Saturday, January 7, 2012

All The Shots I Take

Hanuman's heart“If having not seen Sita I shall leave from this place and go to the city ruled by the king of Vanaras, of what avail will my achievements prove to be? My crossing over the ocean, entering Lanka and seeing the Rakshasas will have all been useless.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.20-21)

yadi sītām adṛṣṭvā aham vānara indra purīm itaḥ ||
gamiṣyāmi tataḥ ko me puruṣa artho bhaviṣyati |
mama idam langhanam vyartham sāgarasya bhaviṣyati ||
praveśaḥ civa lankāyā rākṣasānām ca darśanam |

Man’s ideal occupation is devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, which is so powerful that the benefits of adherence to it automatically trickle down and impact other aspects of life in a positive way. The enjoyment of the fruits of action serves as the initial impetus for activity, including the most strenuous and pressure packed engagements, but the wise know that just as the body is renounced at the time of death, so the results of action have a shelf-life, a date of expiration. When operating under the proper consciousness not only are the results of action renounced, but the activities themselves are done to further a purpose beyond the interests of the body. The imperishable, gigantic spiritual powerhouse of energy is the object of all service, the enjoyer of every sacrifice, and the ultimate beneficiary to the potent potential for love found within the soul.

Why not enjoy the fruits of labor? After all, we earned them, so why would we want to give them up? This line of thinking seems logical enough, and the living being does take this tact by default. Yet during the typical maturation of the human being from infancy to adulthood, we notice that the need to renounce fruits of action starts to surface regularly, enough to the point that engagements themselves are renounced before the nature of the rewards are studied.

What do we mean exactly? Let’s look at something as common as playing video games. The child is dependent on elders for its sustenance; it has no pressing need to work or to worry about its well-being. In addition to not having to care about adult responsibilities, there is the advantage the child has in the energy department. Take an old man and force him to wake up early and sit in school for long periods of time, only to come home and then work on homework for several hours, and you’ll get major resistance. Yet a child doesn’t know any better. They can go to school for hours at a time, come home and play in a tiny area, sleep on the floor if they have to, and find the lifestyle to be loads of fun.

video gamesBecause of the child’s ability to follow difficult paths without much resistance, parents ensure that their children are given an education, even if the child doesn’t want it. After all, what opposition can a child put up anyway? “No, Dad, I’m not going to school. I’m going to sit home and do nothing.” This isn’t much of an argument, and the child is well aware of it. A good way to pass time for the child forced to get an education is to play video games. The simple, yet addictive games can run the gamut of genres and tasks. Some games are sports simulations, while others involve role playing, wherein powerful evil forces are taken on in battle. In any case, there comes an ideal end point, an achievement of victory. Either the championship is won in a particular sport or the most powerful boss is defeated.

What does the child gain by putting forth all this effort? For starters, their time was spent without boredom. A few hours can seem like a few minutes when deeply immersed in a video game. Maybe some problem-solving skills were acquired as well, as for serious players success doesn’t come right away in these games. If it did there would be little enjoyment derived. Though in an episode of the famous sitcom Seinfeld one of the adult characters enrolled in a children’s Karate class to feel superior to the competition, this isn’t the norm. There has to be some kind of a challenge to feel any elation or sense of accomplishment from the resulting victory.

Kramer doing karateWith maturity, the child starts to realize that victory in these video games doesn’t amount to much. There is mental effort expended, but what is really gained? When these issues surface, the objectives shift to other areas of life. Maybe the new goal becomes graduating from college or earning a Masters degree. After that, the goal can be to succeed in a particular occupation or build something difficult to construct. One by one, the inquisitive human being searching for lasting happiness in a steady engagement jumps from task to task to taste the fruits that result.

“The mode of passion is born of unlimited desires and longings, O son of Kunti, and because of this one is bound to material fruitive activities.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.7)

The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, accurately note that no fruit related to the body can ever provide lasting happiness. What to speak of the video game victory, not even the monumental achievement of the largest business mogul in the world really amounts to much. How can we say this? Isn’t building a skyscraper a big deal? What about the invention of airplanes and the railroad? Surely these made a huge impact, no? All the shots endured through struggles and defeat are worth it when the success is meaningful.

But beyond the temporary fruits found in material existence is the spirit soul, an eternal spark of energy. As soon as there is birth there must be death. This means that as soon as a fruit manifests, it must be destroyed at some point in the future. The fruit itself doesn’t have to crumble right away; our relationship to it, i.e. our ability to enjoy it, is automatically checked by the definition of our existence. For instance, if I work hard and construct a large home to reside in, at most I can live in it for one hundred years. At the time of death, the housing structure may still be there, but I will be forced to leave its company. This holds true of every one of our relationships, including the strong bonds we have to friends and family.

Why are we bringing this up? Isn’t this something we know already? Can’t we just forget about death and live happily enjoying life? The Vedas don’t remind us of the obvious truths about material existence without good reason. Because the spirit soul is eternal, it can have an engagement which brings everlasting fruits. Have we introduced a contradiction here? After all, for something to be created, it must be destroyed also, no? If we produce a fruit through some effort, it must mean that the enjoyment derived cannot last forever.

“Work done as a sacrifice for Vishnu has to be performed, otherwise work binds one to this material world. Therefore, O son of Kunti, perform your prescribed duties for His satisfaction, and in that way you will always remain unattached and free from bondage.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 3.9)

Lord KrishnaThe cycle of creation and destruction holds true with what we’ve witnessed thus far in our current life, but beyond our memories accumulated in this lifetime is our original home of the imperishable spiritual sky, whose leader is the person most of us refer to as God. Work done for the Supreme Lord - who is known as Vishnu because of His all-pervasiveness and His brilliant and opulent four-armed form that resides in the spiritual realm of Vaikuntha - should always be performed because the results don’t bind the living entity to the cycle of birth and death. Even if you don’t want to believe in reincarnation, you can plainly see that the results of action bind one further to fruitive activity. As a common example, buying a house and getting married brings the reward of a stable family life. The objects of enjoyment can be considered the fruits, or results, of work. In Sanskrit these are referred to as karma-phala, the fruits of work performed under the jurisdiction of karma, which is the cause-and-effect chain governing action in the material world.

With the rewards of the home and family comes the pressure to maintain. Before the fruits were there, the pressure was absent. This means that the work that was used to produce the results served as the cause for the bondage, or the new responsibilities, the beasts of burden. “This thorn in my side is from the tree I planted”, is a nice way to think of it. You sow the seeds to be able to get trees to provide what you need. But every tree also brings thorns that tear into your skin and cause you to bleed. The two-sidedness of enjoying the fruits of your labor is likened to the camel that eats the thorns that cut its tongue, thus enjoying the false taste of its own blood along with the food items.

Work for Vishnu is not binding. If anything, it keeps one tightly wrapped around devotional service, or divine love. This bondage is not material, as there is no burden placed upon the body. Indeed, the body can be completely replaced and the divine love still followed. Another nice side effect of action in devotion is that the worker is conscious of the purpose to his actions. We take many shots in our journey towards success in a fruitive venture, but if the enjoyment from the fruit is temporary and also carries future bondage, what use was there to all the work? The devotee keeps this in mind when working for the Supreme Lord Vishnu. The awareness ensures that their actions are done to fulfill the highest purpose of satisfying God.

Hanuman's clubShri Hanuman, the faithful Vanara warrior and devotee of Lord Rama, gave us a wonderful example of this attitude in action. Vishnu is God, and depending on His will He makes appearances on earth every now and then. In the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, He roamed the earth as a warrior prince named Rama. As vishnu-bhakti can be applied to any of Vishnu’s non-different forms, accepting Rama as God is as good as exclusively worshiping Vishnu or Krishna.

To worship, there must be a worthwhile engagement. Since Rama was there personally in front of Hanuman, just attending a temple or contemplating on the Lord within the mind wouldn’t have been the best use of the opportunity. Hanuman is a divine figure endowed with tremendous strength, both physical and mental. To correspond with his natural abilities, Rama found a difficult task to give Hanuman. Sita Devi, Rama’s wife, had been taken from Him through a backhanded plot hatched by Ravana, the king of Lanka at the time. Rama outwardly did not know where Sita had gone or who had taken her, so He took the help of Sugriva, the king of monkeys residing in Kishkindha. Hanuman was Sugriva’s chief minister, and he was entrusted with Rama’s ring to give to Sita should he meet her.

What a wonderful mission to be given. At the same time, there was a lot of pressure on Hanuman. There were many powerful monkeys in his pack, but it was expected that Hanuman would be the only one who could find Sita. Sure enough, he would have to separate from his group when it was learned that Sita was on an island far away from the mainland. Only Hanuman was capable of leaping far enough to reach the island.

Not only did he brave the obstacles thrown his way during his aerial journey, but Hanuman also knocked away the impediments found within Lanka. He managed to infiltrate the city without being noticed and look through every inch of space, including Ravana’s numerous palaces. Yet he still could not find Sita. At this point he started to run through the different options, what might have happened to the princess. He was thinking that maybe she wasn’t alive anymore, for how could he have not found her if she were still living?

It’s one thing to think negatively, but it’s another to act off of that depression. In the above referenced passage from the Ramayana, Hanuman has reached the point where he must decide what to do next. If Sita really weren’t alive, he’d have to return to Kishkindha and tell everyone what had happened. But then he started thinking to himself, “What purpose would my leap across the ocean and my infiltration into Lanka have served?” Just see how keenly aware Hanuman is of the mission in life and the need for detachment from the results of action. Pride emerges from the young child after beating a video game and from the wealthy tycoon after making billions of dollars, but Hanuman surpasses everyone in ability. His leap across the ocean was so unique that the denizens from heaven looked on in amazement. His ability to change his shape at will, to go from being as large as a mountain in stature to the size of a cat within seconds is so marvelous that others can’t believe these events really happened.

HanumanYet Hanuman knew that these feats wouldn’t be meaningful unless the mission at hand was completed. His only business in life is to please Shri Rama, so the fruits of his devotional efforts always appear. No attachment does he harbor for his dexterity or strength, for he knows that the Supreme Lord is the ability in man and the cause of the creation. Rather than take credit for himself, Hanuman always thinks about how his actions will affect others. At a crossroads, Hanuman would eventually choose to fight ahead, to continue his search for Sita. With such a kind attitude, can Hanuman ever fail? Not a chance. Throw whatever you have at him, and he will absorb your blows and not be deterred in his dedication to Sita and Rama. May we have the same level of dedication in honoring and adoring him.

In Closing:

Hanuman’s leap across the ocean most amazing,

But not interested was he at personal feats gazing.

Unnoticed into enemy land of Lanka did he crawl,

To stay incognito in search for Sita an order tall.

But divine vision of Rama’s wife is what he sought,

So returning home unsuccessful make efforts for naught.

For personal achievements Hanuman never does care,

Only thinks, “In doing Rama’s business how did I fare?”

Such a sincere worker never in devotion does fail,

Would find Sita and then burn Lanka with his tail.

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Cultured Upbringing

Krishna's lotus feet“The unsuccessful yogi, after many, many years of enjoyment on the planets of the pious living entities, is born into a family of righteous people, or into a family of rich aristocracy.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.41)

It is stated in the Bhagavad-gita that the unsuccessful yogi does not have to worry about having his efforts go for naught or worshiping the Supreme Self in vain. There is no progress lost on the path towards ultimate liberation, which provides the identifiable aspect within every living creature its supreme satisfaction, of which it is most certainly deserving. With other ventures, an unplanned occurrence, something terrible happening at the wrong time, can wipe the slate clean, but the same does not apply with steps made towards the origin of all life and matter. From the statements in the Gita pertaining to this subject, there may be some confusion, for the next destination of the unsuccessful yogi can be a place seemingly not very conducive to spiritual life. A quick review of the matter, however, shows that Lord Krishna - the speaker of the Gita and the object of yoga, the beneficiary of every religious practice performed in the past, present or future - is correct about the fate of the unsuccessful yogi being beneficial.

Krishna's lotus feetWhat is a yogi and how can one be successful as a yogi? Yoga is the linking of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul. The difference between the two entities is subtle yet stark at the same time. The qualification of subtle is made because the individual spirit soul is the same in quality as the Supreme Soul. Juxtapose two human beings. One may be in the stage of infancy while the other is in adulthood. One might have been born in a certain land while another is a native of another area. Despite the differences in circumstances and maturation of external features, the two entities are identical in where they take their identity from. Those sources of identity are also of the same quality. Just as ice and vapor are two different manifestations of the same matter, the living beings in different material bodies are spirit souls with different outer coverings.

The Supreme Soul resides within every living being as well. This spiritual entity is the same in quality as the individual soul. Both are transcendental to matter, eternal, knowledgeable and blissful. But there are differences between the two entities; otherwise one wouldn’t be called Supreme. The Supreme Soul, who is also known as the Paramatma, is all-pervading. The individual soul within is only conscious of its present life’s activities. Since the soul is eternal, it has existed in the past and will continue to exist in the future. The body types are inhibiting towards knowledge, however, sort of like how a lampshade covers up the brilliant light emitted by a lamp. Forgetfulness, the darkness of ignorance, is concomitant with association with matter.

Not only is the Paramatma conscious of the previous lives of the localized being, but it is also connected to every other living entity as well. Hence the Paramatma is referred to as antaryami, or the all-pervading witness. As this ability is not present in the individual soul, the Paramatma automatically becomes superior. From the Bhagavad-gita, we learn that the Paramatma is an expansion of God, a localized representation of the Supreme Lord which acts as an impartial witness to the activities of the individual soul.

“I am seated in everyone's heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness. By all the Vedas am I to be known; indeed I am the compiler of Vedanta, and I am the knower of the Vedas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.15)

Krishna's fluteYoga is the linking of the individual with the Supreme within the body. Every endeavor actually descends from the search for this link. In ignorance, however, the link will be sought with worldly objects, people and things that are not attached to spirit. Another living entity is obviously a spirit soul as well, but if the source of the attachment to them is related to their bodily manifestation, there is no connection with spirit. The Paramatma is as pure as you get, so the connection that results inherits the same properties as the corresponding entity. Hence yoga is the ultimate activity, the most worthwhile aim to achieve.

Just learning of the need for yoga is rare enough. In the modern age the word “yoga” has turned into a synonym for stretching exercises and gymnastics. The health benefits are but a small aftereffect of the ancient system that was always intended to bring about a fruitful union between the two souls residing within the body. After learning of the need for yoga, practicing it properly is rather difficult. For starters, through many lifetimes spent attached to matter, the conditioned soul is confident that just finding gratification for the senses will be enough to provide happiness. The serpents that are the senses are the greatest inhibitors to achieving the perfect union that is yoga. So the first step in yoga is to provide some type of sense control through austerity and penance.

Whether you try the type of yoga involving the renunciation of the fruits of work, the study of matter and spirit, or work in full devotion to the Supreme Lord, there is always some type of austerity involved. In bhakti-yoga, which is the easiest to implement but the most difficult to accept with firm conviction, the emphasis is placed on the positive activities of devotion, such as hearing about God in His personal form, worshiping His non-different manifestation of the deity, and chanting His names, like those found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Coupled with these positive activities is restraint from sinful behavior like meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex.

Since the Gita was a discourse between the original spiritual master of the world and one of His students, there was some back and forth, several question-and-answer periods. When hearing about the principles behind yoga and how difficult it is to practice yoga to fruition, the receiver became a little worried. The fruit of yoga practice is samadhi, or more specifically, sharanagati, which is the merging of the soul into an ocean of bliss through surrender to God. The perfect yogi does not take birth again after the present life is over. Their consciousness is tied to the Supreme Lord, so they get a spiritual body in the next life, one that does not damage the link to the divine consciousness.

ArjunaArjuna, Krishna’s student in the Gita, was worried about what would happen to the yogi who didn’t achieve full God consciousness by the time of death. So much hard work goes into yoga, and if one doesn’t succeed, will they have to start over again from the beginning in the next life? Krishna responded by allaying Arjuna’s fears and those of countless future generations by stressing the fact that the unsuccessful yogi never goes backwards. Even if they should fall off of the devotional platform, they get to start again in the next life from the place where they left off.

How does this work exactly? Krishna says that the next birth is in an environment which is conducive to yoga practice. Being born into a family that is God conscious or already devoted to yoga would naturally increase the chances of a person continuing their yoga from the previous life. But Krishna also mentions a family of aristocracy as being a destination for the unsuccessful yogi, who first enjoys in the heavenly planets for many, many years. Yoga corresponds with righteousness, or piety, so there are merits relating to temporary rewards simultaneously accumulated through the link in consciousness, though the target objective is to connect with God and not to find enjoyments that relate to the body that one is trying to transcend.

The concern may be raised that a family of an aristocracy can create circumstances that actually inhibit yoga practice. Sort of like being born with a silver spoon in your mouth, taking birth in a rich family means that sense gratification will be easily available. We know that regularly meeting sense demands will only add fuel to the fire of material existence, making it more difficult to satisfy the same senses in the future. Think of the spoiled kid who is used to getting so many gifts for Christmas that they get angry if they don’t get enough presents on one particular year. How can birth in such a family be conducive to yoga?

In the context of the statements of the Gita, aristocracy actually refers to culture. A family that is cultured can be considered an aristocracy, especially during the time that Krishna was delivering His wonderful message to Arjuna. A non-aristocratic family is more focused on the senses and meeting its demands through hard labor. In ancient times, the laborer class was not educated. They were protected by the higher classes, and they would remain steadfast to their dharma, or occupational duties, through service. Though it is possible for any person in any class or gender to be able to achieve perfect yoga within one lifetime, the circumstances of a non-aristocratic birth make it difficult to even learn about yoga, let alone take up the practice. If the mind is constantly worried about how to procure food and keep a roof over the head, how is it going to pay attention to words of spiritual wisdom?

In modern times, we can liken a non-aristocratic birth in the context of the Gita to being born in abject poverty, where there is no guarantee of eating on a particular day. If there is no peace of mind, how can there be any happiness? If there is no comfort of knowing when and where to eat, how is the mind going to contemplate higher topics like the meaning of life and the need for transcending the senses? A sannyasi, a person accepting the renounced order with fearlessness and firm conviction in the path, can perhaps survive in such unpleasant conditions, but for the normal person the uncertainty would be too much to handle.

At least in an aristocracy there is a chance to become cultured, to be educated on higher matters. Even if yoga shouldn’t be the first avenue chosen, one who is satisfied to the limit with the senses will have a better chance of questioning the meaning of life. If, on the one hand, you have one person who just wants to have a secure life of material amenities and on the other you have one who has already lived that life, obviously the latter person can eliminate more options as being candidates for the ultimate aim in life. No amount of wealth or opulence can make a person truly happy. If it could, the wealthy would never take to philanthropy or seek further expansion of their business.

“Persons who have acted piously in previous lives and in this life, whose sinful actions are completely eradicated and who are freed from the duality of delusion, engage themselves in My service with determination.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.28)

Lord KrishnaWhen the individual who has everything becomes bewildered about the meaning of life, they have every opportunity for reviving the divine consciousness and remaining connected to God in yoga. It is said in the Gita that one who has exhausted all of their sinful activities is eligible for coming back home, back to Godhead. At the root level, any behavior not dovetailed with yoga practice can be considered sinful, so the person who has tried every type of sinful engagement and eliminated them as being necessary can very easily accept yoga and thereby continue from where they left off in the previous life.

Regardless of the specific circumstances of birth, whether in this life or the next, there is always something to be gained by taking steps towards Krishna. The spiritual energy is like a sun that never sets. Its warmth is always there for whoever wants to take advantage of it. Even if success in yoga is hard to come by right now, through determination it will eventually arrive. The dedicated devotee is always in good graces with Krishna, who then takes the responsibility for their welfare.

In Closing:

In yoga practice there is no need to hurry,

Even if unsuccessful in this life no worry.

In next life take birth in family of aristocracy,

Or in pious family full of enlightened yogis.

Upon that renewed opportunity seize,

To again start in yoga and Krishna please.

But isn’t it a problem to be born rich,

To gratify senses all the time like unending itch?

To a cultured family is what aristocracy means,

To find spiritual life and sinful reactions clean.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Joyful Respect

Dasharatha's queens“Possessing love, fortune, good luck, humility, beauty and wearing so many ornaments, with happiness in their hearts the queens, along with their sons, all came and offered their obeisances to the feet of the rishi.” (Janaki Mangala, Chand 2.2)

anurāga bhāga sohāga sīla sarūpa bahu bhūṣana bharīṃ |
hiya haraṣi sutanha sameta rānīṃ āi riṣi pāyanaha parīṃ ||

How should you welcome a guest? What if they’re an important member of the family who you haven’t seen in a while? How do you properly pay respect to someone who is most deserving of it? In the Vedic tradition, such issues are handled through a simple gesture, which is easy enough to follow, but may not be presented wholeheartedly. When the practice is adopted by those with the proper attitude in their hearts, with eagerness for the task, and who also have every good virtue and quality, the worthiness of the recipient is further augmented, as is the joyousness of the situation.

VishvamitraVishvamitra Muni was full of good qualities, as he was dedicated to serving the Supreme Lord through following the occupational duties assigned to him. It’s one thing to possess extraordinary qualities, but it’s another to use them on a daily basis even if you don’t feel up to the task. The brahmana class is considered very fortunate because they have the knowledge capacity to take to righteous activities. Without guidance, the human species is really no different than the animals. In many respects, the ignorant human being lives a life of difficulty which even the animals don’t face.

In higher circles of society, the ideal value system handed down to young children relates to the idea that they should become educated and thus earn a good living in adulthood. From that steady income, food, clothing and shelter will not be a problem. Getting that education is neither easy nor inexpensive. In addition to the twelve years of schooling, there is the specialized training given in college and beyond. This is all done to ensure that the young adult can manage on their own and not have a problem staying married and supporting their family.

Yet it is seen in the animal community that the same essentials can be procured without any education or training. Some animals are so amazing that they can walk and look for food immediately after exiting the womb of their mother. The human infant can hardly do anything at the time of birth except cry, but many animals have God-given abilities made specifically for their body type that surpass the young human being’s abilities. The animals work too, to get their food and stay under shelter, but they don’t have to work nearly as hard as the adult human being does. We essentially go to school to learn how to work to eat, but the same goal can be achieved by owning some land and producing food. Harvest the crops once a year, take care of some cows, and you’re pretty much set for a comfortable existence.

The intelligence of the human species is meant to fulfill a higher purpose, something with which the brahmanas are familiar. They know that there is an all-pervading energy known as Brahman, which is the spark of life. From Brahman realization comes the understanding that spirit is the essence of identity and that it exists beyond the current form, which is ever-changing. There is birth and death and everything that happens in between, but the spirit spark of Brahman is there to stay. The Supreme Lord states in the Bhagavad-gita that He impregnates the total material energy, known as the mahat-tattva, which is also part of Brahman, and thus generates the many life forms.

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

Krishna holding fluteThe source of birth is an injection of spiritual energy, which then remains localized within each individual. From the higher knowledge acquired one can follow the right set of activities, which will lead to full enlightenment. From enlightenment comes confidence and continued determination in the auspicious path, which brings the highest gain. Because the brahmanas know all of these things they are given respect in society.

Vishvamitra lived like a brahmana, though he wasn’t necessarily born as one. Though he could have stayed on the path of fruitive activity and not trod the difficult road of an ascetic, he chose to stay true to his calling. Without people taking the risk to become a priest to teach others with their example, who would be there to guide society? Therefore simply through his occupation and his dedication to remaining true to it the sage was worthy of so much praise.

On the other side, a king lives a very opulent lifestyle, as that is the reward for providing protection to the innocent. When there was a meeting between Vishvamitra and the pious King Dasharatha, the two parties were coming from opposite ends of the spectrum of material life. Vishvamitra called the minimalist surroundings of the forest his home, while Dasharatha lived in an elegant palace in Ayodhya. Nevertheless, when the meeting took place, it was Vishvamitra who was greeted with attention and honor, as if he were royalty.

The king declared that he had the most auspicious merits for having received a visit from Vishvamitra, and the sage in turn felt very pleased. When a guest comes to the house, it is standard etiquette to ask how they are doing, to give them a nice seat and offer them something to eat and drink. When the guest is worshipable, someone who gives sublime wisdom to others, a person who makes the sacrifice to both understand God and spread His glories to others, the need for paying honor is increased.

In Vishvamitra’s case, he received honor from those who were themselves endowed with every good quality. In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, it is said that after King Dasharatha honored Vishvamitra, his queens and their sons came and did the same. The queens were full of love, fortune and good luck. Wearing the most beautiful ornaments they arrived in front of the sage with hearts full of happiness. Rather than give Vishvamitra a hug or say “hello” from afar, they came up to him and bowed to his feet. They brought their sons with them, young men who would one day take charge of the kingdom. From an early age the boys were taught how to respect their elders and members of the priestly class.

The virtue of the queens is important to mention because the more honorable and respectable someone is, the more likely it is that others will follow their example. A similar fact is brought up in the Bhagavad-gita, where it is stated that whatever a great man does, others will follow. King Janaka, whom King Dasharatha would meet shortly after at a marriage ceremony, is mentioned in the Gita to show that even a king who has no duties to perform takes to working so that others can know the proper course in life. We accept obligations so that we can meet a specific end, but for someone who knows the eternality of the spirit soul and how it is transcendental to the shifts in matter, there is no work to perform.

“One who is, however, taking pleasure in the self, who is illumined in the self, who rejoices in and is satisfied with the self only, fully satiated—for him there is no duty.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 3.17)

Krishna's lotus feetDespite their high knowledge, such worshipable personalities, which include the Supreme Lord Himself, accept obligations externally to teach others the need to behave piously. Lord Rama, the same speaker of the Gita, the Supreme Lord in the guise of a warrior prince, was one of the sons that came and honored Vishvamitra. Rama was Dasharatha’s eldest son and He was, ironically enough, the reason for Vishvamitra’s visit. Since the queens were the most respectable and beautiful in every way, by their paying honor to Vishvamitra, the example was set for all people on how to treat those deserving of worship.

It is also said that the queens and their sons arrived with happiness in their hearts. This means that they didn’t honor Vishvamitra just as a formality. They were naturally so happy to see the sage, for he always brings good news. Even if the bona fide spiritual leader should criticize errant behavior, the result is good, for the correction serves to fulfill a higher purpose. Since the end result is good, the original presence and criticism turn out to be auspicious. In addition, if the priestly class is satisfied and honored, then they will kindly bestow heaps of good counsel, ensuring that everyone can live life happily.

The king’s avowed dedication to honor the brahmanas would be tested on this occasion by the request coming from Vishvamitra. The muni wouldn’t criticize the king, for what could Dasharatha ever do wrong? The Supreme Lord had appeared in his family for a reason, for the result of many past pious deeds, treading the righteous path with firm faith and determination, brings the audience of the Supreme Lord. It is said that in his previous life King Dasharatha regularly performed the Satyanarayana Puja, which is a worship typically performed by householders desirous of a fruitive result. Unlike the worship of divine personalities charged with providing welfare of the material variety, worship of Shri Satyanarayana keeps one in touch with the Personality of Godhead, even though the initial motive may not be pure. Pure devotion is marked by the absence of a desire for material rewards, knowledge, or perfections in mysticism. In pure devotion, the only desire is to be able to connect with God and continue that devotion into the future.

Lord Rama's lotus feetThe reason pure devotion trumps all other kinds of worship is that the person who adopts it in earnest is considered to have already performed every other kind of sacrifice. Dasharatha proved this point to be valid, for he received Rama as a son after having performed pious deeds in his previous life. Since he had already followed the other methods of religion, the king was free to love his beloved son without impediment. There is no higher benefit in life than to be able to release the natural loving spirit within the heart without interruption and without motivation. As the only person who can accept the full release of spiritual love is the Supreme Lord, the ability to love Him, to show Him prema, is the highest benefit in life. This is what Dasharatha received by gaining Rama as a son.

Despite the fact that he had no dharma to tend to besides loving Rama, Dasharatha still agreed to let Vishvamitra take Rama as an escort in the forest. Though Rama was a young boy, Vishvamitra knew that the Lord’s fighting abilities were brilliant, that He could protect the saints in the forest who were being attacked by the night-rangers of the time. By allowing Rama to go, Dasharatha proved that the praise he offered to the rishi was not just empty words. It is one thing to say that you trust someone, but it is another to accept their requests that you may not like. The queens and their sons loved Vishvamitra, and that love would be tested when Dasharatha’s two sons, Rama and Lakshmana, would leave with the sage to travel through the forest. The trust invested in Vishvamitra would pay off, as the decision would bring back the goddess of fortune to Ayodhya. The decision to extend faith to Vishvamitra would also give countless future generations the opportunity to sing of the marriage of Sita and Rama and remember the divine couple and honor them daily in thoughts, words and deeds.

In Closing:

Queens of King Dasharatha so very beautiful,

Full of auspicious traits and jewels bountiful.

The news of Vishvamitra’s visit to palace hearing,

Queens their sons to the sage’s feet with them bringing.

No need to cajole, pleased to see muni from the start,

Arrived at his lotus feet with happy hearts.

King’s vow is the wise brahmanas to always protect,

Because of their wisdom their wise words can’t reject.

With Vishvamitra’s request king’s vow would be tested,

But auspiciousness to come from what muni suggested.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Krishna The Person

Lord Krishna“Always think of Me and become My devotee. Worship Me and offer your homage unto Me. Thus you will come to Me without fail. I promise you this because you are My very dear friend.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.65)

Question: “When Krishna says to surrender unto Him, is He referring to His sach-chid-ananda vigraha or to the embodied being who appeared on this earth and then left, or are they both the same?”

Answer: Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, has a body full of bliss and knowledge. It is also eternal in its existence. In some popular spiritual traditions the concept of salvation occurs through surrender unto the son of the Supreme Lord or to one of the Lord’s representatives. While the Vedas have a similar tradition set up through the proxy of the guru, or spiritual master, the features of the original personality are still described to some detail. Since He is the creator of both the material and spiritual energies, the Supreme Lord is free to make appearances in whichever land He chooses. He already resides within each of us as the Supersoul, though without practice in yoga we have no way of realizing the presence of this kind expansion of Supreme Spirit. For Shri Krishna, the origin of life and matter, there is no difference between body and spirit, therefore when He advises surrender He always refers to Himself alone.

Krishna speaking to ArjunaThe Bhagavad-gita is Krishna’s song, and it is unique in the information it provides. Rather than accept spirituality as a matter of inheritance from family tradition or some faith that one can easily give up, the principles of a bona fide religious system can be dissected as a science, a discipline with truths that can be piled on top of one another to reach a final flawless conclusion. One who follows Krishna’s teachings may be outwardly tagged as a Hindu or Vaishnava, but to the people who are in the know, these designations bear no meaning. The foremost identification for every single person is the same, regardless of which spiritual tradition they follow. Aham brahmasmi, which means “I am a spirit soul”, applies to even the dog. Because the same quality of spirit pervades the material space there can be no such thing as sectarianism when discussing the science of self-realization.

Why does the “self” need to be realized? It is in this area that religion takes on its true value. We all have the same identity, but the majority of the conditioned souls are not aware of it. What obviously follows an incorrect identification are activities that one is not meant to take up. Eating, sleeping, mating and defending are the primary engagements of the animals who don’t know how to speak or determine what their future fate will be. The human beings follow similar behavior, but they are given intelligence to transcend the base animal instincts, to find higher truths. Knowledge brings power, so one who understands that they are spirit at the core can reach the most suitable destination.

The identification as spirit is important because otherwise identities are taken from changing bodies. The best way to think of the difference is to put on a specific type of shirt one day and then base your identity off of that shirt for the rest of your life. Obviously this wouldn’t be wise behavior because the shirt worn can change at any time. Similarly, identifying off of race, gender or nationality is silly because these designations can change in the future, and we didn’t even get to pick them prior to our birth. Does one really think that a person born in a particular land has different inherent qualities from the person appearing on this earth in another land?

The similarities amongst human beings can be understood even in the absence of a pursuit in spiritual life, but with the limited knowledge-gathering capabilities of the human being due to the constraints of time and space, the proper realization of the self and how it transcends even the human species cannot be understood without outside help. True enlightenment requires explicit instruction followed by dedicated practice. The Bhagavad-gita serves both of these purposes, and it was nicely presented at just the right moment, when a capable warrior was unclear about the proper course of action to follow.

ArjunaFrom the Gita comes the knowledge of the self and its position with respect to matter. In this work Krishna right away reveals that the soul continually exists, both before birth and after death. The different outer coverings are due to karma, which is the system that manages fairness based on actions taken. The bodies assumed do not represent one’s real identity, as spirit transcends every temporary change. Because there is no reason for attachment to the body, one should follow the prescribed regulations of spiritual life, or dharma, in order to keep the soul in a better position.

And what position is that? From knowledge of our identity comes a constitutional position. In addition to being eternal, the soul is knowledgeable and blissful. Strange to think that’s the case when we see so much strife around us, duplicity coupled with avarice and selfishness. Yet the root cause of even unwanted behavior is this desire for ananda, or bliss. The true form of happiness can be found when the soul is placed into situations that are conducive to realization of the self. The soul is tied to a higher spirit soul, who is, not surprisingly, the Supreme Lord, the person the majority of the world refers to as God.

Krishna is that same God, the original form of Godhead. He is both the instructor and the object of worship. The soul derives the most pleasure from being in His company, either personally or through consciousness. This is where things can get a little tricky, especially if you are unfortunate enough to be led astray by a misguided commentator of the Gita. Thus far we have seen that the living beings accept bodies and reject them through reincarnation fueled by karma. The soul is the identifiable aspect within every form of body, from the tiny ant all the way up to the denizens of heaven. Then this surely must mean that Krishna Himself followed the same tact while roaming the earth five thousand years ago? The person delivering the Gita must have had a body that did not belong to Him, for the spirit soul inside was His identity. If His spirit departed with Him at the end of life, how does one connect with Him today?

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

Lord KrishnaJust from reading the Gita with sincerity and honesty, the confusion is cleared up immediately. In addition to describing the position of the soul, the differences between the material and spiritual energies, and God’s position as being superior to both of them, Krishna makes it a point to deride those who think that He accepts bodies like the subordinate living entities. Being supreme has a meaning. With the higher position come unique abilities. Krishna specifically says that anyone who thinks He has assumed His form is a fool; that they do not know His true nature, which is changeless.

How can Krishna be changeless if He appeared on earth in Vrindavana in the form of a small child and then disappeared later on in the body of an adult? The fact that Krishna has a spiritual body that never changes must be accepted on faith in the beginning. This shouldn’t be that difficult to do, as we accept so many apparently unbelievable pieces of information on faith already. Through the benefits that come from following Krishna’s words, the sum collection of which is included in the vast Vedic literature, the truth of the Lord’s position is revealed.

The key is to study the Bhagavad-gita from someone who is familiar with both Krishna and His many teachings. The Gita represents Krishna’s direct instructions, but this does not mean that Vedic instruction is limited to just Krishna’s words. Rather, through every one of His activities the Lord reveals His true nature, how He finds pleasure, and what the ideal position of the living entity is. The entire Vedic culture is aimed at bringing a permanent connection between the living entities and the Supreme Lord. Therefore when we encounter such bogus commentaries as Krishna not suggesting that one surrender unto Him but rather to the “Krishna” inside all of us, we should understand that the commentator has their own personal motive to further and that they have not properly studied sacred texts like the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Puranas. Moreover, they haven’t even understood the entire Gita, for Krishna reveals that He does not have a material form and that worship of Him can continue in any place and at any time.

If Krishna could only be worshiped through the association of His personal self, the sach-chid-ananda vigraha, then there would be no such thing as deity worship or the chanting of the holy names. In the Uddhava-gita, which is a collection of teachings Krishna presented to His dear friend Uddhava just before departing for the spiritual sky, there is a brief description of deity worship, its purpose, and how to perform it. Therefore Krishna Himself set up a system where He could be worshiped in His absence. In addition, the gopis of Vrindavana, Krishna’s childhood female friends, spent most of their time on earth worshiping Krishna when He wasn’t in their personal company. Yoga is the connection of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul. Krishna’s expansion residing within the heart of every living being is not different from the Krishna that was on the battlefield of Kurukshetra giving instructions to Arjuna.

Radha and KrishnaThe argument of Krishna being an embodied living entity does not hold any water either, for He was worshiped prior to His appearance in Vrindavana and continues to be honored long after His time on earth. The Shrimad Bhagavatam and other bhakti shastras state that there isn’t even a difference between Krishna and His names. Just by reciting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, one can surrender unto Krishna in the same way that Arjuna did. If Krishna were an embodied being, He would not have been superior to Arjuna, and thus there would have been no purpose to the teachings of the Gita. If Krishna is a being who undergoes birth and death just like us, then there is no difference between Him and us. If we are the same as God, what need is there for spirituality? What need is there to read the Bhagavad-gita?

Another common opposing argument posited is that Krishna is simply the guru to Arjuna and that the “me” in the surrender shloka in the Bhagavad-gita refers to the guru, who is self-realized. To be frank, this argument is complete nonsense and not supported anywhere in the Vedic literature. Arjuna was fighting a war against the opposing side which counted his guru as one of its members. If Krishna were telling Arjuna to surrender unto the guru, Arjuna easily could have gone over to the other side and told Dronacharya that he wasn’t going to fight with him. If the guru is the prime object of worship, one would think that Krishna would reveal how one becomes that object, how a person can become God. Yet this information is absent not only from the Gita, but from any authorized literature describing the glories of God.

Shrila PrabhupadaThe guru is still very important. He is the teacher following the principles espoused by Krishna in the Gita. He acts as the Lord’s representative on earth, giving information to those souls who are sincerely interested in connecting with God, living their life in such a way as to remain in constant yoga. The bona fide guru will never claim to be God, however. Krishna had many direct representatives who spent time in His company while on earth. They would never dare claim to be equal to the Lord. They always thought of Krishna, but this didn’t turn them into Krishna. The guru is treated on the same level as Krishna because of their important role, but never do they become God. In fact, no one can become the Supreme Controller, for it is a singular post that never has a vacancy.

Krishna has many personal expansions as well that can be surrendered to. A personal expansion is not the same as having offspring or sending a representative. Just as an identical candle can be lit from the original, Krishna is non-different from His expansions, which include even the Supersoul residing within the heart. Therefore the offer of surrender is available to every single person, regardless of their religious persuasion. Rather than just leave everyone to focus on an abstract concept of God, Krishna descends to earth, provides sublime wisdom and enacts wonderful pastimes to give the bewildered souls an idea of what is in store for them if they should follow the bona fide principles of religion. Krishna’s association is the reward for the surrendered souls, and since nothing can beat this gift, there is no higher engagement than bhakti-yoga directed at sharanagati, which brings the bliss of liberation.

In Closing:

“Always think of Me and do all your work for Me,

This line is proper, happy you will be.”

Statements like this quite simple to understand,

On their own merits tall do they stand.

Yet to the bogus commentator meaning is missed,

With alternate agenda, Krishna’s words do they twist.

Krishna told Arjuna that unto Him he should surrender,

Offer for us too, if service to Krishna we render.

Lord is all-pervading, He is not like us who are embodied,

Can worship Him by dedicating every thought, word and deed.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Time Is Now

Hanuman's club“The situation has come to this and I am at an impasse. What course of action is appropriate and timely for achieving my objective?’ Thus Hanuman thought the matter over and over again in his mind.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.19)

asminn evam gate karye prāpta kālam kṣamam ca kim ||
bhaved iti matim bhūyo hanumān pravicārayan |

Hanuman, the Vanara warrior who is brave, strong, perseverant, intelligent and enthusiastic, keeps his focus of concern on others and their interests. He never works for himself, for what does he ever need? Hanuman asks for but only one thing in life: devotion to Shri Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Has anyone ever been denied this request when it was asked for in earnest? Has anyone ever been turned down for the post of devotee when they had the qualifications for the job? Hanuman certainly was never turned down, but surprisingly assuming this role doesn’t signal the end of distresses, either physical or mental. In many cases, the hesitations increase, with doubt arising over the proper course of action. Just hearing of Hanuman’s doubt and the reason for it are enough to tug at the hardest of hearts. May that Shri Hanuman, the faithful servant of Lord Rama, forever roam in the minds of the devotees given to worshiping God and attaining life’s ultimate mission.

Hanuman worshiping Sita and RamaWhy was Hanuman in distress? Was this part of his service, the job he so desperately covets? Not only does Hanuman desire to take up the post of a sincere servant of God, but he has no other wish. He doesn’t ask for riches, fame, honor, beautiful women, the company of friends, or even a long life. How can someone eschew these desires which are found in practically every person? If the mind has a steady engagement, something that keeps the thought processes active, alert and ready to fire, there is no need to rely on external objects for sustenance. We can think of it this way: If we are at work and given tasks that are both challenging and time-consuming, what time will be left for lamentation and daydreaming of a brighter future?

The steady occupation also helps increase the quality of the downtime. If we were to sit all day in front of the television watching show after show, the enjoyment would wear thin after a while. On the other hand, if we only get a few brief periods of respite from an otherwise hectic schedule, the downtime is enjoyed and savored a lot more. The principle applies to sleep as well. If we stayed at rest all day, the sleeping hours wouldn’t be eagerly anticipated or appreciated. Just notice the difference between falling asleep on a weeknight versus a weekend. On a weekend night, the desire is to stay up later, as there is no pressing need to wake up early the next morning. On the weekdays, however, time is of the essence, so any precious time spent sleeping is taken full advantage of, for the worker knows that they must arise at a certain hour and take care of their duties the next day.

Work is a necessity, but if the spirit soul finds an engagement that is exhilarating and unending in its execution, the work turns into leisure. The tools used to maintain sanity in other occupations aren’t necessarily required either. It is not that the devotees given to devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, look down at marriage, material opulence, or the association of friends and family. Rather, these aren’t required to remain in divine trance, or samadhi. Samadhi in bhakti doesn’t have to involve the rejection of activity. Shri Hanuman is a perfect example of this. In his service to Lord Rama, he is always active, keeping the mind engaged through wonderful acts of love, which melt Shri Rama’s heart. Just as Hanuman loves Rama, the Lord fully extends His endless loving sentiments to Hanuman.

“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion-at that time I descend Myself.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.7)

Lord Rama holding His bowThis mutual adoration made Hanuman’s most daunting task all the more difficult. Rama is God, and as He is the original creator, He is open to entering any of His innumerable lands. The true purpose of these appearances can never be revealed beyond the general acceptance that God does whatever He wants for His own pleasure. He is the only person that can say this with full honesty. During the Treta Yuga, Shri Rama, the origin of life and matter, roamed the earth in the guise of a warrior prince. As is common for a warrior, there were struggles and the protection of the innocent with Rama. For the innocent to be protected, there must be evil elements. If everything were peaceful, what need would there be for protectors?

During Rama’s time on earth the most powerful evil element was concentrated in the island of Lanka. The Rakshasas lived there, and they were headed by their ruler Ravana. A Rakshasa is a human-like species particularly prone to black magic, eating animal flesh [including humans], and drinking wine. With dedication to these activities that belong to the mode of ignorance, sobriety of thought flies right out the window. With a loss of internal cleanliness comes the loss of good judgment as well. Without proper discretion, improper behavior has the chance to take over.

Not surprisingly Ravana had no clue that taking another man’s wife, especially a man who was known as the greatest fighter in the world, would bring him tremendous heartache in the end. The bottle of whiskey cries out to be emptied into the mouth of the alcoholic, but what the bottle doesn’t reveal is that the consumption of alcohol will be harmful. If such pronouncements were made and readily acknowledged by the drinker, there would be no chance for alcohol consumption to be as prevalent as it is.

Ravana, though given advice to avoid taking this particular woman, couldn’t think clearly. All he could think about was this beautiful princess residing in the forest of Dandaka. Ravana created a plan to take her away from her husband’s side while He was not around. The plan worked, and taking her back to Lanka, Ravana hoped to win her over by giving her the post of top queen. Ravana made a mistake in forgetting the unmatched brilliance in character of the woman he took away. Sita Devi, the daughter of King Janaka of Mithila, could never be swayed by the advances of any man. Like Hanuman, Sita required nothing but devotion to Rama. What could any man offer her anyway? She had Rama for a husband, so her prescribed duties called for her to keep her mind fixed on His lotus feet, the same two feet from which the sacred Ganges River emanates. Those same two feet are the cherished destination for the surrendered souls, including the worshipable servants that carry the Lord wherever He goes. The water that washes those feet is the most sacred in the three worlds, and anyone who is fortunate enough to even touch it becomes purified immediately.

Lord Rama's lotus feetSita had not only caressed her beloved husband’s feet, but she had made dedication to them her life’s mission. This unshakable level of devotion was unknown to Ravana, who was only interested in short-term gains, or preyas, directed at pleasing the body. Devotion to the senses brings all the qualities that are not beneficial to a person. Devotion to the senses led to Ravana’s demise, as it caused him to try to take Sita away from Rama. He would pay dearly in the end, as not only would Sita never become his wife, he would lose his kingdom, his palaces, the association of his beautiful queens, and eventually his life.

Rama is God, so He easily could have found Sita by Himself, but the devotees crave divine action. The spiritual master, the guru in the line of Vaishnavas, or devotees of Vishnu [Rama], are so wonderful because they not only constantly sing the glories of Shri Rama, but they also give their disciples and admirers a full-time occupation, a way to keep the mind immersed in God consciousness. Even for the fallen souls of the Kali Yuga, who are trapped in an age where quarrel and hypocrisy are rampant, there is a method that can keep the flame of devotional service lit. That method is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Just think of how bad the conditions of the Kali Yuga are. Make a mistake on the road and another driver will be so enraged that they’ll curse at you. Look at someone the wrong way and they’ll take it as an invitation to fight. Yet despite these horrible conditions, the guru still finds a way to keep his sincere students engaged in their occupational duty, their original disposition. Every person is naturally inclined to love God, but unless and until they are reacquainted with that occupation, they will continue to shoot in the dark, looking for answers to life’s mysteries.

Shri Rama is the original guru, so He gave the most exalted servants living in the Kishkindha forest at the time the chance to serve Him. Hanuman was the most eager of the monkeys in Sugriva’s party, so he was handed the most difficult task of finding Sita. Though all the monkeys were dispatched to search the globe for Sita, it was understood that only Hanuman had the feature-set necessary to infiltrate Lanka and find Sita without being harmed.

Seems like a fun mission, no? God entrusts you with something that will make you famous for all of time should you end up successful. Plus, you get to meet the most beautiful woman in the world and get her blessings in your devotion to Rama. Sita is the goddess of fortune, so she never leaves the devotees poor. Even if they are materially destitute, Sita ensures that they get whatever they need to keep their devotion alive. Hanuman was thus anxious to find Sita, for he knew it would bring happiness to both her and Rama.

Though he was all by himself in the latter stages, Hanuman still managed to infiltrate Lanka and scour the city. Lanka was situated across a massive ocean, so only Hanuman had the ability to leap far enough into the air to make it across. Despite making it to Lanka, he couldn’t find Sita. He saw pretty much everything else, even things he wish he hadn’t seen. Imagine flipping through the television channels and accidentally stumbling upon a pornographic or extremely violent program. The intention is not to watch something like this, especially if the mind is assigned the task of serving God.

Shri HanumanHanuman was forced to see similarly undesirable things in Lanka, yet his consciousness remain fixed on the task at hand. Only the purest souls are capable of remaining aloof in this way. It is for this reason that the Vaishnava gurus recommend that we abstain from meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. Simple renunciation by itself will not bring full God consciousness, but the aforementioned sinful activities work best at inhibiting the development of the consciousness in the proper direction.

Seeing unwanted things wasn’t Hanuman’s worst problem. He finally had to settle on the fact that maybe Sita wasn’t alive. Maybe Ravana had killed her or maybe she couldn’t stand the separation from her dearly beloved husband. What was Hanuman going to do now? If he returned to Rama and told Him what happened, the Lord would be devastated, for He is attached at the heart to Sita. If Hanuman went back and didn’t say anything, that would be equally as bad. Hanuman was punished if he did and punished if he didn’t.

It is one thing to go over these options as a theoretical exercise, but Hanuman was running out of time. He had to make a decision right away as to what should be done. He was in a hostile territory, all by himself, with no texting devices, computers or telephones available for retrieving help. The outcome rested with him and his ability to make the proper decision. What did Hanuman do? What other choice did he have? Of course he kept fighting ahead. Whatever option would best bring about the welfare of Shri Rama is the one Hanuman would take. As returning to Kishkindha wouldn’t help Rama, Hanuman decided to forge ahead, to continue the search for Sita.

Based on his decision we see that no one is more glorious than Hanuman. All he has in life is his devotion to Rama, and in this sense he is the wealthiest person in the world. It is said that Rama is Bhagavan because He has so many wonderful fortunes to His credit, and they are all present to the fullest extent. But in one sense Hanuman is wealthier than Shri Rama because he has the Lord and His wife residing within his heart. Then just imagine how wealthy the person who keeps Hanuman within their thoughts and prayers is. Who could ever end up a loser in life if they daily remember Hanuman and his relentless pursuit of success in the mission assigned to him? Hanuman would go on to find Sita and bring about Rama’s delight, and if we are similarly unrelenting in remembering Shri Hanuman and following devotional service, there is no doubt that we will bring a smile to the face of the sweet Vanara warrior, who is forever undeterred in his devotion.

In Closing:

“The time for action has come,

But doubt over what should be done.

Should I go home or just stay here,

Both are bad, so path remains unclear.”

Such pressure has been seen before never,

To beat the ticking clock otherwise lose chance forever.

This dire situation Hanuman did face,

Handled it with poise, resolve and grace.

Sita, Rama’s wife he would eventually find,

For devotion to God always consumes his mind.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Pushing The Rock

Krishna's lotus feet“Fruitive work, in which almost all people in general are engaged, is always painful either in the beginning or at the end. It can be fruitful only when made subservient to the devotional service of the Lord. In the Bhagavad-gita also it is confirmed that the result of such fruitive work may be offered for the service of the Lord, otherwise it leads to material bondage.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.5.12 Purport)

You’ve got a giant rock that you need to push up a hill. Knowing the specific objective being furthered is not that important, as the task is daunting enough. This rock is rather heavy, and it requires both physical effort and mental fortitude to get it to roll all the way to the top of the steep hill, fighting the laws of gravity in the process. The physical effort is easy to recognize, but the test on the mind comes from the fact that there is every chance that while progressing forward the rock will fall all the way back down, thereby erasing whatever progress you have made. While the effort is being expended, there is dedication to an activity that seems constructive, so in this sense there is no worry over being influenced by outside allures. At the same time, once the rock makes it to the top, you are again left with free time. In addition, the rock may roll back down at any time, which would then require a repeat of the activity. Though it seems like every kind of activity would follow the same pattern, it doesn’t have to. The results of work dovetailed with service to the person who created both the rock and the entire material creation can never be erased.

“For one who has taken his birth, death is certain; and for one who is dead, birth is certain. Therefore, in the unavoidable discharge of your duty, you should not lament.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.27)

Lord KrishnaAs soon as there is birth there must be death. Not that the end of life has to happen right away; just that at some point in the future, there will come a time that the new blood that joined the earth must depart and again accept a new destination. The localized instance of acceptance and rejection is but one example of the many aspects of life that follow the same pattern. You complete a task at work only to have more jobs to do afterwards. You work hard during the week and relax on the weekend, only to have to do it all over again the following week. If you know while you’re performing a specific activity that eventually you’ll have to repeat it again many times in the future, how can that not dent your motivation? If I’m pushing a rock up a hill and I know it will eventually roll back down, what is the point?

Rather than endlessly speculate as to a permanent solution, one can tap into the vast storehouse of knowledge that is the Vedas, whose most concise and complete treatise is the Bhagavad-gita, a song sung on a battlefield some five thousand years ago. The repetitive cycle of action and reaction that we see is known as karma, or fruitive activity. More specifically, the type of engagement where we do something for a specific reward only to have that enjoyment remain manifest for a short time falls into a mode of work known as passion.

“The mode of passion is born of unlimited desires and longings, O son of Kunti, and because of this one is bound to material fruitive activities.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 14.7)

Fortunately, the speaker of the Gita reveals that the mode of passion isn’t the only way to act. There are ways to fix things so that you’re not left repeating the same behavior all the time without making any progress. There are also the modes of ignorance and goodness, which have their own respective activities. Fruitive activity in the mode of passion is accepted by the human being by default, thus there is no instruction needed in this area. You sow the seeds that you planted so that you can taste the resulting fruits, all the while being pricked by the thorns on the growing tree. You push the rock up the hill so that it gets to its intended destination, all the while laboriously exerting yourself and not getting too much satisfaction afterwards.

The mode of ignorance can be likened to being at the top of the hill and just pushing the rock back down for no rhyme or reason. What we would call stupid, or overtly sinful, behavior falls squarely in the mode of ignorance. It reaps no tangible benefit, and it takes the worker to a position much worse off from where they started.

The mode of goodness can be likened to a knowledge gathering task, where the component pieces of existence are seen in the proper light. In the mode of goodness the rock is pushed up the hill without desire for personal gain. It is done more out of protocol, knowing that it should be done. Whether the rock makes it up all the way or falls back down is of no concern to the person in goodness, because they understand everything in the proper context.

“When the embodied being is able to transcend these three modes, he can become free from birth, death, old age and their distresses and can enjoy nectar even in this life.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 14.20)

Krishna holding His fluteThe speaker of the Gita reveals that even the mode of goodness is binding, for the results of action are still manifest. If there are visible results to action, those results must disappear as well. Whether I want that outcome or not is not important in the mode of goodness, but nevertheless the temporary reward does come about, causing the worker to become accustomed to the short-lived happiness. There is an answer, however. Follow the mode of pure goodness, which transcends the bounds of time and space. This mode brings permanent progress, which corresponds directly with the inherent properties of the individual.

In the mode of goodness, which is accepted on the basis of authority and not just whimsically created, the living entity learns that they are an individual fragment of spirit, sort of like a spark from a fire. Since there is no quantitative comparison between the different sparks, every life form is equal. The enjoyment resulting from fruitive activity is not meant for the spark, but rather for its outer covering. Since this covering can vary in makeup, having different combinations of the modes of goodness, passion and ignorance, there is more than one outlet for enjoyment. Some sparks enjoy eating stool and rolling around in filth, while others require fine wine and expensive living establishments. In either case, the sparks are equal in their constitution, and thus there is really no difference between their situations.

Things get interesting when the living being learns about his real properties, the makeup of the individual sparks. At the core there is a dharma, or essential characteristic, which exists eternally. In some cases that dharma may be covered up, but it is there nonetheless. If we place a shade over a lamp and thereby make the room darker, the actual flame from the lamp has not lessened in intensity; only the external vision of the observer has changed. Just because a spiritual spark may be in the form of an ant or cow doesn’t mean that the dharma of the soul is absent.

cowThis dharma is the inclination to serve. The predominance of this characteristic cannot be denied because every person, even one steeped in the mode of ignorance, has a penchant to serve. When the proper beneficiary is identified, the results of that service are permanent and bring bliss and knowledge - three features which line up with the soul’s properties.

How do we find that proper beneficiary? How can we trust that the results are what they are purported to be? In the beginning there must be some faith extended, but this shouldn’t be that difficult to do. We trust so many people right now, even those who we know lie to get to where they are. Politicians are routinely lambasted, criticized and yelled at for their duplicitous ways, yet they are still entrusted with the most important matters of government. Extending faith to the proper authority figures of the Vedic tradition does not cost us much in the beginning, and the results are so wonderful that the people who follow the prescriptions spend the rest of their lives glorifying both the originator of the supreme wisdom and the people who passed it on.

Who is the origin of this system? What is the system and where do we go to learn about it? Not surprisingly, the same person who revealed to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra about the three modes of nature is the object of service for every spark of spirit. He is the ideal beneficiary for action because He is the only entity capable of accepting every offering. He can never be smothered with love, nor can the sweet fruit He returns in the form of His association ever go bad or diminish in taste.

This person is none other than Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Not a mythical character or tribal hero turned God, Krishna is the real deal. His supreme standing as the most fortunate person is supported by the benefits that come from following devotion to Him in the discipline known as bhakti-yoga. From regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, not only is time well spent in an act of pure goodness, but real progress is made in terms of development of consciousness.

Lord KrishnaWhy would we want to develop consciousness? In education, smaller steps are taken to fulfill a larger goal. For instance, learning the alphabet through reading and writing exercises is quite silly for someone who already knows how to read and write. Yet the activities are taken up by students so that their knowledge will be shaped to the point that they will no longer need to follow the same exercises. One works at the jobsite to have enough money to pay the bills, and one exercises so that their body will remain healthy. Thus we see that education and work lead to more permanent benefits all the time.

Consciousness is the most powerful force belonging to the living being. This is true because a purified consciousness can result in a favorable condition anywhere, regardless of success or failure. The person connected with Shri Krishna in thought, word and deed doesn’t even need to push the rock up the hill. If for Krishna they should happen to take on the arduous task, they will think about the Lord the entire time. This means that if the rock should roll back down the hill again, at least the time was spent in pure bliss.

In fruitive activity there is pain in both the beginning and end. As an example, at the start one thinks of how difficult it will be to push the rock up the hill. At completion there is the worry of the effort going to waste by the rock rolling back down. Moreover, the next time a rock needs to be pushed up a hill, the previous arduous effort will be remembered, making it even more difficult to take up the task. As another example, computer programmers often write complex routines and applications to be used in the business world. If perchance they should have to revisit that code later on, after much time has passed, it is not surprising for them to marvel at how complicated the code is. “How did I ever write this? I can’t imagine creating this from scratch again.” This means that the effort was difficult in the beginning and throughout. Since the fruits are temporary and also the cause of bondage in the form of fear, there is pain in the end too.

In bhakti there is transcendental pleasure at every step. If one is hesitant to chant Hare Krishna on a set of japa beads every day, meditating can still be constructive, as it keeps the individual automatically away from harmful activities like intoxication, meat eating, illicit sex and gambling. The more one chants the easier it becomes to repeat in the future. Krishna is the reservoir of all pleasure, the most attractive entity in the world. Staying connected with Him through consciousness only brings enhanced delights with each repeat effort, making the individual more and more eager to serve Him and think of Him.

“For those who have accepted the boat of the lotus feet of the Lord, who is the shelter of the cosmic manifestation and is famous as Murari, the enemy of the Mura demon, the ocean of the material world is like the water contained in a calf's hoof-print. Their goal is param padam, Vaikuntha, the place where there are no material miseries, not the place where there is danger at every step.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.14.58)

Krishna's fluteAs an added bonus, a reward that seems trivial to those already immersed in bhakti, at the end of life the worker dedicated to Krishna does not have to see a repeat existence in the material world. The cycle of birth and death stops for the Krishna conscious soul, granting the reward known as mukti, or liberation. Since Krishna grants this liberation, He is also known as Mukunda, or one who gives mukti. As fruitive activity involving things like pushing a heavy rock up a hill is difficult to abandon, the material existence is likened to a vast ocean that is nearly impossible to cross over. For those who find the mode of pure goodness, however, that same ocean turns into the size of a pool of water filling a calf’s hoof-print. The consciousness connected to the divine has no more anxieties relating to past, present and future, for it resides in Vaikuntha, the place free of anxieties.

In Closing:

Worked so hard to push that rock up the hill,

Physical and mental effort have your fill.

Pushing heavy rock against gravity hard,

Mind worried over failure with each passing yard.

Victory tempered when you reach hill’s top,

For what if heavy rock should suddenly drop?

In this cycle does all activity follow,

Win or lose in misery you will wallow.

Devotion to Krishna though is not the same,

In purifying consciousness there is steady gain.