Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Destroyer of Family Traditions

Govardhana Puja“All glories to Kunja-vihari, who stopped His relatives from performing the famous sacrifice, who then took away Indra’s pride, and who in sport lifted Govardhana Hill to protect against the weapon of Indra.” (Shrila Rupa Gosvami, Shri Kunja-vihary-astakam, 3)

sarvataḥ prathita-kaulika-parva
dhvaḿsanena hṛta-vāsava-garvaḥ
goṣṭha-rakṣaṇa-kṛte giridhārī
līlayā jayati kuñja-vihārī

In the Bhagavad-gita, the hesitant warrior Arjuna was so insistent on refraining from fighting that he presented several cleverly worded arguments to his teacher and charioteer, Lord Krishna. One of those arguments related to the destruction of family traditions, and using the slippery slope method of argument, from one act of violence Arjuna reached the destination of a society full of rogues and thieves. Family traditions especially focused on religious life help to maintain a sense of decency within the progeny, but strangely enough the origin of all virtue one time put a halt to a specific tradition, in the process creating a new one.

Arjuna was on one side of a war that was to see millions die. Right at the outset he was hesitant to fight due to affection for family members belonging to the opposing side. While his sentiment indicated kind-heartedness, the choice was not wise. It was his duty as a warrior to fight against aggressors, and the people on the opposing side had unjustly usurped control of the kingdom that belonged to his family. Now it was time to settle the matter through a war, and by fighting on religious principles Arjuna would not incur sin.

“O Krishna, maintainer of the people, I have heard by disciplic succession that those who destroy family traditions dwell always in hell.” (Arjuna, Bhagavad-gita, 1.43)

One of the arguments Arjuna made was that by killing the members of the opposing army, family traditions would die with them. The subsequent generations would then grow up without culture, and so they would engage in illicit sexual affairs. This, in turn, would lead to unwanted progeny, which is the guaranteed way to get a society full of rogues and thieves. Stop and think about it for a moment. If in a society you have children who aren’t cared for, how will they learn right and wrong? If they are not taught values early on, they will think that stealing and cheating are okay. When, as a result, they regularly break the law, there will be no peace in society.

Though he was just trying to get out of fighting, taken by itself Arjuna’s argument is valid. The entire Vedic tradition is steeped in sacrifice, which is borne of prescribed duties, or karma. The sacrifices are performed by the elder generations, who pass on the tradition to their descendants. The same thing is seen in other spiritual traditions, and to follow these sacrifices is beneficial because the higher authorities know more than the younger generation. Prescribed duties lead to benefits both in the present life and in the distant beyond, the time period following death. On the other hand, acting on a whim, making up your own system of virtue, may only benefit you, and even then only slightly. The living entity doesn’t know any better due to the limitations on sight. The eyes of the scriptures, however, can see both in the light and in the dark, so the knowledge presented is always more valuable than that which is found through mental speculation alone.

At the same time every sacrifice has a higher purpose to fulfill. There is a singular thread that holds together all the beads that are the individual sacrifices. If the higher purpose is sought out directly, then the need for sacrifice goes away. A family tradition can even be broken for the right reason. How this works can be seen in the incident of the first Govardhana Puja. One year the residents in the farm community of Vrindavana were preparing for the annual Indra-yajna, the sacrifice performed to honor Lord Indra, the king of heaven. The motivation in the people was good. They knew that life could not continue without rain, and since the Vedas say that Indra is in charge of the rain, they would honor him with a sacrifice.

Sacrifice of this nature is always good, as whatever we can do to shed the mentalities of “I” an “Mine” will be to our benefit. Think of it like teaching children to share. It is not good to be selfish, and so the scriptures recommend sacrifice, charity and austerity as mechanisms for lifting the possessive mentality that is so harmful. Through sacrifice you pay thanks and also purify your consciousness.

Yet this one year Nanda Maharaja’s son insisted that they forgo the Indra-yajna. The boy wanted to instead worship the neighboring Govardhana Hill. There were ulterior motives, of course, but to convince the elder, the young Krishna said that the hill provided the cows the grass they needed, thereby making it worthy of worship. The father and the residents agreed, and they took their preparations for the Indra-yajna and transferred them to the first annual Govardhana Puja.

Lord KrishnaThe shift shouldn’t have been that big a deal, as it was not like there was no sacrifice. Only the beneficiary of the religious observance was shifted, but Lord Indra did not like this. He decided to punish the residents for stopping the family tradition. Shri Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, so under His sanction even something apparently irreligious like breaking a family tradition can fall in line with religious principles. Indra’s attack consisted of a torrential downpour that sought to flood all of Vrindavana and thus wash the people away. Krishna used Govardhana Hill as an umbrella and kept the residents safely underneath it.

The incident shows that worship of God under His direction is the ultimate objective, and in that endeavor there is full insulation from the negative reactions of skipping other sacrifices. Govardhana Hill is non-different from Krishna, so worshiping it is akin to worshiping the Lord. Arjuna would be urged to fight on through Krishna’s words, and by following the Lord he did not incur any sin. The residents of Vrindavana survived despite missing Indra’s sacrifice, and in the coming years they would worship Govardhana Hill instead.

And along the same lines, in the modern age, where family traditions have withered away and been replaced by the prominence of quarrel and hypocrisy, just by chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, all other sacrifices are automatically satisfied. This sankirtana-yajna is instituted by Krishna Himself, so it carries the Lord’s protection to those who perform it.

In Closing:

Destroyer of family traditions dwell,

In hell is what Arjuna to Krishna did tell.


On this point he was actually right,

For without culture children to lose virtue’s sight.


But Lord Himself one tradition broke,

This a fiery rage in Indra did stoke.


As all-powerful the Lord gave protection,

His hill in Indra to cure pride’s infection.


In bhakti all traditions meant to culminate,

So from sankirtana-yajna no need to deviate.