Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Favorable Creator

Krishna and Arjuna“Of all that is material and all that is spiritual in this world, know for certain that I am both its origin and dissolution.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.6)

“I’m happy with my life and you’re happy with yours, so what’s the big deal then? Why do I need to worship God if I’m already satisfied from my work? I don’t feel that the days are repetitive, nor is my journey lacking exciting adventures. I love meeting new people, learning from their tendencies and acting out on my desires for happiness. This outlook has worked for me thus far, so why should I change anything? Yes, I understand that death will approach, but shouldn’t that inspire me to make the most out of my life right now? Everyone is pleased by doing what they like to do, so what if religion just isn’t for me?”

Lord KrishnaThe spiritualist inclined to worship the Supreme Lord in His personal form through regularly chanting His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, visiting temples, worshiping the deity, reading authorized books about Him, spending hours taxing the brain to understand the highest truths of life and condition oneself for better appreciating the Supreme Lord’s association, and a host of other activities naturally wants to share their joy, the experience gathered from their efforts and their tasting of the fruit of existence, with others.

It’s easier to convince someone of a high philosophy when they are struggling, mentally disturbed over the unfair hand that life has dealt them. The most obvious time to turn to spiritual life is after the death of a friend or family member. That person, whose association we cherished, is no longer with us, taken away from the mind’s vision. No longer will we be able to share laughter with them, tell them how much we care about them, or hear their brilliant words of wisdom. “Why do they have to leave? Why does their absence hurt so much? When will my day come? If we all have to die, why do we have to live?”

The Bhagavad-gita, the Song of God and most concise and complete treatise on spirituality, explains these issues in the best way that the human being can understand them. Notice that we don’t say that the Bhagavad-gita is a Hindu scripture or a matter of faith that has to be subscribed to immediately. Some will certainly describe this tiny chapter from the famous Mahabharata in this way, but the speaker of the Gita, who is also revealed to be the original creator of all energies, the Supreme Lord Himself, does not present the work as a matter of faith. Rather, the backdrop for the teachings is the hesitation of a previously fearless and fully capable warrior. Not wanting to commence fighting against enemies who were deserving of punishment, this warrior was puzzled as to the role he was meant to play, what he was supposed to do, and if the prescribed action would be beneficial to him and the other members gathered on the battlefield that day.

“According to one's existence under the various modes of nature, one evolves a particular kind of faith. The living being is said to be of a particular faith according to the modes he has acquired.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 17.3)

Krishna's lotus feetShri Krishna, the speaker of the Gita, then explained the right course of action in a series of different ways, which were meant to apply to the different faiths that people adopt. Depending on the modes of material nature encasing the spirit soul at the time of birth, the living being adopts a certain kind of faith. Does this mean that the animals also have faith? What about the human beings such as children that don’t know anything? The default condition is ignorance, wherein one doesn’t even know the proper way to get their desired aim. As you steadily ascend the chain of knowledge, not only do the activities become purer, but so do the objectives.

Krishna presented the correct choice to Arjuna through the prism of the different modes of material nature. To begin, it was revealed that the spirit soul is the essence of identity, the force behind action. When we see a person who has just passed away, it’s a little strange to think that they are no longer living. The same body is there, but it is now considered lifeless. If only an injection could be made to give the person life again. That “thing” being injected is the spirit soul, which is the seed of existence. Its presence allows for growth, development and eventual decay. Its exit signals the end of the particular being’s existence, though the essence of identity continues to remain vibrant eternally. Since the soul is eternal, slaying someone else in a battle fought under bona fide religious principles does not bring sin to anyone. A sin is just an act that carries a negative consequence; hence sinful behavior should be avoided. One who knows the soul lives in the mode of goodness, which thus represents the kind of faith they adopt.

“That knowledge by which a different type of living entity is seen to be dwelling in different bodies is knowledge in the mode of passion.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.21)

Those in the mode of passion, which is the default mode for the mature human being, think that actions lead to happiness and sadness, and that the body’s welfare is of paramount importance. In one sense, this is where Arjuna’s mind had temporarily drifted towards, for he was worried about killing his friends and family members fighting for the other side. In addition, he was afraid of the sin that would be incurred for having performed such an act. Krishna rightfully pointed out that even under Arjuna’s thinking fighting ahead would be the correct option. Arjuna was famous for being a courageous fighter. For one who has been previously honored, being dishonored is worse than being killed. Arjuna would be dishonored for fleeing the battlefield. He would forever be known as a coward. The opposing warriors would actually respect him more if he stood up and fought, even if he should fail.

“If, however, you think that the soul is perpetually born and always dies, still you have no reason to lament, O mighty-armed.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.26)

Krishna's fluteIn the mode of ignorance one doesn’t even know how to get the happiness they are looking for. Think of being amazed at a blazing fire and trying to touch it. Nothing good will come from the contact, either in the present or in the future; hence the act is part of ignorance. Oversleeping and excessive intoxication fall into the mode of ignorance because they further no beneficial end. If one applied the mode of ignorance to Arjuna’s situation, wherein the future benefits wouldn’t be thought about, that the living beings were just a collection of chemicals that dissipated at the time of death, fighting would still be the correct option. When there is birth, death is guaranteed. If we’re all going to die anyway, why not take the option of fighting? If everything ends with death, what is the use in worrying about the other side and what will happen to them, for they are going to die anyway?

From Krishna’s wonderful presentation we see that no matter what mode of material life a person finds themselves in, the prescriptions presented by those following the transcendental engagement of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, are worthwhile. If a person is happy living their material life and jumping from one venture to another, they still can’t produce anything on their own. The circumstances of their birth were determined by other intelligent beings, namely the mother and father. The protection afforded during the dependent childhood years were also out of the hands of the individual. So many factors contribute to the successes that we have, the falling into place of the right pieces. Therefore we should be thankful to at least the immediately identified benefactors.

That gratitude is already expressed to some degree. If this weren’t the case, there would be no such things as award shows and in-depth cover stories in magazines that hail a particular industry tycoon or famous actor. The penchant towards praise, offering service to others, is already there. It is said in the Gita that Krishna is the taste of water. He is the essence of so many things, such as the penances of the ascetics and the original fragrance of the earth. Just by picking up a flower and smelling it, one can think of Krishna. In odd cases where one is deeply mired in ignorance through regular intoxication, if one just thinks of their beloved wine and remembers that Krishna is its taste, some spiritual merits can accumulate.

And what is the harm in showing this appreciation? If you are well situated, what would it hurt you to chant the holy names, to recognize that a higher, more intelligent power makes sure that there is no randomness with the sun, moon and earthly elements? If there were only randomness, we could never predict weather patterns and what time the sun rises and sets. The essential elements in life are bountifully provided by the Supreme Lord. Those things that we need, like water, grains and milk, are in much higher supplies than those things that we don’t need, such as animal flesh, jewelry and industrial products. This proves that the Supreme Lord is the most benevolent, that everyone who is happy owes their pleasant condition to Him. Those who are distressed by the turn of events are also favored by the Supreme Lord, for the lack of material fortune helps to speed along the search for higher truths.

Those in the mode of pure goodness understand that the pleasant conditions in even material life are due to Shri Krishna’s favor. We could say that such opulence is due to the individual’s effort, but we know that some people work very hard and don’t succeed. Many businesses fail, and many people are dealt difficult hands in life, where they are forced to direct their attention to areas that they may not prefer. Therefore we know that human effort alone is not the cause of the results of action.

One area where effort does make a significant impact, however, is in the relationship to the Supreme Lord. His benevolence is diffused everywhere, but unless one makes a conscious effort to appreciate and take advantage of it for the right purposes, the most blissful meeting between the individual soul and the Supreme Soul cannot take place. Just as the results in other areas of life are not fully in our control, by taking to bhakti, turning one’s eyes towards the Supreme Lord in a mood of love, the forthcoming reactions are also out of our hands. Shri Krishna Himself takes full responsibility for the conditions of those who surrender to Him. This is what Arjuna would eventually do, fighting ahead without attachment and without desire for gain. He simply wanted to please Krishna, to remain connected with Him. Krishna took care of the rest.

“O son of Kunti, all that you do, all that you eat, all that you offer and give away, as well as all austerities that you may perform, should be done as an offering unto Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.27)

Lord Krishna with RadharaniHow can we leave everything to Krishna, especially if we are not inclined towards spiritual life? The holy name is Krishna’s most potent incarnation in the modern age. Just sacrifice a little time each day to chant this name, taking it as the most important regulative practice, the one thing that shouldn’t be missed in the daily routine. From connecting with Krishna, one doesn’t even need to explicitly ascend the chain of knowledge. Bhakti-yoga is in pure goodness, so not only are the activities pure, but so is the ultimate objective, that of remaining in yoga, or pure connection with God. What reward can be better than this? Just as each new day brings a renewed vigor to glorify Krishna and remember Him, the future life for the spirit soul maintains the divine connection and enthusiasm for spiritual life. The life as we know it now is simply a demarcation of time, sort of like a splice from a timeline marked off by a start and stop point. The timeline continues regardless of our viewpoint. Whether we splice or not, the soul will continue to exist. In this sense life carries on after the present body perishes. Though the body goes away, that inherent link to Krishna does not for the surrendered soul fully immersed in bhakti.

In all cases, whether impoverished or extremely wealthy, there is always a reason to think of God, worship Him, honor Him and ask Him to remain within the consciousness. Such practices make every situation favorable. The mind can make or break our happiness very quickly, so combine a properly situated mind with the blessings of Krishna and what you’ll get is an endless engagement, one that never fails to provide pleasure.

In Closing:

“Listen to words about God should I why?

Already happily situated am I.

What need for religion when not in distress?

Through my own efforts happiness addressed.”

Worship of God is beneficial regardless,

Whether you’re in pain or constant happiness.

Devotion to Krishna fits every situation,

Know it from Bhagavad-gita’s flawless presentation.

Arjuna, powerful warrior distressed in mind,

From accepting Lord’s words victory to find.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Love At First Sight

!BjUg71gBWk~$(KGrHqEH-CEEsZidQOLHBLTHVjF8sw~~_3“When the muni looked at Rama with His brothers, his eyes welled up with tears, his body became thrilled with excitement, and his mind became so enchanted by the beauty.” (Janaki Mangala, 18)

rāmahiṃ bhāinha sahita jabahiṃ muni joheu |
naina nīra tana pulaka rūpa mana moheu ||

A painting’s beauty is measured by the reaction it incites in those who look at it. This makes sense after all, for if someone tells us that something is beautiful and we don’t feel anything positive when looking at it, that opinion is meaningless to us. The more natural the emotion and the more quickly it arrives, the greater the quality of goodness in the target object. Love at first sight is indicated by the emotion that emerges at the first glance. For a sage a long time ago his devotion to the Supreme Lord was revealed by the reactions he felt throughout his body upon first sight of that worshipable object in the form of a small child accompanied by His three younger brothers. The signs of devotion and the worthiness of worship of that honorable figure were both shown during that one incident.

Lord RamaWhat are some of the emotions that a beautiful object elicits? Excitement is surely one of them. “Look at what I’m seeing. I can’t take my eyes off of this. I don’t want to ever not be able to see this again.” In modern times a person’s excitement over an image can be seen through their buying of a painting or storing of a photograph on their computer or handheld electronic device. Along with excitement, there could be the enchantment of the mind. In Sanskrit mohana can refer to the ability to enchant someone through attractiveness, and the more enchanting the object is, the greater their beauty. The ability to captivate the mind belongs only to those truly special works of art.

A stream of joyful tears from the eyes is the most intense response from contact with a beautiful object. Something pure, sweet and loveable elicits this reaction, and it comes only in the rarest of occasions. Perhaps an innocent child has done something sweet for you or your paramour has done something so nice that you can’t imagine why they would bestow such a reward upon you. People cry at weddings when the exchange of emotion is pure, for seeing someone transcend the bounds imposed by material nature is lovely.

With Vishvamitra Muni, his tears came from just looking at a youth accompanied by His three younger brothers. A muni is a sort of philosopher, for it is said that one can’t be considered a muni unless they disagree with another muni. This explains why there are so many analysts on television giving so many different opinions. If everyone agreed with one another then there would be no need to have so many analysts. Often times it is in the best interest of the analyst to disagree with the assertions made by the other members of the panel. At least this way they’ll stand out.

“The sthita-dhi-muni is always in Krishna consciousness, for he has exhausted all his business of creative speculation. He has surpassed the stage of mental speculations and has come to the conclusion that Lord Shri Krishna, or Vasudeva, is everything.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 2.56 Purport)

Shrila PrabhupadaAnother kind of muni is a devoted soul, a high thinker who has wisely chosen in favor of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, as a way of life. This was the case with Vishvamitra. One time he went to visit the king of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dasharatha, to ask a favor. Before the muni could even make his request, Dasharatha and his queens honored Vishvamitra very nicely. The queens brought with them their sons, of which there were four. Vishvamitra had come to ask for the eldest son, Lord Rama, to accompany him in the forest.

The kings during this time period, the Treta Yuga, were fighting men. They held on to their position as head of state because they were best at fighting off enemies. The sons were trained to follow in the father’s footsteps, so it was known to Vishvamitra that Rama was an expert bow warrior. Though in the form of a small child, Rama was the most capable fighter in the world. Since it was the duty of the kshatriya, or warrior class, to protect the sages living in the forest, Vishvamitra didn’t think it awkward to come and request Rama’s protection.

The muni had already humbly begged for the same person’s protection throughout his life. Rama was the Supreme Lord, the origin of creation, appearing on earth to enact pastimes and grant His darshana to the sincere souls who would revel in having it. From his reaction upon first seeing Rama, we see that Vishvamitra was one of those worthy souls. He didn’t take God to be an enemy or an imaginary figure. On the contrary, the muni dedicated his life and soul to understanding God and giving sound advice to others on how to reach the same realization through following their prescribed duties.

In the religion of love, one can gauge their progress by measuring the emotions that result from their devotional practices. Just as a beautiful painting elicits certain responses in the viewer, the devotee regularly chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and viewing the deity eventually reaches a stage where they feel transcendental ecstasy just by hearing a name of God once. What then to speak of remembering the Lord’s pastimes, of which there are too many to count? It is said that though there are hundreds of thousands of activities of Rama described in the Vedas, Lord Shiva, the greatest of the gods, only takes Rama’s name as his life and soul, chanting it all the time.

“Shri Rama’s name is greater than Brahman, and it grants boons to even those who are capable of giving boons. Lord Shiva knowingly selected it out of the one hundred crore verses describing Rama’s acts.” (Dohavali, 31)

Lord Rama holding His bowThe holy name is the embodiment of the supreme person it represents. Through love for the holy name, love for Godhead takes place automatically. Vishvamitra’s high standing in bhakti was shown by the reaction he had upon seeing Rama and His brothers. Tears welled up in his eyes, a thrill of excitement went through his body, and his mind became enchanted by Rama’s beauty. In the Vedas, the god of love, Kama, who is the equivalent of a cupid, is known as Madana. The Supreme Lord is so beautiful that He is known as Madana-mohana, or the enchanter of cupid. God’s spiritual form attracts even the liberated souls, captivating their minds and directing them towards transcendental love.

This attraction is beneficial because there is no illusion in the Supreme Lord’s vigraha, or body. That form is full of knowledge and bliss, and it remains in existence eternally. Even though Rama would change His form during His time on earth, from boyhood to youth to adulthood, since He is the Supreme Lord, His transcendental form that so captivated Vishvamitra still exists and can be contemplated upon by the mind. Should the devotee be fortunate enough, they will get to see that enchanting vision up close some day in the future.

Rama’s brothers - Bharata, Lakshmana and Shatrughna - are just as beautiful. They are plenary portions of the Supreme Lord Narayana, the source of men. Vishvamitra was so happy to be where he was, and he couldn’t believe that these young boys were offering him obeisances. Such is the kind nature of the beneficiary of worship that He shows honor and respect to those who honor Him. After this meeting, Vishvamitra would ask to have Rama accompany him, and the father Dasharatha reluctantly would agree, for he was attached to Rama as well. Lakshmana went with them, and the time they spent in the forest would eventually result in Rama’s marriage to the daughter of King Janaka, Sita Devi.

Vishvamitra with Lakshmana and RamaThe incident of Vishvamitra’s visit shows us what influence Rama has on people who have a pure heart. The aim of religious practice is to remove the distractions and intoxicating influence of material nature so that the sweet vision of the Supreme Lord can be relished. If we watch a movie while distracted in mind, will we enjoy the most important aspects? Can we concentrate on a conversation with our friends if our mind is distracted? Can we study for an important exam if we are intoxicated?

In a similar manner, if the mind is stuck in a feverish pursuit for a material gain or the alleviation of a specific distress, the very mention of religion, the need to worship God or even the vision of the Supreme Lord Himself will not be appreciated. Therefore to complement the assertive bhakti practices, the devotees avoid the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. These activities work best at clouding the vision of the individual, causing them to mistake illusion for reality. A rope can be mistaken for a snake only when there is an improper vision. Similarly, the Supreme Lord’s form can be taken to be the image of a mundane personality only when the consciousness is not purified.

Vishvamitra, through his dedicated practice of austerity and sacrifice, had no such illusion. He thus exhibited all the signs of transcendental ecstasy when meeting Rama, who is known to have that effect on people. The description of the meeting provided by Goswami Tulsidas in his Janaki Mangala is so heartwarming that one can’t help but feel some of the same excitement. Just as Rama and His brothers are beautiful, so are the devotees who delight in the association of those four wonderful sons of the king.

In Closing:

To measure in an object its beauty’s might,

See the response coming from first sight.

Enchantment from beautiful object immediate,

In onlookers noted response always elicit.

For famous sage through his body a thrill,

Loving tears in his eyes vision did fill.

Rama and His brothers so kind and sweet,

Offered obeisances to sage’s lotus feet.

Follow devotion for divine presence to feel,

Eternal enchantment is Shri Rama’s appeal.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

I Love You Man

Lord Krishna“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)

Though the issue of freedom has long since revolved around government’s restriction of it, the real yearning for liberty comes from within the spirit soul, who cannot even act out its natural propensity when residing within a large body and having a giant field to run on. Only through the proper outlets is the natural love found within the heart allowed to be set free, to run in every which direction without exhaustion. For a soul constantly in touch with the divine consciousness, a liberated individual who showers forth heaps of praise on its beloved master - whose transcendental glories are inexhaustible - there is no figurative lactic acid buildup. The perfect match can only be reunited by following the principles of bhakti.

Picture the inebriated person who gets happy when they are in their coveted state. It does seem odd to try to find anything praiseworthy about the behavior of someone who is obviously not trying to follow the rules of propriety. Inebriation, though enjoyed by many, isn’t something that one would consider a good state to be in. We don’t want people driving their cars while drunk. We don’t want them making phone calls in the middle of the night to people they shouldn’t be talking to. We don’t allow drunkards to come over our home and perform handiwork. Thus what can we actually learn from a drunk person?

Depending on the type of person involved, drinking can lessen inhibitions with respect to the outpouring of emotion. The drunkard who tells everyone else how much they love them reveals that within the heart there is only affection for others. In the state of sobriety that affection is covered up. There are also the social conventions restricting the outpouring of emotion. If a sober person were to come up to us and say, “Hey, I love you man. You are great”, we’d wonder if they were on some type of drug or if they had gotten enough sleep the night before. Yet if the same person acts that way when intoxicated the behavior is not only allowed, but somewhat appreciated. “Oh, isn’t that nice? They must really mean what they are saying because now they are not inhibited in their speech.”

In every relationship in life the release of emotion is checked. The spirit soul is actually full of potential for action of the loving variety. From love comes pleasure, and pleasure is what every individual seeks. Even amongst the monists who abstract every type of behavior and thus consider God to be one gigantic collection of everything, there is still the desire for pleasure. The psychiatrist who shrinks the heads of their patients by abstracting behavior and considering every action of the human being to be part of some genetically predisposed tendency also must seek pleasure despite their high knowledge.

Both within and without the realm of spirituality the search for pleasure is present, but only with one beneficiary can the release of action aimed at attaining that pleasure continue on and on without exhaustion. Unmotivated and uninterrupted are the properties that describe bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, when executed at the highest level. This combination seems paradoxical, as in most cases interruption is the initial motivation for action. We work hard in school so that we’ll see the interruption of graduation. We put in the long hours at the office during the day so that we can go home at night and relax. In every area of endeavor except love there is this combination of motivation and interruption.

Yet even with love there is forced interruption. The mother who loves her child without motive and throughout the child’s entire life must eventually part ways. Outside the company of your beloved, there is no way to love them directly. You may think of them in your mind, but the thoughts do not reach the person being remembered. The spirit soul is limited in its residence. One soul can only occupy one established dwelling at a particular time. Through mystic yoga one may temporarily perform some magic by traveling outside of their body or even dividing their soul, but even through this difficult effort there is no way for one soul to simultaneously reside within every single creature.

“The Supreme Personality of Godhead, or He Himself, Krishna, the localized Supersoul, sits in the heart directing the living being. After changing bodies, the living entity forgets his past deeds, but the Supersoul, as the knower of the past, present and future, remains the witness of all his activities.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 18.61 Purport)

Lord KrishnaThe Supersoul is different. He resides within every single life form, right next to the individual soul. This means that wherever we are, we can offer our obeisances to Him. And why should we? The release of loving emotions is triggered by the qualities of the party being loved, or more specifically the relationship we have to them. A celebrity is honored for their extraordinary abilities in acting, playing sports, writing, governing, etc. Parents, children, siblings, relatives and friends are honored because of the relationship we have to them, one that was established via some physical link, either through family lines or through close proximity in an environment where fruitive work was conducted.

The Supersoul is but an expansion of the original Personality of Godhead, who is known as Bhagavan because of His unmatched transcendental features. Right away, we see that just based on His position He is worthy of our praise. Since He already resides within us as the Supersoul, there is a relationship to Him established. It is one based on both proximity and heredity, as everyone comes from God. There is a simultaneous oneness and difference between the living beings and the Supreme Lord. God is the great soul, while we are tiny fragments expanded from Him. The fragments have the same qualitative makeup, but they are limited in their pervasiveness. The individual soul is the localized witness that can hardly remember what happened a few hours ago, while the Supersoul is the all-pervading witness who knows everything past, present and future about every single living entity.

“The Blessed Lord said: Many, many births both you and I have passed. I can remember all of them, but you cannot, O subduer of the enemy!” (Bg. 4.5)

Lord KrishnaThe link to the Supersoul is ideal because the relationship is already established and also because of the pleasure that comes from connecting with Him. Just as the happy drunkard shows that they love everyone when their guard is down, the spirit soul, when immersed in bhakti, reveals that it has unbounded love for the Supreme Lord. With this immeasurable love comes an uninterrupted and unmotivated flow of work to stay in the good graces of the beloved, to remain fixed in divine trance. From this connection, love for all creatures of the world, who are related to God in the same way, is automatically established.

Loving God, who is known as Krishna because of His all-attractiveness, is never inappropriate. Even the mother must check her affection at some point in the child’s life. If the child is mature and married, what can the mother do by buying clothes and telling them how to live and where to go? The paramour must be mindful of not smothering their partner, lest they run the risk of alienating their beloved and causing a rift in the relationship. The drunkard can express their love for others when they are “hammered”, but under sober conditions the same behavior would be considered strange.

In bhakti, one can spend the entire day chanting the Lord’s names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and not run the risk of getting out of favor with Him. Indeed, just the opposite happens. With each successive utterance of the holy name, the mind gets further purified to the point that eventually there is no other desire except to love Krishna. What other beneficiary would allow us to continue to love, while giving us increased pleasure as the bond strengthens? You can stay with Krishna for millions of years and each new day will feel like it is better than the one that just passed.

Aside from chanting, there are other outlets for service such as reading books, gazing at the deity, visiting temples, talking to others about Krishna, and writing poems and books glorifying the Supreme Lord and those who distribute His message to others. Some people even talk to Krishna. While this may seem crazy, why wouldn’t the Lord hear such heartfelt words? He proved many times during His past descents to earth that even through separation one can worship Him perfectly. As Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Krishna accepted the foodstuff offered to Him by devotees residing hundreds of miles away. Lord Krishna heard every one of the prayers of the gopis and reciprocated by remaining within their consciousness.

Krishna with the gopisFollowing bhakti-yoga is the true path towards liberation, towards being freed of the shackles borne of material contact. This freedom is every soul’s birthright, irrespective of present conditions. Whether one is practicing religion or wholly against it, the search for pleasure will continue nonetheless. In the absence of divine love, service will be directed to so many other entities, but the outpouring of affection will always be checked. With Krishna, the invitation is an open one, as He remains within the heart for each go around in a material body. If it takes us one lifetime or many to attain perfection, there are no hard feelings on the Lord’s part, for He is kindly awaiting our return to His spiritual land.

Question: If getting drunk helps a person loosen their inhibitions when dealing with others, will it not also help in bhakti?

Though intoxication may help slacken inhibitions to the point that one feels freer to express their loving sentiments towards others, it doesn’t have any beneficial effect in spiritual life. The soul is naturally blissful and knowledgeable, which means that it has nothing to do with the body. Yoga practice starts with identifying oneself properly, aham brahmasmi. From the proper identification comes the sober realization that one must do whatever they can to limit the influence of the senses that is concomitant with residence in a temporary form. Both the drunkard and the transcendentalist are looking for a way out of the perpetual ups and downs that result from the swinging pendulum of acceptance and rejection in material affairs, but only the transcendentalist following bhakti can find real liberation, where the influence of the senses is naturally removed.

With intoxication, there is a temporary escape from the senses, but the release is an illusion, for the fall back into material affairs is very painful. In the process, much damage is done both physically and mentally to the individual. With yoga, the effect is the opposite. There may be some temporary pains resulting from refraining from meat eating, intoxication, illicit sex, gambling and a host of other sinful behaviors the living being was conditioned to, but in the end this abstention turns out to be beneficial. Think of the sick patient who is told to avoid certain foods in order to get better. If those foods are ingested, there is a risk of remaining ill or even getting more sick. On the other hand, if a little nuisance in the form of renunciation is tolerated, a better position of a healthy condition can be reached.

By practicing the principles of bhakti the mind becomes fully sober, and the soul is set free to act upon its loving desires without requiring external aid. The natural highs of seeing Krishna’s smiling face, hearing the sounds of His holy names, and motivating oneself to be dedicated in His service far surpass those felt with intoxication, be it caused by material success, the consumption of adult beverages, or the association of women. Shri Krishna is the reservoir of pleasure, so one who can connect with Him gets to bask in that pleasure all the time.

In Closing:

After drunkard consumed beer of many cans,

Goes up to friends and says, “Hey, I love you man.”

To that with a smile others might greet,

For the kind sentiment is rather sweet.

The same love exists inside all of us,

But difficult to release for lack of trust.

Loving Shri Krishna is the most ideal,

High affection for Him we already feel.

To find better place accept some austerity,

So that in Krishna’s company you’ll spend eternity.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

For The Team

Hanuman“Or what will Sugriva or the assembled monkeys or the two sons of Dasharatha say to me when I return to Kishkindha? If going there, I say to Kakutstha [Rama] the supremely detestable news that I have not found Sita, He will surely abandon His life.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.22-23)

kim vā vakṣyati sugrīvo harayo va samāgatāḥ ||
kiṣkindhām samanuprāptau tau vā daśaratha ātmajau |
gatvā tu yadi kākutstham vakṣyāmi param apriyam ||
na dṛṣṭā iti mayā sītā tataḥ tyakṣyanti jīvitam |

Shri Hanuman could not bear to even think about what might happen should he return to Kishkindha without having found the princess of Videha, Sita Devi. He was sent to look for her, to find her location and return the information to the formidable camp of monkeys headed by their leader Sugriva, whose host of warriors was ready to march to wherever the princess had been taken and rescue her. Alongside Sugriva were the two brothers, Rama and Lakshmana, sons of King Dasharatha. Though Hanuman hadn’t known the brothers for long, he had developed a supreme attachment to Rama, the elder of the two. Sita was Rama’s wife, so Hanuman’s work was especially important in that regard.

HanumanFacing mental turmoil, Hanuman had two primary options available to him. The first was to go back to Kishkindha, the place he resided, where Sugriva and everyone was waiting. This was only an option because Hanuman had searched exhaustively through the city of Lanka for Sita. Initially, many monkey search parties were dispatched around the world to look for the princess. No one knew where she was, so she could have been anywhere. The strongest and most capable group, which not surprisingly had Hanuman in it, came upon some valuable intelligence. An aged bird named Sampati, who had originally descended from the sky to eat the monkeys, informed them that Sita was on the island of Lanka, taken by the Rakshasa king named Ravana. Hanuman, being the only member in his group capable of leaping over the ocean to reach the island, stepped up to the plate.

Though Hanuman is now famous for his wonderful exploit, his aerial travel was by no means an easy journey. It’s difficult work taking on a task that no one else is qualified for. It’s a lot of pressure being sent on a mission that you know you must succeed in. In addition, you’re entering enemy grounds, for the person who took Sita obviously didn’t want to be found. The culprit didn’t even have the guts to take on Shri Rama in a fair fight. As the son of a kshatriya king, Rama was trained in the military arts from childhood. He was the most capable warrior in the world, and even though Ravana had previously defeated many powerful kings, he knew that he didn’t stand a chance against the delight of King Dasharatha and Mother Kausalya.

Driven by lust, Ravana went ahead with his plan to take Sita, following through on his backhanded plot while Rama and Lakshmana were not by Sita’s side. Hanuman knew he was up against a powerful force, but what choice did he have? If he buckled under the pressure, he would disappoint Rama and the monkeys and also himself. He wouldn’t want to live with that. Therefore he carried on, defeating every opposing element that came his way.

While in Lanka, Hanuman remained undeterred. He managed to search through seemingly every inch of space, including inside Ravana’s many palaces. Still not seeing Sita, Hanuman stopped to reflect for a moment. Now some doubt was creeping in. What if Sita weren’t alive? What if she had died previously, either trying to escape from Ravana or through the efforts of his associates? These were all possibilities, as Hanuman had yet to find her.

HanumanIn the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Hanuman is considering the option of returning home without succeeding. He’s thinking over what might happen if he would return and tell everyone that he had not found Sita. From his thoughts, we see that he had no desire to inflict that kind of pain on his friends and well-wishers. Option number one did not seem like a good plan, for it would cause Hanuman more pain than he was ready to accept.

What was the second option? Fight ahead, of course. Slay the mental demons of doubt and fear and continue on with the assigned mission without having too much attachment to the result. Shri Rama has the ability to make even the most renounced person attached. Generally, the more detached you are the more successful you will be in a mission. If we’re not afraid of losing, how much more will our chances of victory increase? Without fear there is no nervousness, thus enabling the worker to operate at peak output.

Lord Rama, however, is special, so attachment to Him is never detrimental. As the Supreme Personality of Godhead, He is the only light in this world otherwise full of darkness. God is a singular entity, but He can be worshiped in His many different forms. These incarnations, or avataras, are listed in the shastras, or scriptures. The Ramayana itself is one of the most sacred religious texts accepted as authority by so many famous acharyas of the Vedic tradition. Hanuman’s attachment to Rama is what caused his slight lamentation, his fear of failing in the most important mission.

Lord RamaWith ordinary tasks, too much concern for the outcome can hinder performance. With devotional activities, the more concern there is for the happiness of the Supreme Person, the greater the chances of victory there will be. If God can give us everything, why wouldn’t He allow us to succeed in serving Him? Activities in maya, or illusion, don’t have any winners or losers, just temporary shifts in opulence and destitution, similar to the many waves of the ocean. One person may gain a little bit while another loses, but in the end there is no progress made towards full enlightenment, which is the ideal destination for the human being.

Rama, or God, is the end-goal of all activity, the purest of the pure. Therefore, those who are wise enough to take up devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, find the best way to transcend the influence of the miserable and temporary world. Hanuman is so endearing because he doesn’t even know that he is engaged in bhakti. Not interested in self-realization, Hanuman simply wants to put a smile on Rama’s face and on the faces of the Lord’s friends and family.

If Hanuman had left Lanka and returned to Kishkindha, he would really have nothing to hang his head about. He had leaped across a massive ocean, fought off opposing elements, figured out how to infiltrate the city without being noticed, and searched through the different palaces. What had he really failed in? But to Hanuman, all he could think about was the reaction of his friends and well-wishers. What would it matter to them that he had done so many wonderful things? The mission assigned to him wasn’t complete, so how could they be happy knowing that Sita hadn’t been found? If they weren’t happy, how could Hanuman ever feel satisfied?

If we spend eleven years in a school system and get straight A’s, we’ll obviously have learned a lot and become somewhat educated. Yet if we decide to drop out before graduation, what have we really done? Will our parents be happy? Will they think that we have accomplished anything? The same principles can be applied to all human activity, as the aim of life is to become fully aware of the Supreme Lord and our inherent relation to Him. In the absence of this knowledge, every gain that we acquire and every accomplishment attributed to us can be considered incomplete, or even useless. Building the largest skyscraper or inventing the latest electronic gadget is certainly commendable, but unless the objects of achievement are used to further the plight of the soul, they don’t amount to much. Hanuman had no interest in being praised for activities that didn’t eventually lead to success in the mission.

The endearing Vanara warrior would continue his search. Rather than accept defeat, he would fight until the very end, not allowing the doubting mind to dampen his spirits. The temporary dealings with self-doubt only further increased Hanuman’s resolve, and more importantly, his glory and honor. Without Hanuman’s dedication and fortitude so nicely revealed in the Ramayana, we would have less material to work off of in glorifying him. But since he showed us some of his unmatched compassion for Rama, he further increased our attachment to him. In this way if we remember Hanuman and his love for Sita, Rama and Lakshmana all the time, we will never fail in our efforts in bhakti.

Rama DarbarFrom this verse we also see what a wonderful support system Hanuman had. In professional sports especially, the notable players have support teams, which consist of coaches, trainers, friends and family. It’s nice having someone there cheering you on to victory. For Hanuman, he knew his support system was back in Kishkindha just hoping to hear good news from him. The dedicated worker can accept defeat for himself, but he never wants to see disappointment in the faces of those who are kind enough to be there for him.

Lord Rama is the ever well-wisher of every single person, even if they have turned their back on Him for many lifetimes over. In the famous Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna, the same Lord Rama but in a different outward manifestation, cheered the hesitant warrior Arjuna on by supplying him sublime wisdom, the essence of Vedanta philosophy. Krishna is the origin of Vedic wisdom, so who better to learn about the meaning of life from than Shyamasundara, the beautiful Krishna with a dark complexion? Though Krishna gave Arjuna advice and wished him well, He did not do the work for him. That part was left to Arjuna, as one who takes on devotional activities becomes the owner of the sweet reward of full God consciousness that comes at the end.

Similarly, Shri Rama did not automatically give Hanuman victory in his efforts. Rama is antaryami, so He could have deciphered where Sita was and relayed that information to Hanuman. But why spoil the opportunity for service from the most dedicated warrior the world has ever known? Hanuman knew that Rama was wishing him well and that’s all he needed to succeed. Just as Rama wishes for nothing but success for Hanuman, the Vanara warrior wants nothing more than for us to become the greatest devotees, famous throughout the three worlds for our love for God. By remembering Hanuman and his well-wishing attitude, why would we ever settle for anything less than complete success in life?

In Closing:

Having a system there to provide support,

Allows for worker to succeed in effort.

Hanuman had this going for him,

People who rooted for him to win.

Having difficult time, reaching a crossroad,

Didn’t want to deliver bad news, painful blow.

How in this way his dear friends could he disappoint?

Sugriva, for difficult mission him did appoint.

Hanuman to fight ahead though feeling blue,

Would not disappoint sons of Dasharatha two.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Daily Reminder

Vyasadeva“The fallen souls are very eager to receive novel information every day, and the transcendentalists like Vyasadeva or Narada can supply such eager people in general with unlimited news from the spiritual world. In the Bhagavad-gita it is said that the material world is only a part of the whole creation and that this earth is only a fragment of the whole material world.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.5.13 Purport)

Shri Krishna is so attractive that stories describing His activities that one would otherwise consider ordinary are worth hearing about. With the average person, learning of how they go about their day, what they do in the morning, who they talk to and where they travel to is not that important or interesting. Take the same activities but change the object in question and you can get a hit reality television series with millions of viewers each week. The same holds true with famous films and novels. With Krishna, the stories don’t have to be created, as His potency is unlimited. All that is needed is proper storytellers, roles for which Narada Muni and Vyasadeva are perfectly qualified.

Lord KrishnaVyasadeva is considered Krishna’s literary incarnation and Narada Muni is his spiritual master. Lord Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the defined version of the “God” that most of us look to in times of trouble. That supreme person is all-pervading, for He can hear all of our prayers, and yet He has an original form as well. Since He draws the attention of every single living entity, it should not be surprising that God would be immeasurably attractive. His facial features are exquisite, His smile beams happiness to the onlookers, and the sound of His precious flute enchants the heart.

In a land where Krishna’s presence is only felt in an impersonal manner, the practice of regulative principles is required in order to take advantage of that presence. Just knowing that there is a personal form of God that should be connected to is rare enough, but then actually carrying through on the practices aimed at forging that connection is another story altogether. To aid the conditioned living beings in their quest for transcendental enlightenment, Krishna sends forth various representatives. Vyasadeva and Narada are two of the most famous helpers for mankind in general.

Vyasadeva is a literary incarnation, responsible for putting into written word so much of Vedic wisdom that was previously known to the keepers of the faith. The science of self-realization, the real definition of dharma, or religious practice, was initially passed down to Lord Brahma, the first created living entity. Implanted into Brahma’s heart, the Veda was the guiding principle for all creatures, yet only the intelligent species could understand it. All forms of life in this world have sprung from Brahma. Even if one doesn’t want to believe in their relation to the heavenly creator, it is an accepted fact that we initially came from somewhere. Because of the influence of time, the knowledge of past generations may not be known with certainty, but we do know that we have ancestors, for life comes from life.

VyasadevaIn ancient times the Veda was passed on through aural reception. One person heard the information and then passed it on to their sincere disciples, those interested in hearing the Veda and incorporating its teachings into their lives. Vyasadeva saw the need for recording Vedic wisdom in books and poems. He took past, present and future events relating to God and compiled Puranas, or ancient works consisting of historical events presented in story format. He also authored the Mahabharata, considered the fifth Veda. Vyasadeva had divided the original Veda into four sections, which were subsequently known as the Vedas. Any literature which reached the same conclusion as the Vedas and didn’t deviate from their teachings thus also became known as Vedic literature.

Narada Muni was Vyasadeva’s spiritual master who specifically instructed him to compile a Purana relating only to the Supreme Lord Krishna and devotion to Him. Within the other Puranas, bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, was only hinted at, with many texts proclaiming that fruitive activity, meditation, or impersonal study of Vedanta was the way to go. Vyasadeva had already written so much literature, but he still wasn’t satisfied. Narada Muni, seeing into the mind of his disciple, understood that the cause of his mental despair was the fact that Shri Hari’s pastimes were not glorified fully, nor were they explained in the proper light.

Hari is another name for Krishna which means one who removes the impediments of His devotees. The greatest stumbling block towards acquiring transcendental knowledge is the attachment to material nature that one forms right at the time of birth. It’s strange to think, but the sadness we feel from separation is actually not warranted. That’s because the attachment was formed at some point in time, which means that we were just fine before the attachment came to be. For instance, if we lament over the loss of fortune, we know that previously, at the time of birth, there was nothing acquired through hard work. The later fortune had to be earned through either risk in a business venture or in rarer cases inheritance from previous generations of family members. The same principle of attachment applies to the lamentation that comes from the severing of relationships. In a romantic relationship turned sour, there was a time when we didn’t know the person we were later sad about.

Therefore every lamentation in life is a product of illusion, a temporary attachment that didn’t relate to our true identity. The spirit soul is transcendental to all manifestations of matter. It remains the source of identity at any period in life, even in the future. In the past, we existed somewhere, but right now we don’t specifically know where or under what circumstances. In the future we will continue to exist as well, as the soul cannot be killed.

“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.20)

Lord KrishnaElation comes from finding something supremely attractive. If the subject matter is glorious enough, something as simple as hearing can provide the happiness the soul deserves. Vyasadeva, under the direction of Narada, took to compiling the Bhagavata Purana, which is also known as the Shrimad Bhagavatam. This work focuses entirely on devotional service, which is explained through historical accounts relating to Krishna and His many non-different forms, which are also known as incarnations. Bhakti, or divine love, is meant for Vishnu, or Krishna. The personal forms of the original Personality of Godhead are constitutionally set to accept pure love, prema which does not have any motive except the desired association of the most attractive entity in the world.

Since Krishna is God and so attractive, the stories relating to His pastimes prove to be wonderfully enthralling to the heart. Since Vyasadeva knew that not everyone would accept Krishna as the Supreme Lord right away, and that with that lack of understanding some might not appreciate His pastimes in the same way that one who is liberated from material association would, he sequenced His Bhagavatam in such a way that Krishna’s position as God is explained in the first nine sections, with the holy grail, the sweet fruit of the work, placed into the tenth canto. In this latter section are found Krishna’s childhood pastimes, which captivate the mind, thrill the heart, and are so attractive that they can be heard over and over again without exhaustion.

Though cult films are repeatedly watched by their fans, eventually there comes a time when a new film is anticipated or some other interest takes over the fanatic. With Krishna, His pastimes are so enchanting that hearing about them again and again only increases one’s knowledge of the Lord. With further awareness of Krishna’s position comes even more appreciation of His activities and distribution of causeless mercy to the surrendered souls. With each successive dip into the holy lake made up of Krishna-lila, the refreshed individual gains an enhanced appreciation for Krishna’s associates and how they practice devotion. A sort of top down approach, from appreciating Krishna love for other living entities naturally springs forth.

“When love of Godhead is attained, love for all other beings automatically follows because the Lord is the sum total of all living beings.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, Introduction)

Arjuna and KrishnaEven dry philosophy becomes attractive when Krishna is attached to it. The Bhagavad-gita, which is a small section of Vyasadeva’s Mahabharata, contains the direct teachings of Krishna. It is not filled with pastimes so much. It has deep wisdom, cutting logic, and truths of life not found in any other text. No other spiritual tradition identifies the individual as spirit soul right in the beginning, when there is the seed of doubt as to what action should be followed. From that identification, the living entity can further understand his position and what needs to be done to find lasting happiness, the kind which corresponds with the primary properties of the soul, namely its eternality, bliss and knowledge.

Through Narada’s persuasion, Vyasadeva gave mankind the jewel of Vedic literature, the Bhagavatam which is still relished to this day. Krishna can be thought about and described day after day, with the mind finding new lessons to take away and attachment to the one person who never leaves any of us increasing. With ordinary stories, the right characters and sequence of events need to be crafted by the author in order to catch the interest of the listener. With Krishna, the attractiveness permeates every one of His behaviors, so just hearing about the Lord’s interactions with mother Yashoda, His stealing of butter from the neighbors, His dancing with the cowherd girls of Vrindavana, His lifting of Govardhana Hill, His delivering of the Bhagavad-gita, and His promise to protect the surrendered souls can attract anyone who is properly situated in consciousness, one who is just dying to provide real nectar for the ears.

In Closing:

In hearing of stories there is already interest,

To give the ears the much desired happiness.

With ordinary stories one finally gets bored,

Not much wisdom or lessons in them stored.

Not the case with Krishna who is most attractive,

Hearing His pastimes mind finds right perspective.

Narada Muni and Vyasadeva greatest storytellers,

Preaching bhakti-yoga, of most valuable jewel sellers.

For hearing their words there is not any cost,

Such pleasurable sound that you’ll never exhaust.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Showering Nectar

Lord Rama's hand“Vishvamitra gave them his blessing and they all became happy, like a new kalpa creeper being watered with pure nectar.” (Janaki Mangala, 17)

kausika dīnhi asīsa sakala pramudita bhaī |
sīncīṃ manahum̐ sudhā rasa kalapa latā naīṃ ||

Picture a new creeper in the ground that is just waiting to be watered. There is so much potential, as from a tiny little seed a giant tree bearing many fruits can emerge. A tree that produces fruits is considered pious, for it does more than just provide oxygen to the world. Just from the fruits freely provided by a pious tree one can survive. While it seems like an austerity measure to live only off of fruits, if one is destitute and has no other source of provisions, the tree that is nature’s property is there to give protection, both from the scorching hot rays of the sun and the pangs of hunger.

If you water the creeper with what it really needs, such as pure water, the growth spurt will be amazing. Indeed, the tender’s primary objective is to make conditions such that the growth will take place in the most wonderful way, blessing the eyes with a vision to remind the individual of the miracle of life, how a living being can flourish when properly taken care of. The proper care offered to the creeper is an act of love, and the reward for that love is the freedom of growth, the ability for the tree to shine in all its glory.

Lord Krishna with cowsThe cow behaves in a similar manner. Allow it to run free, enjoy time with its children, and know that it won’t be harmed and you’ll get heaps of milk. From the trees producing fruits and the cows giving milk, what need is there to beg from any corporation or government agency for life’s necessities? There is no love involved in these exchanges, as the agreement with the business is made under the expectation of remuneration. The government entity is impersonal, not caring whether or not the offered aid helps you reach a better position.

With the careful protection offered to the living entities that are completely helpless, the resulting fruits give both sustenance and a respect for life. This is naturally known to the living entity, for otherwise pets would never come into the home. With a cat or dog, there is much work required for maintenance, but the companionship resulting from that care is considered so blessed that the work is deemed worth it. With the valuable human form of body, the offering of love and respect to one particular entity brings such a pure nectar in return that the potential for bliss bursts out. This was seen with a famous meeting many thousands of years ago which Goswami Tulsidas has so nicely described in his Janaki Mangala.

Who was involved in this meeting? A famous king named Dasharatha was ruling over Ayodhya when he was visited by Kaushika, the son of Gadhi named Vishvamitra. The king already had a royal priest named Vashishtha and other members of the brahmana, or priestly, class around him all the time, but he was still excited at the prospect of meeting Vishvamitra.

The king was wealthy and his primary occupational duty was to provide protection to the citizens. What benefit then could be gained by meeting someone who was at the time living in the forests? Only a recluse chooses to abandon civilization and go meditate somewhere all by themselves. Vishvamitra had no money, and he wasn’t asking for any type of material reward from Dasharatha. What could be the purpose of his visit and why would Dasharatha be thrilled upon the sight of him?

VishvamitraIn ancient Vedic culture, which is based on the teachings handed down by the Supreme Lord at the beginning of time, the priestly class takes to an austere lifestyle on purpose. Not just to punish themselves, the lack of material attachment allows for enlightenment to accelerate more rapidly. Think of trying to study while you’re intoxicated and you can begin to understand the effect material attachment has on the ability to focus on the bigger picture. In the feverish pursuit to acquire possessions and security in family life, what gets lost is the knowledge of impending death. We know that we will grow old and die some day; if we are lucky. Sometimes people don’t even make it to old age. The end is guaranteed, so rather than just ignore it, the wise tact is to figure out why it happens and what can be done to find the most beneficial future afterwards.

Thankfully the mind is not left on its own in this regard. It doesn’t have to sit in a room and try to figure out the differences between matter and spirit, why there is birth and death, and what happens to the individual while their body continually changes. This information is already presented by the Supreme Lord in His Vedic literature, the most widely read work of which is the Bhagavad-gita, which is spoken by God Himself in His original form of Krishna.

The truths of the Vedas need not be accepted solely on blind faith. Surely this method can help in the beginning, provided that the principles accepted are valid. The teachings are meant to affect behavior, to change the course of action so that the proper end can be reached. Therefore the more important aspect is to practice the principles, which concomitantly bring about a higher understanding. The principles create the conditions necessary for attaining enlightenment, for they remove the distractions and foster an environment where the truths can be both accepted and understood, so much so that the faithful follower soon is wise enough to teach others the same principles.

This was the case with Vishvamitra. He was living in the forest to dedicate his life to serving God, but this didn’t mean that he had abandoned contact with the world. He knew that faithfully following his religious obligations would allow him to better serve humanity. His visit to Ayodhya was an example of this, and Dasharatha, as a pious king, was also aware of Vishvamitra’s high standing. Immediately upon seeing the sage, the king arose and offered his respects. He openly declared that he was the most fortunate person in the world for having the muni’s vision. The king’s queens and their sons soon entered the room and lovingly offered their respects to Vishvamitra’s feet.

In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, Goswami Tulsidas makes a nice comparison to describe what happened next. Vishvamitra gave them all his blessing, and they in turn became very happy. Their reaction indicated that they knew his blessing meant something, for Vishvamitra was not a pretend guru or a spiritualist in name only. From his blessing could come the knowledge and auspiciousness necessary for carrying out one’s prescribed duties in life. One who follows their prescribed duties, keeping devotion in mind, reaches the highest end. It doesn’t matter whether one is a priest, administrator, businessman, or laborer, if they follow the duties of their order and listen to the kind words of advice from those who know the real religious principles, they can put a stop to birth and death within this very lifetime.

The blessing given by Vishvamitra and the resulting response from the queens and children was compared to a new creeper being nourished with pure nectar. The kalpa creeper is a sort of heavenly plant that can grow into a tree that provides whatever one desires. If it is nourished with pure nectar, it will grow more rapidly. This is the case with any living entity, for if we put the best ingredients into our body, we will remain fit and strong. A living being provided pure love receives the most important nourishment.

The blessing of Vishvamitra was considered pure nectar because the sage was in good standing with the Supreme Lord. Tulsidas pays Vishvamitra the highest compliment through this comparison. For the queens, their children being blessed by the muni meant that their worries could be alleviated for but a brief moment. The good parent never stops worrying about their child, no matter how old they get. In the case of Dasharatha and his queens, the concern was over the welfare of the children and whether or not they would grow up to be pious. A child that matures to the point that they can eat and sleep comfortably hasn’t really done much in life, for even the animals are given provisions by nature. The aim of human life is to follow dharma, which is the only way to reach the highest end.

Someone who lived by dharma blessed children who would grow up to be protectors of dharma; such was the beauty of the interaction. Vishvamitra’s real intention in visiting Ayodhya was to borrow one of Dasharatha’s sons, Rama. This young child, though Dasharatha’s favorite, would have to protect Vishvamitra from the attacking Rakshasas in the forest, terrorist-like figures who were recently being a tremendous nuisance on the peaceful sages looking to practice their asceticism.

Lord Rama's handRama was none other than the Supreme Lord, which made the interaction with Vishvamitra even more amazing. There is no way to measure God’s love for the brahmana class that follows their prescribed duties. If not for the priests practicing the principles of dharma, who would guide society? Even in modern times where it is difficult to find a bona fide brahmana, the presence of a few pious leaders can provide tremendous benefit to at least some people, who can then pass on the same teachings to future generations.

Lord Rama was the same Supreme Lord who first instituted dharma, yet He was paying His respects to Vishvamitra. The love offered by the muni to Dasharatha’s children allowed them to grow up to be wonderful wish-fulfilling trees who would grant the desires of the sweet devotees around the world. The ability to have Dasharatha’s two sons, Rama and Lakshmana, escort him in the forest allowed Vishvamitra to taste the sweet nectar of God’s vision as well. So his original blessing actually turned out to be a blessing for him in the end.

This incident underscores the importance of having contact with someone who is practicing the principles of religion in earnest. In the present age, the prescribed divisions of society may be nonexistent, but dharma is still there. It has been streamlined to the point that all that is required is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. One who recites this mantra with faith, love and a feeling of helplessness becomes the teacher for mankind. The recitation of the holy name under conditions where sinful behavior is eliminated brings all good qualities, including perfect knowledge.

Anyone who is fortunate enough to meet a person practicing devotion becomes blessed as well, for the person lovingly chanting the holy names is not stingy in revealing the secret to their success. Anyone who is sincerely interested in hearing about God and devotion to Him will be given the nectar for their ears by the devotee already following bhakti. The queens and their sons eagerly and happily paid their respects to the muni and he in return gave them his blessing. Such an exchange wasn’t required because of the nature of Dasharatha’s four sons [they were all expansions of Godhead], but the flow of love could not be stopped. The fountainhead of matter and spirit has respect and honor for the priestly class, so the merits in receiving the dust from the lotus feet of the sages are shown through the Lord’s personal behavior.

In Closing:

Careful seed in the tender ground to sow,

Water it so that tall it will grow.

The kalpa tree is the best of them all,

Provides benedictions to one and all.

Give pure nectar to creeper to grow fast,

Will then provide tastiest fruits that last.

This comparison used to describe meeting,

Muni king’s wives and sons joyfully greeting.

Son of Gadhi gave them his blessing in return,

Permanent spot in Ramayana history him did it earn.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Binding In Love

yashoda_krishna_QD28_l“Mother Yashoda wanted to bind Krishna not in order to chastise Him but because she thought that the child was so restless that He might leave the house in fear. That would be another disturbance. Therefore, because of full affection, to stop Krishna from leaving the house, she wanted to bind Him with rope.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.9.12)

To an onlooker, binding a child with a rope seems like a cruel type of punishment. No matter what they have done, how horrible a crime they may have committed, a child is a child after all. What can they really do? In this particular instance, the young child’s offense was that He broke a pot filled with butter that had been churned through hard labor. Did He break it out of spite? Did He want to rile up His mother? Was He after a dastardly thrill or schadenfreude, wherein He would delight in the misery of others? No. He was protesting the fact that His mother had abruptly arisen to tend to a boiling pot in the kitchen while she was feeding Him. To show that His attachment to her was real, that He loved her more than any son can love a mother, He responded by breaking the pot she had worked so hard to fill with butter, knowing that she wouldn’t like this.

Krishna and Mother YashodaThe sweet, young mother, returning to the scene saw what her child had done. Though a youngster, Krishna was wise enough to know that He shouldn’t have done what He did. Therefore His act was certainly done on purpose. In addition, He fled the scene, as He was nowhere to be found. If He had broken the pot accidentally, there would have been no reason to leave. If He knew that what He did wasn’t wrong, why would He have left? In the end, His childish nature would trump His discrimination. Since He stepped in the butter, His footprints made while fleeing the scene gave away His location. Those sacred marks made of butter created the path that led to the cherished delight of Vrindavana, whom the entire world is searching after.

Why is everyone searching for Krishna specifically? Is not every person endowed with a penchant for loving service from the time of their very birth? Do we not seek pleasure? Is not that pursuit at the root of every act? To find pleasure, one needs a corresponding source that never exhausts in distributing enjoyment. As Krishna is the source of the material and spiritual energies, the sumptuous delights He provides through His presence bring the soul the happiness that it desires. Mother Yashoda was shown the way towards this treasure house of joy by the footprints He left. Even when separated from Him, she could remember His sweet form, His muffled, childish speech, and the amazing feats of bravery and heroism He had previously shown.

Though this child was in a small form and exhibited all the signs of childhood, He had a seemingly magical influence on some of the most nefarious elements. There was the enchanting witch Putana who had come to Vrindavana in the guise of a beautiful woman. Looking like a nurse, she walked into Krishna’s room and prepared to feed Him milk from her breast, which was smeared with poison. Somehow that Krishna sucked the very life out of the woman, to the point that her original, hideous form revealed itself upon her death.

Krishna with PutanaThere were other such miraculous events, which Mother Yashoda immortalized by describing them in song. It was while she was singing these songs that young Krishna approached her to be fed. Stopping her churning of butter, the kind mother cherished the vision of her son enjoying her company. Her brief stop in the kitchen was to prevent the milk from boiling over, but she knew that she would soon return to her son. What she didn’t expect was for Him to throw a tantrum and make Himself worthy of punishment.

What kind of mother would she be if she let this slide? A guardian is meant to guard, which involves preventing the child from doing things that are harmful. Destroying other people’s property on purpose is an act that brings negative consequences in the future. There is the effect on karma, which is the system managing fairness. We know that if we don’t take a shower in the morning, we will emit a foul odor for the rest of the day. Since we spend time with ourselves throughout the day, we may not notice the smell after a while, but others will. Regardless of what we think of the odor, the act of skipping bathing led to an undesirable consequence in the future.

There are other consequences that aren’t as easy to decipher. The reactions from stealing provide an indication of this. If I take something that doesn’t belong to me and don’t get seen by anyone else, I may think that I can get away with it. At the same time though, someone else may steal from me in the future. When that happens, I may bemoan my plight and wonder how such a horrible thing could have happened, but in reality it was just the negative reaction from my karma bearing fruit.

The good parent molds their child’s behavior in such a way that they stick to prescribed duties, those which are outlined in a system of dharma. A defining characteristic is the definition of dharma, and when applied to the soul, which is the identifying agent within any life form, the term extends to incorporate the set of rules and regulations aimed at releasing the defining characteristic, bringing it to its most active state. The aim of human life is to achieve the constitutional state by following dharma, which never changes. Our essential characteristic may be hidden from time to time, but it can never be removed. Hence religion in the Vedic tradition is known as sanatana-dharma.

Mother Yashoda chased after the culprit Krishna with a whipping stick in her hand. Finally catching Him, she noticed that He was starting to cry tears of contrition. He knew that what He did was wrong, so He admitted His guilt and sorrow through His tears. She noticed that He was showing signs of fear due to the presence of the stick, so she immediately tossed it aside. Thinking that He may run away in fear, the blessed mother decided to tie young Krishna to a mortar. Little did she know that this famous act would earn her son, who has glorious features unlimited in their brilliance, a new name: Damodara. That sweet form of Krishna bound to a mortar is celebrated annually in the month of Kartika through the offering of a light.

Damodara with YashodaIn the same way that Yashoda bound Krishna to keep Him within her sight, the Supreme Lord binds the sincere devotees with His enchanting vision, which ensures that they won’t look for transcendental pleasure anywhere else. Why does He not grant this vision to others? If deep down someone is intent on searching for rotten food amidst garbage, what can be done to stop their pursuit? The pure hearted souls, on the other hand, try their best to remain with Krishna, for they know that He is deserving of their attention and that such a practice will benefit them in the future.

Sincerity thus forms the determining factor in one’s success in spiritual pursuits. One who regularly chants, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, increases the likelihood of remembering the Lord at the time of death. The purpose of human life is to remember Narayana [another name for Krishna] while quitting the body. That remembrance will bring the best destination in the next life, for the spirit soul never dies. Indeed, a lifetime is but a demarcation of time, a way to conceptualize the duration of time a spirit soul spends within a particular form of body.

With sincerity in the practice of bhakti-yoga, remembrance of God becomes almost second nature. For example, say you’re driving to work on a typical morning when all of a sudden you hear what sounds like a large truck nearby. The sound is foreign because the highway you’re travelling on doesn’t allow trucks. You’re also in the left-lane of the highway, which means that the only cars to your left side - the side where the sound is coming from - are those travelling in the opposite direction. Despite the fact that you can’t see the truck anywhere, the sound seems to get louder and louder. You’re travelling at an average highway speed, so you know that getting close to a truck is not a good thing.

In a split second, the sound gets so loud that you start to panic. So stunned that you feel like you’re heart just jolted out of your chest, you unknowingly start chanting the holy names of the Lord. It turns out that the truck sound was actually an airplane flying directly above your car. The part of the highway you just passed through was situated right next to an airport, which frequently has planes landing and taking off from that spot. Though the situation wasn’t that dangerous, the minor scare makes you feel comforted knowing that in a time of distress, the holy name was right there to be held on to for safety.

Such good fortune comes only through sincerity, for Krishna stays with anyone who wants His association. Mother Yashoda felt that security when she bound her son, using the pretense of a punishment to keep the elusive Supreme Lord within her sights. The same Krishna can’t be caught by the faithless or those who don’t know of His personal features. Therefore texts like the Shrimad Bhagavatam, Bhagavad-gita, and the preachers who teach the glories found within these works try to evoke a sincere dedication to bhakti-yoga in as many people as possible. That dedication brings Krishna’s association and His promise to bind you in a net of transcendental love, one from which happily you can never break free.

In Closing:

Using a rope and a mortar her son would stay,

Though in fear, He could not thus run away.

He broke pot of butter so He needed to be punished,

But seeing His tears mother’s use of stick finished.

Paths of yoga without devotion with difficulty fraught,

Not without divine love can Shri Krishna be caught.

Best practice is to make remembrance of God automatic,

That’s why in teaching bhakti Vaishnavas so emphatic.

In Yashoda’s courtyard reservoir of pleasure found,

Shri Damodara, who with ropes of affection is bound.