Saturday, December 17, 2011

Language Learning

Lord Krishna“The holy name of Krishna is transcendentally blissful. It bestows all spiritual benedictions, for it is Krishna Himself, the reservoir of all pleasure. Krishna’s name is complete, and it is the form of all transcendental mellows.” (Padma Purana)

You’re heading to a new country, but they speak a different language, so your excitement is a little tempered. There is so much you want to see and so many places you want to go, but in order to get around you need to make sure that you can ask for simple things. For instance, what if you want to take a taxi to a specific destination? What if you want to go to a restaurant? Better yet, what if you want to find out what that restaurant is serving, what their menu is like? Rather than carry a dictionary for translating or rely on your mobile phone’s app to do the quick conversion, a better option is to immerse yourself in the new language by listening to tapes. Coupled with the hearing is recitation, repeating the sentences and phrases you’ll need to utter when you go to the new country. Oddly enough, this simple formula can be used to find spiritual enlightenment as well.

Google Translate appHow does this work exactly? For starters, the recitation program for learning a new language is effective for a reason. You can try to memorize the words and phrases you’ll need to invoke, but that information is very easy to forget. The process is like placing something into your memory that never gets extracted. It is sometimes said that certain people have better memory than others, but that is actually not the case. Memory increases with remembrance; a revelation that shouldn’t be earthshattering. If you have a specific incident or day in your life that you revert back to constantly within your mind, you will have no problem remembering it on the spot, should the occasion come up in conversation. On the other hand, someone else who was with you on that memorable day may not have ever gone back in time in their mind and relived the experience. Therefore, for them, remembering the incident will be very difficult.

If the foreign language is studied only theoretically, there is not much chance for forced remembrance. For starters, when would the need to invoke the words put to memory ever arise? If your time is spent speaking a specific language by necessity, why would you take the mental effort to think of a different language? Necessity is the mother of invention, so without a pressing need for speaking the new language, the relevant words won’t be remembered. The method of learning through hearing and speaking allows for the tongue to become accustomed to the phrases and the pronunciation. It’s almost like singing a song. You may not know what you are singing sometimes, but since you have heard the song enough, the specific lines start to play in your head. The repetition is so frequent and natural that it sounds like the song is actually playing for real on the outside.

Through enough practice, even the driver learns to operate their vehicle without applying conscious thought. You can drive to work every day without paying attention to the turns, the time, or your location on the road. This doesn’t mean that you are asleep or that you’re not able to deal with unexpected situations on the road. Rather, your brain has just been programmed, through enough practice, to automatically account for red lights, changes in the speed of the traffic, and the proper exits to take and streets on which to turn.

“After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.19)

Lord KrishnaLife’s most difficult task is to become reacquainted with God. This fact is confirmed through both outward perception and the authorized instruction passed on by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. We accept Krishna as God because the Vedas tell us as much, and since the Vedas provide so much other valuable information, we trust the information they provide. One person may be skeptical of the existence of God and the statements pointing to the fact in scripture and another person may believe in the same statements completely, but authority is presented in either situation. One person says to be religious and another says don’t, and they are both making assertions that they hope others will follow. Authority is determined locally by the individual’s trust in a particular entity and their words. The relevant entity’s position of authority is established through a track record of delivering on what is promised, on proving that your words are true.

In this respect the followers of the Vedas take the sacred texts of India and the people who sincerely follow its teachings as authority sources because of the effectiveness of the recommendations passed on. The Vedic seers all agree that in the present age of Kali, the fourth and final period of each cycle of creation, the only means for salvation is the chanting of the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The skeptic will scoff at the suggestion to chant, considering it to be a mechanism targeted for the unintelligent who don’t know how to fill the void in their life. The skeptic might also take the recommendation to be dogmatic insistence aimed at converting the world to a specific religion.

Those who accept the Vedas, Krishna, and His treatise on spirituality known as the Bhagavad-gita as authority follow the chanting routine because it turns out to be extremely effective. The practice makes one an actual believer in God versus just a blind follower. Is one worse than the other? Shouldn’t believing in God be enough? Will not that safeguard from going to hell? Belief in the Almighty means that you acknowledge His existence, whereas chanting His names in a loving mood makes you aware of His capabilities, qualities, activities and divine nature. Familiarity with these features is far superior to basic acknowledgment because of the interaction of emotion it allows for. In every other area of endeavor, the experience is enhanced when emotions can be exchanged, when there can be vulnerability introduced and reliance on the target of service. Why should these properties be absent in spiritual life?

Finding and accepting real religion is so difficult precisely because the blissful exchange of emotion is missing in the lower rungs of worship. When learning the basics of the new language, putting to memory certain words will not automatically make them easier to remember. The mind drifts off to new areas of interest at every second, so to rein in the mind is very difficult. As a result, just accepting God’s existence and then never remembering Him doesn’t really do anything for consciousness, our state of being. On the other hand, chanting His names regularly at least makes the tongue familiar with the sound vibration representation of the Absolute Truth.

Lord Krishna”Chant the holy names and you’ll gradually awaken sublime wisdom within the heart”, is the recommendation. The effectiveness of the chanting method can only be realized when the process is trusted and acted upon. This isn’t that difficult to do, as we extend faith to so many people already. We trust the airline pilot to take us safely to the intended destination, the pharmacist to not mess up when making our prescription drugs, the leader of the country to not destroy our economic system and make everyone destitute, and so on.

The person hesitant to accept the recommendations of the Vedas supports their viewpoint by relying instead on the past evidence of so many religious cheaters, who were either zealots looking to scare people or were simply after money. But upon second look we see that there is no cost imposed with the chanting recommendation. There is no loss on the worshiper’s part. Words are already spoken and songs already sung, so why not dedicate some time to reciting the most sacred formula? Chanting is a much better option than immersing oneself in literature that is difficult to understand or visiting a place of worship on a regular basis and not understanding what is going on. Active participation is what keeps the consciousness immersed in spiritual life, allowing for future remembrance to take place without difficulty.

To add further authority to the Vedic recommendation for chanting, there are countless historical personalities who followed the chanting routine and found complete happiness. From connecting with God in a mood of love, the spark of devotion lights up within the individual. This then leads to further anticipation in connecting with the beloved Krishna, who is the Supreme Lord in His form that displays His transcendental features fully. The sunlight, the wind, the amazing outer space and the incomprehensible material nature are but partial manifestations of Krishna’s energies, impersonal features that show that He exists. Just as the clouds part to reveal the splendor of the sun, when the ignorance borne of material contact dissipates, the individual soul sees the Supreme Lord in His blissful position, ready to connect with all His sons and daughters.

The holy name is the best way to awaken and maintain that connection, and the best way to hold on to the holy name is to hear it as often as possible. To hear it regularly, one can simply chant it. In this way even if the names of Krishna and Rama are foreign, as Sanskrit is the oldest language in the world, one gradually learns them and can invoke them without a problem. Chanting and hearing open the door to the world of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, which is man’s real business, to be readily engaged in service to the one entity who is most deserving of it. Chanting, hearing, offering prayers, reading books, congregating with fellow devotees - these activities make up the bhakti discipline. Yoga provides a better future condition, one which takes care of both body and mind. Bhakti is the culmination of yoga practice, as it deals with the consciousness, which is the key ingredient to happiness.

“Always chanting My glories, endeavoring with great determination, bowing down before Me, these great souls perpetually worship Me with devotion.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.14)

Worshiping Radha and KrishnaWhether one is rich or poor, alone or with family, at work or relaxing, the consciousness can be trained to connect with Krishna through His names, thus resulting in a peaceful condition. Focusing on consciousness makes the difficult task of God realization a lot easier. All of these hidden secrets are revealed to those who take a sincere interest in Vedic teachings, the most important of which are presented by Krishna Himself in the Bhagavad-gita. In that work the Lord says that the devotees are always chanting His glories, dedicating their work to Him.

Hearing and repeating the phrases of the new language allows for quickly gaining a basic ability to survive in a foreign country. As God is the original proprietor, the person who has the rightful claim to all property, this entire world is His home. The language used to connect with Him is divine love, and the chanting of His names allow anyone to learn that language very quickly. The maha-mantra is the perfect prayer because it is free of personal desires, such as those relating to sensual enjoyments, the alleviation of distress through annihilation of material activity, knowledge of the absolute, and mystical perfection.

“The foreign language tapes just cover the basics, but in order to really learn I need to immerse myself in the new city and culture. How do I do that with Krishna?”

Chanting and hearing allow entry into bhakti-yoga, which can be practiced anywhere. Therefore there is no need to travel far to become immersed in the ancient art of divine love, which is the real business of the soul. The recommendation of the topmost Krishna devotees, the exalted spiritual masters, is that one chant the maha-mantra on a set of japa beads at least sixteen rounds a day coupled with abstention from meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. The routine of bhakti-yoga allows for sufficient time to be spent in connecting with God, with the mind sober throughout the experience. The sober experience is easier to remember and more effective in changing consciousness. The spiritually surcharged consciousness then looks for more and more outlets to exercise devotion, thus paving the way for bhava, or full transcendental ecstasy. Since these changes can take place in any person at any time and at any place, the benevolence of bhakti and its beneficiary are revealed. The authority of bhakti’s greatest champions is also well-established. With all bases covered, why not at least try chanting Krishna’s names and become familiar with the language of divine love?

In Closing:

In foreign city’s culture one must immerse,

In order to get by, with others converse.

Rather than on dictionary and mobile apps’ suite,

Purchase language tapes and new phrases repeat.

From following this method faster you will learn,

So getting food and directions no concern.

In grander scheme of God we must know,

From bhakti knowledge and attachment’s seed grow.

The holy names recited with love bhakti’s language,

Accept this path for brightest future to salvage.

Friday, December 16, 2011

General Admission

Rama breaking Shiva's bow“One party is very jealous while looking at Janaka welcoming everybody. The place was so crowded on the inside and out that one cannot describe it.” (Janaki Mangala, 13)

janakahiṃ eka sihāhiṃ dekhi sanamānata |
bāhara bhītara bhīra na banai bakhānata ||

You work hard, play by the rules, administer to the needs of your close family members and are responsible with money so that you can have a comfortable establishment that is the home. The association with the spouse, relatives and children comes together when there is a nice gathering place, a dwelling you can call “home”. The more inviting the establishment the more people will want to visit. The more people that come over the more satisfied you feel about the life that you work so hard to maintain. While the quality of the erected structure may draw the attention of others, what will keep them coming back is the quality of the inhabitants, the hosts who welcome the guests and provide them a pleasurable experience. One person in particular had such good qualities that when he hosted a wedding ceremony for his daughter, the number of people that came from around the world could not be counted. However long their journey was and whatever crowds they had to sift through to attend this event, the effort was worth it.

living roomDespite your best attempt to establish a comfortable dwelling, you are not the only one living this lifestyle. Many others, especially those following religious principles, accept the grihastha ashrama, the second stage of life as delineated by the Vedas, the scriptural texts providing guidance on all aspects of life since the beginning of time. An ashrama is a spiritual institution, so even the time one spends married and raising children is meant for the cultivation of spiritual knowledge, with the consciousness ideally ascending to the platform of detachment from the rigors of daily life, which is filled with constant ups and downs.

Remaining detached is very difficult, because with each successful outcome comes a realization of just how difficult the effort was. At least for those living In America, buying a new home is not easy at all, especially if there are thirty years of mortgage payments one has to assume responsibility for upon purchase. It’s one thing to enroll in school knowing that you have to attend classes for a certain number of years or accept the responsibility of a child for the first eighteen years of their life, but the mortgage on the house purchase is there for thirty years. Surely you can sell the house at any time, but if you want to continue living there, you better deliver the goods month after month for many, many years.

Knowing the difficulty in securing material possessions - especially in an advanced technological age where the simple, rural lifestyle is shunned as being outdated - it’s very easy to become attached to what you do have. Moreover, if you have a system in place to provide the comforts in life going forward, if anything should happen to threaten the vitality of that system, tremendous disappointment and fear will arise. This can only happen when there is attachment, for if we don’t care about something, how can we be sad when it disappears from our vision?

Adding further complexity to the mix is envy, seeing someone else in your field surpassing you. In family life, the worthiness of the home is established in part by how many guests come over and how welcome they feel. It is one thing to invite people to the home, but it is another to have them want to come over.

The householder is given a specific responsibility in the Vedas. They are to first feed the Supreme Lord through offering sumptuous food preparations, whatever can be made. If a man is wealthy and has time, he can offer elaborate preparations, and if one is not well off they can even offer something simple like a flower, fruit or some water. The Supreme Lord in His personal form of Krishna validates that such offerings are accepted, provided that the mood of the devotee is proper.

“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.26)

Flower garland offered to KrishnaIn some households, tradition calls for worship of other divine figures, those who work directly under Krishna to provide targeted benefits to their devotees. Though every ashrama is meant for reaching the final goal of full detachment from material life and complete attachment to the lotus feet of Krishna, it is unavoidable to have some fears over the potential obstructions that may arise and the loss of fortune. Therefore demigod worship has been popularly patronized since the beginning of time. The householder, if they are so inclined, can offer the remnants of Krishna’s prasadam to such figures and thus maintain their family traditions.

More importantly, when prasadam is fed to guests, the Lord’s mercy is distributed all around. Taking care of a guest is part of dharma, or religiosity, as is described in the Mahabharata. While many people inherently know to treat guests properly, to learn that hospitality falls in line with one’s gradual progression towards a purified consciousness validates the behavior. As is the case with any endeavor, however, there is bound to be jealousy. If we see someone else who has more people coming to their house regularly, we might feel inferior. “What do they have that we don’t? Why can’t people come to our home instead?”

These envious feelings increase when the viewing eyes believe that their dwelling is more opulent or that they are more deserving of attention because of their standing in society. Add to the mix a royal palace, which is expected to be viewed with awe and reverence, and you can see why so many kings were jealous of Maharaja Janaka many thousands of years ago. He lived during a time when dedication to Vedic principles was very high. Though he was a ruler, Janaka was not attached to anything about material life. He went through the rules and regulations as a matter of procedure, for he had no need to purify his consciousness. This shows that even one who is above the work prescribed to those desiring fruits to their action accepts obligations to set a good example for the rest of society.

While Janaka certainly had a kingdom worth visiting, what really drew attention to his home on one particular occasion was his chivalry, knowledge of the Vedas, and general love for humanity. He also had a beautiful daughter who was considered the goddess of fortune on earth, and in reality she was the goddess of fortune from heaven, appearing on earth to take part in the real-life play that would later be called the Ramayana.

Sita DeviNamed Sita because the king found her as a baby coming out of the earth, when Janaka’s daughter reached an age appropriate for marriage, the king decided to hold a svayamvara, or self-choice ceremony, to decide her nuptials. The planning for Sita’s svayamvara can’t be compared to how weddings are organized today. If you don’t own a large plot of land, you’re limited in the number of guests you can invite. Plus, if you have to rent out a hall, the complexity of per head charges and a minimum number of guests gets thrown into the mix. With some modern weddings the host worries about either having enough people to fill the minimum seat requirement or trying to cap the number of guests so as to not go over the maximum occupancy limit reserved for the price range that they’re willing to meet.

For Janaka there were no such concerns, for he was the ruler of a majestic kingdom in Tirahuta. He could accommodate as many guests as desired to come. There was no need for making elaborate arrangements in that regard, as anyone who wanted to attend was allowed. Since Janaka was known as Videha, or bodiless, and since both he and his daughter were of the topmost quality, practically all the kings from around the world attended the svayamvara. They loaded up the caravan with their royal paraphernalia and entourage and made the trek to Janaka’s city.

In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, Goswami Tulsidas is continuing his description of the scene on the day the kings arrived. Though a self-choice ceremony, the occasion of Sita’s marriage was more a contest. In the central arena, or marked earth [rangabhumi], was a very heavy bow initially belonging to Lord Shiva. Whoever could lift the bow would win Sita’s hand in marriage. The bow was so heavy and there were so many arriving princes that from afar the line looked like a conveyor belt forming. One person was arriving, another was stepping up to the bow, another was trying to lift it, and another was going back to sit down after having failed to even move it.

While this was going on, King Janaka was welcoming the many guests. There was a huge crowd both on the inside and outside of the city. Some arriving kings couldn’t help but look at Janaka with envy. How can they be blamed for this? If you have an opulent kingdom filled with every material amenity, you will naturally want others to visit it and be welcomed. The President of the United States throws elaborate State Dinners for this very purpose. Yet Janaka wasn’t even trying to host any one person in particular. He was just holding a marriage ceremony for his daughter and then so many people showed up. Because of the attention he got, the other kings felt defeated by Janaka, which actually wasn’t a bad thing.

Why is this? For starters, the fact that Janaka welcomed everyone added to his stature as a pious king. In addition, if you look around you, there are so many people that are candidates for receiving high blessings and honors. The fact that the honor of hosting the most widely attended wedding in history was bestowed upon Janaka meant that he was worthy of it. The source of his worthiness would prove to be an invaluable educational tool for others. Janaka’s real wealth was his love for Sita, who is God’s wife in the spiritual world. Janaka’s love was pure too; he wanted nothing from his daughter, though Sita can turn even the poorest man into a millionaire in a second.

Sita and Rama weddingJanaka received spiritual wealth from being able to love Sita with parental affection. She was the goddess of fortune to him through her association, which would subsequently bring Lord Rama’s company as well. Rama is the Supreme Lord Himself, who is eternally linked to Sita in the spiritual world. Not surprisingly, Rama would arrive on the scene and lift the bow without a problem. He would give the massive general admission crowd their money’s worth. For even the jealous kings the event was worth attending, for they got to see Sita wed Rama, an event which is still talked about to this day. Janaka, by remaining pious and hosting a number of guests too large to count, took part in the largest prasadam distribution known to man. He distributed spiritual food for the eyes, which then turned into mental images that the onlookers would never forget.

In Closing:

Guests to the home one likes to invite,

Hope that in hospitality they delight.

Others with more guests makes one jealous,

“What could their home possibly have on us?”

With king increased is responsibility,

To host unlimited guests kingdom’s ability.

Many kings did Janaka to home welcome,

Size of crowd in and out just awesome.

Jealous kings the reward of their eyes to take,

When Sita wedded Rama, who bow did break.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Tilting the Scales

Valmiki holding a flower“Listen Rama, I will now tell You where You, Sita and Lakshmana should reside. Those whose ears are like oceans which are constantly replenished by, and never overflow from, streams represented by stories of Your wonderful activities – in their hearts You should make Your charming abode.” (Maharishi Valmiki speaking to Lord Rama, Ramacharitamanasa, Ayodhya Kand, 127.1-2)

“Eat a balanced diet. Don’t watch too much television or you’ll strain your eyes. Don’t eat too many sweets or you’ll suffer indigestion later on. Don’t drink too many adult beverages in one sitting or the onset of intoxication will be so quick that you won’t know what hit you. Don’t exercise too much or you’ll get injured.” On the flip side, there are the recommendations for things which you aren’t doing enough. “You need to get more sleep. You’re not eating enough; have some more food. You’re not taking enough time off from work; being a workaholic is not good for you.” Balance is necessary for vitality and good health in all respects. It is important for both physical wellbeing and success in an endeavor. With one particular discipline, however, no balance is required. No amount of immersion into the divine pastimes and qualities of the Supreme Personality of Godhead can ever be harmful to the soul desperately searching after someone to love without inhibition.

Rama's lotus feetImagine a body of water that is constantly receiving raging waters from every which direction, sort of like a bucket that has a steady flow of water coming in from the top. Then imagine that the target container, the body of water in this case, never overflows despite the amount of water that constantly pours in. This wonderful analogy was used by Maharishi Valmiki to describe the position of the devotees of God, especially those who are attracted to Lord Rama, the Supreme Lord in His avatara as a warrior prince of the Raghu dynasty.

This comparison was made in response to a question put forth directly by Rama. The Supreme Lord is a singular entity, eka, from whom many, aneka, have sprung. Despite the stark difference in reservoirs of transcendental qualities, the Supreme Lord has no penchant for domineering over His many expansions. There is only love in pure goodness found in the person most of the world refers to as God. His compassionate nature brings Him from the hallowed grounds of the spiritual world down to the place that we have called home for many lifetimes.

In the Vedas the living entities are described as sarva-ga, which means that they can have their home anywhere. This is already the case with the human being, as people live in virtually every corner of the globe, habituating to places where it doesn’t seem possible for a human being to survive. The harsh winters and their accompanying sparse daylight hours in places like Alaska and Siberia would make it seem that no human being could live there. On the reverse side, the extreme heat of Africa and the tropical storms that regularly arrive in states like Florida also would deter human beings from congregating there. But we see that these places have residents nonetheless.

The Vedic angle of vision applies the scope of residence to way beyond the human species. The ants live in the ground, the birds in the trees, the fish in the water, and the human beings on land. Therefore the many species, which are different forms of the same living force, can have different homes, but for Goswami Tulsidas and the devotees of the Lord, their only home is in bhakti, or divine love. More specifically, that love is facilitated through the holy name, the transcendental sound vibration that best represents the person with whom they are trying to connect. Try to remember a famous personality and you’ll have trouble doing so without thinking of their activities. Perhaps you will have to connect with their body of work - be it a book, film, television series, famous game or match; otherwise your connection will not last long. The same can be said about connecting with close friends and family.

With the Supreme Lord, however, His complete presence is available through His names, of which there are many. Saints like Tulsidas and Valmiki prefer the name of Rama, while the Vedas consider the holy name of Krishna to be even more powerful, though it addresses the same Rama, the Supreme Lord. Just imagine being in a distressed condition, unsure of the future, afraid of what might happen with a particular circumstance. Then imagine the most pleasant condition, where everything has gone so well that you can’t believe your good fortune. In either of these circumstances, just sit quietly and chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and hear the vibrations you are producing. This simple method, followed under regulative principles, with firm faith, love and devotion, can give one all the happiness they need.

“There are an infinite number of living beings, both moving and nonmoving, who have many different abodes, with some residing on the earth, some in the sky, and some in the water. But O helpless Tulsi, for you Shri Rama’s holy name is your only home.” (Dohavali, 37)

Rama pastimesChanting and hearing the names allows devotees to connect with God through His pastimes, the activities He performed in the past and also those that will take place in the future. Just as the positions of north, south, east and west can be relative to the person’s situation and the objects they are comparing, past, present and future also aren’t absolute. Our present life is actually the afterlife from a previous existence. In addition, by tomorrow, today will become part of the past life. Thus there is constant shifting of time, with only the Supreme Lord able to fully make light of the complexities.

The universe goes through cycles of creation and destruction, and there are many universes as well. What we consider the past activities of Lord Rama and Lord Krishna will actually take place in the future somewhere else. This is confirmed in Vedic literature, including in the wonderful Ramacharitamanasa, Tulsidas’ most famous work. In the section describing the marriage ceremony of Lord Rama and Sita Devi in this work, it is said that the first obeisances were made to Lord Ganesha, who is the son of Mother Parvati and Lord Shiva. The Ramacharitamanasa is different from the Ramayana authored by Maharishi Valmiki, for the latter is the original account of the life and pastimes of Lord Rama as they take place during the Treta Yuga, or second time period of creation.

The Tulsidas work is in Hindi, and it doesn’t follow the original Ramayana exactly. The reason for the difference is revealed by the poet himself in the introductory verses of the Ramacharitamanasa . Tulsidas uses a famous conversation between Lord Shiva and his wife as the primary reference tool for his poem. This conversation dealt entirely with Rama’s life and pastimes, and it was later spoken by Lord Shiva to other people as well. This was the version that Tulsidas first heard, being blessed with the words from his guru. Therefore, to show honor and respect to his spiritual master, Tulsidas chose Lord Shiva’s accounts, which are slightly different because of the many times that Rama descends to earth and enacts pastimes, as the basis for his Hindi poem. Lord Shiva’s original telling is found in the Brahmanda Purana and it later became known as the Adhyatma Ramayana.

Lord GaneshaSince Lord Shiva was watching Rama’s activities from his perch in heaven, when Rama got married, Ganesha had yet to be born. Nevertheless, Ganesha was being offered the first prayers, as is the standard custom for any Vedic ritual. This puzzling contradiction is explained by the fact that the creation continually goes through cycles of manifestation and annihilation; thus Ganesha was honored even before he specifically appeared during that time.

When Sita, Rama and Lakshmana [the Lord’s younger brother] were making their fourteen year journey through the forests of India, they met up with Maharishi Valmiki at his ashrama. After offering obeisances, as was social custom, Rama asked the sage if he knew of a good place that the group could set up camp. Valmiki cleverly replied with a description of the qualities of devotees, saying that Rama should live in their hearts. One of the qualities stated was that devotees have ears that are like oceans that regularly receive water in the form of Rama’s activities. Yet they delight so much in Rama’s pastimes that this ocean never fills up, despite the constant inflow of water in the form of Rama-lila.

Valmiki wasn’t exaggerating, as balance is never an issue in bhakti. One of the greatest fears for a parent following Vedic traditions is that their child will decide to renounce the world early after learning Vedanta philosophy. Veda means “knowledge” and anta means “the end” or “conclusion”. Therefore Vedanta represents the summit of knowledge, the conclusion of conclusions. Unfortunately, this fear is mistakenly there even when the children take to bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, which is above Vedanta study. From Valmiki’s description, we can understand that the bhaktas never have a need to give up anything outright, for their primary aim is pleasure. Whatever they can do to find circumstances favorable for hearing about God and singing His glories, that is the path the devotees will accept. Formal renunciation, or the sannyasa order, is not required for one who is only looking for devotion.

The requirement for balance and restriction does not apply to one who is looking for transcendental pleasure. There is no question of trying to balance spiritual life and material life when the aim is to swim in the ocean of nectar that is divine love. Even if there is a perceived need for balance in the beginning, then one should at least introduce some bhakti into their life. In the absence of loving association with God, the spirit soul will find so many other things to love. Yet when on the material playing field devoid of God consciousness, the need for balance immediately arises. Therefore the condition described by Valmiki can never be found with any material endeavor. This is why every non-spiritual guidebook, every recommended system of maintenance not rooted in divine love, calls for balance. Want to find material opulence? You need to have tolerance and avoid attachment to the outcomes of events. Want to practice mystic yoga and bask in the resulting health benefits? You need balance in your eating and sleeping. Want to save up to buy something expensive? You’ll need to moderate your spending habits.

The sad thing is that accompanying the requirement for balance is the cap on enjoyment, the limit on how much the received reward can be utilized. For instance, material opulence can only go so far, as the wealthiest individuals in the world are known for choosing philanthropy and activism after their enjoyment in life has fizzled out. A lean and fit body that is the reward for exercise and eating in moderation must have a purpose to fulfill, otherwise the healthy person will lose interest and fall back to their uncontrolled eating.

Worshiping Sita and RamaWhen following bhakti, the desire for connecting with God only increases. The immediate enjoyment received through chanting and hearing isn’t long-lived, but the benefits most certainly are. After the joy of hearing about Rama and His supreme kindness wears off, the devotee will want to hear about the same topics again. The rivers thus keep flowing into the ocean of the mind, and the level of satisfaction never tops off. The Supreme Lord is the most benevolent benefactor because He makes the gifts we really need readily available. The general rule is that those things which are too expensive are things that we don’t require. As the audible nectar of Rama’s holy names and pastimes gives life to the man drowning in the pool of material existence, it is available to every single person, provided they have the desire to enjoy it. The saints carry this healing remedy, and they try to distribute it to as many people as possible. Those who keep this medicine in good supply with them at all times and apply it every single day never worry about finding too much bhakti, for that is never possible.

In Closing:

Keep running up and down pleasure’s hill,

Eventually enjoyment reaches fill.

Moderation in habits required,

Else in constant suffering one mired.

Either on enjoyment put a cap,

Or accept more to avoid unhealthy trap.

But in bhakti balance is never an issue,

Endless ways of divine love spirit soul due.

Tulsidas, Valmiki and Shiva very well know this,

Thus they pass on Rama-lila’s transcendental bliss.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Thinking The Worst

Ravana fighting off Jatayu“Is it possible that Sita - the princess of Videha who hails from Mithila and is the daughter of King Janaka - is together with that wretched Ravana after being forced by him? I think that maybe when the Rakshasa was taking away Sita, fearing Rama’s arrows he flew up so quickly that it caused her to fall.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.6-7)

kim nu sītā atha vaidehī maithilī janaka ātmajā ||
upatiṣṭheta vivaśā rāvaṇam duṣṭa cāriṇam |
kṣipram utpatato manye sītām ādāya rakṣasaḥ ||
bibhyato rāma bāṇānām antarā patitā bhavet |

Shri Hanuman, ever the sweetheart deserving victory in any endeavor he follows, here continues his mental review of the troublesome situation he found himself in. Assigned the herculean task of singlehandedly finding a missing princess inside of a city filled with the wickedest creatures of the world, Hanuman’s greatest difficulty came not from the opposing forces, but from his own mind, as his eagerness to meet the beloved wife of Lord Rama tested his patience. In reviewing what might have happened to the missing princess, Hanuman covered all possibilities, even those one should never think of.

Sita DeviWhat kind of thoughts should we never even entertain? With Sita Devi, the princess in question, the defining characteristic is devotion to Lord Rama. In fact, all of her other features are derivatives of this dedication, as her eyes dare not even rest on another man’s glance. Because of her spotless character, she was the object of desire for those consumed by their sense demands and her husband in turn the object of envy. That Lord Rama, the Supreme Lord descended to earth in a seemingly human form, would be envied is not surprising, for the very genesis of creation is rooted in this sentiment. Without a fervent desire to compete with the mightiest divine being, the original creator, the fountainhead of all energies, birth in a temporary land filled with miseries could not be possible.

Why would anyone be jealous of God? The real question is, “why wouldn’t everyone be?” The insecurities borne of ignorance keep us ever fearful of losing our possessions. If we see someone successful in business or life in general, it is natural for feelings of inferiority to arise. Only one who is self-satisfied, knowing the Truth and man’s position relative to the different energies emanating from Rama, will be non-envious. Such a person will rejoice over another’s success, and another’s sadness will be the cause of the greatest distress.

Knowing and loving God thus forms the primary goal for every form of life, but especially the human being, who is endowed with the ability to perfect consciousness. With proper adherence to austerity and religious practice from the time of birth, the mind can be taught to focus on activities which keep a steady target on the proper aim, one that is tied to the most pleasurable object. Rather than just a mental exercise devoid of pleasurable feelings, the highest form of religion known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is meant to complement every practice with a corresponding level of joy and happiness. Among the gamut of emotions capable of emanating from the liberated spirit soul, the ability to praise and glorify others stands as the source of the highest pleasure. If a corresponding beneficiary is identified who has unlimited features and glories, the praising can continue uninterrupted and without motivation.

To see how bhakti is practiced perfectly, the Lord’s most intimate associates descend with Him from the spiritual world. When Lord Rama advented during the Treta Yuga, His eternal consort from the spiritual sky did so as well in the kingdom of Videha. Maharaja Janaka was the king at the time, and he was famous around the world for many reasons. He was extremely pious, chivalrous, charitable, and dedicated to dharma, or religiosity. A king who follows the prescribed duties assigned to his order meets unhappiness neither in this world nor in the next. Janaka was also known as Videha, which means “the bodiless”. He was so adept in mysticism that he had practically transcended the influence of every one of the senses acquired at the time of birth. He was self-realized and fully satisfied, thus he was deemed beyond emotion. It is much easier to abide by prescribed duties when carrying out your responsibilities doesn’t cause you any pain. When you are immune to both happiness and distress, following the righteous path is a piece of cake.

The fruit of Janaka’s religious practices would come on a fateful day when he was ploughing a field for the purpose of performing a grand sacrifice, or yajna. While ploughing, he found a small child emerging from the earth. Not knowing who she was, Janaka picked her up in his arms and held her with fatherly affection. Though he was Videha, he couldn’t help but be consumed with loving emotions upon holding the young girl. Then a voice from the sky, as if to alleviate Janaka’s concerns over who the child belonged to, told the king that the girl was his daughter in all righteousness. His concerns gone, Janaka took the child home with him and put her in the custody of his wife. Since she was born of the earth, he gave her the name Sita.

Sita holding lotus flowerThough she was a female and thus at the time not formally trained in Vedic principles and concepts, Sita still acquired the same attribute of dispassion found in her father. Born in a family known for its chivalry, righteousness, and detachment from sense gratification, Sita Devi was essentially a yogi in every respect. Of course the true source of her mystic abilities was her undying love and affection for the Supreme Lord, whom she would receive as a husband when she reached the appropriate age.

When Rama and Sita were residing in the forest of Dandaka, Ravana, the king of the Rakshasas living in Lanka, heard of Janaka’s daughter’s immense beauty. Despite having hundreds of the most beautiful princesses as wives, Ravana was intent on having Sita. As much as Janaka was videha, Ravana was that much attached to his senses, and then some. But Ravana knew he couldn’t fight Rama one on one and live to tell about it. Therefore he set up a ruse and quickly took Sita away while Rama wasn’t looking.

In the subsequent search for His wife, the all-knowing Rama enlisted the aid of a band of forest dwellers residing in Kishkindha. Hanuman was their most capable warrior, and through many trials and tribulations, he managed to make his way to the island of Lanka and then inside the inner apartments unseen. He searched and searched, for his devotion to Rama was impossible to properly measure. He had never seen Sita before, but that didn’t deter him in his mission. He was so anxious to meet her that he was willing to do pretty much anything to succeed.

After seeing so many beautiful women and unearthing practically every inch of the island, Hanuman stopped and reflected for a moment. It’s completely understandable that his enthusiasm would be tempered every so often by doubts and fears. Hanuman was not worried about his own well-being. He was concerned about the other members of the monkey-army, Sugriva [the leader of the monkeys], and Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana. They were all counting on him, so Hanuman did not want to let them down.

Shri HanumanIn the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Hanuman is running through the possibilities of what might have happened. We see that he briefly contemplated whether Sita might have agreed to Ravana’s advances. But to rightly convince himself otherwise, Hanuman remembered that Sita was brought up in the line of Videha kings; therefore she could never be tempted by anyone’s advances, no matter how beautiful or powerful the man was. She loved Rama for who He was, not because of any of His outward features, though the Lord wasn’t lacking any opulence. Sita is a pure yogi, so she knows that the soul is meant to be attached to the Supreme Soul, the plenary expansion of God residing within the hearts of all living entities.

Abandoning that incorrect line of thinking, Hanuman next thinks that maybe Sita fell down while Ravana was flying away in haste. The demon would obviously be afraid of Rama’s arrows coming his way during the escape. Prior to Ravana’s taking of Sita, Rama had dispatched 14,000 of Ravana’s Rakshasa associates to the land of Yamaraja, the god of justice. How one man can kill that many fighters by himself is known only to the Supreme Lord and those ever devoted to Him. Ravana was no fool in this regard. He was thus surely in a hurry to get out of Dandaka and back to his island of Lanka, which was strategically situated far away from any mainland.

Hanuman would eventually fight on, pushing aside his fears and concerns. What else could he do? Give up? That would serve no purpose. The perseverance shown in devotional service brings the highest reward, for it validates the worthiness of the mission of life to the dedicated worker. Hanuman didn’t require this validation, but through his concerns his love for Rama only increased. They say familiarity breeds contempt, but with Hanuman the more he thinks of his beloved Sita and Rama, the more he becomes attached to them. Similarly, anyone fortunate enough to follow Hanuman’s travels through Lanka and his eventual finding of Sita will only learn to love him more and more with each passing day. Having his association is the greatest boon, as Hanuman carefully plants the seed of love for the Supreme Lord within the heart of the sincere devotee. By carefully watering that seed with regular chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the effects of the senses become mitigated, and the bodiless sincere soul never strays from the purified platform of God consciousness.

Every party involved kept hope alive. Sita remained within her body by always thinking of the glories of her husband. This unique practice is a lesson for every soul suffering from the pangs of material existence. Even Hanuman followed this practice when he met difficulty. And why should there not be bumps along the road of life? For the fruit of our existence to be acquired and tasted, it must be something we really want. If devotion to the Lord is just handed to us, the fruit might be rejected or held off to be enjoyed later on. On the other hand, one who becomes hungrier and hungrier for finding that transcendental taste will relish the devotion instilled within their heart through solid practice of bhakti.

Hanuman chantingAnyone who finds themselves in distressful situations can follow the path laid down by Sita and Hanuman. In fact, if we concentrate our minds on their remembrance of Rama, their constant hope of being reunited with Him and seeing a smile on His most beautiful face, there is every chance at succeeding. Sita and Hanuman humble even the proudest person through their practically impossible to believe love for the Lord of the universe. Their pastimes and characteristics would not be believable were it not for the visual evidence that is the exhibition of divine love by the sadhus following in their line. The devotees prove that God exists and that He is most satisfied by love and devotion. Shri Rama doesn’t necessarily reside in the ashrama of the yogi, in the home of an opulent king, or in a place of sacrifice. He stays wherever His name, fame and glories are constantly recited. He resides with those who make the heart the resting place for these transcendental features.

In Closing:

“Is it possible for Sita of Videha’s line,

To give in to the Rakshasa of the worst kind?

Perhaps Ravana in a rush to retreat,

Rama’s arrows perform amazing feats.

Flying in a rush to avoid arrows abound,

Perhaps Sita then fell from chariot to ground.”

Hanuman knew that these thoughts not true,

But Sita not found, what else could he do?

Thought the worst but victory he’d see,

Without love for Rama he cannot be.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Yoga Under Duress

Prahlada thrown off a cliff“If one is engaged in the advancement of spiritual knowledge, there will be so many insults and much dishonor from others. This is expected because material nature is so constituted. Even a boy like Prahlada, who, only five years old, was engaged in the cultivation of spiritual knowledge, was endangered when his father became antagonistic to his devotion.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 13.8-12 Purport)

Question: “How do I concentrate on devotional activities when I have so many pressures to maintain a family?”

Answer: In a particular episode of the famous American television sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond, a doctor on the show compares the mind to a donkey. He says that there is only so much weight you can put on the mind before it decides to just sit down and stop moving. Though the analogy is meant to be humorous, it has merit. If we are bearing an excruciatingly large weight on our shoulders, how are we supposed to concentrate on anything else? For the fruitive worker entangled in so many responsibilities, the panacea of a life devoted to spirituality seems far, far away. But as was seen with one particular devotee a long time back, even under the most trying circumstances, if there is sincerity of purpose, the beneficiary of that service will make sure that the devotion can not only continue, but flourish.

The first instruction of the Vedas to aspiring transcendentalists is aham brahmasmi, which means “I am Brahman.” “You are not the body, don’t you see? The body is just temporary, like a lump of clay that can be molded and shaped at any second. In the larger scheme, the all-devouring agent for change known as time is responsible for the shifts, but this doesn’t mean that you are completely helpless with respect to your body’s transformation. Your actions have an influence on the rate of the change and its nature, but nevertheless, throughout the passage of time you are still pure spirit. Detach from the bodily influence and remain spiritually aware. Brahman is bliss. Brahman is truth. Brahman is eternal life.”

These truths are well and good to learn about when you are sober and able to concentrate on hearing and understanding the complex information, but what if you don’t have the time to study Brahman? For the adult family man living in the modern world, the average day is filled with pressures. Though time is continuous and days are only slices taken from that timeline for analytical purposes, let’s start with the morning period to see just how many pressures the family man faces and how they increase in number throughout the day. The first pressure relates to waking up at a certain time. In the winter months this is most difficult, for as soon as you emerge from underneath the warm covers, you are welcomed with colder air. As the sleeping man is in a vulnerable condition, with the vitality of the living spirit having rested for the previous eight or so hours, the sudden burst of cold is rather uncomfortable. As over time the difference in climatic conditions comes to be expected, the waking man knows what he will face should he arise, so just getting out of bed becomes a chore.

winterEmerging from bed is the start of the day. Now you have to do your routine in the bathroom, change clothes, preferably eat something, and make it out the door within a short amount of time so that you can arrive at work on time. In some cases, there may be the added step of checking email. If something went wrong overnight at work, you’ll have to fix it before you leave the house. Fixing the problem will only make you later, and thus cause you to get behind on the day’s work.

Then there is the pressure of the travel. If you take mass transit, you want to make the train or bus that you prefer to take. The public transportation vehicle must arrive on time as well; otherwise the delicate balance of time management is thrown off. For the person who drives to work, you just hope that there is no traffic on the roads. By the way, since you’re taking an automobile to work every day, you are now responsible for its maintenance. This means always keeping in mind how much gasoline is in the car and whether or not you need to bring the vehicle in for servicing. The service centers are typically only open during the weekdays, those days where you have the aforementioned morning pressures relating to work. Should the car require maintenance, you have to rearrange your schedule and hope that the repairs don’t cost too much.

If you do arrive at work on time, other kinds of pressures only begin. The difficulty of the job is what enables you to earn a living off of what you do. As in the modern age most of society doesn’t live off of farming, income is earned by being of some value to an organization that sells a good or service to others. As the profit/loss game is volatile, there is no telling whether or not the company will survive going forward. It is funny to think that those who farm for a living are now considered poor and stuck in a “third world” life, while the society filled with daily pressures and uncertainty is considered advanced.

If you manage to work your eight hours, which is actually a lot of time, you now want to get home and relax. Your work day is over, but you know that you’ll have to repeat it again the next day. This actually introduces a new pressure, one which is again based on time. You have a limited window for enjoyment, so you want to make sure that nothing gets in the way of that. Ah, but the responsibilities at home never go away, even if you leave for your job. The spouse at home may want you to pick up something after you leave work. There are so many errands to run and things to do that you’re fortunate if you can ever just travel straight home.

The family members at home may not live the same life that you do. All the work you put in, all the pressure you deal with, is for their benefit, and yet they just keep asking for things. They want money for this and that, and they want to make sure that you’re always there. This adds another pressure. If somehow you were unable to provide for them, what would they do? In this way your focus shifts towards defense, protecting what you have now, though your present lifestyle is filled with constant pressure. Rather than look for a way out of the hectic struggle, you think of ways to maintain it, thus taxing your brain constantly. Even going to bed at night is stressful, for you know that if you don’t fall asleep at a specific time, you will have difficulty waking up and preparing for work in the morning.

With such stress on the mind, how is one supposed to learn about Brahman and realize that they are not spirit? Where does the devotional aspect of life fit into all of this? The stressed worker is one scenario, but what about the person suffering from a debilitating disease? Sure, we are not our body, but tell that to someone dying of cancer. If my body is filled with pain, how am I not supposed to think about it? Fortunately, there is one method of spiritual practice that can be implemented under any condition. Success through this avenue is not dependent on extenuating circumstances, though peace of mind is always helpful.

“One who is not in transcendental consciousness can have neither a controlled mind nor steady intelligence, without which there is no possibility of peace. And how can there be any happiness without peace?” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.66)

Lord KrishnaHow can any person find happiness without peace? This cogent rhetorical question is posed by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita, the most concise and complete treatise on spirituality known in the world. It is the only book that need be read, for within it are pearls of wisdom that form the most valuable necklace of knowledge. From the Gita we learn that knowing Brahman is just the beginning. As pure spirit, we have a constitutional position, one where we are intimately tied to the Supreme Spirit, who is none other than Shri Krishna.

Studying Brahman, practicing austerity, performing sacrifices and giving in charity are meant to culminate in Krishna consciousness. Bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is the set of activities that seek that divine consciousness right from the start. In other methods, one first starts with fruitive activity, mental speculation, or meditation and then hopefully reaches the platform of devotion to God. With bhakti-yoga, the transcendentalist immediately touches Krishna, and though their behavior may be tainted in the beginning, simply through the sincere desire to connect with Krishna, success is assured, even under trying circumstances.

There are many historical examples to show evidence of the fact, but likely the most cherished and remembered is the story of Prahlada Maharaja. The family man has a ton of pressure to deal with, but imagine if your father kept harassing you, trying to kill you day after day. As an adult, maybe this wouldn’t be so difficult, but what if you were just five years old and your father the most feared king in the world? This is precisely what Prahlada Maharaja faced, who, as a five year old boy, was stubborn in his insistence on practicing bhakti. On the other hand, his father, Hiranyakashipu, was against any type of devotional practice. He was warm to the idea of his son getting an education, but only on those topics that would allow him to follow in the father’s footsteps. The ruthless king wanted Prahlada to be just as feared, to carry on the tradition of power and strength. Thus Prahlada was sent to school to learn the art of administration.

Yet the boy had no interest in these topics. He only wanted to hear about devotion to Vishnu, which is another name for God. The father would ask the son what he learned in school, and to his chagrin Prahlada would only speak of Vishnu. Hiranyakashipu hated this so much that he finally decided Prahlada had to be killed. One slight problem though. Prahlada was unbreakable. Throwing him in a pit of snakes, setting him on fire, tossing him off the cliff of a mountain, and even attacking him with deadly weapons could not kill him. Throughout these attacks, Prahlada just remembered Vishnu, vishno-smaranam.

“Prahlada Maharaja said: Hearing and chanting about the transcendental holy name, form, qualities, paraphernalia and pastimes of Lord Vishnu, remembering them, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, offering the Lord respectful worship with sixteen types of paraphernalia, offering prayers to the Lord, becoming His servant, considering the Lord one's best friend, and surrendering everything unto Him (in other words, serving Him with the body, mind and words) — these nine processes are accepted as pure devotional service.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.23-24)

Prahlada MaharajaFrom the interactions between the famous father-and-son pair we get the definition of bhakti-yoga. Divine love can consist of nine different activities, with the most important being hearing and chanting. From hearing about Krishna one gets the seed of the creeper of devotion implanted within them. Through continuous hearing that seed can start to grow. With chanting one can make sure that the connection to God remains intact. Just by regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, all that one desires in spiritual life will arrive in the palm of the hand. No other method need be attempted. No austerity, penance, meditation, study, or sacrifice can bring the same benefit as that which comes through dedication in chanting.

From this sacred sequence of words, which is known as the maha-mantra, we get the solution to the problem of how to find spiritual life while supporting a family. Surely there are many pressures facing the dedicated worker supporting so many dependents, but if there is a sincere desire to connect with Krishna, the Lord will provide the necessary help. In spite of so many responsibilities, if one can make the chanting of the holy names a priority that is attended to each day, God will take care of the rest.

The routine recommended by the Vaishnava acharyas, those who follow in the mood of devotion of Prahlada Maharaja, is that one chant the maha-mantra for sixteen rounds a day on a set of japa beads. This will take quite a bit of time each day, even after one becomes familiar with the pronunciation of the words and gains some speed in their chanting. At the same time, this recommendation doesn’t mean that one who only chants a single round each day isn’t spiritually benefitted. Rather, just one pure recitation of the holy name of Krishna is enough to bring immeasurable pious credits. The struggling worker can find time to chant at least one round per day. If a steady routine is made to support that dedication, then additional rounds can slowly be added on.

With Prahlada Maharaja there was full sincerity, and since he was only five years old what could he really do to influence his circumstances? Vishnu finally arrived on the scene as Narasimhadeva and took care of Hiranyakashipu. This means that for the sincere devotee, whatever impediments are there will be taken away. Prahlada didn’t give up being a king and then move to the forest. Instead, he lived within his environment and still remained always connected with Krishna. While waking up in the morning, driving to work, or even taking care of our tasks each day, there is nothing to stop vishno-smaranam. That remembrance of God is best strengthened through regular chanting, which is our ticket out of the hectic world lacking any semblance of peace.

In Closing:

Constant requests from family member each,

Leave constant pressures, peace out of reach.

Mind like donkey facing steady attack,

Can only handle so much load on back.

But devotion to flourish in any circumstance,

Every second to chant holy names brings chance.

Prahlada of his conditions had no control,

Yet to memory of Vishnu did he hold.

Krishna takes care of those who are sincere,

Through bhakti practice to God become dear.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Captivating Scene

Rama breaking Shiva's bow“One is looking at the arena and the city with amazement. Their mind and eyes are so attracted to that place that they cannot even blink.” (Janaki Mangala, 12)

ranga bhūmi pura kautuka eka nihārahiṃ |
lalaki subhāhiṃ nayana mana pheri na pāvahiṃ ||

Goswami Tulsidas here continues his description of the scene of the svayamvara held for Janaki, the daughter of King Janaka, many thousands of years ago. The city itself was a wonderful sight, and the rangabhumi, or arena holding the event’s main festivities, was also something to behold. People from far and wide arrived for this event, and they were not disappointed by what they first saw. Indeed, their reaction was one full of so much astonishment that their minds and eyes were fixed upon the main attraction. Many couldn’t even bring themselves to blink, for they didn’t want to deprive their eyes of the splendid vision for a second. Based on what would happen that day and who else would arrive later on, that elation was set to only increase.

If you travel from a distant place to attend an event, when you first see the arena or place where the event will take place, you will likely feel some happiness. “Ah, I have travelled so far, and look! There is the place where we are going. See how beautiful it looks. Let’s hurry up and park the car so that we can get a better view.” From the initial sighting the anticipation increases, and with anticipation comes an enhanced feeling of excitement when the event actually takes place.

Shiva's bowJanaki’s svayamvara wasn’t a rock concert, the performance of a dramatic play, or even the forum for a grand speech. Rather, the rangabhumi in question was holding a contest, one requiring immense strength. There was a famous bow belonging to Lord Shiva that was so heavy that even heavenly figures couldn’t dream of moving it. The contest was simple: lift the bow to win Janaka’s daughter’s hand in marriage.

Why would so many people travel to Janaka’s city? Janaki was the most beloved princess, endowed with every virtuous quality. Obtaining a good wife is akin to coming in to a large fortune, but not necessarily as we’d initially imagine it. When you win the lottery or strike oil, you hope to be financially secure for the rest of your life. As woman is the energy of man, obtaining a good wife means that you will have support in your journey through life, that you will have someone to correct you when you do something wrong and lift you up when you don’t feel up to performing your occupational duties.

The Vedic tradition reveals that the spirit soul is the essence of identity, and when coupled with a material covering, the aim in life becomes the forging of a permanent God consciousness. As this is not the natural inclination of a living entity who is born ignorant and required to undergo extensive education, rules, regulations and purificatory rites are instituted which span from the time of birth all the way up until death. Knowing which duties to perform and when is quite difficult; hence expert guidance from spiritual leaders is required.

In the middle stages of life, one can enter marriage to get support from a life partner, someone to live with you day in and day out. In addition, through marriage the natural urges for sex life can be acted upon in a regulated manner, thereby ensuring that society is filled with wanted children who are raised properly. From the protection of women through marriage, so many benefits come.

Sita DeviJanaki was no ordinary woman. She was found while as a baby in the ground that Janaka planned to plough for a religious sacrifice. He was childless at the time, and since he harbored such great affection for her, he took her in as his daughter. He didn’t run the risk of taking someone else’s baby because at the time of finding her, a voice in the sky came upon the scene and told Janaka that this girl belonged to him in all righteousness, or dharma.

Janaka lived by dharma, so he knew that when Sita reached an appropriate age, he had to find a husband for her. Not knowing her family ancestry and considering her tremendous virtues, Janaka decided to hold a contest and invite kings from around the world. If no one could lift Lord Shiva’s bow it would be a sign from above that no man was worthy of having Sita for a wife.

Everything about Janaka was first class, including his hospitality. The excitement over the svayamvara was well worth it. The visitors travelling with their family and royal entourages were not disappointed by what they saw in Tirahuta, Janaka’s capital city. People looked at the sacrificial arena in amazement, so much so that they couldn’t believe what they were seeing. As if Janaka knew the event would be talked about for thousands of years into the future, he made sure not to skimp on pomp. The king who had the greatest wealth in the form of his daughter made sure not to be frugal with regards to her marriage ceremony.

Sita DeviWhat Janaka didn’t initially know was that his daughter was the goddess of fortune herself, Lakshmi Devi. Think of the Supreme Lord’s most confidential associate, someone who gives Him the most pleasure. That person is Lakshmi, who has many different expansions and forms in the spiritual world. To coincide with her husband’s descent to earth as the hero of the Raghu dynasty, Lord Rama, Lakshmi appeared as Sita. She specifically chose Janaka as a father because of his qualifications. He had not a hint of sin in him, and he had the purity required for offering affection to the goddess of fortune.

Janaka did not want riches, but he didn’t shun them either. Whatever was needed to abide by dharma, Janaka would do. As an expert transcendentalist, he was above attraction and aversion, and yet he harbored immense affection for Sita. To prove that this love wasn’t of the material variety, Sita would bring to Janaka the Supreme Lord Himself as a son-in-law. Normally attraction and aversion are considered detrimental because they are based on maya, or illusion. If I’m walking down the road on a hot day and I think I see a pool of water up ahead, I might get excited. The attraction for the water will keep me running faster towards the destination spot. When I get there, however, I see that the water was a mirage, just a bunch of heat rays rising up from the surface of the ground. In this case both the initial excitement and ending dejection were not wise, for they were based on illusion.

The material body is like a bubble, which gets created at some point and is then quickly destroyed. Even if the body remains manifest for one hundred years, in the grand scheme that is an insignificant amount of time. Though the material forms do exist, since their duration of existence is so short, they can be considered illusory. Harboring attachment to these forms is detrimental because it keeps one in the dark about their real identity as eternal spirit. Having aversion to these forms based on the same mindset is also detrimental because since these forms are temporary, what is the use in hating them?

“Even kings like Janaka and others attained the perfectional stage by performance of prescribed duties. Therefore, just for the sake of educating the people in general, you should perform your work.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.20)

King Janaka watching daughter SitaBoth attachment and aversion can be purified when they are used to further one’s real position as servant of God. With Janaka, his initial aversion to material life kept him on the straightened path. He was Brahman realized, so he knew that the spirit soul is the essence of identity within all forms and that to act out of obligation to uphold righteousness is the right way to behave. He did what was prescribed for his order, not caring for the results of action either way.

At the same time, Janaka was not bereft of attachment. His love for Sita could not be measured, and that same love would be harbored for Shri Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana. The first time Janaka saw the two brothers, he thought that maybe they were embodiments of the Brahman he had meditated on for so long. The Lord’s direct potency of yogamaya helped Janaka’s transcendental attachment increase. From transcendental love Janaka was able to experience more pleasure and receive benefits not granted to anyone else. Since Janaka had Sita as a daughter and Rama as a son-in-law, we can say that there was never a king like him in the past and there will never be one like him in the future.

The svayamvara ceremony inherited that uniqueness. Those staring in wonder were feasting on the fruit of their eyes. Though the eyes are composed of material elements, when they are used to further one’s God consciousness, they take on their true value. The attendees of the svayamvara got to see the city of Janakpur, which is like a tilaka, or sacred mark, on this earth. Sita Devi appeared in that great land and her marriage to Rama took place there as well. For the travellers, so many spiritual merits were accumulated just by going there. Through his piety, Janaka would attract many people to a ceremony that would benefit them immensely.

That great kings’ good character continues to generously benefit people today, those who are fortunate enough to mentally travel back to that famous day when Rama lifted Lord Shiva’s bow and won Sita’s hand in marriage. The ears are meant for hearing about God, and especially His name. At Sita’s svayamvara everyone would see Sita and Rama and recite their names. Thus even the many princes who failed to lift Lord Shiva’s bow got the victory of witnessing Sita and Rama married in an extravagant ceremony, one that you couldn’t take your eyes off of.

In Closing:

Stare at something long and get attachment,

To possess cherished item life’s attainment.

Visitors to Janaka’s ceremony this way felt,

From vision of bow and arena hearts did melt.

Finding baby Sita Janaka was charmed,

Attachment to her piety not harmed.

Rather love for her brought God to him,

When Rama bow’s contest did win.

Even failed suitors were there to witness,

Union of Sita and Rama, eyes to bless.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

See No Knowledge

Lord Krishna speaking“Experience is gathered by hearing and seeing. One who is less intelligent gathers experience by seeing, and one who is more intelligent gathers experience by hearing.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Nectar of Instruction, 1 Purport)

“Should I take information from authority, accepting it to be true without testing the theories myself, or should I insist on visual evidence for all the postulates and foremost truths of life?” This is the question facing those curious about the origin of life and what to make of their time spent within a particular form of body. The option where all truths must be experienced and seen firsthand seems like a safer bet, as there is less vulnerability for being cheated. In reality, however, seeing is very limited, and even under this method much information has to be accepted that isn’t seen. Everyone must be taught something and extend faith in the instruction presented to them at some point. Therefore if we’re already trusting someone, we might as well approach the right source of information to ascertain the proper path of action.

Seeing involves knowledge gathered from experience and tests for validity. For instance, with respect to the origin of life, the people who believe in the theory of evolution follow what they see, namely the evidence of fossils of creatures who inhabited the earth a long time ago. The monkeys have similar fossil structures to human beings, so perhaps the human eventually evolved from the monkey. The conclusion is based simply on theory and some visual evidence. The same visual evidence leads to the theory that all creatures evolved from one another, with the fittest sections within each group mating to form a gradually more dominant species.

the sunSo this seems plausible, no? But has anyone actually seen two monkeys produce a human being? Have we ever, in any scenario, seen a bunch of chemicals collide to produce life? Moreover, how does the evidence gathered from basic perception explain the phenomenon that is the sun? The sun has been burning since the beginning of time and it shows no signs of letting up. There aren’t fuel tankers driving to the sun nor is it even possible for human beings to come close to approaching the giant solar body, so intense is its heat. Rather than give the monkey the credit for creating the human being, why not worship the sun, who provides the light to maintain life on earth?

We see that the greatest limiting factor in acquiring evidence from visual perception is the short amount of time spent on earth by the living entity. In the human species, which is considered the most advanced and which is purportedly evolved from inferior life forms, there is still the knowledge gathering process. Even a superior species like the human being is born ignorant and no more intelligent than many animals. Only through protection from caretakers can we remain alive and eventually receive an education. When initially accepting instruction from teachers and parents, there are no tests made for validity. For instance, we know of the date we were born based on the information provided by our parents. There is no way for us to go back in time and witness the event for ourselves. On a larger scale of information transfer, the history of the earth as a whole is accepted through hearing rather than seeing.

The human being, in the absence of a spiritual awareness, takes sense gratification - meeting the demands of the tongue, genitals, stomach, eyes and ears - as the most important pursuit in life. Therefore through visual evidence, studying fossils and coming up with a test for fitness, there is the deduction that the human life is the most superior and that it descended from nature, with there being no such thing as a God or almighty creator. But if we apply a little intelligence using knowledge acquired through the hearing process, we’ll see that all of these theories can be debunked fairly quickly, including the superiority of the method used to acquire the information that led to the invalid conclusions.

Lord KrishnaThe Vedas, the oldest scriptural tradition in the world, are passed down solely through a chain of disciplic succession. One person, a spiritual master, or guru, teaches their disciples about the meaning of life, the differences between spirit and matter, and the properties of the original person. The disciple then passes on the same information to others. The origin of the chain is, not surprisingly, God, who is known by thousands of names in the Vedic tradition. He is described as Krishna in His original feature because He is all-attractive. Wearing a peacock feather in His hair, holding a flute in His hands, garlanded with a string of beautiful flowers on His neck, and wearing the finest jewelry, Krishna’s image is the most beautiful. The Supreme Person is also known as Rama for His ability to give transcendental pleasure to others. Transcendental refers to those things that transcend the temporary nature of the world, including the various bodies that are assumed.

From the instruction passed on by the spiritual masters, we understand that the creator, who is the original person, is responsible for generating this and many other universes. The residents here did not evolve from other species; they instead physically descended from a more pure land. The material realm is a shadow copy, a generated version of an original home that is pure and eternal. The differences in species are even accounted for in the information presented through the hearing process. The spirit soul is the essence of life, but depending on its desires it can assume different dresses. The number of different forms is capped at 8,400,000, with each species having unique features. The bodies themselves don’t evolve, as they are nothing but combinations of material elements. For instance, the body of a bird has a high concentration of the material element of air, while the human being has a higher concentration of fire. This explains why the body temperature of a living human being is steady at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The body of a lizard is lacking fire; hence it is cold-blooded.

The material elements always exist, for they come from the origin of matter and spirit, Shri Krishna. Just as we can create different compounds in a laboratory using varying combinations of elements, the material bodies can be crafted and shaped based on different combinations of material elements. Just because we see a strange or new body type doesn’t mean that the elements themselves didn’t exist before. The bodies don’t evolve, but the type of dwelling the soul occupies can. At the beginning of its descent from the spiritual land, the individual soul can take the form of a fish and then gradually work its way through the different species, eventually reaching the human form. This transmigration is known as reincarnation, and it operates under scientific rules. The Hindus didn’t create reincarnation; it is a subtle aspect of science that continually operates irrespective of the individual’s belief in it.

All of this information is gathered through the hearing process. No visual tests are required, as the information can be accepted and then acted upon. The latter is the more important, for information is useless unless one can gain a better situation as a result of knowing it. Because of the failure to achieve a better position, the theories crafted by the evolutionists and those who don’t believe in God can be cast aside without hesitation. Starting with the issue of fitness, we see that in the absence of God consciousness the human being, considered the most advanced species, is actually inferior to the animals and lower species. How do we know this? At its core, animal life consists of eating, sleeping, mating and defending. A dog wants to eat something to satisfy its hunger, sleep when it is tired, have sex when it so desires, and defend its life and territory. Since the dog is not very capable or intelligent, the nature of these activities is considered substandard or inferior from the angle of vision of the human being.

But when the human takes to the same activities as its primary mission in life, they actually become inferior to the dog. The dog can eat pretty much anything thrown its way and sleep on the bare ground if required. The human being, on the other hand, must eat nice food and find a comfortable mattress to sleep on. Therefore much mental effort is spent finding just the right place to eat and the most comfortable and affordable bed. The same dichotomies exist in sex life. The dog has no trouble finding sexual partners, while the human being is so troubled by sex life that if a person is single into their thirties, there is cause for concern. “What if I never find the right person? What if I die alone?” Meanwhile, the person who is married is so frustrated by having to deal with their spouse all the time that they envy the position of the single person. “Boy, life was so great before I got married; I had so much freedom.”

laptop batteryAccording to the evolution theory, the human species is the product of the fittest members of previous species mating. When operating under the mindset of following base instincts, however, where God consciousness is absent, the lower animals are actually superior. Say, for example, we have two laptop computers. Both machines have the exact same configuration, all the way down to the processors used and the operating system being run. The only difference is in the batteries. One machine has a battery life of five hours, while another machine’s has a life of one hour. The machine with the longer battery life is more efficient and thus superior. It can perform all of the same operations and do it without requiring a recharge of the battery every hour.

In a similar manner, the animal species, when following the life of eating, sleeping, mating and defending, is far more efficient than the spiritually unconscious human being. The dog doesn’t have to worry about a mortgage payment, contraceptives, the next election, unemployment, health insurance, having the in-laws over for Thanksgiving, or any other regularly occurring problem. The dog is not the only species that lives efficiently in this way. The tiger, which lives off of eating other animals, also doesn’t have to worry. It won’t even eat fruit or vegetables; it takes only the flesh of animals that it kills. But nature works in such a benevolent way that even the tiger’s needs are taken care of without a problem.

The Vedic seers, those following authorized information acquired through hearing, do concur that the human species is superior, but only when the full potential for intelligence is reached. Scientific research in how to travel to other realms outside of earth doesn’t represent enhanced intelligence. Using the same definition for efficiency, if we have one human being who is fully satisfied remaining at home and following activity that is in line with his original disposition, we’d have to say that they are more efficient than the person who requires constant travel and new engagements. From this we see that the true benefit of the human life is consciousness and the ability to purify it. Real fitness comes when there is no more hankering and lamenting and when the consciousness is fixed on the service of that one person who keeps the mind and soul actively engaged and fully satisfied.

Not surprisingly, that person is Krishna, or God. The human being has the chance to understand God and the need for serving Him. The best way to connect with the Lord is to chant the holy names found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. A sequence of sound vibrations that transcends all sectarian boundaries, this mantra is the key that unlocks the door to spiritual freedom. The effects of connecting with God cannot be personally validated through logical proofs or visual evidence. The hearing process is superior in gathering the highest knowledge, the system of information passed down since the beginning of time. With any hypothesis, the proof is in the pudding; the validity of the prescriptions is found through the results. We know that the theory of evolution keeps man in the dark about its true nature, and it actually leads him to follow a life inferior to that of an animal. On the other hand, by adopting the ancient art of bhakti, the religion of love, man makes the most use of his unique opportunity, one gained through much time and effort spent  in so many other species of life.

“And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.5)

Lord KrishnaWhy not give chanting a try and assess whether or not reciting and hearing God’s names make a significant difference? If we follow the simple formula of chanting the maha-mantra for sixteen rounds a day on a set of japa beads, all the while refraining from sinful activities like meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex, we’ll see that the consciousness will slowly but surely be energized and surcharged with feelings of transcendental affection. When we hear God, we will be able to see everything more clearly and realize that our mission in life is to always remember Him; an ability which will bring us back to the spiritual land after our life is over.

In Closing:

In order for claim to believe,

Evidence with eyes we must see.

Hearing leaves us open to cheating,

For disastrous future condition meeting.

But wrong theories come from only sight,

Like evolution, chemicals source of life?

Hearing from Vedas only way to understand,

That knowing God our purpose in this land.

Follow chanting and for yourself know,

If from loving Krishna happiness will grow.