Saturday, January 21, 2012

Basking in Sweetness

Lord Rama's lotus feet“Seeing that sweet and beautiful form, the muni wants to keep worshiping it. Again and again, the muni praises the great spiritual merits of King Dasharatha.” (Janaki Mangala, 20)

madhura manohara mūrati cāhahiṃ |
bāra bāra dasarathake sukṛta sarāhahiṃ ||

In bhakti-yoga the purpose of every recommended activity is to foster Krishna consciousness, pure thoughts within the mind. The behavior we adopt, those things we pay attention to, imprint our consciousness with items for further contemplation. If our time is spent mired in filth, debauchery, and images that shouldn’t be seen, the consciousness will continue to contemplate upon them long after the original contact. The same principle can be turned in our favor should we change the nature of the associated objects. This is the purpose of divine love, the highest discipline man can follow. Regardless of whether we’re after spiritual merits or material rewards, gazing at the sweet and lovely form of the Supreme Personality of Godhead clears all misgivings, doubts, needless desires and erroneous thoughts.

Lord RamaWhat is an erroneous thought? Think of a conclusion that you reached that was based on ignorance. For the child this is quite commonplace, as they just don’t know any better. In adulthood we are also quite commonly mistaken, thinking that someone is evil when they are really not or guessing that one way to do something is correct when it later turns out to be wrong. To ere is human after all, and the living being’s propensity is to commit mistakes. The mistakes are rooted in illusion, taking something to be that which it is not. Therefore the material energy is known as maya, which is filled with objects considered to be one thing that are really something else.

The mistakes start from the time of birth, where the living being identifies with the body type accepted. Never mind the fact that you had no say in choosing the womb you would emerge from or the type of features you would assume, somehow that dwelling is equated with identity. The accepted form will constantly change through the passage of time. The infant child has a completely different body from the adult, yet the bewildered individual occupying that changing dwelling always takes identity from the body.

This misidentification indicates both illusion and mistake. From the root mistake other erroneous conclusions are reached. The family bonds are taken as absolute and the land where one was born becomes worshipable. Again, the birthplace could have been anywhere; you had no control over that. You may hate one area of land today because you consider it foreign, but you easily could have grown up there and learned to speak the language, immersing yourself in the “foreign” culture.

The doubts are dispelled through following a bona fide discipline of spirituality. In material education, there is some knowledge acquired, but the guiding conclusion is still erroneous. The fact that material nature, which doesn’t represent our identity, should be exploited through effort and work shows a misidentification with the body that perpetually leads to trouble. The animals don’t require education, for they instinctively know to look for food, erect shelter, mate with other members of their species, and sleep when rest is required. The human can similarly live a simple life involving these behaviors without needing any education whatsoever.

Real education teaches the individual that they are spirit and not matter. That spirit’s existence is evidenced through the autonomous actions of the residence it occupies. Death thus represents the exit of the spirit from its dwelling; not the end of life itself. Rather, life in a localized area can only exist when spirit is present. The fetus within the womb only develops when there is spirit inside. Abortion is only an option when there is a life; otherwise the fetus would never develop and cause the unwanted “burden” to the mother deciding to kill her child.

Education in spirituality is meant to alter behavior, to affix upon the consciousness images and sounds that are sweet, or madhura. There is nothing sweeter than the transcendental form of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. One way to distinguish between God and the living entities is to know that the Lord is never subject to illusion. He does not commit mistakes because His knowledge is never incorrect or incomplete. By the same token, objects of illusion are relative, so even the material nature we have so much trouble dealing with is spiritualized when in contact with the Lord.

Shri Rama Darbar deitiesIn bhakti-yoga, which teaches all of these relevant truths and imparts the proper principles within the worshiper through dedicated activity, one of the central practices is deity worship. The material elements that are mistaken for our enjoyment or identity get manipulated in such a way so as to represent the transcendental features of the Personality of Godhead, which are described in the shastras, or scriptures. The deity is not a mentally concocted idol that a foolish person all of a sudden decides to worship. The fact that someone would want to worship a fake idol reveals at least that the soul’s natural propensity is to serve. Dharma as a system is built around the principle characteristic of the living entity. Despite one’s current status, high or low, in a position of power or servitude, service will be the catalyst to behavior. Tyrannical regimes have flourished throughout the course of human history precisely because they exploit this penchant within their citizens.

The deity is the proper beneficiary of the worshiping propensity in man. The deity is not created on a whim; rather it is crafted from the detailed descriptions found in the scriptures. The features of the Personality of Godhead are real, with their genuineness revealed through the results that come from authorized worship. And what are the results we’re looking for? The above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala provides a few hints. The same deity that is worshiped in so many temples appeared in His own form on this earth many thousands of years ago to delight the hearts of the devotees and instill terror in the miscreants who were dedicated to thwarting the peaceful acts of the pious.

The muni Vishvamitra was visiting the city of Ayodhya, ruled at the time by King Dasharatha. Vishvamitra needed some protection while residing in the forest, as the night-rangers were assuming shapes at will and harassing the sages. Dasharatha offered the sage the utmost respect and then brought his queens and sons to give the same hospitable welcome. Dasharatha’s oldest son, Lord Rama, was the one who caught the muni’s eye. Rama is the very same Personality of Godhead contemplated upon by yogis and philosophers since the beginning of time. In this specific form, God took on the role of an expert bow-warrior, committed to protecting the innocent.

When Vishvamitra first saw Rama, he was mesmerized. Though only a young child, Shri Rama’s form was so beautiful, sweet in every way. That sweetness is what the living entity is looking for. In devotional service there are different transcendental mellows, or tastes through association. Even outside bhakti these tastes are seen to varying degrees. For instance, the relationship with a friend carries a different enjoyment than the relationship with a dependent child. The conjugal affair is of a different nature than the relationship of reverence established with respected personalities. Despite the differences, love can be present within all of these exchanges.

Madhurya is the highest transcendental mellow. Though it is usually taken to mean conjugal interaction, the root meaning of the word is sweetness or loveliness. In madhurya-rasa, or shringara-rasa, the Lord is appreciated for His transcendental sweetness. If we taste something very sweet that is intoxicating at the same time, the tendency is to continue to relish that taste and repeatedly indulge in it.

Lord RamaWhen intaking transcendental sweetness, the reservoir of enjoyment cannot be filled up. This was shown through Vishvamitra’s reaction. Rama’s form is compared to a murti, which is like a deity, and Vishvamitra’s attitude was to continually worship that form. He did not want anything else. Just from worshiping the deity and appreciating the sweetness of the transcendental features, the requisite consciousness can be acquired. It is for this reason that the temple exists. Outwardly there is the regular worship that occurs, but the underlying purpose is the desire to keep God’s features within the mind, to maintain that sweetness in association even when separated from the deity.

Vishvamitra was so pleased in the heart that he again and again thought of how fortunate the king was. Dasharatha must have accumulated so many spiritual merits, or sukriti, to have such a son. Ironically enough, Vishvamitra came to borrow that son, to temporarily separate Him from His father. Dasharatha would not like this proposal, but since the king’s vow was to defer to the priestly class, he could not deny Vishvamitra. Thanks to that genuineness of purpose, that selfless act of sacrificing the association of the person he loved the most, the king would allow for Rama to eventually make it to the kingdom of Tirahuta, where a notable contest was taking place to determine the husband of an unmarried, beautiful princess.

Just as the murti is worshipable and brings the sweetness the individual spirit soul is looking for, the scene of Vishvamitra lovingly gazing upon the beautiful form of Rama brings so many spiritual merits to the devotee. The purpose of the poet’s Janaki Mangala is to create as many such images within the mind of the listener. The poet himself got to relive the scene over and over again by singing his verses. When high concepts are put into poetry and song, they are easier to remember. Just from singing a few words and thinking about them, so much constructive thought can be triggered within the mind. The vision of young Shri Rama triggered boundless sweetness within the mind of the muni, whose thoughts were already pure. On that wonderful day in Dasharatha’s kingdom, the sage showed us the purpose of the murti, and why worship of it is a central aspect of bhakti-yoga.

In Closing:

Images seen into your consciousness they sink,

Repeatedly then of them you can think.

Keep association of objects bearing sweetness,

So that mind will remember and find happiness.

The muni Vishvamitra saw Rama and was amazed,

Upon such a beautiful form he repeatedly gazed.

Countless spiritual merits, what did the king do,

To deserve such a son, kind, sweet and charming too.

No matter, the muni would get to take Rama with him,

Eventually to Sita, Rama her hand to win.

Friday, January 20, 2012


Krishna playing His flute“Consciousness of the material body means spiritual consciousness expressed through the medium of a material body. This consciousness is inferior, destructible and perverted. But superconsciousness of the supramind in the spiritual plane is as good as the spirit soul and is never annihilated.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.6.4 Purport)

The individual being has an existence that is revealed through consciousness. From the thoughts, words and deeds emanating from the living being we can understand that there is a consciousness within steering activity. As Shri Hanuman so nicely points out in the Ramayana, it is the mind which instigates the senses to take to actions which bring forth all the auspicious and inauspicious conditions we see in life. The mind is a subtle material element that reports on the disposition of the consciousness. That consciousness is safe for only as long as the form it is encased within remains intact. As soon as that form is destroyed, the thoughts of the mind vanish. But there is a higher consciousness, which when developed carries over from life to life, moving like the aromas through the air.

“The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another as the air carries aromas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.8)

Lord KrishnaWhy is it important for consciousness to carry over? Shouldn’t the destruction of our worst thoughts be a welcomed event? If I’m suffering mentally from many traumatic past events, why would I want those mental images to linger forever? The development of the higher consciousness has nothing to do with temporary ups and downs, highs and lows, encountered in a relative existence. The individual living being’s original consciousness is unchanged; it is permanent. When the spirit soul assumes a dress composed of gross and subtle earthly elements, that pure consciousness gets pervertedly reflected, sort of like taking a beam of light and deflecting it in various ways. The sun provides immeasurable heat and light, but should a series of clouds cover the sky, the original energy is absorbed differently by the target individual.

When the living entity is unaware of their constitutional position, the pure consciousness gets misdirected towards areas of illusion. This refracted consciousness is destroyed at the time of death, even though the soul continues to exist. How can we be sure that these assertions are valid? How do we know that the perverted consciousness doesn’t remain intact and that the spirit soul continues to exist? For starters, we witness these changes through our own experiences. Memory is a product of consciousness, and we know that we don’t have perfect memory. If we did, we could call to mind what we had for lunch on any particular day from any time in the past. We sat through these lunches after all; our consciousness was present. If the thoughts of the past didn’t get destroyed, why can’t we remember them?

Along the same lines, we know that our entire dwelling has changed in appearance during the course of our lifetime, yet our identity remained intact. If you look at old pictures of yourself, you’re essentially viewing a different person, someone who will never return. Yet you were present during that time, and since then your identity hasn’t changed. This means that spirit is transcendental to the shifts of matter. The soul continues in existence regardless of what happens to the body. The Vedas say that the changes continue into the next life, for the soul never takes birth or dies.

“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, Bg. 2.20)

Krishna playing His fluteIf we have information of value, we’d like to keep it safe and secure. Backup strategies are not put into place to store irrelevant data and viruses. Rather, important documents useful towards meeting the interests of the proprietor of the machinery are stored securely. A business establishment backs up their data regularly so that even if their hardware should fail, they have full availability to their critical business information.

To meet this requirement, the concept of cloud computing has really taken off. Instead of hosting your data in just one place, it is dispersed in a cloud, which can represent one or more systems located many miles apart. The benefit of the cloud is that if you should happen to travel somewhere, access to your data will not be limited. Moreover, if just one piece of the cloud should fail, the data is still intact, as the distribution of energy is well maintained. If a large server suddenly fails, as is known to happen, information will not get lost. It will stay safe in the cloud.

The living being’s material desires vanish at the time of death, for the newborn has to become educated and progress through maturity all over again. If at the time of death we are expert poets, in the next life we will not even know how to write in the beginning stages. Therefore physical and mental dexterity are wiped out at the time of death, like information lost in a server that crashes.

There is a higher consciousness, that when developed travels from life to life. It stays safely in a cloud-like environment, where it can be accessed when needed. This is the consciousness that accompanies a spirit soul’s existence. That consciousness is always there, but unless the individual knows how to use it while residing in a material body, it can be forgotten for long periods of time. Think of having millions of dollars in the bank and not knowing it. Obviously you will struggle hard for an existence and worry about financial matters when you don’t have to. The spirit soul is a lover of God fully protected by the Supreme Lord, who is the master of all energies. Forgetful of these facts, the miseries borne of birth, old age, disease and death arrive. The fear of death is itself an indication of ignorance, for why should someone be afraid when they know that they are constitutionally eternal?

When the material consciousness is developed, it remains in existence for as long as the body is safe. As soon as that house crumbles, so does everything within it. The superconsciousness, however, carries over to the next life. If I connect with God in some way during my lifetime, that progress continues in my next birth. This fact has been validated so many times in the past, with Shrila Narada Muni’s travels being one of the most famous examples. In one particular lifetime he had the benefit of eating the remnants of food taken by advanced transcendentalists. Just having their association stimulated an intense interest in spiritual life, to the point that in the next life Narada took birth as a devotee of the Lord capable of travelling to any planet at will. By the Supreme Lord’s grace Narada was able to remember his past experiences, but that wasn’t necessary, as he had the purified consciousness safely secured through his past desires.

This means that if we have valuable information we want to keep, it must involve connection with Lord Krishna, or God. The Supreme Godhead is the heavenly father whose name is certainly hallowed. The Vedas reveal that the father in heaven has forms and names. Krishna is the original form, and His name addresses His all-attractiveness. Connect with Krishna through yoga and you won’t have to worry about losing your maturation in consciousness in the next life.

“The Blessed Lord said: Son of Pritha, a transcendentalist engaged in auspicious activities does not meet with destruction either in this world or in the spiritual world; one who does good, My friend, is never overcome by evil.” (Bg. 6.40)

Lord KrishnaShri Krishna personally takes charge of those who try to connect with Him. For the materially developed consciousness, the mind, intelligence and ego somewhat carry over to the next life, but only through the influence they have on the type of body assumed. Whether I’m born as a merchant or an administrator is really of no concern, as the superconsciousness is still not fully developed. With taking to bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, the consciousness that knows the Supreme Lord carries over to any body type that I assume, and I can continue my devotional efforts from the place I left off in the previous life.

How do I practice bhakti? How do I know that I won’t forget the principles within my own lifetime? How do I know that Krishna’s promise is true? Bhakti is love, so in order to practice love there has to be connection, some type of association. The holy name is all-encompassing in this regard, so reciting it regularly through formulas like, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, keeps one connected with God, granting His divine association immediately through the medium of the ears and the tongue. The tongue produces this sacred sound vibration and the ears then relish the sound. From sound comes the necessary intelligence to keep that association going in the future.

It is not that the devotee turns into a robot that just follows a mechanical approach. Rather, the full intelligence belonging to the soul gradually gets uncovered, allowing the individual to be crafty enough to figure out ways to practice yoga in even the most difficult circumstances. As eating can become a distraction, the devotee purifies the behavior by first offering food in the mode of goodness to the Supreme Lord and then eating the remnants known as prasadam, or the Lord’s mercy. Something as basic as commuting to work gets purified by hearing and chanting the holy name during the travel. While falling asleep one can recite the holy names within the mind over and over again. To hear nice stories, to spend time contemplating the glorious qualities of others, the devotee reads sacred texts and their commentaries, which describe the intricacies of Krishna-bhakti in detail.

Chanting of the holy name never goes in vain, as one step taken towards Krishna brings the Lord many steps closer to you. After one exits the current body, the devotional attitude is kept safely within the spiritual cloud, where it is again accessed in the next life. Lifetime after lifetime, the individual basking fully in the transcendental light of the pure consciousness remains attached to their eternal occupation, devotional service to Shri Krishna.

In Closing:

Material elements superconsciousness does shroud,

Like the sunlight blocked off by passing cloud.

What you have only for short time is safe,

Upon destruction of dwelling nothing you can take.

By connection with the Lord of all different,

That consciousness continues, it is persistent.

Therefore with no other means take a chance,

Just delight in Krishna and His charming glance.

In the next life divine consciousness continues,

For sustenance holy name’s chant always use.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Domino Effect

Brother worshiping Rama and Sita“Hearing that his brothers are dead, Bharata will indeed die as well. And seeing Bharata dead, Shatrughna will also no longer be. And seeing their sons dead, there is no doubt that the mothers - Kausalya, Sumitra and Kaikeyi - will then no longer be as well.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.26-27)

vinaṣṭau bhrātarau śrutvā bharato api mariṣyati ||

bharatam ca mṛtam dṛṣṭvā śatrughno na bhaviṣyati |

putrān mṛtān samīkṣya atha na bhaviṣyanti mātaraḥ ||

kausalyā ca sumitrā ca kaikeyī ca na samśayaḥ |

When you water the roots of a plant, the different branches and their leaves get nourished at the same time. This approach is more efficient than jumping from one branch to another to ensure that they each get enough water to stay alive. When comparing religious practices, the worship of the Supreme Personality of Godhead in exclusive love is considered the foremost because the Lord is the root of everything. He is especially the life and soul of His intimate associates. Just as the husband who earns a decent living can then support his many family members, the direct satisfaction of the Supreme Lord automatically pleases others tied to Him. It also takes care of the responsibility put on the worshiper to repay debts incurred at the time of birth.

In the Vedic tradition, it is said that a man is burdened with three debts as soon as he appears from the womb. One obligation is to the forefathers, without whom one could not come to this world under the circumstances that they do. The forefathers set the table; they did the hard work so that wherever we took birth we were able to survive to the point that we matured into adults. Even if the circumstances weren’t to our liking, there is still a debt to be paid for having been brought into the world.

Another debt is to the demigods. Once life starts, it needs to be sustained. This requires food, which is dependent on the nourishment provided to the fertile fields. Without rain, heat and light the crops could never emerge from the earth. If there were no sun, the earth would likely last less than a day. Even if one just eats other animals, eventually there won’t be any creatures left if there are no fruits and vegetables available to eat. The cows supply milk freely to their owners, and they take some grass to eat for sustenance. Without the intervention of the heavenly figures, there is no chance of vegetation existing.

Shrila PrabhupadaThen there is the debt to the sages, those wise seers who passed down Vedic wisdom through the generations. The human being emerging from the womb can survive in the early years through the help of the parents and the food growing in the ground, but to receive the real fruit of their existence, they require a second birth, one granted by the spiritual master, or guru. This birth is considered more important because it begins the life of enlightenment. Birth is a new beginning after all, so with entry into the study of the differences between spirit and matter, the cause behind the existence of the cosmos, and the position of the individual spirit soul relative to the Supreme Soul, the proper course of action can be followed for the rest of one’s time in a particular life form.

Each of the aforementioned entities can be propitiated in specific ways. The forefathers are repaid by having a son. In Sanskrit the word for son is “putra”, which means one who delivers another from the hellish realm known as “put”. In a formal ceremony, the son can offer pinda on the anniversary of the father’s passing. This offering then gets eaten by the forefathers should their souls have unfortunately made it to a hellish condition. In addition, should the son be very pious, he can deliver countless previous generations in his family from suffering for their past sins.

“In the beginning of creation, the Lord of all creatures sent forth generations of men and demigods, along with sacrifices for Vishnu, and blessed them by saying, ‘Be thou happy by this yajna [sacrifice] because its performance will bestow upon you all desirable things.’” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.10)

Lord KrishnaThe demigods are pleased by sacrifice. You hold a formal gathering, invite an officiating priest and create a sacrificial fire into which oblations of ghee [clarified butter] are poured. The demigods each take their portion of these offerings and thus feel satisfied. When they are pleased, they provide heaps of rain to the human species. Since you need it to rain at regular intervals, these sacrifices need to be performed in a timely manner; otherwise there could be trouble.

The debt to the rishis is paid by studying scripture. There are so many volumes of Vedic literature available that one couldn’t read every single work in just one lifetime, let alone fully understand any of them. Typically just one work is focused on, read from every day, and then discussed in a council of other sincere spiritual leaders and seekers. They say that the Shrimad Bhagavatam is the crown jewel of Vedic literature because it bypasses the need for worrying about material affairs, the future fortunes of the soul with respect to a body that constantly changes. Just studying the Bhagavatam every day does so much for furthering one’s spiritual aspirations.

"Anyone who has taken shelter of the lotus feet of Mukunda, the giver of liberation, giving up all kinds of obligation, and has taken to the path in all seriousness, owes neither duties nor obligations to the demigods, sages, general living entities, family members, humankind or forefathers." (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 11.5.41)

Though the three primary debts arrive at the time of birth, there is one simple way to avoid having to worry about them. The Supreme Lord, the primary subject matter of the Bhagavatam and any other work focusing on bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is the fountainhead of all energies and every manifestation. The concern over rain, progeny and knowledge focuses on aspects the soul accepts while travelling through the cycle of reincarnation. In its constitutional position, however, the soul is a lover of God. Therefore if it can remain fixed in trance on the divine form, pastimes and names of the Supreme Lord, the other concerns automatically take care of themselves.

This method is likened to watering the root of a tree. The Vedas have many branches of knowledge aimed at providing specific kinds of fruit. By following a particular recommendation, one type of fruit can be enjoyed. When the roots of the tree are watered, however, fruits abound everywhere. The ripened fruit is devotion to God, which can only come through direct service offered in the proper mood. How do we find out what the proper mood should be? Also, what kind of attitude results from that service? To find the answers, we can look to none other than Shri Hanuman, Lord Rama’s most faithful and trusted servant.

Shri HanumanHanuman once found himself in a very tough situation. He was in the enemy territory of Lanka looking for Rama’s missing wife Sita Devi. She had been taken there through a nefarious plot hatched by the king of Lanka, Ravana. After bravely making his way into the city unnoticed and searching everywhere, Hanuman still couldn’t find Sita. Not concerned over his own fortunes or the debts he owed to different people, Hanuman was only worried about how his failure would affect everyone else. After all, Rama was counting on him, and since he hadn’t found Sita, Hanuman seemingly let the Lord down.

Since Rama is the root of the tree of existence, He is intimately tied to so many other people. Hanuman, being properly situated in the divine consciousness, knew this very well. When pondering over what might happen should he return to Kishkindha where Rama was, Hanuman went through a chain of potential actions in his mind to see just what effect his failure would have. He knew that in Kishkindha Rama was waiting with His younger brother Lakshmana. Rama was originally from the royal kingdom of Ayodhya, where He was the beloved eldest son of King Dasharatha. Lakshmana was Rama’s younger brother and figuratively attached to the Lord at the hip. If Rama suffered pain, so did Lakshmana. If Rama received good news, Lakshmana took it as the source of the greatest pleasure.

Lord Rama had been banished from Ayodhya for fourteen years through a series of unfortunate events. Lakshmana refused to allow his brother to suffer alone, so he accompanied Rama in His fourteen year sojourn through the woods. Sita felt the same way, so that is how she ended up in the forest as well. In most circumstances this is unheard of. When soldiers get called off to war, do they take their wives with them? If there is an emergency situation calling for a police officer on the scene, does the notified cop tell his wife to get ready to come along?

Obviously such emergency situations are dangerous and the wives in these instances are trained to deal with them on their own. They surely love their husbands very much, but they would never think of coming along and being put at risk. With Sita, her love was so strong that she didn’t care what the standard protocol was. Never mind that she was a beautiful princess accustomed to living an elegant lifestyle. Her husband was sent away and she refused to allow Him to live alone, bereft of comfort. Not caring about herself, she was only worried about Rama’s welfare.

Sita and RamaOf course Rama wanted Sita to stay home for a reason. The impious elements are always looking for new avenues for illicit sex life, ways to enjoy their senses more. Ravana had many beautiful wives, but just by hearing of Sita’s beauty he had to have her. He paid no attention to the fact that she was married to someone else. He didn’t even worry about winning her honorably through a fair fight against Rama. He hatched a plot to take Sita away behind Rama’s back; revealing himself to be a coward.

Hanuman felt that if he told Rama that he had failed in finding Sita, the Lord would give up His life. As soon as Rama would leave this world, so would Lakshmana. Hanuman’s knowledge of Rama’s inner circle and the nature of His closest devotees was not limited to that acquired through direct perception. He had personally dealt with Rama and Lakshmana but not with anyone else in Rama’s family. Yet from the above referenced verse from the Ramayana we see that Hanuman felt that with Rama and Lakshmana gone, Bharata would also quit his body. Bharata was another younger brother of Rama’s, and he had been handed the kingdom at the time of Rama’s banishment. Utterly disgusted by the turn of events, he refused to rule over the kingdom that rightfully belonged to his elder brother. He would have renounced his life immediately, but Rama asked him to stay in Ayodhya. A compromise was reached, where Bharata would worship Rama’s sandals every day until the Lord came back. Rama’s brothers are so wonderful that one can go back and forth arguing over who is the most devoted and never reach a firm conclusion.

Hanuman knew of Bharata and his devotion. If the devoted brother couldn’t see Rama and Lakshmana again, he wouldn’t live. Similarly, Shatrughna was ever devoted to Bharata. When King Dasharatha’s four sons appeared in this world, they essentially broke out into pairs. Though they all loved Rama like a father, behaviorally Lakshmana and Rama paired together and Bharata and Shatrughna were very close. It is revealed in the scriptures that Rama is the very same Supreme Personality of Godhead, descending to earth in the guise of a human being. His three brothers are also partial expansions of Lord Vishnu, God’s four-handed form residing in the spiritual land. Thus all four brothers can be considered worshipable.

Rama and His brothers with their guruHanuman’s knowledge of Rama’s inner circle didn’t stop with the brothers. Without any of their sons, the mothers who gave birth to the four brothers would also cease to exist. King Dasharatha had already passed on after Rama left for the forest, so the mothers held on to the hope of seeing their four sons together again; that was their reason for living.

In one sense, Hanuman’s thinking is a little humorous. Through his disappointment over not having found Sita, Hanuman has essentially compared his “failure” to the first piece of a row of dominoes falling. When domino pieces are particularly aligned, once the first piece is knocked down, all the others will follow suit. Thus Hanuman is essentially blaming himself for the deaths of so many important personalities, people he worshiped.

By serving Lord Rama first, by giving his devotion to the Lord exclusively, Hanuman immediately harbored great love for the Lord’s associates. He had never met Sita before, yet he was so anxious to find her location that he felt extreme sadness over not succeeding right away. This is an indication of his devotion to Rama and also his enthusiasm in the mission. Aside from outward displays of emotion in the beginning, a great way to tell if someone is enthusiastically engaged in a particular task is to see how dejected they get if they should face the possibility of failing. If they really care about the task, they will be devastated should they be unable to complete it.

“One who works in devotion, who is a pure soul, and who controls his mind and senses, is dear to everyone, and everyone is dear to him. Though always working, such a man is never entangled.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 5.7)

HanumanNo one in this world has ever been more enthusiastic to succeed in a mission than Hanuman was in his search for Sita in Lanka. He proved this not only by being extremely dejected about not having found the princess, but also by continuing on with the mission. It was so important to him to please Rama and those associated with the Lord that he’d rather die trying than live failing. Such perseverance is both inspiring and touching to the heart. It is thus no wonder that Hanuman is held in such high regard today by so many important people, not the least of whom are Sita, Lakshmana and Rama. He is their favorite person in the world, and they think of him and his welfare all the time. Anyone who pleases Hanuman pleases Rama as well, because Hanuman is forever tied to devotional service and victory in life’s mission, that of becoming God conscious by the time of death. Hanuman waters the root of the tree to find all auspiciousness in life. Whoever has the good luck to say his name, think about him and remember his activities will be supremely benefitted as well, for the perseverant Vanara shows how to practice bhakti all the time and bring satisfaction to the whole world.

In Closing:

Intimately tied to Him are Rama’s brothers,

And standing by waiting are loving mothers.

If of the Lord hearing the worst kind of news,

To maintain their lives what would be the use?

On association with Supreme Lord they depend,

Prayers and well-wishes to Him they always send.

Hanuman knew that Shri Rama is the root,

Of the devotee’s welfare, their happiness to boot.

Remember Hanuman and about three debts don’t care,

Devotion only to God, who with family pleasure shares.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Caught Butter-Handed

Krishna's lotus hand“Mother Yashoda wanted to impress upon Krishna that since He was afraid merely to see her stick, He should not perform such disturbing activities as breaking the container of yogurt and butter and distributing its contents to the monkeys.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.9.12 Purport)

Feeding butter and yogurt churned for the family to stray monkeys is not a good thing. That this lesson was imparted to the Supreme Personality of Godhead in the form of a small child makes the situation all the more amusing. Imagine walking into a room and seeing your beloved son feeding food to monkeys that are known to come by and steal whatever you have. The monkey does not have a dharma to follow; it does not have rules and regulations guiding its behavior. When a human being behaves erratically, eating whatever food is available and not controlling their sexual urges, they outwardly resemble a monkey. Mother Yashoda sternly warned her child against taking something that didn’t belong to Him and giving it away to those who weren’t deserving of it. Through her instruction she delights the hearts of the souls who want nothing but the Supreme Lord’s association in life.

Krishna and Mother YashodaWhy is that company desired? In every turn in a temporary world there is a chance for destruction, the total loss of what has been accumulated. The material amenities are available in such abundance in the modern age that a common game played amongst friends involves what you would renounce and what you would keep. The game starts with the hypothetical scenario of being trapped on a deserted island. You neither have an abundance of possessions nor the ability to easily procure them. In our home we may be lacking a certain film on DVD, a computer to do work on, some food items required for preparing dinner, an appliance to cook with, or some other ancillary item. The lack of that item isn’t a cause for despair, for one can go out to the nearby store and grab whatever is needed without too much of a hassle.

On the deserted island there is no such ability. As resources are limited, the crux of the game is deciding what important items you would take with you. For instance, if you could only take one book, which one would it be? From the rules of the game there is the underlying assumption that there are already many books to choose from in the person’s life. The fact that you would pare down the list to just one shows that there are multiple books that you try to derive enjoyment from. For the game, pick just one book that you can read over and over again. If you could only have a single book, one set of words to read, which would it be?

Obviously, the resulting choice would indicate the player’s favorite book. The same principle applies to picking a movie, a set of clothes, or a type of food. The hypothetical scenario in the game also creates a sense of dependence. If you can only read one book, you will rely on those pages for your entertainment, for the stimulation of the mind. That reliance on the book will make you so much more appreciative of the content. If you have something in abundance, you can take it for granted, so much so that you might not even connect with it. For instance, if you have relatives living close by, you may think to yourself, “Oh, I can see them any time. There is no urgency in spending time with them.” On the other hand, if relatives from far away come for a visit, you try to maximize the amount of time spent with them. As such, there is the likelihood that over the course of the year you spend more time with the people that live further away than you do with those who are close by.

The topmost transcendentalists play the deserted island game without even knowing it. They pick one subject matter to focus on exclusively, and since they weed everything else out, they have full reliance on those works and the sound vibrations that come from them. A yogi is a transcendentalist who controls their senses to realize the self. Of all the yogis, he who always thinks of Krishna, or God, is the best.

“And of all yogis, he who always abides in Me with great faith, worshiping Me in transcendental loving service, is most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.47)

Lord KrishnaThe yogi immersed in Krishna consciousness is the best because Bhagavan is the most complete representation of the Absolute Truth. The more features that are defined in the worshipable object, the more pleasure the worshiping individual will derive. With increased pleasure comes a desire to repeat the activity. A repeat of the activity gradually turns into a routine and pretty soon a way of life. If I spend my time basking in the sweet association of Krishna’s name, form, attributes and pastimes, what time will there be left for misery, despair, chaos, tumult, angst, hopelessness, and fear of total loss?

What specifically do the yogis practicing bhakti, or divine love, hold on to for sustenance? What is it that they carry with them to the deserted island scenario created within the mind? The holy name of the Lord is non-different from Him, so all that is required is a sequence of powerful words that can be remembered, repeated, heard, and contemplated on over and over again. Thankfully for us, Lord Chaitanya, Krishna in the form of a preacher, revealed the most sacred mantra, one that can be recited by the most number of people and thus revive the dormant love for Godhead within society at large.

Chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, is the lifeblood for the devoted soul immersed in bhakti-yoga. Seems rather strange that chanting could be the only requirement, but it is sort of like a foundational practice, one that feeds the other outlets of transcendental interaction. Just as the food we eat is the fuel for the activities we take on throughout the day, the chanting of the holy names is the spiritual food for the soul enlivened by the bhakti spirit.

For reading material, the yogi in bhakti relies solely on those works which describe the sacred pastimes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Since the pastimes are unlimited, the wise pick out just the holy name to hold on to, as its recitation is superior to witnessing the Lord’s actions and even being in His personal company. As an example, we know from the Shrimad Bhagavatam, the foremost bhakti-shastra, or scripture on devotion, that Shri Krishna descended to this earth some five thousand years ago and played as a child in the holy land of Vrindavana. One of Krishna’s pastimes involved breaking a pot of butter in anger. Mother Yashoda had temporarily stepped away from feeding Krishna to tend to a pot of boiling milk on the stove. Unhappy that His mother diverted her attention, Krishna broke the pot of butter she had just churned, grabbed some of the goods and then ran away. While He was eating some of the butter Himself and distributing the rest to monkeys, mother Yashoda went looking for her young boy.

Krishna with butterCaught “butter-handed” in another room, after delighting in the vision mother Yashoda chased after her naughty child with a whipping stick. When she finally caught Him, she saw fake tears rolling down from the eyes of her beloved son, who was afraid that the mother would punish Him. Mother Yashoda instead decided to tie Krishna to a mortar, so that He wouldn’t run away from home out of fear. At the same time, she wanted Him to know that taking butter and giving it to monkeys was not sanctioned behavior.

The yogi who contemplates on this scene is actually in a superior position, though it may seem otherwise. From the descriptions of this event found in the Shrimad Bhagavatam, the sincere soul holding on to the holy name for dear life can repeatedly take a dip in the ocean of bliss that is Krishna’s sweet pastime of breaking Yashoda’s pot of butter. If we have a portrait of the event, it is nice to look at, but with a defined portrayal there are some limits introduced. If we just hear of the event and picture it within our mind, however, we can repeatedly contemplate on that image and continue to derive tremendous pleasure.

The yogi following bhakti thinks of such pastimes every single day. You can remember Krishna as the butter thief always and never grow tired. Day after day you can remember Yashoda’s instruction and laugh at how she had to explain such a common sense rule to her son. There are many other such pastimes described in the Bhagavatam, and they come to the mind of the soul who constantly hears the holy name of Krishna. That name can be heard at any time by reciting the maha-mantra, which is a set of words we should never leave home without. Whether in opulence or in squalor, any person can take the holy name as their most valuable possession.

In Closing:

If to a deserted island you should go,

Not many possessions there you know.

So take only those things you really need,

Automatically choose favorite items indeed.

Appreciation augmented by full reliance,

Nothing else around, on object full dependence.

For the yogi keep always one person in mind,

Who in her courtyard feeding monkeys mother did find.

Think of Yashoda telling Krishna that break pots He can’t,

Sweetest mental portrait drawn through holy name’s chant.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

An Ocean of Love

Lord Rama's hand“Touching His lotus-like hand, blessing Him on the head, and happily bringing the Lord towards his heart, the muni felt like he was taking a dip in an ocean of love and unable to cross over to the other side.” (Janaki Mangala, 19)

parasi kamala kara sīsa haraṣi hiyam̐ lāvahiṃ |
prema payodhi magana muni na pāvahiṃ ||

The lotus flower is the symbol of purity. It remains in the clean water, sprouts open upon the sight of the splendorous sun and then closes back up at nighttime, as if to indicate that the absence of light is the time to rest, to gather oneself before the next day arrives. The swans float amidst the lotus flowers, while the crows hang around rubbish. This dichotomy has been referenced by those with knowledge of the Absolute Truth since time immemorial. The above referenced verse, which describes the lotus-like hands of the hero of the Raghu dynasty, whose contact was so heartwarming to those who are above such passionate feelings that it created an ocean of nectar that one could not cross over, gives yet another example of the comparison to the wonderful lotus.

Lord Rama's handAn expert swimmer can cross over a body of water, as often that is the intended purpose when getting into the water. You prepare yourself for the swim, keeping in mind where you want to go and how to pace yourself so that you don’t get tired. Sometimes, though, the water is meant for relaxation and not swimming. In the winter months, one of the worst feelings comes from getting up in the morning to get ready for school or work and then seeing someone else still enjoying the warmth of their blanket. The outside environment is cold, while underneath the covers is warm and inviting. “Why should I get up? Can’t I just stay like this the whole day?”

For a sage a long time ago, the ocean of transcendental nectar created through a simple and innocent embrace flooded him with comforting emotions, a transcendental type of drowning. This muni was residing in the pristine surroundings of the forest, where there were minimal distractions. What kind of work did he have that required being shut off from society? Not to be mistaken with a hermit who hates the world or a hobbit who shuns everything around him out of spite, the sages seeking refuge in the wilderness did so to advance spiritually, for that is the main objective of human life.

The first tool necessary for working towards that goal is tapasya, or austerity. This shouldn’t be that difficult to understand, as control and regulation are required for success in practically every endeavor. The human being especially should pay attention to tapasya because they have the intelligence to understand its effectiveness. The lower animal species don’t know anything about dieting, controlling appetites, regulating behavior, or achieving a higher end through a regulated set of activities intelligently crafted. The concept of “animal instincts” is used as a reference tool for a reason. The animal just follows its hunches and does whatever it feels like doing.

The human being has the ability to think rationally, to develop scientific experiments with relation to behavior. For instance, if I follow a particular routine day after day - which can involve waking up at the same time and eating the same foods spread out across the same intervals - should any change occur to that routine, I can note down the results as part of an experiment. “What if I wake up half an hour earlier tomorrow? I’ll do everything else the same, so let me see what effect that has on my energy levels.” A simple thing like shifting the time of waking up in the morning can be used to find a better condition, adjusting the routine so that the worker can perform at optimal levels.

In the Vedic tradition, much of the guesswork has been removed. Tapasya is a trusted system whose effectiveness is rooted in the control of the senses. A gosvami is considered a master of the senses, so they are eligible for making disciples and spreading the glories of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, to a wider audience. A master is one who can turn something on and off at any time. I may say that I am in control of my senses, but if I have vices like drinking and smoking that I can’t control, my senses actually own me instead of the other way around.

The senses can be owned through tapasya, which is practiced for meeting the highest goal of realizing God. There is no other purpose to the human form of body. Intelligence exists for a reason. Through intelligence a person can reach their desired end more quickly. A desired end brings a desired result, which is bitter or sweet depending on the intended taste. For the thief intelligence is the ability to successfully take someone else’s property without them knowing. For a politician intelligence is the ability to win an election despite having governed poorly. A wise product engineer can develop a product to the specifications of the company, so as to appeal to a mass market of consumers and successfully carry out the desired functions.

VishvamitraConsciousness is absent in matter, so intelligence used to fulfill goals that deal with interaction with matter are all on the same inferior level. It looks like there is variety in taste, but in the end the same rewards are available to the animals who don’t have nearly the same intelligence as the human beings. Real intelligence uses information and knowledge to achieve the highest end of association with God. That goal was fulfilled for Vishvamitra, who had previously used his knowledge of the Vedas and belief in the words of the acharyas to follow tapasya under the proper guidelines.

Since the forests were conducive to austerity, they were known as tapo-vanas. There was one slight problem for Vishvamitra though. The forest was free of distractions such as material allurements, but there was a purposeful distraction surfacing. More than just a distraction, this was a dangerous element which threatened the muni’s existence. We’re talking about the forest here, so perhaps the allusion is to lions? Bears? Tigers? No. Even these ferocious animals left Vishvamitra and the other brahmanas alone.

The sages weren’t doing anything to anyone. Their aim was to have as little material interaction as possible. Sobriety and a renewed commitment to sacrifice, or yajna, follow tapasya. A brahmana can be an expert at performing formal sacrifices, which are meant to please Yajneshvara, which is another name for God. In the Vedas the Supreme Lord has thousands of identified names which each remind the infinitesimally small spiritual sparks occupying different bodies in the material world of the Lord’s position with respect to their own standing. For example, the living being is the controller of the actions of their body. Since they are rulers in a sense, they are known as ishvara. If I know that I am a controller, one way to teach me about God is to describe Him as being the Supreme Controller, or Parameshvara.

The yajna is a central practice of followers of the Vedas, and just to let the worshipers know the real position of the person being honored, the real enjoyer of sacrifice, God is given the name Yajneshvara, or the lord of sacrifice. The yajna is very powerful when carried out in the proper mood. Through God’s satisfaction, the living being’s consciousness becomes purified and he is better equipped to cope with life and also teach others how to make advancement in spiritual life. The latter aspect is what bothered a specific set of bandits, who had the opposite intent. The thief is so immersed in their sinful ways that they take their own values to be virtuous. This tendency also introduces one of the defects in a system of democracy. Democracy prevents a single leader from going off the deep end and tyrannically ruling over the innocent people, but it also establishes relative morality. You and I may know that stealing someone else’s property is wrong, but should a majority vote in Congress say otherwise, the practice suddenly becomes virtuous.

The ghoulish creatures concentrated on the island of Lanka during Vishvamitra’s time decided that their acts of killing innocent creatures and eating them were pious. So infested by sinful behavior was their city that no amount of wine, women, or animal flesh was enough to satisfy the appetite. The Rakshasas in Lanka would regularly harass the sages of the tapo-vanas, disrupting their sacrifices. They would wear false guises and then pounce on the unsuspecting munis just as their yajnas were about to bear fruit.

Vishvamitra approached the king of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dasharatha, for protection in this area. Dasharatha had four young sons, the eldest of whom was the Supreme Lord appearing in a seemingly human form. Upon first meeting Dasharatha, Vishvamitra was greeted by the boys, and he was especially enchanted by the eldest Rama. In the above referenced verse, the muni is embracing the children after they offered him their respects.

“How can that female swan who is accustomed to sporting with the king of swans amidst lotus flowers ever cast her eyes on a water-crow that stays amidst bunches of grass?” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 56.20)

Sita and RamaRama’s hand is likened to a lotus flower, a comparison made quite often in Vedic literature. The Supreme Lord’s features are all pure, so the lotus flower is one of the best representations of His purity. Sita Devi, Rama’s future wife, would one day compare being with Rama to living amidst lotus flowers. She would also compare the Rakshasas to crows who hung around garbage all the time. The lotus flower is beautiful and its association inviting.

Vishvamitra received young Rama’s hand, embraced the Lord to his chest, and then felt so much happiness that he lost himself. This meeting was the real fruit of his yajna, the reward for his tapasya. This proves without a doubt the purpose behind austerity, the reason to observe fasting days and keep the senses in check. Gosvamis master their senses for a reason. If I starve the senses of things that are harmful, when something beautiful does come along, it is appreciated all the more.

Lord Rama's lotus feetVishvamitra appreciated Rama’s presence and delighted in the Lord’s association, as any person should do. The holy name is our way to embrace God today, for simply by chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the sweet association of the jewel of the Raghu dynasty, who has lotus-like hands and eyes, can be enjoyed. To relish that taste, to really understand how the holy name and the person it addresses are one and the same, austerity in the form of abstention from illicit sex, gambling, intoxication and meat eating is required.

How did Vishvamitra get out of that ocean? Lost in a sea of happiness, did he give up his dedication to piety, to teaching others about spiritual life? Eventually he was able to break out of the trance, but he used the opportunity of his visit to ask for Rama’s protection in the forest. Through his request, Dasharatha would be troubled, but the world would be granted the gift of the image of Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana honorably escorting a worshipable muni through the forests and protecting him from the vile creatures given towards rooting out piety from society. Dasharatha granted the favor to Vishvamitra, and the sage favored countless future generations by desiring to be in Rama’s association. If we should be so lucky to stay around the lotus-like Lord Rama we too will swim in an ocean of transcendental nectar.

In Closing:

Not in an endless sea of sorrow did he drown,

Rather pool of joy’s nectar through Rama found.

Comparisons help us God to understand,

Thus like a lotus flower was Shri Rama’s hand.

Reward for austerity in the forest,

Muni brought lovable prince to his chest.

Royal order to provide protection meant,

Thus Rama and Lakshmana with muni king sent.

That delight of Raghu dynasty incarnates through name,

So chant it regularly to acquire highest gain.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Erstwhile Transgressions

Lord Krishna“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, Bhagavad-gita, 7.28)

Who is God? Is He just an abstract concept conceived in the bewildered mind looking for some real meaning to life? Fruitive activity seems to be the obvious solution to redress mental ailments. “Just go wherever the sense impulses take you and you will be alright. If you feel like eating something now, go for it. Want to indulge in intoxication, why not give it a try?” When the pattern of repeated acceptance and rejection, happiness and dissatisfaction, is recognized, the search continues for a higher truth. Perhaps there is something beyond this temporary realm. Maybe there is a supreme controller who is not bewildered by duality, and perhaps there is a purpose to our existence that can be revealed from connecting with that person.

Along with providing answers to the many questions we’ve asked throughout our lifetime, this pursuit for higher knowledge also has the potential to purify so many past mistakes. How does this work exactly? According to the Vedas, the scriptural tradition of India brought forth at the beginning of time, long before any person could imagine, man is born with three defects. He has the propensity to commit mistakes and cheat, and he has imperfect senses. The mistakes are easy to see. Anything where we did something the wrong way, something we later on acknowledge as a bad decision, gets identified as a mistake. We know that man commits mistakes because otherwise there would be no purpose to guardianship, education, or the study of history.

Man also has a tendency to cheat. Rules and regulations are imposed to address this tendency. If man didn’t have a propensity to take what didn’t belong to him, to use unlawful advantages, there would be no reason for governing bodies to exist. Government’s primary function is to protect innocent life and property. The protection is of primary concern, and if it is absent nothing the government does can satisfy the general public, the people being governed.

Man also has imperfect senses. This may not be immediately obvious, but if we take something as simple as the need for light, the many limitations of the human being can be easily noticed. The only difference between a dark room and a lit one is the presence of light. Through illumination we can decipher the objects within the room and describe them to others. Yet once the light disappears, do the objects suddenly vanish? From the observer’s perspective those objects are no longer present, but the intelligent person knows that the external viewpoint has no bearing on the viewed object. Since we require light to see things, our senses are not perfect. Moreover, even with bright lighting, we sometimes misidentify things, such as considering a rope to be a snake and vice versa.

Because of the three defects, man makes so many incorrect decisions and goes down so many erroneous paths in life. The incorrect decisions are the root cause for the present condition, the circumstances of the most recent birth. The soul is eternal, but the dwellings it occupies are not. We may purchase a home and live in it for upwards of fifty years, but we know that eventually we will have to move out of the house. Either we will find another dwelling to reside in or we will die and exit the entire world. The body of the living being is likened to a dwelling because the soul inside it is the occupant. The soul retains the properties of eternality, bliss and knowledge always, but just as the shade can cover up the effusive lamp’s splendor, the body types assumed can mask the brilliant properties of the soul to varying degrees.

Birth indicates that the previous life was a failure in terms of the ultimate mission. The living being, though a pure spirit soul, can reside either in God’s company or away from Him. The separated land is known as the material world and the specific residence in it is determined by desires from the past. If at the time of quitting our previous body we desired some type of material attachment, we received birth in the temporary realm governed by duality as our handsome reward. Not only does the human being face this predicament, but so does every other type of living entity. The countless living creatures residing in the earth, sky and water represent spirit souls who chose in favor of material association in the past.

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

Lord RamaThe devotee, the person who knows God and His spiritual attributes, feels regret over having squandered so many past lives. A life is just a measurement of time relating to the duration of existence of a particular living form. We mark the days on the calendar and the hours within the day for reference purposes, but nothing changes about our identity with the passing of time. Whether we choose to analyze changes over a day, week, or month, we as individual beings don’t change. The same unchanging property remains perpetually, from life to life, or from body type to body type.

The fact that we took birth from our mother’s womb indicates that at least the most recent life didn’t reach full maturity in terms of God consciousness. One who thinks of the Supreme Lord and His all-attractiveness at the time of death never has to return to the ocean of material existence, which is filled with defects borne of duality, relative good and bad determined by the temporary circumstance of the time. Ignited by the failure to become fully God conscious during the previous life, within each birth there is a cycle of mistake after mistake, which can be identified through the ascendency in knowledge. As children, we may not have known better, but when we get older and mature, we realize that the past errors made were due to immaturity, lack of knowledge of many important aspects of life.

What’s so nice about turning to God and taking up His service through the discipline of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is that even the past mistakes turn out to be blessings. If we did something really horrible a long time ago, something we wish we could take back, pondering over that incident will not really do us any good. We know we screwed up, so what is the use in belaboring the point? Better to just forget about the incident entirely, no?

Normally moving on is the right option, but when one tries to learn about the Supreme Absolute Truth through following the authorized teachings of the Vedas, the past mistakes turn into valuable field research, experiences which can help to strengthen one’s devotion, convincing them even more of the supremacy of God and devotion to Him. How does this work exactly? You could take any example of material activity to learn that it didn’t deliver on its intended target, but something as obvious as intoxication can suffice. Perhaps in the past you spent significant time getting drunk with friends and family to have a good time. You didn’t know any better, so you had a few drinks here and there and enjoyed the temporary escape from the senses that intoxication provided.

beerBut there are many negative consequences to intoxication. For starters, one loses their inhibitions, which include restraints to force compliance with standards of decency in behavior. The drunken escapades are full of acts that shouldn’t be repeated, things one did that they’d just as soon forget. The stupid behavior was caused by the lack of internal cleanliness, not having respect for the standard rules of conduct because of the temporary loss of sobriety.

Typically, the drunken binges should just be forgotten, for what can be taken away from studying such trivial incidents from the past? But if we’re learning about the science of self-realization and how the soul is the essence of identity, we can revisit those past mistakes related to drinking and realize that the initial desire for intoxication was rooted in a distaste for material life. If everything around us is going so well, what need do we have for escapes, temporary or otherwise? If we have friends and family with us, why bother with drinking? Obviously something must be missing in life, a void that has to be filled, for someone to seek intoxication.

The errant behavior caused by a lack of sobriety also helps us to understand just how important it is to stay sober. With sobriety comes an increased chance of realizing the differences between matter and spirit, of seeing the Supreme Lord’s presence wherever we turn. In the Bhagavad-gita, the most glorious of spiritual treatises, Lord Krishna opens by declaring that the soul is the essence of identity and that bodies constantly change, from boyhood to youth and from youth to old age. Krishna says that the sober person, he who is dhira, can understand these facts.

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

Lord KrishnaThough the past intoxication should normally be forgotten, for the spiritualist, the past incidents provide further evidence for the need to remain sober and give a reminder on how beneficial that sobriety is. If we just tell someone don’t do this or don’t do that and fail to provide a tangible reason, what effect will that instruction have? Unless there is a positive activity as a replacement, an end-goal to achieve, basic restraint will be difficult to follow. The spiritualist not only goes back on past mistakes and learns from them, but they use those experiences to become more dedicated to the sublime path that is devotional service.

And how do we know that devotional service is the correct path? The cornerstone practice of bhakti-yoga is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Think of Krishna, say His name, always remember Him, and do everything for Him. Following this guiding principle you will gradually come to Krishna. This is the Lord’s promise made directly by Him in the Bhagavad-gita. Lest we think Krishna is not worthy of our service, He is the ultimate reservoir of pleasure. The devotee steadily practicing devotion through chanting and hearing finds happiness in all corners of life. The worst incidents from the past are looked back upon fondly. “Ah, I’m glad I made those mistakes now, for at least I learned what is maya, or not God. Krishna is certainly everything, but His personal presence is absent from material nature. Enjoyment through maya means turning one’s back on God. As soon as that error is made, negative consequences are sure to follow. Though I made so many mistakes in the past, today those events are all blessed, for they remind me of just how amazing Krishna’s energy of maya is, and how its illusory powers are beyond comprehension.”

Krishna orders maya to fulfill the desires of the jivas, or living beings. His illusory potency is so powerful that it can fool even someone who is married to an exalted figure like Lord Shiva. Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and Lord Shiva is His greatest devotee, a heavenly figure who delights in hearing about the Supreme Lord, especially in His form of Lord Rama. One time Lord Shiva’s wife Sati saw him ecstatic after watching the pastimes of the Supreme Lord Rama. Sati was a little perplexed as to why her husband was worshiping someone who looked like an ordinary man. Lord Shiva told her that Rama was indeed God and that He was playing the role of a human being for the delight of others. Yet Mahadeva knew that she wasn’t fully convinced by his words, so he told her to visit Rama in the forest and devise a test by which she could find out if He was God or not.

Sita, Rama and Lakshmana Sati decided to appear in front of Rama in the guise of Sita Devi, Rama’s wife who had just gone missing from the forest. Expecting Rama to become ecstatic upon seeing His wife, Sati was surprised when Rama instead asked her about the whereabouts of Lord Shiva and why she was separated from him. Sati then decided to walk away and return to her husband. But as she was walking, she saw Sita, Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana in front of her. When she turned around, she saw the same trio behind her. In this way, Rama proved to be the master of illusion, capable of creating any vision at any time and place.

The devotee who takes to directly understanding Krishna can appreciate maya and her influence. The past allegiance to the illusory energy was regrettable, but at the same time it provided so many invaluable lessons, gems which were discovered only after having connected with God. As if we needed any further convincing, from the purification of past mistakes, the redress of erstwhile transgressions, Krishna’s position as the Supreme Lord and reservoir of pleasure is further substantiated.

In Closing:

In the past had many needless transgressions,

Brought negative effects, repeated depression.

Best course of action is to just move ahead,

Forget about past, concern for future instead.

From devotional service high knowledge earn,

The past mistakes become sources for lessons to learn.

At the end of life consciousness reveals our choice,

To live with God or go to material land opinion voice.

From present birth we know that in last life we did fail,

But with devotion to Krishna in end we will prevail.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Makings of a Good Friend

Hanuman holding Lakshmana's feet“Hearing those terrible, harsh, cruel, very sharp, and foul words, which cause pain to the senses, about Sita, He [Rama] will certainly no longer exist. Seeing Him suffering so much and having a mind resolved to dying, the strongly devoted and intelligent Lakshmana will also no longer exist.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.24-25)

paruṣam dāruṇam krūram tīkṣṇam indriya tāpanam ||
sītā nimittam durvākyam śrutvā sa na bhaviṣyati |
tam tu kṛccra gatam dṛṣṭvā pancatva gata mānasam ||
bhṛśa anurakto medhāvī na bhaviṣyati lakṣmaṇaḥ |

What makes a good friend? What are the criteria to determine whether one particular friend is better than another? Can we go by who brings us more gifts? What role do kind words and flattery play? Rather than try to guess through our own experiences or hear the many opinions found in a particular forum on the topic, we can rely on an authority figure unmatched in his brilliance, scholarship, dedication, honor, glory, social standing, and intimate familiarity with the proper codes of conduct called for in every type of situation. Since his qualities are so splendid, just hearing about his exploits and his exercise of good judgment can do so much good for the mind.

“For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his very mind will be the greatest enemy.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.6)

Bhagavad-gita As It IsIn the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna spends a brief time discussing the workings of the mind and how this powerful material element needs to be controlled. The soul is the identifiable aspect within any life form. Since the different spirit souls are the same qualitatively, they are known as Brahman, or the Absolute Truth. Krishna, being the instructor to Arjuna in the Gita and also the original spiritual master for the world, is Parabrahman. His qualitative makeup is superior to Brahman’s. The spirit souls can never become Parabrahman, though in their constitutional positions they are meant to be intimately related to Him.

The material elements get in the way of the natural engagement taking place. In addition to the gross elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether, there are the subtle elements of mind, intelligence and ego that surround the soul when it is placed inside of a dwelling that is not Brahman. How can anything be false, or not the Truth? For Parabrahman there is never a difference between the different elements, but since Brahman is inferior in this respect, it can be placed inside of dwellings that cause a clouding of consciousness. The mind is the coconspirator in this case, igniting the sense demands that lead to delusion.

That the mind can be agitated to the point that sinful activities take place seemingly involuntarily shouldn’t be difficult to understand. Anyone who has ever spent more than five minutes gambling knows the waves of pressure the mind inflicts on the individual to persuade them to take just one more hand at the card table or make just one more bet on a particular game. During periods of sobriety, the mind knows that addiction to gambling is not very good, but when in the heat of the moment, the desires that crop up are so strong that they cause a loss of rational judgment.

In the Gita, Shri Krishna says that wherever the mind gets drawn to, it should be withdrawn, put back in place like a horse that is reeled in after it has gone astray. A focused mind better follows the course of action agreed upon when there is no influence of the material senses desiring forgetfulness of the relationship with Parabrahman. A step further is to keep the mind satisfied in an area of endeavor that will further facilitate thoughts of Parabrahman, His nature, and what it takes to please Him. Just like a restless child is best pacified by giving them an active engagement to keep their mind off of the prohibited behavior, the conditioned soul itching for sense gratification that it knows will cause harm in the future is best kept away from sinful acts by having a tangible outlet for the longing for activity in service.

According to the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, the most valuable usage of time is hearing of the proper subject matter. “Lend your ears to talks about Lord Hari, the Supreme Lord who removes the distresses of His devotees. You don’t have to process the information right away or take a test. Just listen to what others who love Him have to say about His pastimes, qualities, and innermost desires.” God has hankerings, but as He is completely spiritual, His desires are never debilitating. One who taps into this stream of consciousness and works to meet the desires of the original Divine Being soon finds themselves armed with supreme wisdom and the ability to proceed properly in even the toughest situations.

HanumanCase in point Shri Hanuman, one of the most worshiped figures of the Vedic tradition. Just as hearing about God is beneficial for the mind distracted by hankerings for sense gratification, becoming familiar with the heroic feats of Hanuman, who is forever devoted to God in His form as Lord Rama, has only a positive influence on the mind. What’s interesting to note, however, is that Hanuman is not always definitive in his decisions. Just because he is attached to Rama, engaged in His service, and endowed with both physical and mental strength doesn’t mean that he is above deliberation. His devotion to Rama makes him use his judgment more, especially in critical situations where the right course of action isn’t always obvious.

During one notable time in his life, Hanuman was drowning in a sea of doubt and fear as to the future. Rama roamed the earth in the guise of a warrior prince, and as any noble royal man belonging to a famous family would do, He married a most beautiful princess. In the spiritual world, the Supreme Lord enjoys the company of His eternal consort, who is the ideal representation of how the energy sparks emanating from God should behave. When the Lord descends to the phenomenal realm, the eternal consorts often come along. With Sita Devi, Rama married the goddess of fortune herself, Lakshmi Devi.

Lord Rama could easily make everything better for everyone, remove all distress, and allow everyone to sit on the couch with their feet up without having anything to do. As this wouldn’t bring lasting happiness to anyone, Rama makes sure that there are ample tasks available to the individual hankering for service to the divine, a way to tap into the soul’s active propensity. It is seen that health experts recommend some type of exercise for a few days a week to break free of the sedentary lifestyle. Exercise keeps the body active, and the benefits redound to other areas of life as well.

Sita and RamaIn the same way, one who is constantly active in their service to Rama will see mental felicity as a nice side effect. To Hanuman, Rama gave the daunting task of finding Sita after she had been secretly taken away from the couple’s cottage in the forest of Dandaka. Hanuman started brilliantly by singlehandedly crossing over the mighty ocean to reach the shores of Lanka, the island where Sita had been taken by the king of Rakshasas, Ravana.

Getting to Lanka wasn’t easy. The celestials in the sky were watching with amazement as Hanuman overcame every obstacle thrown his way. Then in Lanka the dedicated messenger had to mask his figure, for the Rakshasas would notice a monkey-form in their town. Hanuman seems to have an odd exterior, but for practicing devotion to the Lord, there is no requirement that one belong to a certain family or race. Every living being is attached to the Lord, so if He decides that a monkey-type person is worthy of engaging in service, nothing will stop them in their march towards spiritual perfection.

Hanuman couldn’t find Sita though. He really wanted to see her, even though he had never met her before. Being in Lanka was no picnic either, as the town’s residents were accustomed to a lifestyle dedicated to maya, or illusion. There was tremendous opulence, so much so that the floors of the buildings had crystals in them. The women were very beautiful and everyone spent their time intoxicated and enjoying each other’s company. “Eat, drink and be merry”. What could be wrong with that? Ah, but the illusion only masked the sinfulness of the king Ravana, who had more wives than could be counted. Despite his playboy lifestyle, he had to steal the wife of another man, revealing that his senses weren’t satisfied in the least. He had advisors warning him against taking Rama’s wife, but since his mind couldn’t be directed towards the proper channels, he walked straight into ultimate doom, like a moth going to a flame.

Not finding Sita, Hanuman began to entertain the possibility that she wasn’t alive. Aside from the pain that idea would cause him just by thinking of it, Hanuman thought over what might happen should he return to Kishkindha, where the monkeys headed by Sugriva were along with Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana. In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, we see that Hanuman knows that Rama will be saddened if He heard that Sita wasn’t found. The Vanara also knows that Lakshmana would be distraught upon seeing his brother unhappy.

This verse shows just how wonderful a friend Hanuman is. In addition to having so much concern for the welfare of Rama and Lakshmana, he also knows their desires perfectly. A friend can tell us whether or not we’ll like a movie, a television show, or a particular restaurant. Without having to ask us, they know what makes us happy and what doesn’t. They have gained this familiarity through personal interaction and overall concern for our welfare. Though Hanuman technically wasn’t a friend on an equal level, he loved Rama and Lakshmana so much, as if they were his only reason for living. Just through a brief period of personal interaction, he became fully aware of their qualities.

Hanuman with Lakshmana and RamaRama was the Supreme Lord who came to earth to do away with Ravana, but His predominant quality was His devotion to His friends, especially those who dedicated their lives to making Him happy. Sita’s presence in the forest was not required, but she insisted on accompanying her husband to make Him happy. Such a kind act can never be repaid by Rama. Therefore if He heard that she could not be found, when all hope was invested in Hanuman, the Lord would outwardly be devastated.

Lakshmana, for his part, only lived for Rama’s welfare. In their youth Lakshmana would not eat or sleep unless Rama did so first. Though he was younger, Lakshmana didn’t look to get anything from the elder Rama. He only looked to see what he could give. Therefore Rama’s happiness was his, and the Lord’s sadness would be the only cause of his distress. That Hanuman knew this so well is certainly remarkable; and even more commendable was his ability to incorporate it into his decision making.

“I am His younger brother, Lakshmana by name. Due to His transcendental qualities, I have taken up service to Him, as He is grateful and very knowledgeable.” (Lakshmana speaking to Hanuman about Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 4.12)

Another mark of a good friend is someone who puts your interests over their own. Nowhere in Hanuman’s review of what should be done did he consider what impact his actions would have on his own welfare. He was living to please Rama, so what would Hanuman care if he got fame or ignominy? If Rama and Lakshmana were saddened and his words were the cause of that, how could Hanuman live with himself? Therefore Hanuman decided to fight ahead to see if he just might find Sita yet. Returning to Lanka with news of failure was never a viable option. Hanuman would rather die trying than deliver news to Rama that would cause Him distress.

Rama is the Supreme Lord because the Vedas say so and because of His exhibition of divine talents. As if we needed any more proof of His worthiness of worship, the nature of His friends reveals what kind of a person He is. Anyone who has Hanuman as their dearmost friend and servant cannot be of this world. From Hanuman’s authority alone we can see that Sita, Rama and Lakshmana are divine figures whom the mind should constantly contemplate. And to find even more pleasure, the mind can remember Hanuman and his devotion daily. These four personalities are the best friends of those looking for release from the cycle of birth and death and ascension to the realm where the company of the Lord and His massive army of well-wishers is enjoyed without stop.

In Closing:

A real friend knows what you like and don't,

Purposefully cause you harm they won't.

To ask you first best friend doesn't need,

For always your innermost thoughts they can read.

Though knowing Rama and Lakshmana for a few,

Hanuman’s knowledge perfect of the two.

That Rama would be sad over news of Sita bad,

And that Lakshmana would ache from Rama being sad.

The best friend Hanuman thus search did continue,

That he would succeed Shri Rama surely knew.