Saturday, December 24, 2011

All the Pieces Fall to His Wish

Rama and Lakshmana with Vishvamitra“Meanwhile, the son of Gadhi [Vishvamitra] went to Ayodhya. King Dasharatha said, ‘Please bring him here to the palace’, and welcomed him.” (Janaki Mangala, 15)

gādhi suvana tehiṃ avasara avadha sidhāyau |
nṛpati kīnha sanamāna bhavana lai āyau ||

As with a marriage there is the merging of two families, the wonderfully auspicious event of Sita’s nuptials joined two kings renowned for their ability to protect and abide by the righteous path. Thus far in his poem called the Janaki Mangala Goswami Tulsidas has set the scene in the kingdom of Tirahuta, where the leader Janaka is preparing for a svayamvara for his daughter Sita. But with every marriage there is the counterpart, though in the case of Sita’s wedding the winner of her hand was not known to everyone. The person who would emerge victorious in the contest to lift Lord Shiva’s bow was from the land of Ayodhya, and His journey towards the event in Mithila was not the same as any other attendee’s. Vishvamitra Muni, the son of Gadhi, would be the instrument to bring Lord Rama to the svayamvara, and King Dasharatha’s pious nature would sanction that move, though indirectly.

Sita Devi holding lotus flowerSita Devi is the goddess of fortune; she is married to Lord Narayana, or God. Fortune is a gift from higher authorities; we cannot just create it on our own. Even the wealthy moguls who strike it big in business do so as the result of the consuming public’s interest in their product or service. With investments that hit it big, there are the actions of others that cause the rise in price of the commodity. Therefore fortune is really out of our control, though we have the tendency to think otherwise.

As Lakshmi Devi, Sita controls the fortune of the entire world. Her husband is the most fortunate living entity because He is loved and adored by Lakshmi, who showers Him with affection nonstop. Sita’s association in marriage was considered a similarly fortunate blessing. Thus many royal families from around the world came to Janaka’s kingdom to try to earn her company. Janaka was attractive because of his piety and Sita her beauty and family link to Janaka. The great king could think of no other way to decide her marriage than to hold a self-choice ceremony, where prospective grooms would try to lift a heavy bow initially belonging to Lord Shiva.

The future winner of the contest resided in Ayodhya, and He was not made aware of Janaka’s vow because He happened to not be home when the announcement was made. The venerable Vishvamitra Muni was residing peacefully in the forest when a band of night-rangers, ghoulish creatures given to changing shapes at will, started to harass him. A brahmana is a priest, so they have no association with violence, money, or competition. They essentially have no reason to have strife with any other person. These night-rangers knew the power and sway that the priestly class hold in society. They were also keen on eating human flesh, so who better to attack than defenseless mendicants residing in a forest?

VishvamitraVishvamitra Muni went to Ayodhya because it is the king’s duty to protect the innocent, especially the brahmanas. King Dasharatha had jurisdiction over the forests where Vishvamitra was staying. When the sage reached Ayodhya, the king welcomed him and brought him into the palace. The proper etiquette for receiving a guest is to invite them into the home, give them a nice place to sit, and then offer food and drink for consumption. Vishvamitra was the most exalted guest, so even a royal leader like Dasharatha considered it a tremendous blessing to welcome him. Vishvamitra could only bring good fortune, for he would either give his blessings to the king and his citizens or provide needful instruction on how to improve the living situation.

What no one knew at the time was that through his desire to have protection in the forests, Vishvamitra was setting the wheels in motion for Rama to marry Sita. Dasharatha, though attached to his eldest son Rama, had to part with Him at the request of the sage. For a chivalrous king, his word is everything. Dasharatha promised to give Vishvamitra whatever he wanted, for a respected brahmana should never be denied anything. What could they want anyway? Brahmanas have no desire for wealth, money, women, or property. Dasharatha never thought that Vishvamitra would want to take Rama away from him, for the eldest son was still just a young boy. Dasharatha told the sage that he had many other fighters in his royal entourage capable of protecting him, but Vishvamitra knew Rama’s special grace, His ability to fight off even the most powerful flesh-eaters ranging the night.

Accompanying Rama was His younger brother Lakshmana. After he was satisfactorily protected by Rama and Lakshmana, the sage took them to Janaka’s kingdom at the same time the svayamvara was taking place. Therefore if it weren’t for Vishvamitra’s request and Dasharatha’s acquiescence, the marriage may never have taken place. For the Supreme Lord, all the pieces fall to His wish. Every action takes place in such a way that so many other items are taken care of simultaneously.

Rama would lift the bow easily and thus win Sita’s hand in marriage. The event would bring together Dasharatha and Janaka, kings who were wise enough to follow the advice of their brahmana counselors. It was the royal priestly order that advised Janaka to hold a svayamvara, and it was Vishvamitra who requested that Rama be allowed to attempt to lift the bow. Lakshmana was not a candidate because he was younger than Rama. Plus, he would never show up his brother like that. The fraternal affection shared between Rama and Lakshmana cannot be described. Several years later, when Dasharatha decided to install Rama as the new king, the Lord immediately went to Lakshmana and told him that the honor belonged to him as well, for the Lord did everything for Lakshmana’s benefit. The feelings were mutual, and Lakshmana never for a second wanted to take away the glory of his beloved brother. He delighted more in seeing Rama happy and successful than in gaining any fame for himself.

“O Lakshmana, do you rule this earth with Me. You are like My second self, so this glorious opportunity has been presented to you as well. O Saumitra, do you enjoy all the pleasures you desire and the fruits of the regal life. My life and this kingdom I covet for your sake alone.” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kanda, 4.43-44)

Rama and LakshmanaFrom following the advice of the priestly class devoted to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, so many auspicious conditions arrive automatically. The priest in the form of a spiritual master may not always reveal their real intentions or discuss the full benefit that will come from following a particular recommendation, but the faith extended by the recipient proves to be invaluable nonetheless. Who would have thought that by agreeing to Vishvamitra’s request, Dasharatha would get the goddess of fortune as a daughter-in-law? Who would have thought that the families in Ayodhya and Tirahuta would be joined simply through Dasharatha’s reluctant acceptance of the son of Gadhi’s request?

From following the recommendations of the spiritual masters of the Vedic tradition the benefits are there for everyone to enjoy. While the royal order has dissipated in modern times and been replaced by a democratic system that relies on relative morality, the opportunity to abide by dharma is still present. The only benefit to be found in the less auspicious conditions of today is that the pathway towards meeting God and His wife has been made easier. There is only one recommendation for every single soul living in the Kali Yuga: chant the holy names. Recite sacred formulas like, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, as often as possible, keeping the mind attentive on the sound vibrations produced. Refrain from the most harmful sinful activities like meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex at the same time to speed up the progression towards a pure consciousness.

We may be reluctant to abandon our previous attachments, but extending faith to the recommendations of the Vaishnava acharyas, who lead by example, has safety built into it. Dasharatha didn’t want to let go of his son, but in the end he would glorify the Raghu dynasty by giving in. For a famous king like Dasharatha, a predominant fear was to somehow sully the good name of the family, which had produced a long line of pious rulers starting with Maharaja Ikshvaku, the founder of the family line. Denying the request of a venerable sage like Vishvamitra would have brought scorn to Dasharatha and his family, and it would have not helped his standing that many sages would continue to be killed in the forest without protection.

Janaka as well could have forbidden Rama from participating in the contest, for the Lord was rather young at the time. Many of the onlookers in Tirahuta were afraid that the Lord wasn’t going to be able to lift Lord Shiva’s bow. In their minds they cursed King Janaka for having made the oath, which he could now not go back on. But staying pious, following the proper course, proved to be the right choice in the end. Similarly, regularly reciting the holy name - the sound vibration that best represents God and attacks the contaminated consciousness grown weary through the swinging pendulum of acceptance and rejection - causes the thick cloud of nescience enveloping the otherwise pure consciousness of the essence of identity, the spirit soul, to eventually dissipate.

Sita and RamaThe holy name also reminds us of Sita and Rama, how they were brought together through so many events that didn’t seem to be related. In one sense, even the vile Rakshasas deserve some credit for the marriage. Had they not harassed Vishvamitra, the sage may never have gone to Ayodhya to ask for Rama. If he had not been with Rama and Lakshmana in the forests near Tirahuta, perhaps Rama would never have attempted to lift Lord Shiva’s bow. This broad perspective of appreciating so many actions, even those of miscreants not interested in the final outcome, is acquired through constant connection with the holy name, which brings all the good qualities that a person could ask for. From following the chanting recommendation, from investing full faith in the words of the Vaishnava whose only business in life is to glorify God and get others to be devoted to Him, all the right pieces in life fall into place. The most auspicious condition of being able to remember blessed events like Sita’s svayamvara will be accepted as well. Goswami Tulsidas, by composing his Janaki Mangala, allowed for countless future generations to find that auspiciousness, to remember the divine couple and love them without inhibition.

In Closing:

With God’s arrangement no chances missed,

For all the pieces fall to His wish.

With peaceful sages night-rangers fought,

This to Ayodhya son of Gadhi brought.

King Dasharatha, free of vice and malice,

Welcomed Vishvamitra to his palace.

With Rama by his side safe would sage be,

Though reluctant, Dasharatha had to agree.

With him Rama and Lakshmana the muni took,

King Janaka’s town at God’s face soon to have a look.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Protecting the Cows

Krishna with cow“Of all kinds of animal killing, the killing of cows is most vicious because the cow gives us all kinds of pleasure by supplying milk. Cow slaughter is an act of the grossest type of ignorance.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 14.16 Purport)

For those growing up in a tradition where meat eating is the norm, learning that other societies protect and sometimes even worship an animal like a cow seems a little strange. “Perhaps it is part of their tradition or just some sectarian belief. Like wearing different kinds of shirts, the different religions practiced are there to be accepted on faith or just inherited from the parents as a matter of obligation. I am this or I am that, but what ‘that’ actually means doesn’t really matter because all there is to ‘that’ is the acknowledgment that I am ‘that’ and nothing else.” Though the Vedic traditions may be followed for these reasons, each and every guideline is provided to fulfill a purpose. The purpose to cow protection is rather straightforward, for the same principles are followed in so many other areas of life. In addition, the cows are dear to Lord Krishna, the object of service in the discipline that gave us the concept of cow protection.

Krishna with cowsThe mother produces milk for her child based on need. This wonderful feature of nature gives the mother her strong standing, her position as the ultimate caretaker of the newborn that just spent nine months developing within her womb. The fetus felt safe in the comfortable environment of the womb because it was away from harm and it depended completely on the mercy of the mother. The dependency flows both ways, as the mother produces the much needed nourishment for her newborn once it enters the world. If a mother didn’t naturally harbor this affection for her child, the child wouldn’t automatically be placed into her custody.

Now, just imagine if after being protected in this way the child or someone else comes and kills the mother. Would the person who protested against such a practice be considered an oddball? Would their pleas to save the innocent life of an important caregiver be considered some strange sectarian principle that violates the edicts of other religions? Of course this wouldn't be the case, but when the same scenario applies to the killing of innocent mother cows, logic and sound reason are thrown out the window in favor of the passionate desire to eat the flesh of the slaughtered animal.

Lest we think the comparison isn’t valid because a human mother is different from an animal mother, we already see that dogs and cats are protected. The dog is considered “man’s best friend” because it offers unconditional love. No matter how hard a day you have at the office or what else is troubling you in life, you just go up to your dog and pet it and feel satisfaction. The dog allows you to love it without impediment. The dog doesn’t ask for anything in return except for some food and the ability to use nature’s restroom at the proper times. From a small amount of protection, the dog provides so much emotional satisfaction.

The cow actually provides just as much unconditional love, if not more. The cow produces products that can be sold for a profit, which can then be used to sustain life. Unlike the dog, the cow doesn’t even require love from the owner; just the ability to love its offspring. The cow only needs to graze on the field every now and then; otherwise it’s pretty easy to maintain. Even the stool and urine produced by the cow have antiseptic properties; something which can’t be explained by mundane science, for it defies all logic and reasoning.

If the unconditional love in the form of milk products and the ease of maintenance are present in the cow, why is it mercilessly slaughtered by the millions each year? Why is not the dog given the same treatment? Indeed, why is there outrage anytime there is cruelty to pets when other animals are treated much worse all the time? Why is it that those who do protect the cows and urge others to stop eating beef are seen as oddballs following a strange religion?

Obviously the only answer to these questions is ignorance. The sober person not only sees that cows need to be protected, they notice that the essence of individuality is present within all living beings. The ant, the owl, the cow, the dog, and the human being are the same in spiritual quality. Even amongst human beings, there is no difference between the infant and the fully matured adult capable of doing quantum physics.

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

Krishna and Balarama with cowThe outward behavior and appearance may vary across species, but this doesn’t mean that the spark of life has changed. The learned man views all living beings as equal, but their treatment is not necessarily altered. For instance, I may know that a tiger is a spirit soul just like me, but this doesn’t mean that I will go up to the tiger and pet it. Just because I am aware of the equality of living beings doesn’t mean that others are as well.

But even if the tiger is unaware of the presence of spirit throughout nature, this doesn’t mean that the wise should unnecessarily kill them. Nonviolence towards animals seems like a strange principle in many parts of the world, but in certain areas the opposite is deemed the odd behavior. If you grow up in surroundings where animals aren’t killed, you will think that those who do eat animal flesh are the weird ones. In this sense both traditions can be taken as norms, as being legitimate. If both traditions already exist, why not make an honest assessment as to which one is more beneficial in the long run?

The proponents of bhakti-yoga say that nonviolence towards animals is a prerequisite for legitimate worship of God to commence. Bhakti is love and yoga is connecting the soul with the higher being, the person most of the world refers to as God. Bhakti-yoga is the religion of love and in order for that love to flow best, the mind must be sober. If I understand who I am worshiping and what their qualities are, I am more apt to be drawn to those features and form an attachment. If I am preoccupied by intoxication and killing innocent animals to eat their flesh, how sober can my mind really be?

The person connected with is also the Lord of all creatures; He is the original father. Therefore if I am to think of Him at all times, dedicate my life to His service, a natural byproduct of that engagement will be respect for everything He has created. The innocent cow that produces milk is obviously someone else’s child. Therefore showing respect to the cow means showing respect to its parents. If we expand out the scope of lineage even further, we see that no living being can claim to have been created through their own effort. In the Vedic tradition, Lord Brahma is considered the self-create, but even he has a father in Vishnu, the Supreme Lord.

Question: How will loving God’s creatures help me serve God?

Loving the creatures that God created serves as the prerequisite for pure bhakti, but it is not the final word. To show respect for other life forms is a given, for we already apply this deference to other human beings and to pets. In this sense we don’t consider any person noteworthy for not going around killing other human beings. We don’t go up to someone and say, “Hey, you’re a great person. You don’t kill your cat and dog. You are someone I want to model my behavior after.” Rather, the respect given to life forms is expected, something not considered noteworthy.

Lord KrishnaThe sobriety of mind is the key benefit resulting from the protection of innocent life. The sober mind can better concentrate on the forms, qualities and pastimes of the Supreme Lord. These aspects are non-different from Him and they are meant for the pleasure of the yogis looking to connect with Him in love. This is the special mercy of the Supreme Lord that is passed on in great abundance in the Vedic scriptures, the crown jewel of which is the Shrimad Bhagavatam.

In one sense the Supreme Lord hasn’t given us enough of His pastimes. The original poem, arguably the first book ever composed, is the Ramayana, which deals with the life and pastimes of Vishnu’s avatara of Lord Rama. The original Ramayana is quite lengthy according to standard estimation, but to those desiring to connect with God on a regular basis, there can never be enough verses describing the wonderful activities of the Supreme Lord and His spiritual forms which descend to earth to delight the saintly class of men. Therefore, people who follow in the disciplic succession of bhakti write their own poems, books and commentaries so that they can create even more points of interaction with their beloved Lord. The famous Ramacharitamanasa of Goswami Tulsidas serves as an example. The author took a different version of the telling of Rama’s life story so that his mind could have even more distinct pastimes to concentrate on. In the beginning of this work, the wonderful poet explains that there are actually millions of verses to describe Rama and His divine acts, but that he is only going to share a few that are known to please himself and also those interested in hearing about Rama.

With sobriety comes the ability to chant the holy names with full attention. Recite the sacred formula of, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and try to hear the sound vibrations as you chant. Without any other effort, the hearing alone will bring God’s presence. With the personal influence of the Supreme Spirit resting comfortably within the consciousness, pious behavior will naturally follow. The restrictions on sinful activity that were previously followed with reluctance will be cast aside as being unimportant. Adherence to nonviolence will be as routine as getting up in the morning and taking a shower. Avoiding intoxication will be like avoiding foods that you don’t like; a restriction you don’t have to think about. The sweetheart loving the entire creation will cherish their bhakti-yoga even more, for through service to God one learns how to properly serve man and the rest of the creation.

In Closing:

To offer love the good mother never thinks how,

Provides milk on the spot for offspring does the cow.

Thus between humans and animals not much difference,

Both in protecting innocent children time is spent.

Places with violence and protection already exist,

Thus study both before either you dismiss.

Sober man knows existence’s purpose,

Following bhakti one animal flesh won’t miss.

To innocent creatures we already show compassion,

Why not to cows too following Krishna’s direction?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Highest Standing

Sita holding flower“Or while advancing higher and higher over the ocean, trying to break free that daughter of Janaka surely fell into the sea. Alas, while trying to protect her chastity, cut off from her relatives, Sita, the very chaste wife, has been eaten up by this wicked Ravana. Alternatively, that innocent, dark-eyed lady has been eaten up by the ill-motivated wives of the king of Rakshasas.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.10-12)

upari upari vā nūnam sāgaram kramataḥ tadā ||
viveṣṭamānā patitā samudre janaka ātmajā |
āho kṣudreṇa ca anena rakṣantī śīlam ātmanaḥ ||
abandhur bhakṣitā sītā rāvaṇena tapasvinī |
athavā rākṣasa indrasya patnībhir asita īkṣaṇā ||
aduṣṭā duṣṭa bhāvābhir bhakṣitā sā bhaviṣyati |

Lord Rama’s position as the Supreme Personality of Godhead is substantiated through the authorized words of the Vedas and their followers. As if He needed any further support, for good measure, to remove any doubt, the Lord’s true identity is also revealed through the glorious nature of His closest associates, those who worship Him with every thought, word and deed. Just by observing their behavior, becoming intimately acquainted with their personality traits, Rama’s standing increases. Among such proponents, Sita Devi, Rama’s wife, stands tall always, even when the mind is conjuring up the worst possible images. If one hasn’t met her, never seen her before, and only heard about her from others, Sita still comes off looking good. In many respects she can be worshiped as being greater than God.

Sita DeviWhat are some of her characteristics? Why is she so glorious? Her predominant feature is her devotion to Lord Rama, who is the Supreme Lord in His manifestation as a warrior prince. Sita and Rama are always together, but during their time on earth they put on a wonderful play, sometimes remaining in close proximity to one another and sometimes feeling the pains of separation. Through separation is where our commitment is really challenged, where our devotion to the stated object of affection is put to the real test. Sita, by dharma, or religiosity, was wedded to Rama in the beautiful kingdom ruled by her father, Maharaja Janaka. Her devotion to Rama was expected as a matter of protocol. Nevertheless, she always went above and beyond the call of duty, for her love for God can never be challenged or diminished. Just like a raging fire cannot be put out by tiny buckets of water, Sita’s intense affection for Shri Rama cannot be lessened through physical separation, imminent danger, or even the fear of never seeing her beloved again. Even Shri Rama, the husband she swore an oath to always serve, is helpless in trying to quell her love for Him.

The most detailed accounts of their time spent on this earth can be found in the Ramayana of Valmiki, one of the most sacred and oldest Vedic texts. The Ramayana can be considered a history book put into a poem. Since the subject matter is the prince of the Raghu dynasty, the soothing moonlight for the living entity stuck in a world full of darkness, the history becomes the most important to learn about. Those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it, and those who miss learning about the Supreme Lord and devotion to Him in this lifetime are destined for rebirth.

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

Lord KrishnaWhy is rebirth such a bad thing? Isn’t it cool that we get another chance at life if we mess this one up? And if we do well in this life, we get to start off from a better position in the next one, so why the negative portrayal of reincarnation? These are certainly valid points, as everything in the material world presents a duality. One person likes ice cream and its taste, while another person loathes the effect it has on their weight and sugar levels. One person loves the summer and the wonderful heat, while another person can’t stand having to put on the air conditioner all the time and sweat constantly.

Reincarnation can be viewed both favorably and unfavorably. To the wise rebirth is not a welcome event because it indicates that the previous life was a failure. How do we know this? The human brain cannot conceive of the meaning of life on its own; it must accept the information on the position of the soul and its constitutional qualities from the proper authority figures. In the absence of such instruction, man will try his hand at different conclusions to see what the effects are.

In the beginning the first conclusion is that life is only about enjoyment. Play all day, sleep a little at night, and then repeat the procedure again the next day. With a little maturity, the need for education is introduced. With school, the aim is to acquire knowledge and grow up to have a profession that is both enjoyable and productive. When life’s gains are accumulated, renunciation will naturally follow as well; get rid of all the things you don’t need anymore. This cycle of acceptance and rejection continues all the way up until death.

If the consciousness is not properly situated when the time comes to exit the currently occupied dwelling, there is no choice but for the higher authorities in charge of managing nature to grant rebirth, wherein the pursuit of perfection resets. To the person who learned that the meaning of life is to become God conscious, the repetition of birth and death is considered quite miserable. To he who has no knowledge of such things, the greatest loss of missing out on the Supreme Lord’s eternal association is not known.

“Tulsi emphatically says, ‘O mind, hear what I am saying and always take it to heart, for this will benefit you. Remembering Shri Rama is the greatest profit, and forgetting Him is the worst loss.’” (Dohavali, 21)

Sita and RamaVedic texts fill us in on what we would be missing out on should we not make the most of this valuable human form of life. The Ramayana has truths of life presented through a real-life story pertaining to God and His associates. After enjoying married life with Sita for around twelve years, Rama was ordered to leave His kingdom of Ayodhya and reside in the forests for fourteen years. He did not want Sita to come with Him. The order didn’t apply to her, so why should she needlessly suffer?

To Sita, life was only about loving Rama, no matter what. What could she have to gain by remaining in the kingdom while her husband suffered in the wilderness? Though Rama tried and tried to dissuade her, nothing could stop Sita from accompanying her husband. This was just the first notable incident showing Sita’s unbreakable love for Shri Rama. But while in the forest, there would be trouble. The king of Rakshasas, Ravana, heard of Sita’s residence in Dandaka and decided he couldn’t live without her. He already had hundreds of the most beautiful princesses for wives, but this was of no concern to him. He didn’t know the meaning of life, so he figured the more enjoyable association he could get, the better his life would be.

Yet there was one minor issue with which to contend. Ravana, though having ten heads and a legendary fighting prowess, was no match for Shri Rama, who, using a single bow and arrow set, had killed 14,000 of the demon king’s most capable fighters that had attacked the Lord in the forest of Dandaka. How a single man could kill that many fighters without outside help is known only to the devoted souls who have taken shelter of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Though Ravana couldn’t believe what Rama had done, he wasn’t going to take his chances by fighting the Lord one on one. Instead, he devised a plan where he could take Sita away in Rama’s absence.

His plan worked and he was able to separate the divine couple. To help find Sita, Rama enlisted the aid of a band of Vanaras residing in Kishkindha. Hanuman was their most valuable asset, the most capable warrior, so the burden for success in the reconnaissance mission was placed on his shoulders. Having tremendous love for Rama, though only knowing Him for a short while, Hanuman was up to the challenge. He was enthusiastic to please Rama and find the Lord’s wife, whom Hanuman had never met.

HanumanHanuman had heard all about Sita, and he knew that she was Rama’s wife. This automatically meant that her character was flawless. The story of the couple’s marriage arrangement was also famous throughout the world at the time. Janaka had found the child Sita in the ground while ploughing a field. Taking baby Sita back with him to Videha, he and his wife raised her as their own. Since her family ancestry was not known, Janaka was in a quandary about her marriage arrangements. He decided that whoever could lift the amazing bow belonging to Lord Shiva handed down in his family would win Sita’s hand in marriage. At the svayamvara ceremony, many kings from far and wide came to try their hand at lifting the bow, but like an assembly in a manufacturing plant, one king after another came and went. They started out excited, but as their inability to even move the bow showed, they left dejected.

Shri Rama, who was in the forests at the time with His younger brother Lakshmana protecting the sage Vishvamitra from the attacking Rakshasas, came and easily lifted the bow, breaking it in half while stringing it. Thus Sita and Rama were married, showing the world that they were destined to be with each other. While in Lanka searching for Sita, Hanuman was having trouble finding her. He used every power he had in him just to infiltrate the city. The other monkeys in his party could not make the giant leap across the ocean to reach the shores of Lanka. Thus Hanuman was a warrior all alone. The fate of the mission rested with him. Sita’s chances for rescue were also dependent on his ability to find her.

Who wouldn’t start to feel the pressure after a while? Hanuman is extremely powerful and ever pure of heart, but he finally relented a little to the inhibiting forces of the mind. In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, he is continuing his running through of the different worst-case scenarios. “Maybe Sita fell off from Ravana’s aerial car while he was flying away from Dandaka. Maybe that Rakshasa ate her up, for she wouldn’t give in to his demands. Or maybe the jealous queens in Lanka devoured her to remove the competition.” All of these were distinct possibilities, as the Rakshasa king was jealous enough to steal another person’s wife. What would then stop him from hurting Sita? Moreover, what would stop the other queens from removing their stiffest competition? So infatuated was Ravana with Sita that he offered her the position of head queen.

The irony in these hypothetical scenarios is that though they are horrible to even think about, should any of them had actually taken place, Sita’s glory would remain intact. If she fell from Ravana’s aerial car, it would have been because she was so disgusted by his presence. If Ravana ate her up, as the Rakshasas are known to do, it would have been because she refused to give in to his demands. The same would hold true if the rival queens had attacked her. In this way Hanuman knew that Sita was incapable of sin, and that if she weren’t in Lanka, it was due only to the wicked forces of those most vehemently opposed to loving God.

Hanuman worshiping Sita and RamaHanuman’s love for Sita and Rama would keep him going despite the horrible situations created in his mind. Why give up when there was a possibility of success by forging ahead? In a similar manner, just because we have wasted so many previous lives, why not at least put forth the effort to make this birth our last one? The path laid down by Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman can be followed by the people of this age by regularly chanting the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This mantra is the mother, the father, the guru, and the benefactor. With the sound vibrations of the spiritual world permeating the consciousness, proper intelligence is revived, which gives the ability to decipher the proper course of action in any situation.

Hanuman kept the holy name with him while traversing Lanka. Despair and temporary setbacks did not deter him. Neither did being separated from her beloved Rama stop Sita from loving her husband. She forever has the highest standing, and since her love for Rama was tested on so many occasions, she is in many ways superior to Him. Rama sometimes puts His devotees into difficult situations because that will increase their love for Him. We can be angry with Him over this or we can honor and adore Him even more for giving us such special favor.

Sita Devi similarly ensures that the devotees engaged in bhakti are never bereft of necessities. She knows what it’s like to love Rama, and unlike the jealous queens in Lanka, her heart melts whenever she sees someone sincerely trying to win her husband’s favor. To this day she is Hanuman’s greatest supporter, and their affection for each other is one of the many jewels coming from the history that is the Ramayana. Those who become familiar with these truths will doom their chances of rebirth.

In Closing:

Know it for certain that Sita is pure,

Her position as Rama’s beloved secure.

Even in the face of the worst calamity,

She remembers Rama, ignores impending tragedy.

Not finding her, Hanuman had negative thoughts,

Perhaps Sita killed while to Lanka she was brought.

The queens of Rakshasa king always rivaling,

Perhaps their competition they took to devouring.

Monkey forged ahead because one thing he knew,

That Sita’s chastity and love for Rama always true.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Right Use of Energy

Krishna's lotus feet“The expert electrician can utilize the electrical energy for both heating and cooling by adjustment only. Similarly, the external energy, which now bewilders the living being into continuation of birth and death, is turned into internal potency by the will of the Lord to lead the living being to eternal life.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.3.34 Purport)

Energy is in full force throughout the environment. More than just the electrical socket capable of powering appliances and electronic gadgets, the powerful energy pervading every inch of space can be put to use to further many specific ends. The individual objects of this energy include the very bodily coverings of the jivas, the spirit souls wandering through a cycle of birth and death that perpetually spins. Those who know how to make proper use of the energy receive the full benefits that an existence has to offer. Through proper utilization, the same energy that was previously inhibiting becomes enlightening by the grace of the person from whom it came.

Birth and death really take place at every second? Think of your hair and nails growing and then getting cut off. Think of the dead skin cells that the body sheds every single day. Think of how your body is different now from the way it was just the day before. Through preoccupation with other tasks, these subtle changes go unnoticed, but to someone who doesn’t see you every day, the shifts are noticeable the next time they take a look at you. On a larger scale, the daytime gradually shifts into nighttime, but this change isn’t noticed as easily if we are staring at the sky the entire day. As the expression goes, “like watching paint dry”, the gross material elements take a while to morph and form new shapes, but through the effects of time and the operation of the superior energy, these shifts take place nonetheless.

“Besides this inferior nature, O mighty-armed Arjuna, there is a superior energy of Mine, which are all living entities who are struggling with material nature and are sustaining the universe.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.5)

Krishna's lotus feetSpirit is the superior energy. Matter is incapable of autonomous movement. Without a vital force within the body, the previously utilized hands, legs and feet start to rot and decay. Just any old collection of matter doesn’t grow into a viable living entity. There must first be a spiritual injection. Even the larger collections of matter, such as the mountains, rivers and clouds, are beholden to the wind and the nature that controls it. There is spirit inside each of these bodies instigating their movements; therefore the spiritual energy is considered superior.

Just how to make proper use of the external energy is what bewilders the innumerable sparks belonging to the superior energy. If an energetic force is superior then how can it be bewildered? The susceptibility to bewilderment explains the marginal position of the jiva with respect to the different energies coming from the Supreme Lord, who is known as Shri Krishna in the Vedic tradition. Not that Krishna is a mythological character or a folk hero of the Hindus; He is the very same Supreme Lord for all of humanity but with His features more clearly defined. The Vedas are so nice that they don’t just espouse a sectarian belief, with others compelled to convert to their way based on dogmatic insistence. The Vedas are the supreme science, as in the mundane scientific world there is politics and even consensus, as has been recently introduced with specific theories that others are reluctant to subscribe to.

Religion in the Vedas is presented as the science of self-realization, something that operates on every living entity, not just the human being. One person may identify themselves as Christian, another as Jewish, and another as Hindu, but one who actually studies self-realization identifies as spirit soul, aham brahmasmi. The spirit soul is superior to matter, and it is trapped in a cycle of reincarnation for a reason. There is a superior spirit soul, a singular entity from whom the different sparks emanated. Think of a giant fire that gives off sparks but at the same time doesn’t lose any of its intensity. The only thing we know that bears this property is the sun, which continuously beams off heat and light and yet doesn’t require an external fuel source. As part of the material creation, the sun had an inception date and thus will also have a date of destruction. Krishna is the supreme spiritual sun, so He is never bereft of His qualities. He transcends the bounds of time and space, a feature incomprehensible to the human being limited by their material brainpower.

Krishna's fluteIf Krishna is beyond our thinking, why the need for self-realization? Why even discuss the different energies? Why not just live? The path of least resistance is taken by default, but the living entity still has something driving their behavior. In addition to the presence of instigation, there are multiple avenues taken; the activities aren’t always the same. As the search for ananda, or bliss, is the common catalyst, the discipline of self-realization is provided to allow for everyone to find that ananda. If we are more familiar with our properties and our position in the grand scheme of things, we will be better able to attain real bliss, without wasting time in fruitless ventures.

The pursuits of the spirit souls wandering through the material world without any guidance in spiritual matters can be compared to the animal rummaging the forest looking for food. One animal looks in one direction, while another takes their own route. Some eat more than others, while some decide to kill other animals for food. Irrespective of the avenue taken, the search for food will continue, as the enjoyment from eating is short-lived. The self-realized soul is one who finds their enjoyment both internally and externally, an art form they learned from following a bona fide discipline of spirituality, one which addresses the different energies, its source, and how to connect with it. The fountainhead of bliss and knowledge gives the proper information to those who wish to connect with Him in a mood of love.

What is at the core of this discipline? For starters, when the proper identification as spirit soul is there, the world can be viewed correctly instead of incorrectly. Immediately, sectarian, racial, national, gender, and even species boundaries are eliminated. The humble soul learning self-realization understands that there is no difference between a cat, dog, monkey, human being, ant, man, and woman. Every form of life is equal at the constitutional level, though we may show different outward treatment. Not everyone will be self-realized. A tiger doesn’t even know that it’s a tiger, so how can we expect it to treat us peacefully or under rational thought?

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

Krishna with cow and birdsThe equal vision of the spiritualist is there initially for their own benefit. Knowing that we are spirit helps us understand that the matter around us is not meant for our association. Does this mean that we should give up all sensual pursuits, disengage from the senses? If I know that my car is not part of my identity, do I just abandon it? Do I sell the car immediately and never drive it again? This path of self-realization seems tempting, and it does have the benefit of bringing less entanglement in daily affairs, but there are some flaws.

The material energy is there for a reason. It is harmful when it is used for identification purposes, but it can prove beneficial for one who finds the proper engagement in life. Glorification of the Supreme Lord under the yoga discipline of bhakti is the constitutional occupation of the spirit soul, who is similar in quality to Krishna but vastly inferior in quantitative possession of divine attributes. Krishna is meant to be served and the spirit souls are meant to do the serving. Whether we like this fact or not is irrelevant; it is the natural order of things. The brilliance of the natural order is that anyone who follows it finds supreme pleasure, so much so that Krishna Himself is unable to stop their outpouring of emotion. In no other endeavor is this kind of love established, as the material world checks everyone’s service through the influence of time and space.

Devotional service in its highest form continues unmotivated and uninterrupted, life after life, in whatever body type the living entity may find. Reincarnation is already there with our present birth; we just have a little difficulty accepting the fact that it will continue into the afterlife. The transmigration of the soul shouldn’t be so difficult to understand, as there was spiritual action that caused our present birth. We also know that spiritual action continues after someone dies, so why should we deny that there is both a past and future life?

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

Krishna's fluteReincarnation flows in the direction of the consciousness of the living entity. The jiva is in the marginal position, so he can choose in favor of Krishna’s association or surrender to maya, the material energy. Association with maya brings temporary ups and downs that fluctuate like the stock market. At the time of death, one body type is renounced in favor of another, with the cycle of birth to death then repeated. This continues for as long as the material nature is used improperly. As soon as there is a proper identification of the different energies and its original source, bhakti-yoga can be adopted with the utmost sincerity.

Under bhakti, the same material energy that was previously inhibiting becomes the source of enlightenment, pleasure, anticipation, and unending opportunities for service. The example often cited by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the greatest champion and exponent of devotional service in modern times, was to the electricity that is available in a house. The same electricity can be used for both heating and cooling, which means that the electricity is not partial. In the same way, the material energy doesn’t have to be inhibiting. It doesn’t have to be the cause of perpetual bondage in a land divorced of God’s personal presence.

If someone were to hand us a laptop computer, the person identifying with matter and its objects may become ecstatic and use the machine for their own sense gratification. Surf the internet, listen to music, chat with their friends, basically do anything that is considered “fun”. The person who has renounced material interaction will be disappointed in receiving the same gift. To them the laptop is a brick that is heavy and causes an unnecessary burden to the person carrying it around. The owner also needs to learn how to use it, make sure that it is maintained, and pay for the electricity that goes into its operation.

The bhakta, however, neither identifies with the laptop nor despises it. Rather, every aspect of the material energy is used for connecting with Krishna. Even if something is renounced, that object becomes purified because at least it was used in an evaluation that eventually conjured up the image of Shyamasundara within the mind. Any time the consciousness can evoke Krishna’s image - where He is holding His flute, wearing a peacock feather in His hair, smiling so sweetly, enticing the spirit soul to come back to His spiritual home of Goloka Vrindavana - there is progress made towards finding lasting ananda.

Krishna photo galleryIf the devotee can, they will use the laptop to store pictures of Krishna and His many expansions. They will get the many books authored by the Vaishnava saints and place them on the device to read. They will use the keyboard and word processing programs to daily glorify their beloved Krishna and explain the flawless science of self-realization to others. In this way, both the materialist and dry renouncer missed out on a wonderful opportunity with the gift of the laptop.

The gross collection of material elements affords every single one of us the same opportunities. A sparse place lacking an influx of people and modern amenities can be enjoyed by those looking for peace and simultaneously despised by those looking for many activities involving material interaction. But if the same area has temples dedicated to the Lord, where His glories are constantly sung, such as through the sacred sound vibration of the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, then saintly people will congregate there. With the presence of the saints the place turns into a pilgrimage site, an area where self-realization flourishes through both the existence of spiritual houses of worship and the association of devoted men.

The aim in this life is to use everything around us for kirtana, or glorification of the Supreme Lord, the person who provides happiness to anyone who connects with Him in a mood of love and devotion. The search for ananda will continue despite one’s awareness of the self, but only in the discipline of bhakti can the sweetest tasting fruit to our existence be found. The quality of the benefit is what determines the worthiness of the activity. As Krishna’s association is the unmatched jewel of a reward, the ancient art of bhakti, or divine love, becomes the only worthy engagement in life.

In Closing:

Electricity runs through the house,

Gives heat for both children and spouse.

Same force that is responsible for heating,

In summer operates machines for cooling.

Material nature also in neutrality,

Provides items to maintain being’s vitality.

Use nature the wrong way and you’ll be bound,

To cycle of birth and death, no bliss found.

But if you use matter to connect with Krishna,

You’ll taste sweet fruit of life, endless ananda.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Raising the Roof

Sita Devi's lotus feet“Wherever you go there are the ecstatic sounds of singing and drums beating. The excitement for Sita’s marriage is so great that what words are there to explain it?” (Janaki Mangala, 14)

gāna nisāna kolāhala kautuka jaham̐ taham̐ |
sīya-bibāha uchāha jāi kahi kā paham̐ ||

The dancing portion of a marriage reception is pretty much a staple, regardless of the culture of the participants. Festivities aim to create a festive mood, and with a festive mood you get singing and dancing. “Let loose and have fun; lose yourself to the music. Celebrate good times with your friends and family; use the excuse of the marriage to have fun and let your guard down.” One wedding in particular, which took place a long time ago, had such a festive mood that the singing, dancing and drum beating took place well before the actual ceremony. Before even a groom was known, the marriage event for the daughter of King Janaka garnered so much anticipation that no words can properly describe it. The excitement was all around, and the result would validate the feelings.

How could the result top the anticipation? It seems like the excitement was partly due to the fact that the groom wasn’t known beforehand. As a famous svayamvara ceremony, the bride in question got to choose who her husband would be. Of course nowadays that is the standard protocol, but in ancient times only the most beloved princesses would get this opportunity. Yet this svayamvara was even more unique in that the groom was to be decided through a contest that would measure dexterity, strength, and overall ability.

Lord ShivaWhat was the contest? The host of this grand affair, King Janaka, had a long time back received a bow belonging to Lord Shiva. Think of a heavenly figure who grants his devotees pretty much whatever they want relating to material life and you get the surface view of Mahadeva, a most wonderful worshipable personality. Though it only takes a little to please him, there is no end to the opulence that Lord Shiva will provide you.

Yet if you go beyond the surface functions that Mahadeva provides, you’ll see an extremely powerful heavenly figure who lives a renounced life. Though he is married to the beautiful Parvati Devi, the gatekeeper of the material universe, Lord Shiva has complete control over his senses. Though he can give the world to anyone, he himself doesn’t require much. Just a little silence, peace and quiet, and a place to constantly repeat the holy name of Rama are all that Mahadeva needs.

True wealth in life does not relate to collection of material elements, which we never have full claim to anyway. We are born with nothing and we die with nothing. Everything in between is our allotment in life determined by the actions we take up. The consciousness of the individual determines their future destination, and the superconsciousness [that connected to God] travels with the individual from life to life. The latter consciousness is best solidified through recitation of the holy names, such as those found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Just as Lord Shiva attracts the Supreme Lord’s presence through the recitation of the holy name of Rama, Mahadeva’s amazing bow would attract Lord Rama Himself to Janaka’s kingdom. Lord Rama, the worshipable deity of Lord Shiva, was roaming the earth at the time starring in the real-life play known as the Ramayana. Unlike ordinary stories which grow tired and stale after hearing only a few times, dipping into the sweet nectar of the holy lake of Rama’s acts provides boundless joy with each successive visit. It is such a sweet lake that Lord Shiva himself likes to swim in it by discussing Rama’s pastimes with his wife Parvati.

Lord RamaOne of the major acts of that play involved the svayamvara ceremony in Janaka’s kingdom. The pious king decided that his daughter should have only the best husband. The perfect match would come through Lord Shiva’s bow, which would decide who was worthy of marrying Sita. The bow was so heavy that no one could lift it. Janaka decided, therefore, that by holding a contest, either someone would be deemed capable of marrying Sita or Sita would be judged too exalted to have any husband.

Not surprisingly, news of the contest stirred much attention. Not only princes from around the world, but their families as well, all packed into caravans and made the journey to Janaka’s city. There were so many attendees and people trying to lift the bow that from afar the movement of the pilgrims looked like a giant conveyor belt. One by one, the princes tried to lift the bow, only to be defeated, having to sit down and watch other people then give a try.

In the background there was the sound of singing and drums beating. While normally this may seem annoying, for a grand occasion such as this the background noise just added to the festive atmosphere. Singing is a foundational aspect of Vedic culture, for the sound vibrations released in a loving mood in praise of the Supreme Lord and His attributes purify the heart. Try to express your thoughts through conversation and you might feel a little funny discussing such intimate feelings. Try to write them down on paper, and again you’ll feel a little strange being so frank. Then there is the issue of brevity as well, as the more words you need to express a thought, the less potent the message will be.

Poems are useful in this regard, as one can express their emotions succinctly and in a way that can be remembered easily. Take that same poetry and turn it into a song and you have a wonderful way to share your thoughts with others, including the object of your emotional outpouring. As the spirit soul is meant to be a lover of God, if the living entity can regularly sing the glories of the Supreme Lord, whose spiritual attributes are immeasurable in their greatness, you get an eternal engagement that brings felicity to both the singer and the recipient. Those within audible range are also benefitted, as the songs can stay within the consciousness, sparking attraction to the Supreme Lord.

The drums added a nice rhythm to the songs. In this way not everyone had to be directly involved in the singing. Some people were singing the songs, while others were beating the drums to add to the effect. Then the many others were simply listening, as their excitement knew no bounds. Goswami Tulsidas, in the above referenced verse from his Janaki Mangala, says that the excitement at the event was so great that words really have no use in this context. What can words do to describe a scene that is indescribable?

Nevertheless, the Janaki Mangala is itself a song, meant to purify the heart of the poet and those who listen to it with rapt attention. The words of the song are so powerful that even when translated to another language they still bring the vision of the most wonderful marriage to ever take place on this earth. That excitement would turn into tremendous joy when Shri Rama, as a youth accompanying the sage Vishvamitra, would arrive on the scene. With only the sage and His younger brother Lakshmana there representing Him, Rama would step up and lift Mahadeva’s bow with ease. This pleased the saintly members of the crowd and crushed the pride of those who were inimical to God.

Sita and RamaJanaka’s decision to use Lord Shiva as the deciding factor would bring Shri Rama into his family. In one sense we can consider Lord Shiva the head minister presiding over the marriage, as his bow represented his presence at the ceremony. He brought Sita and Rama together, and for this he is still honored to this day. Just as he takes great delight in talking about Sita and Rama, so others can revel in the anticipation and the glorious outcome of that wonderful day.

The question may be asked that if the excitement on the day of the wedding was so high that words cannot explain, what is the point in even talking about it? This raises the classic issue of neti neti, which means “not this, not that.” In trying to explain Brahman, the all-pervasive energy of the Supreme Lord which can be noticed by the trained eye, Vedic literature states that this Supreme Truth is “not this and not that”. This means that, figuratively speaking, you can go around with something like a price gun or label maker and mark every object you see as “not God.”

This should make sense after all. The sun is all-pervading and unbiased in its diffusion of energy. The sun is a source of life in one sense, as we could not survive without it. Yet even something as grand and powerful as the sun is not the Supreme Absolute Truth. This is because the sun is composed of a material element: fire. Earth, water, fire, air and ether represent material substances which are not permanent in their existence. Anything which has to be created cannot be God, because with creation comes destruction. The Supreme Absolute Truth is beyond duality.

The inability to find God fully within this world does not prevent glorification of Him. Rather, neti neti is really a benefit for those who know the true dharma of the soul, that of lover of God. The ultimate characteristic of something forms its dharma, a feature which cannot be divorced from the object. Whether we are sleeping, dreaming, awake, in a dog’s body or in a human form, our dharma is to love God. The fact that the Supreme Absolute Truth cannot be accurately described enables our dharma to continue to act. From the feature of lover of God comes a natural occupational duty: bhagavata-dharma, or devotional service.

Devotion to God in its purest form operates unconditionally, without interruption and without motivation. What better way to allow love to continue without stoppage than to say that God can never be properly described? Spend the rest of your lifetime trying to enumerate the Supreme Lord’s features - describe how He is both formless and full of form, how He possesses mutually contradictory attributes, how He is unborn and yet can appear from the womb of Mother Kausalya -  and you will never finish.

Sita and RamaNeti neti is an invaluable blessing. The fact that the excitement was indescribable at Sita’s wedding gives us another example of the inexhaustible nature of the Supreme Lord’s glories. To this day we have never seen a wedding like Sita and Rama’s and we never will. Fear not, however, as that sacred event can be attended within the mind by the devotee who is willing to attempt to glorify the divine couple every day for the rest of their time on earth. That devotion tied to the purified consciousness continues well into the next life, making devotional service a discipline so wonderful that words cannot describe it.

In Closing:

Kings and their families have arrived for fun,

So loud is the singing and beating of drums.

Came for hopes that their family may Sita wed,

Witnessed history of Rama’s act instead.

For Sita Lord Shiva’s dearest is only husband,

Thus not surprising that Rama bow contest would win.

With song and dance emotions no longer hide,

So happy was ceremony that words can’t describe.

Neti neti for devotee is greatest blessing,

Allows for constant praise of God continuing.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Incriminating Evidence

Lord Krishna eating butter“Mother Yashoda was able to trace Krishna by following His butter-smeared footprints. She saw that Krishna was stealing butter, and thus she smiled. Meanwhile, the crows also entered the room and came out in fear. Thus mother Yashoda found Krishna stealing butter and very anxiously looking here and there.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.9.8 Purport)

The all-powerful original divine being looks down on His helpless children and takes delight in their sweet and sincere motions, especially when their behavior relates to His satisfaction. Even if they are angry at Him for perceived neglect, if they should act in such a way that their attachment to Him shows in their actions, the heavenly father is pleased, warmed to the heart by the display of affection. In Vrindavana some five thousand years ago, the roles were reversed. The author of everything good in this world was playing the part of a helpless child, one who was throwing a tantrum over His mother having neglected Him. The period of neglect was not long either, as the situation at hand warranted attention being diverted. Nevertheless, to reveal their attachment, one has to show their disfavor upon separation. If there is happiness even when not in the company of a loved one, what is the difference between association and separation?

Krishna with Mother YashodaMother Yashoda saw that her son was the culprit of a petty crime that ordinarily wouldn’t warrant much attention. Kids break things all the time. They know they’ll get in trouble too, so they like to pretend that they didn’t do anything. Since they are immature, they don’t know the ins and outs of cover ups, how to get rid of the incriminating evidence. Young Krishna broke a pot of butter and then haphazardly helped himself to the amount that poured onto the floor. So careless was He that His feet smeared the butter here and there, resulting in butter footprints on the floor as He walked away from the scene.

Lord Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the fountainhead of all divine figures. He is superior to even His form of Lord Vishnu, who is the deva-vara, or chief of the celestials. Vishnu is in such a high position that He is not interested in affairs relating to temporary ups and downs. A devotee of a particular demigod, or deva, may reap rewards for their devotion, but the temporary rises don’t address the real needs of the spirit soul. The heavenly figure providing the rewards doesn’t have much need for them either.

For example, it is seen that some of the devotees of Lord Shiva become very opulent. Through just a little effort, perhaps offering one or two leaves to Mahadeva or pouring some water over his deity form, they gain so many rewards. The devotees attain terrific opulence in both the present life and in the heavenly planets once the soul exits the body.

Lord ShivaAn interesting thing to note, however, is that Mahadeva, the person who grants these rewards after being pleased with so little effort, doesn’t have any opulence at all. Rather, he wears skulls around his neck, holds poison in his throat, and hangs around crematoriums. He is so renounced that even though he is married to the beautiful Goddess Parvati, he is not degraded by sensual desires. He both symbolically and literally annihilated the personified form of lust known as Kamadeva, or cupid.

Mahadeva has a higher wealth, something he cherishes more than any of the material opulence he gives to others. He gives benedictions out of duty more than anything, for he knows that not everyone will take to the highest path in life right away. Bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is the soul’s constitutional occupational duty in the past, present and future. From bhakti comes love, the divine variety. How can any emotion trump pure love, prema for the Supreme Godhead, where there is no expectation of reciprocation? Without expecting anything back, the outflow of service can continue uninterrupted.

With divine love there are no specific requirements coming in or going out. Rich or poor, young or old, hot or cold, or healthy or sick, one can stay connected to God in a mood of pure love. This dedication to devotion is Mahadeva’s real wealth, so he knows that the benedictions others take from him are not so important. Sanatana Goswami, Lord Chaitanya’s disciple and famous Vaishnava teacher, saint and poet, had a touchstone that could turn iron into gold. Since he had already abandoned the opulent life of serving in the royal order, Sanatana Goswami had no need for gold nor any amount of wealth.

In the process of taking sannyasa, or the renounced order, Sanatana discarded the touchstone, throwing it away as if it were a useless rag. Another associate later on heard about the touchstone and asked Sanatana Goswami where he kept it. Sanatana kindly informed the person where it was, but in the process of trying to find it, the person started to wonder why Sanatana had himself no interest for it. From meeting the Goswami in person, the interested party could tell that Sanatana had so much happiness and bliss that was around him all the time. Even though he lived like a mendicant, not having any possessions, Sanatana was not bereft of any essential in life. Thus the person soon abandoned the idea of acquiring the touchstone and instead petitioned Sanatana Goswami to reveal the secret to his happiness, how he was able to remain so blissful in the absence of material wealth.

Lord KrishnaThe source of Sanatana’s pleasure was the association through consciousness of the person roaming in Mother Yashoda’s courtyard; the child who broke the pot of butter. Shri Krishna, Vishnu Himself, is the worshipable figure for the devotees looking for transcendental love. He is the deity for Mahadeva as well, though Lord Shiva prefers to worship Krishna’s form of Lord Rama. Nevertheless, any non-different expansion’s association brings the fruit of existence, for the bhakti spirit can only be directed towards them. In reality, everyone is a devotee, though their love isn’t always directed to Krishna’s personal presence. The Lord resides inside of everyone’s heart and within the entire creation through His all-pervading, impersonal aspect. If we want to worship God, however, we cannot just go up to any person and ask them to accept our obeisances.

“By Me, in My unmanifested form, this entire universe is pervaded. All beings are in Me, but I am not in them.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.4)

As an example to see the distinction, Hiranyakashipu, a famous demon king, once asked his son Prahlada what the source of his unimaginable strength was. Hiranyakashipu tried to kill Prahlada so many times because of his devotion to Vishnu, but the five year old boy survived each and every attack. Prahlada tried to explain to his father that the source of his strength was also the source of everyone else’s. The Vishnu that Prahlada was worshiping was inside of everyone’s heart, including Hiranyakashipu’s.

Yet this didn’t mean that Prahlada worshiped his father as Vishnu, for neither the impersonal feature nor even the Supersoul expansion within the heart brings God’s blissful association. Indeed, the Personality of Godhead and His avataras are the entities who actually accept authorized worship, the desire for association in transcendental mellows by the devotees. Hiranyakashipu rhetorically asked if Vishnu were in the pillar next to him, and Prahlada replied that the Lord certainly was. When Hiranyakashipu started to hit the pillar, Narasimhadeva, Vishnu’s half-man/half-lion avatara, emerged onto the scene.

Narasimhadeva saving PrahladaThe accounts of this wonderful incident are relished by so many famous saints and preachers. Goswami Tulsidas especially liked the incident because it showed the superiority of the avatara/personal form of the Lord. Narasimhadeva didn’t emerge from anyone’s heart, for the impersonal aspect was not what Prahlada was devoted to. Rather, to show Hiranyakashipu and the rest of the doubting souls that God is a person who hears the cries for help of His sincere servants, the Lord emerged from a pillar of all places. By protecting Prahlada, Krishna showed the simultaneous oneness and difference that exists between Himself and the living entities. The all-pervading feature is within all of us, but this doesn’t mean that we are God. Material nature is also the Lord’s expansion, but devotion to it doesn’t bring any type of lasting happiness, especially the kind that results from prema, which is our birthright.

Krishna appeared in His original form in Vrindavana to interact with the sweetheart residents in their devotional mood of choice. Mother Yashoda got to love God as her son, and part of that love involved witnessing the childish acts of young Krishna. The Lord played the role perfectly, ensuring that the motherly love could flow uninhibited. Mother Yashoda, even when she had the right to be angry over her son’s naughty behavior, couldn’t help but smile. She was breastfeeding Him to make Him happy when a pot of milk started to boil over in the kitchen. She momentarily stepped away to fix the situation and Krishna did not like this at all.

In defiance, Krishna broke the pot of yogurt Yashoda had just spent so much time churning into butter. Knowing that He did something bad, young Krishna left the scene, taking some butter and yogurt with Him. Rather than just enjoy it Himself, He started distributing it to the neighboring monkeys. Through this one incident the Supreme Lord showed how much attachment He has to those who love Him. He knew that Yashoda’s motherly affection would increase by seeing His act of breaking the pot, so He lured her into a net of transcendental love, one that would keep her firmly wrapped in consciousness fixed on her beloved Shyamasundara.

By distributing the ample stock of butter, Krishna purified the actions of the cows. Through their motherly love for their calves the cows provided ample supply of milk products to the residents, who were thus never bereft of sumptuous food. Instead of hogging everything to themselves and worrying over whether or not they would eat nicely in the future, the residents were keen on distributing their surplus, sometimes selling the extra supply in the neighboring towns. Krishna showed that the monkeys and other animals of Vrindavana were equal residents. They were fed directly by Krishna the butter that Yashoda had churned. Thus from His behavior Krishna showed that respect is due all animals, no matter how ignorant they might be or what vile acts they may take up. Just because a fish eats other fish doesn’t mean that we should needlessly drag them out of their habitat that they need to survive. Just because a tiger kills animals and eats their flesh doesn’t mean that we are meant to imitate that. Love is the guiding force for human behavior, and through connecting with Krishna, that loving attitude extends universally.

Yashoda tying up KrishnaJust as Krishna played with Mother Yashoda by deliberately trying to make her angry, Mother Yashoda validated Krishna’s external apprehension by chasing after Him while He was anxiously looking around. He was afraid of getting caught, so Mother Yashoda made sure that she would try to catch Him. What fun would it have been if she just allayed her son’s fears and pretended not to love Him? A good mother will punish the child when they have done something wrong. If there is no punishment for bad behavior then from the child’s perspective what is the difference between the mother and any other person?

Shri Krishna, the reservoir of kindness, compassion, and every other divine quality, purposefully creates situations where transcendental love can flow. For the kind souls sincerely interested in bhakti today, the devotional spirit is packed fully into the holy name, a sound vibration which carries the Lord’s attributes, pastimes and forms. Just regularly reciting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, can keep the vision of that darling of Vrindavana who was trying to hide from His mother after having stolen the butter. His footprints gave His location away to Mother Yashoda, and similarly the sound vibration of the maha-mantra leads us towards the most auspicious destination, the spiritual sky, where the butter thief is anxiously awaiting our arrival.

In Closing:

Yashoda able to find son by butter’s dint,

Smeared over Krishna’s feet, left many a footprint.

Her son fed butter to monkeys in stealth,

Precious sight for devotees their real wealth.

Follow Mahadeva who lives very renounced,

Focused on God, not on opulence pronounced.

Bountiful gifts produced by earth meant for all,

Have love for God’s creatures, both short and tall.

Yashoda’s son’s holy name leads the way,

Towards spiritual sky where devotees stay.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

What If Scenarios

Sita Devi holding lotus flower“Or I think that while being carried away and travelling through the aerial path, which is attended by the Siddhas [perfected beings], that noble lady’s heart sunk after seeing the ocean below. Or I think that on account of the tremendous speed of the flight and the force of Ravana’s arms that wide-eyed and noble lady gave up her life.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.8-9)

athavā hriyamāṇāyāḥ pathi siddha niṣevite ||
manye patitam āryāyā hṛdayam prekṣya sāgaram |
rāvaṇasya ūru vegena bhujābhyām pīḍitena ca ||
tayā manye viśāla akṣyā tyaktam jīvitam āryayā  |

Samadhi, or divine trance, is so difficult to achieve because of the object that needs to be harnessed. It is one thing to find shelter from the blustering wind by running quickly into the house. It is yet another to escape the scorching heat by blasting the air conditioner. But controlling the mind, which is as wild as the rapidest ocean currents that no surfer would ever dare think of mounting, is nearly impossible. One of the mind’s best tricks is to flood thoughts of horrific, unimaginable events to see what effect they have on the psyche. Sort of like the child placing his hand into the fire to see just how hot the flame is, the mind conjures up negative images to see if they really will make a negative impact. But for those who are in samadhi, with the mind fixed on the right cause for the right person, what seem like attacks by the mind actually do no harm.

Why is the mind like this? Why can’t it just stay happy? So much excitement and anticipation over new activities is there, but why not constantly remain in a steady state? This is perhaps strange to accept but we actually don’t need the many changes to external surroundings to find happiness. If the mind can be convinced that it is happy, that it is in need of nothing and that there is no reason to fear loss, it will remain in a pleasant situation.

“As a lamp in a windless place does not waver, so the transcendentalist, whose mind is controlled, remains always steady in his meditation on the transcendent Self.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.19)

Lord KrishnaNot surprisingly, the only way to find samadhi is through focusing the mind on God, and more specifically, on devotion to Him. From the Bhagavad-gita, the song of God sung on the battlefield of Kurukshetra some five thousand years ago by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, we learn that for one who maintains attachment to sense gratification borne of material desires, there is no chance of steadiness in devotional service.

What is sense gratification and what is devotional service? How can we tell the difference between the two? An easy way to understand sense gratification is to think of eating food. We have to eat to live. If we didn’t eat we wouldn’t have energy. Try studying for a big exam on an empty stomach and you’ll notice very quickly how important food is. Try running a long race after not having eaten anything that morning or the night before and you’ll realize the important role food plays. Food is a requirement in this sense, as even the animals know they must eat. But the question remains, “How much should we eat?” Also, “what kind of food will provide sufficient levels of energy?”

Let’s say that we have a fresh pizza pie in front of us. On a personal note, pizza is our favorite food, so when discussing matters of eating, we tend to use pizza as an example, sort of a subtle form of projection. A large pizza pie is quite a good sum of food, with enough calories to surpass the average recommended daily intake for one person. If we are hungry, we will maybe eat one or two slices. This will be sufficient for the average person to satisfy their hunger.

pizzaBut under the model seeking only sense gratification, the taste of the pizza takes precedent over every other concern. We may even know that if we have just one more slice, we will feel ill effects later on. We will feel fat, bloated, lethargic, or downright in trouble in the stomach area. Nevertheless, the mixture of the cheese, sauce and dough is just too delectable to pass up. So we dive right into another slice. “Hmm, that didn’t seem to do much for me. I’ve eaten three slices already, why not have another? After all, how often do I get to eat pizza? This is a fresh pie too, so if I save the other slices for later they won’t taste as good.”

Replicate this same scenario across a wide variety of activities and you get what the Vedic seers refer to as sense gratification. The body requires interaction with the material elements to maintain the vital force within, but basic interaction is all that is necessary. Anything above and beyond necessity is deemed sense gratification, and for one who is looking for eternal happiness and peace, they must abandon attachment to it.

“Can we be attached to sense gratification? Is that even possible?” Not only is it possible, it is more often the norm. The alcoholic knows that drinking regularly leads to so many unwanted effects later on, but they nevertheless continue to get intoxicated. The gambler has wasted so much time thinking of wagers, which even when won provide little happiness, yet they still continue to check the latest point spreads and visit the casinos to try for their big payday. The same sequence is followed in the pursuit of money by businessmen and the desire for unlimited sex life by those who can’t control their sensual urges.

What is the solution? How do we control sense gratification and how do we abandon attachment to it? This has been the question pondered by sober minds since the beginning of time. One option is to forget about self-realization altogether, just continue on down the path of least resistance. Instead of getting bogged down with sense gratification in one area, just find new passions every day and go after them. Obviously this will not bring any lasting peace either. The king, the government leader, and the community head all have important posts, which are coveted by many. Though they have successfully risen to a position of prominence, they nevertheless don’t sleep very well. They are always worrying about how to maintain their position and keep their dependents happy.

Another option is to try yoga, some form of exercise or meditation that keeps the mind away from sense gratification. Sit in lotus postures for a long time, breathe a certain way, or just exercise a lot to keep your mind off of things. But the senses are not so kind. They don’t let you out of their clutches so easily. The yogi also has trouble sleeping because he must always worry about performing yoga perfectly, adhering to the different exercises properly. A yogi must keep progress in mind as well, ensuring that they are advancing in their regimen.

Then there is another form of yoga known as jnana, wherein one follows austerity and studies scriptural texts on a regular basis to understand the differences between matter and spirit. Though sense gratification is renounced, since there is no active pursuit of a pleasurable experience, the jnana-yogi is constantly on edge about ending activity and merging into the light of Truth known as Brahman. If there is even a hint of attachment to the senses, the jnana-yogi has no chance of success. Therefore the requirements themselves serve as the catalyst for sleepless nights.

Only the devotee, he who follows bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, can sleep in peace by keeping the mind always at ease. Devotional service differs from sense gratification because of the beneficiary of activity. With sense gratification the senses lead the person to things that are bad for them. In bhakti, the same senses are spiritualized and thereby cause the sincere soul to act in the interests of the Supreme Lord. Those interests are handed down confidentially from spiritual master to spiritual master to be passed on to students sincerely interested in learning about the meaning of life, God, and how to be devoted to Him.

The devoted spiritual master’s number one recommendation is that the student chant the Lord’s holy names. Rather than squabble over which religion is valid and which one isn’t, one should take it as a fact that if God is to be who He is, He would have to be the most attractive person in the world. He would also have to give transcendental pleasure to anyone who would cross His path. Therefore the Sanskrit words Krishna and Rama would very accurately address Him. God must also have an accompanying energy, a force which is always tied to Him and gives Him pleasure. Therefore the sacred maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, becomes the most appropriate way to address the Lord.

HanumanThe exalted servants get to offer their service directly in the presence of the Lord. Such was the case with Shri Hanuman, the faithful messenger of Lord Rama and the monkey-king Sugriva. Lord Krishna delivered the Bhagavad-gita on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, but many thousands of years prior He roamed the earth in the guise of a warrior prince named Rama. On one occasion, Rama’s beautiful wife Sita Devi had been taken away stealthily by a Rakshasa king named Ravana. Sita was in the forest of Dandaka at the time, so Ravana grabbed and placed her on his aerial car and then sped away in the sky.

Later on, Hanuman would be sent to look for Sita. Making his way into Lanka, he was initially unable to find her. He had searched through every nook and corner of the city, but nowhere was she to be found. Though he was always in bhakti-yoga, in samadhi, Hanuman had temporary bouts of dejection and sadness. The dastardly mind looking to test the resolve of the faithful servant rose to the challenge by implanting the most negative thoughts within Hanuman. “What if Sita isn’t alive? What if she died along the way to Lanka? What if she couldn’t handle the speed of the aerial car?”

These thoughts entered Hanuman’s mind as an attempt to explain the dreadful situation. How would he react to thinking these things? Our minds keep traumatic events safely tucked away to be invoked whenever we want to test our resolve, to see how we can handle the worst news in the world. Now Hanuman was smack-dab in the middle of trouble, and he had to see just how strong his resolve was. What if Sita were dead? What if he never found her? What would he do?

It seems like this mental distress proves that Hanuman was not in samadhi, and that bhakti-yoga doesn’t allow a person to remain mentally satisfied. But in reality bhakti is only hindered when there is attachment to sense gratification. For Hanuman, even in times of trouble, he had no concern over himself. His dejection was spiritual, as it was related entirely to Sita and Rama.

Mental despair resulting from attachment to sense gratification is detrimental because the attachment itself shouldn’t be there. On the other hand, even dejection in devotional service is beneficial, as it increases the resolve of the devotee and their appreciation of other servants and the object of service as well. Hanuman would ponder these horrific thoughts and then decide that it didn’t matter what the current situation was. He was going to forge ahead anyway. What other option was there? Was he going to quit? Was he going to cry for the rest of his life? He still had his vital force within him, so why not use that for Rama’s benefit? He would do just that by eventually finding Sita and then helping Rama defeat Ravana.

HanumanThe mind will always ponder “what if” scenarios that test the reaction to ill fate. Yet the same practice can be turned around to reflect on the positive. What if we remember Hanuman and his immeasurable love for Sita and Rama every day? What if Krishna’s promise in the Bhagavad-gita to deliver the fallen souls who surrender to Him is true? What if we continue in devotional service for the rest of our lives and remain in samadhi? As long as there is a vital force within the body, there is every chance at success in spiritual pursuits. As long as Hanuman is remembered, there is every chance of remaining perseverant along the perfectional path.

In Closing:

Samadhi means to remain in divine trance,

But with mental agitation there is no chance.

Attachment to the senses causes disturbance,

On material enjoyment abandon reliance.

With horrible what if scenarios mind will test,

Resolve of worker who at yoga trying their best.

Yet if attachment to the Supreme Lord is there,

Not even tragedies the devoted worker can scare.

Shri Hanuman thought the worst but moved on,

Would see Sita and please Rama at future’s dawn.