with form. The formless aspect is only from the perspective of the living entities. In reality, God’s form is all-encompassing, so gigantic that you can’t even understand it. Think of it like having to look at an astronomically large number that doesn’t have any commas in it. With so many digits, trying to decipher the value of that number will be very difficult.

The deity provides clarity of vision to the conditioned eye, which requires so much external support to make perceptions. We are proud of our technological advancement and philosophical mettle, but without the aid of nature’s arrangements like heat and light, none of it would be possible. Similarly, for the conditioned being, making progress through study of just the impersonal aspect of the Supreme Lord is very difficult. Even those who do make progress along this path eventually turn their minds towards the personal aspect.

Janaka was a great example of this. He was known as Videha because of his renunciation and knowledge of impersonal Brahman. Because he was desireless he became the perfect candidate to have Sita Devi as a daughter. Sita is the eternal consort of the Supreme Lord, who was roaming the earth as Rama at the time. The deities of these two figures are still worshiped to this day, showing that God has spiritual attributes that can be remembered and honored. The worshipable body, the archa-vigraha, is the proxy to accept obeisances. Man can’t just take any collection of metal or brass and worship it as God, but through an authorized system, where the figure is crafted as a replica of one of the Supreme Lord’s many spiritual forms, the material elements become a deity that accepts the offerings directly from the worshipers.

Abhisheka of Sita and RamaIn a temple where the deity is worshiped, there are annual occasions where the worshipers can come and pour milk, water, honey and other preparations onto the deity as part of a bathing ceremony. God in His original form may not be there for the occasion, but through His deity He allows everyone to worship Him nonetheless. The bathing is enjoyed by the Supreme Lord and the worshipers; hence there is often a line that forms, with the participants eager to see the Lord up close and give Him a nice bath.

Unbeknownst to the pilgrims visiting Janakpur, they were offering their respects to both Lord Shiva and Sita Devi. Despite their failure to lift the bow, they got to take part in one of the most blessed events ever held on this earth. Eventually prince Rama, Lord Shiva’s beloved and the Supreme Lord of the universe, arrived on the scene and easily lifted and strung the bow. Sita and Rama would come together in Janaka’s kingdom, and the world would be bestowed a story to delight in for countless future generations.

The conveyor belt of princes also enhanced the glory of the victor of the contest. The throng of unsuccessful participants showed just how difficult it was to lift Lord Shiva’s bow and how amazing it was for any person to even come close to moving it. The difficulty of the contest substantiated Janaka’s decision, alleviating his doubts about parting with Sita. Through Rama, Janaka would gain the Supreme Lord as a son-in-law. He would get to gaze upon the embodiment of Brahman, the person behind the impersonal effulgence. The personal form is always superior, because there is no mistaking the Personality of Godhead to be something that He isn’t. Even those who didn’t know that Rama was God gained tremendous spiritual merits just by looking at Him.

The participants’ ignorance of Sita’s identity as the goddess of fortune did not harm them. Instead, their natural and spontaneous love for Sita made them enjoy her wedding ceremony even more. The long line of princes arriving in Janakpur added a wonderful decoration to the beautiful sacrifice, which was as worshipable as the Supreme Lord. Just thinking of Sita and Rama’s marriage is as good as being there, which means that remembering the scene over and over again keeps the beloved couple in the heart.

In Closing:

The svayamvara held by Janaka at the center,

Of attention in Tirahuta, many princes do enter.

While some are arriving, others are in between,

And some are just starting, so glorious the scene.

Line keeps moving like a conveyor belt,

Failing to move bow dejection suitors felt.

Shri Rama, the prince of Raghu’s fame,

Arrived on scene for Sita’s hand to gain.

Lifting Mahadeva’s bow Janaki He deserved,

Sita found perfect match, Janaka’s vow preserved.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Cleland Notes

Shrimad Bhagavatam“The real import of the scriptures is revealed to one who has unflinching faith in both the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the spiritual master.” (Shvetashvatara Upanishad, 6.23)

In America, for middle and junior high school students the portion of English class focusing on Shakespearean literature is not eagerly anticipated. Reading about romance, family infighting, political struggles and other compelling issues in life isn’t a big deal, as these already form the backbone of the majority of storylines for motion pictures and novels. The difficulty with learning Shakespeare is in the language used, for many of the works are poems fit to a certain standard. To adjust to rhyme and meter, normal sentences get rearranged into verses that aren’t as easy to understand. The classroom studies the literature in depth, uncovering the real meanings to the verses. One can even become a scholar in Shakespeare’s works if they so desire. If in-depth study is required for just reading literature authored by one man, why should it be absent when the focus shifts to literature that is so old that no one can date it? The sacred Vedic teachings are meant to be studied for a lifetime, something not understood by just picking up a book and reading it. The bona fide spiritual master incorporates the necessary context into his translations and commentaries, and even then one must read the works repeatedly and practice the underlying principles to understand the meanings.

Bhagavad-gitaAs the ancient scriptures of India are composed mostly in the Sanskrit language and its derivatives, it’s difficult to gain much insight by just picking up an old work and reading it. Finding the original Sanskrit versions of these works is also difficult. In days past, copies were made by hand, with the interested readers meticulously writing down the many verses onto leaf pages and then storing them safely within temples. Because of the austerity in production, man was more prone to remembering the many important verses, reciting them when necessary.

Advancements in production mechanisms brought books written in many different languages. Today, if I want to learn about the Vedas - which include their original hymns, the Mahabharata, the many Puranas, and the Ramayana - why not pick up a translation of one of these works if they are available? Surely by reading a translation I can get a firm grasp of what the texts are about, no? This is actually not the case. The translations can be written in perfect English that leaves no ambiguity whatsoever, but the context is not accounted for, as time and circumstance have changed since the work’s composition. In each and every verse there is so much to be understood from the background.

The treatise on Vedic philosophy that has the best combination of brevity and completeness is the Bhagavad-gita. In this work Lord Krishna, the speaker and de facto teacher, states that the spirit soul is the essence of identity and that it does not take birth or die. In addition, full-scale reincarnation takes place just like the regular changing of the personal body. Similar to how garments are put on and then taken off, the spirit soul accepts bodies for activity and then discards them when they are no longer useful.

“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)

Lord KrishnaThe statements about the soul and reincarnation form some of the more straightforward verses from the Gita, but there is still some context to be understood, some background information not available to those who only read the verses. For starters, what is the makeup of the soul? What is the purpose to activity if the soul just lives forever anyway? Why even teach anyone about these things when it seems like the position of neutrality is there by default? Whether I know that the soul is eternal or not doesn’t change the fact that my soul will live on, so why did Krishna even present this information?

The purpose to Krishna’s direction at that specific time was to remove the hesitancy to fight within Arjuna, who was the leading warrior for the Pandava side, which had the rightful claim to the kingdom in Hastinapura. Arjuna’s cousins led by Duryodhana had unjustly usurped control for themselves. This led to a war to settle the score. Arjuna did not want to fight because he didn’t think victory to gain the kingdom was worth the cost of the lives of his friends and family members fighting for the opposing side. Krishna’s presentation was meant to dispel his mental illusion, to let Arjuna know that killing isn’t really killing when done under proper direction. The soul lives on, so there is no need to worry about the person’s existence after death. We also shouldn’t worry too much about where they were prior to birth.

Taking the translations of these verses on the surface, it seems like the Gita is more or less a pep talk on the importance of fighting ahead, going for what you want without fear. Follow your heart and don’t be attached to the results of action. Work in a detached manner so that you can succeed in life. Indeed, this is how trained professionals behave when facing adversity. If they were to get discouraged over every little setback, they would never be able to continue on with their occupational duties. Therefore Krishna’s discussion with Arjuna is one where a hesitant, yet fully capable fighter is afraid to move on and needs some cajoling.

ArjunaBut the Gita has a lot more context than this. Going ahead with one’s tasks in a fearless manner is certainly helpful, but how does one determine what the proper task is? Should I make up my own desires and follow through on them without fear? What if my desire is to steal from others? Should I go into home after home and rummage through people’s things without worrying about the consequences? After all, if my soul is eternal, what difference does it make whether or not I follow piety?

The context of the Gita, which is understood by those who study it under the direction of a bona fide spiritual master, is found in the speaker itself. Lord Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the leader of all leaders, the greatest and original teacher. He is the very same God that the world worships, denies or ignores. Krishna is the form and name that paints the empty canvas that is man’s general conception of a supreme controller. Krishna and His position are what give the Gita its teeth; the real meaning to the verses. This fact is revealed in the Gita itself, but should one focus only on certain verses and topics, that lesson will pass them by.

The living being is assigned occupational duties based on the qualities of the body type assumed. Following these duties gradually purifies consciousness to the point that the constitutional position is reached. In that position one only follows Krishna’s direction; therefore they are no longer bound by duty or action. The soul who is in complete knowledge basks in the sweetness of Krishna’s association. As this is the summit of existence, the devotee has nothing left to do, nor do they suffer the future negative reactions of skipping prescribed work.

“A self-realized man has no purpose to fulfill in the discharge of his prescribed duties, nor has he any reason not to perform such work. Nor has he any need to depend on any other living being.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 3.18)

ArjunaArjuna was in Krishna’s association and after he received instruction from the Lord it seemed like he fell into the category of not being obliged to work. He was now knowledgeable of the soul, material nature, and the temporary nature of fruitive results. Armed with transcendental knowledge, he had nothing to do, yet in the end he followed Krishna’s direction and fought ahead. In this way we see that the position of neutrality is reached regardless; whether one is pious or impious. Instead of choosing the impious route on a whim, the truly wise follow Krishna’s order, for that keeps them in the Lord’s company. In Arjuna’s case, the wise instruction was provided by the Lord Himself. This is the real message of the Gita; to follow God’s orders, which are given either directly or through a representative who follows in the same mood of devotion as Arjuna.

Further context for the Gita is provided by the vast Vedic literature, which is so expansive that it cannot possibly all be absorbed in one lifetime. Krishna previously appeared on earth as the warrior prince named Lord Rama, whose life and pastimes are described in the lengthy Sanskrit poem called the Ramayana. Krishna’s activities and incidents relating to appearances are described in many Vedic texts, including the Mahabharata and Shrimad Bhagavatam. Familiarity with these works lends further credence to the words the Lord puts forth in the Gita, which is just one small chapter within the lengthy Mahabharata.

With Shakespeare the language is difficult to understand, as are the meanings to the verses. One who studies Shakespearean literature under someone else who studied it previously can gain a higher understanding of the works. In a similar manner, the only way to truly understand the Vedas and their purpose is to take instruction from someone who loves Krishna just as much as Arjuna does. The Gita broadcasts no other message except the supremacy of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Every other piece of information is meant to get the listener to eventually reach that position of devotion. The many cogent points of fact are like beautiful pearls, which are each valuable in their own right. But when they are connected on the string that is Krishna, the pearls become a beautiful necklace that has an infinitely greater value.

Shrila PrabhupadaThe bona fide spiritual master incorporates the necessary context into his translations and commentaries. That these works would be valuable and presented from a position of higher intelligence shouldn’t be very difficult to understand. The first time we read or study something, we obviously don’t know much about it. But if we spend our life dedicated to learning about, honoring and becoming immersed in the particular subject matter, we will come from a much better position later on when presenting and discussing the information with others. The guru lives devotional service by regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and using the spiritual television within the mind that comes from thinking about Krishna’s activities, qualities and overall glories.

With a perfectly situated consciousness, explaining the scriptures becomes very easy for the guru, so much so that he can pick out one verse from the many works describing Krishna and go on discussing it for days on end, finding new ways to present the same conclusion of devotion to God that is untainted by any desires for fruitive gain, mental speculation or mystic perfection. The Vedas are from such an ancient time that it is nice to pick up a translation and read some of the verses, but if we follow only this method, we could read the same works over and over again and never gain any real insight.

Krishna protecting DraupadiIf, for instance, a verse makes reference to Prahlada Maharaja being saved or Draupadi being rescued by Krishna’s intervention, what is the reader going to know? What if a passing reference is made to the 8,400,000 different species or the fact that Ajamila was saved by reciting the name of Narayana? These statements have specific context, information that can be found elsewhere in the Vedas. Even if we were to find the specific verses mentioning these incidents and read the translations, we still wouldn’t fully understand. He who follows the bhakti discipline under the authorized guidelines, however, can fully appreciate the brilliance of these statements and even invoke the incidents when appropriate.

In the modern age, the greatest exponent of bhakti-yoga is His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. His many books are full of context and proper commentary, so much so that one can reach full enlightenment by consulting only his writings over and over again. The reading can be coupled with the regular chanting of the holy names. The ideal daily regimen is to recite the maha-mantra for sixteen rounds on a set of japa beads and simultaneously avoid the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. These are lofty goals, but one who remains in the company of sadhu, shastra and guru can advance towards the highest platform of consciousness. The more bhakti is practiced, the more Krishna is revealed to the devotee. And the more one knows Krishna, the more they will relish topics discussing Him, which is the purpose of the Vedas to begin with.

In Closing:

To understand old literature a tough task,

Thus even for Shakespeare we require a class.

The poems are just English words after all,

So understanding them shouldn’t be order tall.

Context is wherein lies the distinction,

To gain that one requires proper instruction.

In same way Vedas are profound in each verse,

Learn of pearls of wisdom through books immerse.

Yet context is what really counts in texts like Gita,

Learn real message of divine love from guru and shastra.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Who Else But Hanuman

Hanuman's club“To please Rama I have searched Lanka in so many ways, yet I still do not see the daughter of Videha, Sita, whose every limb is beautiful.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.3)

bhūyiṣṭham loḍitā lankā rāmasya caratā priyam |
na hi paśyāmi vaidehīm sītām sarva anga śobhanām ||

Shri Hanuman, Lord Rama’s most faithful servant, a person who has no idea what it’s like to intentionally make others angry or disappoint them in any way, is here once again thinking matters over after hitting a figurative wall in the enemy territory of Lanka. Because of his divine qualities, his immense physical and mental strength, and his unmatched devotion to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Hanuman is worthy of receiving every comfort in life, of being pampered, spoiled and fully taken care of. Yet the Supreme Lord knows better. Having keen insight into the properties of the soul, the Supreme Soul, the Paramatma, understands that the determining factor in happiness is consciousness, which requires a steady stream of blissful thoughts to remain focused on. Thus the greatest gift anyone can receive is the ability to have their consciousness fixed on God’s interests. Sometimes this mental focus is strengthened through troublesome situations, as it was for Hanuman.

HanumanThink about those people you love the most. Perhaps this group includes your spouse, children, parents, brothers, sisters, friends and even your pets. Now think of how you go about showering your love on them. Most probably the methods employed involve providing comfort. For dealing with the spouse, the mindset may be something like: “I will cook a nice dinner for them so that when they come home they can eat nicely. I will arrange a comfortable sitting place, where they can relax and not have anything to worry about.” Indeed, this is the treatment shown to guests by good hosts.

In the Vedic tradition, the treatment of guests is actually covered as part of both social etiquette and religious life. The householders, married couples in the grihastha ashrama, or second stage of spiritual life, are meant to act as providers for the rest of society. The householders work for a living, so they have fruits of labor that can be shared. Since the aim of human life is to become purely God conscious by the time death rolls around, every practice of spiritual life is meant to further that purpose. The householders, who are more prone than anyone else to becoming attached to the objects of the senses, require constant dedication to sacrifice to stay fixed on the righteous path.

In the Mahabharata and other Vedic texts, the importance of properly receiving guests is stressed. The etiquette is that before any food is taken in the home, one should see if any guests are available to feed. Among the guests, the children and the elderly are to be fed first. After this, whatever food is left over can be taken by the home’s occupants. This isn’t that novel a concept, as people who host parties understand the importance of sumptuously feeding their guests. The etiquette codified in the Vedas reveals that the householders, through following this system of sacrifice, earn tremendous spiritual merits.

The foundation of the hospitality and resulting benefits is the initial offering made to the Lord. There isn’t much difference in the spiritual traditions of India and those followed around the world. The only real distinction is the level of detail presented and the amount of dedication recommended. As an example, the church environment is very helpful. You get dressed up, gather your family together, enter a house of worship and think about God for an hour or so. You maybe even sing a few songs of glorification while you are there. As God doesn’t live exclusively in the church, a more effective practice is to take the church environment and replicate it in as many other places as possible, especially in the home. As eating is a strong way to remain focused on the body, which is a perishable covering not related to the soul, an important practice recommended by the Vedas is yajna.

Yajna means sacrifice, and in order for there to be sacrifice, there must be the actor and the object. For religious rituals, the identification of the two should be fairly obvious. The person who is acquiring wealth, who has things to sacrifice, naturally will perform the ritual. The Supreme Lord, the person from whom all things emanate, is the enjoyer, or object, of that sacrifice. To this end, devoted followers of the personal form of the Supreme Lord, Vaishnavas, offer up their prepared food items to God in sacrifice prior to eating. This purifies the consciousness of the fruitive worker and sanctifies the food items.

“The devotees of the Lord are released from all kinds of sins because they eat food which is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.13)

Krishna eating butterIn the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Lord in His two-handed, original form, states that devotees eat remnants of sacrifice and are thus absolved of sin. Sin brings the continuation of a consciousness not focused on God. With sin there must be a negative reaction, which in this case is the increased likelihood of continuing the cycle of birth and death. Any activity that decreases the chances of the samsara-chakra spinning is thereby not sinful. Once the food has been offered in sacrifice to Krishna, the remnants are known as prasadam. If this prasadam gets widely distributed to guests by householders, the benefits received are increased even more.

Providing sanctified food to loved ones falls in line with the general idea of offering love through providing comforts. Adults provide for their parents by buying them expensive gifts and taking them to nice places. The children don’t really know any other way to offer service to the mature parents. There is a humorous episode in the famous television sitcom Seinfeld where a son purchases a Cadillac automobile for his father as a gift. Instead of pleasing the father, the gift turns out to be a cause of great distress. The father worries over how the son could afford such an expensive car to be given away as a gift, and at the same time he feels insulted that his son would think he’d need to be taken care of in such a way.

The Supreme Lord understands the nature of the soul perfectly, so His offering of love is a little different. In fact, in many cases, the treatment is the polar opposite of what we’d think it should be. Instead of providing creature comforts and the removal of distress, the Supreme Lord sometimes puts His servants into the most difficult situations. This facilitates Krishna consciousness, or constant thoughts fixed on the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and those closely tied to Him. This is precisely what occurred with Shri Hanuman, who is famous around the world as a powerful warrior and dedicated servant of the Lord. Yet as powerful as he is, when he was carrying out one of the most famous missions in history, he found much trouble and frustration.

In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Hanuman is thinking matters over after once again searching exhaustively. The original Personality of Godhead had descended to earth in the guise of a warrior prince named Rama during the Treta Yuga. Rather than just kill the evil elements Himself and ensure everyone’s material satisfaction, Lord Rama arranged things so that the help of others was needed. Imagine if we just gave our children everything and never made them do any work. What would happen? They would obviously become restless, spoiled and generally unhappy. Children are bursting with potential for activity. They will take up many tasks just because they love feeling important, to do what the adults are doing. You could tell a child to sleep on the bare ground after working hard all day and they wouldn’t have a problem. But adults, after having lived through so many years and possessing a better ability to exercise freedom, would have trouble following the same austerities.

In spiritual life, it is much better to have the innocence of children than to follow the mindset of an adult having full discrimination. With discrimination there is an increased likelihood of choosing against devotional service, or bhakti-yoga. As understanding God in full consciousness is the aim of human life, the yoga of transcendental love is the steady engagement that can make that dream a reality. Without a guiding plan, a source of transcendental activities, the chances of succeeding in life are greatly diminished.

Sita Devi holding lotus flowerFor the sincere soul looking for any chance they can find to please the Lord, their wishes are fulfilled by the Personality of Godhead Himself. Shri Rama created many opportunities for service during His time on earth. One important task called for the finding of His missing wife, Sita Devi. As this task was supremely difficult, it required the most capable servant. Physical and mental strength, academic degrees, and recommendations from others are not the determining factors for candidacy in devotional service. Rather, capability is linearly related to eagerness to serve. In service to Rama, no one is more eager than Hanuman.

As soon as eagerness is there, the rest of the pieces fall into place. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna reveals that He is the ability in man. This means that anytime we see someone exhibit tremendous skill, dexterity or fortitude, it is to be understood that their talent is on loan from God. We marvel at the ability of athletes to exhibit excellence in their sport, but the real source of their strength is God, who resides within all of us as the Supersoul. Since Hanuman was assigned a difficult mission, Shri Rama ensured that he had all the necessary tools, both physical and mental, to get the job done.

The physical would be exercised first. Hanuman would leap across a massive ocean separating the mainland from the island of Lanka, where it was learned that Sita had been taken by a Rakshasa king named Ravana. Then Hanuman had to search through the different palaces of Lanka without being noticed. Several times frustration arose within Hanuman. He searched seemingly every inch of space in the wonderful city, yet the daughter of King Janaka, Sita Devi, he did not find.

HanumanIn the scene of the above referenced verse, Hanuman has just searched Ravana’s apartment again. He leaped up and down, became incredibly small in stature, and searched everywhere possible. Hanuman did not deserve defeat; his eagerness to serve and his pure love for Rama should have provided him Sita’s location right away. Why was God torturing Him? In addition, the thought referenced above was just the first of many doubts that arose in Hanuman’s mind. Previously he was a little worried that he might not find Sita, but as more time went by and the number of places searched increased, the worries gathered strength.

Every one of Sita’s limbs is endowed with loveliness. This shouldn’t surprise us, as to be Rama’s eternal consort one must be as worthy of divine association as Hanuman is. Sita is forever Rama’s wife, as her thoughts never deviate from Rama’s lotus feet. She too was in a distressing situation, forced to be separated from her husband, not knowing if she would ever see Him again. Hanuman knew just how beautiful she was, even though he had never seen her. His anxiousness related not only to pleasing Rama, but also to seeing such a splendid person. The saintly class are always humbled by others following bhakti-yoga. In fact, nothing can be more beneficial for a person striving for success in transcendental life than seeing someone else innocently engaged in lovingly serving the Supreme Lord. If we see someone successful materially, the initial emotion may be jealousy. Seeing bad things happen to the successful brings some comfort to the mind. “Good. Now they know what it feels like to fail.”

But in devotional life, seeing someone engaged in loving God is tremendously humbling. “Oh, they are so much better than me. I am so proud of my accomplishments, but this person serves the Lord so much better than I do. I will honor them with my thoughts and words.” Hanuman was eager to meet Sita, so why should he have had to face the mental turmoil that he did? For starters, Hanuman’s review of the situation, his dedication to Rama, and his mental anguish only further enhance his stature as Rama’s most wonderful devotee. His troubles also further endear him to readers interested in the Ramayana and the story of Lord Rama’s life. By first approaching Hanuman, appreciating his dedication, and rooting for his success, the sincere soul can have the Vanara’s full blessings in trying to understand and love God.

Hanuman's heartWould Hanuman succeed? Should there be any doubt as to the outcome? The mental struggles he faced only made the final reward of success that much sweeter. He is not worshiped and adored by millions around the world today for no reason. Shri Rama didn’t just tell us to worship Hanuman and expect us to follow His order without question. As mature adults, we have discrimination, so we require a little more convincing when it comes to accepting a spiritual path. Hanuman’s level of dedication and his undying love for Shri Rama and His wife Sita Devi are all we need to understand his divine nature. In fact, Hanuman’s exhibition of love and sadness felt over potentially failing only further validate Shri Rama’s standing as the Supreme Lord. Who else but God could have someone like Hanuman working for Him? Who else but Hanuman could serve Rama perfectly? Indeed, who else should we think about during times of trouble? May Hanuman forever remain in our hearts.

In Closing:

Who else but Hanuman for an example,

Of devotion to God, in Ramayana get a sample.

Who else but Hanuman to serve as our guide,

In him your sincere desire to love God confide.

Who else but Hanuman for Sita to look,

On shoulders burden of success he took.

Who else but Hanuman to conquer fear,

Of failure in this life, to Rama he is most dear.

Who else but Hanuman to be given the chance,

To find Sita, Shri Rama’s glory to enhance.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Best Fit

Krishna's lotus feet“It is by great fortune that one comes to Krishna consciousness on the path of bhakti-yoga to become well situated according to the Vedic direction.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 6.47 Purport)

“Time to try on new clothes. So many different kinds are here, so which set will be the best one to wear?” When in these scenarios, will we select something twice our recommended size? What about the clothes that are too small? Obviously only the perfect fit will suffice, for otherwise the stated objective can’t be reached. Whether it’s to look good or finish some work, the clothes must properly match our bodily dimensions to maximize comfort. In the bigger picture, the human form of body can be considered the best fit for the spirit soul looking to release its unlimited potential for divine love.

soup spoonHow do we know that this potential exists? And why the qualification of “divine”? Does not the animal love? Dogs and cats are known to be affectionate towards their significant others and family members, so how can we deny their potential for love? To understand the uniqueness of the human form, imagine having only a spoon to use to cut your food. What if someone gave us a fork to eat our soup? These objects are mismatches, so we won’t be able to accomplish what we want. The tools may be useful, but they don’t fit the particular situation, the task that requires completion. In the same manner, every type of material body has some value, some utility, but not all of them allow for the constitutional activities of the soul to take place uninhibited.

What is the difference between constitutional activities and non-constitutional ones? The distinction is rooted in situation - time, circumstance and objective. A person playing baseball has the constitutional activity of catching, throwing and hitting a baseball. If they were to show up in a soccer uniform, their ability to play baseball would be hindered. If you showed up to a soccer match with a tennis racket, the extra weight in your hand would only slow you down as you ran up and down the field.

The spirit soul is the essence of identity, the spark of life if you will. As a tiny spark, the soul can have many different homes. The living entity is therefore called sarva-ga, which means he can travel to every destination there is. A human being must live inside a home, a fish inside of water, a bird on a tree, and a tiger in the jungle, but the living entity in general can actually be placed anywhere. The same identifying aspect is present within every life form. One individual spirit soul can find a destination in the sky, water, earth, or even deep within the ground, like where the worms and ants live.

If we, being spirit soul, can live anywhere, where is the best place to go? For the human being not fully God conscious, being unaware of their spiritual identity, the most pleasant home is that place where amusements and delights can be found in great abundance. As this usually comes from good association, any place where friends and family can be found becomes the most pleasant destination. One person’s friends and family may not be located in the same place as another’s; therefore it is impossible to say that a single area’s pleasantness applies universally, across every single human being.

Upon further abstraction, we see that it is the spirit soul which seeks pleasure. The soul is blissful by nature, wherefore it seeks ananda. It is also eternal and in full knowledge. These last two aspects are little difficult to perceive on our own. After all, we know that birth and death mark the beginning and end points of a person’s existence. Sort of like cutting out a segment from a timeline, the person’s lifetime is determined by the amount of time elapsed between birth and death. Where they were before birth and where they end up after death are both mysteries that can’t be uncovered by the naked eye. Because of this deficiency, to understand that the spirit soul is eternal is a little difficult at first.

“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)

Krishna's fluteThe Bhagavad-gita, India’s treasured treatise on spirituality, dissipates some of the fogginess. It’s difficult to understand that the soul of the living being existed prior to the current birth and that it will continue to remain vibrant after death, but these relevant facts can be revealed by observing the outward changes to a living entity. From the time of birth, the body constantly morphs, yet the identity of the individual does not. The baby is completely different in shape, behavior and intelligence than the same person as an adult, yet the identifiable aspect within does not undergo change. We don’t consider the baby and the adult of the same being to be two different people.

Reincarnation, or the transmigration of the soul, is best perceived through observing the changing body. As soon as there is death, another body type is assumed by the same living entity. This also means that prior to the current birth there was a different body type assumed, sort of like putting on and taking off clothes. The clothes analogy works nicely because it also accounts for the variety in behavior. Some people are known to be quick to acquire intelligence, learn instruction and follow a specific path that is otherwise deemed difficult. Others are perpetually in darkness and misery, finding difficulties in every turn in life. The differences are due to the body type assumed, which has accompanying material qualities. In Sanskrit these qualities are known as gunas, which can also translate to “ropes”. A rope is useful in specific situations, but if it should happen to be tightly wrapped around our body against our will, we would be severely limited in our autonomous movement.

We might be tempted to say that the person tied up with ropes couldn’t do anything, but that is not the case. While bound up they could still think, hear, see, and make observations with the brain. Their consciousness would still be there, which means that the body and its movement are not the determining factors in the vibrancy of the living entity. As long as consciousness is present, there is life. Since the consciousness comes from the soul, the body of the living being does not form its identity; the soul does.

treesThe body types of the lower species can be likened to forms that are tied with ropes. The tree is a living entity, but it cannot move. Though it lives in the same spot for many, many years, no one would dare consider the tree more advanced than the human being. In the theory of evolution, fitness is measured by survivability. Species are considered evolved if they can better adapt to their environment. Adaptation refers to the ability to survive in the specific conditions. Surviving means staying alive. In that case, the tree doesn’t have to adapt at all; it can remain alive through every season, sometimes standing still for thousands of years. Simply by observing the tree, the measurement of fitness in the theory of evolution is invalidated, as living longer is not always better.

When presented the choice, would a human being rather remain tied up with ropes for one hundred years or go about enjoying life without ropes for fifty years? As most would choose the latter, we see that living long is not the ideal measure of advancement. Rather, the ability to exercise one’s natural qualities, which come from the soul, is what determines auspiciousness in conditions. The individual’s inherent qualities cannot come from the body type inherited; this body can only dampen qualities. The lamp that is shining brightly is the source of light in a room, even when a shade is covering it. Some shades may let out more light than others, but never, at any time, does the shade itself become the source of the light.

In living beings, the spirit soul is the spark of life, and the body types assumed can only hamper the soul’s exhibition of its natural dharma, or inherent characteristics. Within any species, the soul’s primary dharma is the desire to serve, which is based on love. In the human species, where the ropes of material qualities are the loosest, the serving propensity is evidenced in every activity. Even in the wealthiest individuals, those with billions of dollars in net worth, eventually there comes a time when guilt sets in, where happiness is no longer found through the accumulation of more money. At that time, the wealthy person turns to philanthropy, desiring to serve their fellow man. If serving is beneficial after you have satisfied your senses with money, then surely it is just as beneficial for those who forgo that passionate pursuit from the beginning.

The human body is the best fit for the conditioned living entity - he who travels through the endless spiral of reincarnation - because it brings the best opportunity for consciousness to be fully developed. We send children to school because from past experience we know that if a child is educated properly and thoroughly, they can grow up to be wise adults, capable of staying self-sufficient and making a beneficial contribution to society.

Since consciousness can be developed, its development should be aimed in the proper direction. This is where bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, comes in. Religion without philosophy is sentiment, and philosophy without religion is mental speculation. Therefore to find the real fruit of existence, we need to combine both philosophy and sentiment to give us real religion. Bhakti-yoga fits in perfectly, for it already incorporates reincarnation, the position of the soul, the inhibiting influence of material nature, and the need to love.

The right sentiment is introduced when the ideal beneficiary of service is identified. Not surprisingly, that person is God, whom most of the world knows in some way. Even if God is not known or His existence vehemently denied, He is honored and worshiped through His form of nature. The wealthy person honoring money shows respect to God in some way, for the Lord is the original proprietor. Every person acknowledges a higher force, so each person’s understanding of God correlates with the recognized influence of that higher power.

God is known as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, or Bhagavan, in the Vedic tradition, which gives us wonderful scriptures like the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam. Bhagavan is the ultimate authority; He is the complete manifestation of everything honored in this world. He is the ideal beneficiary for the loving propensity of the spirit soul because He is inherently linked to every living entity. From one God came many spiritual sparks, like tiny children inheriting the qualities of their father to a lesser degree.

Lord KrishnaThe Supreme Lord is known as Krishna because He is all-attractive. Acting like magnets, the tiny spiritual sparks traveling through reincarnation are inherently attracted to loving service to Krishna, but depending on the body type they assume, that inclination may be inhibited. The human being has the best opportunity for rekindling the dormant God consciousness resting within the heart. Divine love is awakened through acts of devotion, the most effective of which is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Chant Krishna’s names, hear the sound vibration that represents Him fully with your ears, and keep the vision of His sweet form that holds a flute and wears a peacock feather within your mind. Through properly conditioning consciousness you will find pleasure in any situation.

The best fit of the human body allows for devotion to continue uninterrupted and without motivation. As both interruption and motivation are negated, there is no chance of being taken away from the bhakti platform. How can any ropes tie down the devotee sincerely desirous of connecting with Krishna, who is the most powerful? Why would the Supreme Lord ever let His devotees be affected by outside influences when all they want is to think about Him, chant His glories, and hear about His activities?

In other species, other body types, the fit isn’t perfect; therefore the loving propensity gets directed to other areas. In the human species, the fit can also lead us in the wrong direction, but at least there is the opportunity for finding the right playing field, one whose properties match the constitutional qualities of the living entity. Just as the human body is the best fit for the spirit soul separated from Krishna’s company, the holy name is the perfect sound vibration for the tongue desirous of speaking and singing. Prasadam, the remnants of foodstuff offered first to Krishna, is the perfect fit for the taste buds of the tongue, and the vision of the Shri Vigraha [deity] is the perfect fit for the eyes which are desirous of staring at something beautiful. Using every sense to remain in Krishna consciousness, the perfect fit of a home, the spiritual world, is granted to the liberated soul at the time of death.

In Closing:

In shopping the keen purchaser clothes buys,

That match their dimensions, the perfect size.

Wrong fit brings pain and discomfort,

Wearing them not fun, enjoyment they hurt.

Living entity can take on many body types,

From gunas material conditions one must fight.

By ability to love God is fitness measured,

To chant holy name of Krishna that is treasured.

Thus for spirit soul human form is best fit,

Allows for reaching God after body quit.