Saturday, January 28, 2012

Stop Embarrassing Me

Radha and Krishna“It is a natural psychology in every individual case that a person likes to hear and enjoy his personal glories enumerated by others. That is a natural instinct, and the Lord, being also an individual personality like others, is not an exception to this psychology because psychological characteristics visible in the individual souls are but reflections of the same psychology in the Absolute Lord.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.6.33 Purport)

When someone tells you that they don’t like to be praised, know that it’s not the truth. Surely there is embarrassment over hearing someone else extol your virtues, telling you how much you mean to them and just how capable you are in a particular area, but this doesn’t mean that you dislike the praise. Would you rather have it the other way around, where others mock and make fun of your most valuable assets? The inclination towards deriving pleasure from accepting praise extends from the qualities of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. As we are but parts and parcels of His grand effulgence, His immeasurable storehouse of spiritual energy, we inherit some of His tendencies. As much as it exists in us, that tendency towards feeling pleasure from praise exists in full in the Personality of Godhead, a fact which subtly reveals the secret to finding lasting felicity.

Lord KrishnaWhy the secret? Why shouldn’t the one engagement that gives us the most happiness be known to everyone? The nature of the operating playing field is such that ignorance helps to enhance the experience. Just as when we watch a movie or television program we don’t like to think of it as a scripted production, if we knew the real purpose behind the material creation, the initial desire for fleeting enjoyment would be gone. In a movie, we know that the actors are just acting and that the story is scripted, but we willingly forget these facts during the time of the performance. Only through this method can we get into the story and have an emotional response from the experience.

The purpose of the creation at large is to pursue false enjoyment. The enjoyment is considered false because it is short-lived and based on ignorance. A dog is happy to get a few morsels of food from a dumpster, but a human being would consider the same fare to be repugnant. The only difference in the two cases is the level of intelligence. Ignorance is bliss in a situation where the better taste remains unknown. In the larger picture, if we were to know the real path to follow, then starting from the time of birth we would find life to be uncomfortable, with the predicament similar to being stuck in a prison.

Through uncovering the true meaning of life, however, we can more confidently accept the ultimate conclusion, that we are part and parcel of God meant to act in His service at all times. We can take the circuitous route to this end by studying so many different aspects of nature, including both matter and spirit, the influence of time and space, the infinite natures of both of these amazing aspects of creation, and the equality shared between all life forms. On the other hand, we could take the direct route, connecting with the fountainhead of both matter and spirit right away and deriving the necessary knowledge from there.

The latter option is preferable because it is more practical. It is difficult to accept so many different pieces of information and know what to do with them. Moreover, along the more deliberate path there are more opportunities for distraction, with the wayward spirit soul considering other engagements to be more delightful, more worthy of time. Should even all of the relevant information be processed and accepted, there is no guarantee that the proper engagement will be taken up. I may know all there is to know about math and science, but unless I apply the principles to find a better condition, the knowledge is really of no value.

When following the proper engagement from the beginning, despite a lack of knowledge of the component concepts, whatever knowledge and renunciation are required to continue that service will eventually arrive automatically. Therefore the Vedic seers recommend only one method of salvation for the sincere spiritualists of the modern age. That method is the constant chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Recite this mantra with firm faith and attention and make it your life’s occupation.

japa beadsWhy is this mantra and its recitation recommended over other methods such as the study of the Vedas, strict austerity measures, attending sacrifices, travelling to pilgrimage destinations, and following the principles of piety? The Hare Krishna mantra is a plea to be allowed to engage in the Lord’s service. The energy of the Lord known as Hara is also addressed. As she acts according to her constitutional position at all times, she is the best role model one could ask for. Requesting the energy to show us the way, to give us the strength to love God purely, without any motive for fruitive gain, the alleviation of distress, the advancement in knowledge, or the answers to life’s most difficult questions, represents the best prayer.

The name of Krishna is all-inclusive, for it directly addresses the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is all-attractive. Chanting the name of Krishna through the maha-mantra praises the Lord at the same time, something which He loves. From this praise the living entity finds an easy way to take up service. If someone were to tell you to love God and to dedicate your life to serving Him, how would you go about doing that?

“If, however, you are unable to work in this consciousness, then try to act giving up all results of your work and try to be self-situated.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 12.11)

A possible solution might be to serve man through giving up the fruits of your work. “I will help the poor. I will help those who are less fortunate. The poor are God’s children after all, so the Lord will certainly be pleased by this effort.” Indeed, Lord Krishna does recommend the renunciation of the results of work in the famous discourse He gave to a hesitant warrior on a battlefield five thousand years ago. It should be remembered, however, that the giving up of the fruits of work option wasn’t the first one recommended by Krishna. Rather, it was the last option, when one couldn’t work directly for Krishna, follow the principles of bhakti-yoga, or always think of the Lord.

This means that the best way to serve Krishna is to directly engage in thinking of Him. It’s easier to think about someone if they have extraordinary qualities, features that are of importance to us. The celebrities earn their fame through their features, for if they were ordinary why would we care about them? From the attention paid to famous movie stars, athletes and politicians, we see that man already has the tendency to praise others and derive pleasure from that offering.

With the Supreme Lord, the ideal target of that praise is met. Shri Krishna is the most attractive, which means that every one of His personal aspects is worth contemplating. Krishna is the most beautiful. He has a blackish complexion and wears a peacock feather in His hair. His youthful visage is so amazing that it defeats the pride of thousands of cupids. Krishna is also the wealthiest and the strongest. Power brings attention, and Shri Krishna is the most powerful, so He garners the most attention from everyone.

Lord KrishnaThe Lord is also the most knowledgeable, for His doctrine of spirituality helps every single person, regardless of their position in life and their level of intelligence. The same can’t be said of any other doctrine. Renunciation applies only to those who are too attached to the senses. It doesn’t help those who are already renounced and looking for supreme pleasure. The acquisition of knowledge can apply to those who have a high capacity for intelligence, but what if someone isn’t inclined towards philosophy and rational thought? Should they be shut out from God’ service?

Chanting the holy names, which is the best way to praise Krishna, is available to every person, across all age groups. Through chanting the mind stays connected with Krishna, which is the number one recommendation for attaining salvation. Krishna may get embarrassed by hearing such praise, but this doesn’t mean that He doesn’t enjoy it. The more the loving emotions rise to the forefront of consciousness, the more one becomes firmly convinced of the benefits of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, whose cornerstone practice is the chanting of the holy names.

Based on the rules that Krishna has Himself laid down, the bhakta who wants to continually praise the Lord is given the opportunity to do so. If we want to spend every day engaged in describing the glories of Krishna and His associates, the divine forces will act to create endless opportunities. The same can’t be said of any other endeavor, for in fruitive activity we are competing with our fellow man for supremacy in a particular field. As each person has a right to manipulate the material elements to their liking, no one can be successful eternally, nor can they completely fend off the competing forces.

Lord KrishnaIn bhakti, even the competitive attitude turns out to be beneficial for all the parties involved. If I spend my time praising Krishna, addressing Him with the choicest verses, uttama-shlokas, others may see the behavior and want to imitate it. As Krishna’s glories are inexhaustible, the new competition entering the arena doesn’t do anything to dampen the spirits of the original glorifier. The more people in the field of bhakti the better, for Krishna’s glories continue to get told in new ways. With more glorifiers, there are more opportunities for others to hear about the sublime life that only comes from connecting with God.

If you already like to honor someone, why not honor the most honorable? He is willing to accept this praise at any time, and it’s such a fulfilling activity that you will never tire of it. In the rare occurrence that no one else is pleased by your effort, just knowing that Shri Krishna is happy will be enough to keep you going. Whether He gets embarrassed or not, Shyamasundara will never deny the outpouring of affection flowing His way.

In Closing:

Happy do you feel from words of praise,

Your ego to higher place it does raise.

Embarrassed by the words some will always say,

But are we not pleased if others compliments pay?

Through your words the highest person please,

Whose vision pain of suffering does ease.

Chant the holy names, for there is no cost,

In service to man there is guaranteed loss.

With bhakti your knowledge only to increase,

Spinning in wheel of suffering to finally cease.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Bearing The Burden

Hanuman“I think that a terrible wail will be released upon my return, causing the destruction of the Ikshvaku family and the Vanaras.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.37)

ghoram ārodanam manye gate mayi bhaviṣyati ||
ikṣvāku kula nāśaḥ ca nāśaḥ caiva vana okasām |

Why is Hanuman thinking so negatively? So what if he failed? How could any of this be blamed on him? He hadn’t committed the atrocious sin of stealing another’s wife and hiding her hundreds of miles away. He wasn’t related to the parties in question; he was just a messenger after all. Lord Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, would never think of shooting the messenger, and Hanuman was well acquainted with Rama’s qualities. Therefore he had to know that simply putting forth an effort was good enough, that there needn’t be any worrying over failure in the mission of finding Sita Devi, the daughter of King Janaka. But Hanuman doesn’t operate this way. Because he thinks through every situation thoroughly, he knows the burden placed upon his shoulders. He carries that responsibility well, for no one in history ever faced that much pressure.

HanumanIf we wanted to compare what Hanuman was feeling like, we could perhaps look to the airline pilot, whose job it is to carry hundreds of passengers safely across the sky to their intended destination. To become a pilot requires extensive training, and you’re usually not flying your missions solo. In addition, there are communications channels available to assist you, as well as computers. Nevertheless, just knowing that so many people’s lives depend on your decisions can be a little too much to handle.

Hanuman, through careful consideration, felt that two entire communities were depending on his success in Lanka, the enemy territory ruled over by the demon king named Ravana. A demon in this sense doesn’t just refer to someone who has a ghoulish figure and tries to kill people. Since the beginning of time the good and the evil have clashed. In Sanskrit the good are generally referred to as suras, or devotees, and the evil as asuras, or demons. Those who believe in the Supreme Lord and the worthiness of worshiping Him are the good guys, and they will always be harassed by the side that wants nothing to do with spiritual life.

In Lanka were found Rakshasas, who are worse than typical asuras. A person may just be given to atheism and not necessarily desirous of squashing anyone’s belief system. Thus they are asuras by definition, but their influence isn’t very strong. The Rakshasas live in total ignorance; they will eat the flesh of any animal, killing human beings if they have to. Ravana’s clan lived off of terrorizing innocent sages residing in the forests. Just imagine attacking a homeless person on a regular basis while they are eating. That gives a slight idea of how horrible the crimes were that the Rakshasas committed. The sages had nothing; they chose an austere lifestyle so they could devote themselves to God. Rather than leave them be, the Rakshasas assume false guises and then attack at just the right times, when sacrifices to propitiate the lord of sacrifice, Yajneshvara, are going on.

Yajna is a Sanskrit word for sacrifice, and it is also a synonym for Vishnu. The entity we have an abstract concept of is more clearly defined in the Vedic tradition. Rather than be referred to as God or the Almighty, the same person is addressed through His different features and pastimes. Since the human being advances in their consciousness by taking up sacrifice, there must be a beneficiary. Typically the suras residing in the heavenly realm take their portion of the offerings poured into the fire. The clarified butter produced by the innocent cow is used as an oblation that goes into the fire sacrifice. Each pour is accompanied by the chanting of specific hymns and mantras. The idea is that the demigods eat the butter every time it comes into the fire. When they eat, they are satisfied and can thus provide the earth the rain it needs.

Lord VishnuGod is the lord of sacrifice, so He is known as Yajneshvara. Vishnu is another name for the Lord because He is all-pervading. There are also spiritual manifestations, or forms, to go along with these features. Vishnu also addresses God’s four-handed form that resides in the spiritual sky of Vaikuntha. Krishna refers to the Lord’s all-attractiveness and His form as the two-armed Shyamasundara, the beautiful youth with a blackish complexion. Rama is also Vishnu, but in the form of a warrior prince. Aside from their homes in the spiritual land, these manifestations make appearances on earth every now and then. In this way anyone can worship any of the Vishnu forms and be directly in touch with God.

The airline pilot, in addition to receiving direct help from others, is not necessarily in hostile territory. The elements of Mother Nature are neutral. To some the rain is annoying and causes discomfort, while to others it nourishes the crops and maintains life. The falling rain plays no favorites; that it is viewed differently by people is due to the specific viewpoints and dispositions. The rain is not purposefully trying to make anyone happy or sad. Hence there really isn’t an inhibiting force actively engaged in trying to stop the person transporting many people from arriving safely at their destination.

Hanuman’s position was quite unique. Sita had been taken by Ravana to Lanka against her will and behind Rama’s back. If you’re willing to kill innocent sages and eat them, you’re obviously not going to have the courtesy to ask a woman if she wants to be with you or even have the courage to fight her powerful husband in battle. Ravana was consumed by his desires for illicit sex, and he was willing to do whatever it took to satisfy them. “Act now and think later. No one is watching anyway, so if you can get away with the crime everything will be alright.”

But Ravana’s punishment would come soon enough. Hanuman would deal the first blow, a mighty one at that. Yet from the neutral observer’s perspective it seemed like victory wasn’t going to happen, that Ravana was going to win. Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana, after Sita went missing, travelled to the forest of Kishkindha and formed an alliance with a group of enthusiastic monkeys, who were headed by their king Sugriva. Like a good ruler, Sugriva divided up his army into strategic search parties and ordered them to scour the earth to look for Sita. Hanuman was Sugriva’s chief minister who had actually arranged for the initial meeting between Rama and Sugriva. It was an open secret that Hanuman was the most capable and dependable of the monkeys. Therefore it was understood that if Sita were to be found, Hanuman would be the one to find her.

Sure enough, eventually Hanuman would be left standing alone, as none of the other monkeys could make the giant leap across the ocean separating the mainland from Lanka, where it was learned that Sita had been taken. Launching yourself off of a mountain peak, flying through the air, and overcoming the obstacles thrown your way is not an easy sequence of events to complete successfully, yet Hanuman forged ahead. He reached the outskirts of the city. Now it was him against a city full of ghoulish creatures. Hanuman was a one-man army, yet he wasn’t intimidated. He clandestinely entered the city and searched practically every inch of space for Sita. He had never seen her before, but based on her qualities, he could understand that she would stand out amongst all the women there. This was indeed true, as Ravana’s many wives were fond of enjoying with their intoxicated husband into the wee hours of the night. Inside the palaces Hanuman saw a lot that he didn’t want to see, but he had no choice in the matter. To look for a beautiful woman, one has to search among other women. That he was risking sin in seeing the wives of another man in their bedroom did not matter to Hanuman.

HanumanAfter all this difficult work, Hanuman still hadn’t found Sita. This is where the pressure started to get to him a little bit. He started working through the scenarios of what would happen if he returned to Kishkindha without news of Sita’s whereabouts. Knowing full well everyone’s love for Rama, and the Lord’s love for Sita, Hanuman came to the conclusion that his failure would destroy the entire race of monkeys and the clan of Ikshvakus, Rama’s family. Rama loved Sita, so He wouldn’t live long knowing that she wasn’t found. That in turn would cause Lakshmana to quit his body. Then everyone back in Ayodhya, Rama’s hometown, would also follow suit. Seeing Rama gone, Sugriva would then cease to live. This would be followed by his family members ceasing to be, with the rest of the monkeys eventually suffering the same fate.

Can we imagine this kind of pressure, that our failure in a very difficult task would cause so much pain to others? Who would blame Hanuman anyway? Had he not tried his best? What did he do wrong? He wasn’t interested in moral victories or the fame that would accompany his accomplishments. Rather, being locked in devotional meditation, bhakti-yoga, Hanuman wouldn’t live with letting down his beloved Rama. By imagining the worst and adding even more pressure on himself, Hanuman’s resolve increased. He would go on to successfully find Sita and etch his mark in history as one of the greatest heroes.

One can’t help but be attracted by Hanuman’s kindness, concern, and resolve. Staying on the righteous path is very difficult, especially since it seems like no one else is interested in following it. How many people are eager to talk about devotional life, the pastimes of the Supreme Lord, and the meaning to an existence? How many people are willing to chant the glories of the Supreme Lord on a regular basis? If we do find someone like this we should consider it the greatest blessing, for just through an exhibition of sincere faith they keep us aligned with virtue.

The aim of this birth is to make it our last one in a material dress, which is a temporary dwelling where attachments are formed to objects we have no control over. Association with job, family, friends, and children is temporary, almost happenstance meetings that should never lead to attachment. Yet we always think of what will happen should we lose our association with these objects. That loss is guaranteed, however, as separation is concomitant with birth. Therefore the aim of life is to find an attachment that transcends birth and death.

This is where spirituality comes in. Not to be used to find a temporary condition that fosters attachment to something nonpermanent, the ideals of spiritual life are meant to create a purified consciousness that remains steady long after the soul exits the current body. The sound vibrations of, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and full immersion in bhakti-yoga practices can help create the right attachment. Hearing about Hanuman, pondering over his thoughts and being floored by his unmatched level of devotion also greatly increase our chances of success in life. Since Hanuman and the wonderful servants of God show the way, their glories continue to increase with each passing day. They are true blessings in this life, and their association should be accepted without hesitation or fear.

HanumanHanuman bore the burden placed on him because he had no other choice. He was in a sort of Catch-22. Since he loved Sita and Rama so much, he couldn’t stop thinking about them no matter what he did. Therefore if he had quit and returned home, his consciousness would have been the same. He would have had to live with his failure for the rest of his life. On the other hand, he could continue searching and fail while fighting to the death. One path would bring him tremendous unhappiness and the other would at least maintain the hope that Rama could be pleased. Faced with these options, the correct choice was rather clear.

Our life breath similarly exists to allow us to follow the path of devotion. Even if there are temporary setbacks, infighting with other devotional communities, attempts to squash devotion by the asuras, and so many other impediments, the determination should never stop. For as long as the vital force remains in the body, the potential for putting a smile on Shri Rama’s face is there. If He is pleased then the whole world feels the benefit.

In Closing:

No one ever faced that kind of pressure

Like Hanuman, who of victory unsure.

Had to find Rama's wife who was missing,

In formidable land, fear instilling.

Hanuman knew that return would cause loud wail,

In Kishkindha upon news that he did fail.

Both Ikshvakus and Vanaras would cease to be,

When a non-triumphant Hanuman they would see.

But above all his love for Rama would prevail,

Hand of God ensures that devotee doesn't fail.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Spiritual Television

Krishna's hand“The Absolute Personality of Godhead is not different from His transcendental name, form, pastimes and the sound vibrations thereof. As soon as a pure devotee engages himself in the pure devotional service of hearing, chanting and remembering the name, fame and activities of the Lord, at once He becomes visible to the transcendental eyes of the pure devotee by reflecting Himself on the mirror of the heart by spiritual television.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.6.33 Purport)

As Goswami Tulsidas so nicely notes in the opening verses of his beautiful work titled the Ramacharitamanasa, it is less common for a person to appreciate words composed by someone else than it is for someone to love what they have written themselves. The psychology of this fact should make sense, as the analysis applied to the written word is different in the two perspectives. On the one side you are critically assessing the composition that someone else has written, deciding whether or not the premises and conclusions are valid and whether you are uplifted in some way through the association. In the case of your own work, skewering your vision is the amazement arising from the fact that you were even able to craft anything at all. “I can’t believe I wrote this. Look at how I cleverly placed that truth into there and how I brought everything together in the end. Wow, nice job.” Though in most cases this natural inclination may give the writer a false sense of prestige and an inflated ego, if the subject matter is sublime, then even the unwarranted attachment to one’s own work can be used for bringing the highest good.

“You are born alone and you die alone”, is the common refrain of the person suffering through a rough patch in their relations with other human beings. If you are scorned from a relationship that was built on a strong attachment, concerns over the future will surely come up. “Will I ever find someone to make me happy? How will I live out the rest of my days if I don’t have anyone by my side?” The cure for loneliness appears to be simple enough: seek out companionship somewhere else. The wise seer, however, knows that life within a specific form is temporary, for that is the nature of both the large and small playing fields.

What is the large playing field? Think of the entire world and its collection of matter. Everything we can see is composed of combinations of earth, water, fire, air and ether. Depending on the desires of the inhabiting individuals, these material elements are used for different purposes. The sandbox and playrooms of young children are there to occupy their time, but when the same children mature the activity doesn’t change all that much. The playroom may get larger and the games played may involve stocks, card tables, and large arenas, but the manipulation of matter is still present and it remains the perceived vibrant way to occupy time.

The smaller playing field is the body itself. The form of the living being changes at every second, for otherwise how could hair and nails grow? We know that when we get a haircut, however, our identity does not change in the least. The subtle change may affect how others look at us and how we feel about ourselves, but our identity is not altered. The identity remains intact from the time of birth all the way up until the time of death. In this way the body is a sort of playing field, with the living being residing within considered the knower, the person in charge.

“Arjuna said: O my dear Krishna, I wish to know about prakriti [nature], Purusha [the enjoyer], and the field and the knower of the field, and of knowledge and the end of knowledge. The Blessed Lord then said: This body, O son of Kunti, is called the field, and one who knows this body is called the knower of the field.” (Bhagavad-gita, 13.1-2)

Krishna and ArjunaAs the knower inside the body is eternally situated, at least from our perspective of observation, there is an ideal companion who bears the same property. At this point, can’t we say that the relationships we form with others are also connections between two knowers? After all, other people are knowers, with their bodies changing but their identities remaining the same. But if the relationship is held together by attachment to the playing field, there is no real connection with the knower. For instance, if I am attracted to someone based on their fame, we know that the fame is attached to their localized playing field, which will either diminish in stature as time passes or be completely renounced at the time of death. This means that the relationship is limited and that there is no attachment to the knower.

There is one Supreme Knower who is so amazing that there is no difference between His field of play and His identity. Indeed, He is owner of both the large and small playing fields. He resides within every single one of us and yet is untainted by the actions taken. His form never changes, though He has a body that is gigantic. He also has a body that is small, as He can take many forms if He so chooses.

Connecting with Him is the ultimate cure for loneliness because His company never has to be renounced. Around the world He is spoken of through His different features and energies. Those completely attached to the temporary playing field refer to Him as nature, the almighty force for change. Those with a little inclination towards spirituality refer to Him as God, and those who are slightly more advanced call Him Brahman.

Only those who truly know Him refer to Him as Bhagavan and try to connect with Him through His many spiritual manifestations, including His original form of Krishna. Lord Krishna, the all-attractive Bhagavan, possesses the attributes of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, knowledge and renunciation simultaneously and to the fullest degree. Since He owns the playing field, these attributes never leave Him. Despite the passage of time and the travels through boundless space, Shri Krishna retains His position as Bhagavan.

Krishna's lotus feetSince He is the most attractive, who wouldn’t want to connect with Him? Since He lives eternally in His spiritual body that is full of bliss and knowledge, why wouldn’t we want to maintain an attachment to Him? Thus we see the real purpose behind the ancient system of yoga. At its root yoga means a connection, an addition of two operands. The two entities are the living entity, who is the knower of the individual playing field, and the Supreme Lord, who is the entity to be known, He whose spirit and body are not different.

How do we connect with Krishna? Is there a place we can go to find Him? If we have to travel, doesn’t that require using our playing field that is the body? Is not that body then subject to destruction? So how can we make sure that we find Krishna before we leave our body? Also, what will happen once the playing field dissipates? Will Krishna stay with us? Thankfully Shri Krishna has addressed these issues in the famous work called the Bhagavad-gita, where the science of self-realization is explained succinctly and thoroughly at the same time. Paradoxical combinations are no match for Shri Krishna, who is greater than the greatest and smaller than the smallest.

The best way to connect with Krishna is to hear about Him. We can only harbor an attachment for another living entity if we have somehow come in contact with them. When people read the news and hear that a famous celebrity has died, their sadness is the result of an attachment formed through prior hearing and seeing. The majority of the readers of the news have never met the celebrity in question, but they feel sad at their passing because they had a connection with them in some way. That connection was so strong that it caused pains of separation to return when it was learned that the person in question would no longer provide new outlets for connection.

Lord KrishnaYou can hear about Krishna by reading works like the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam. You can also listen to those who have spent their whole lives hearing about Krishna. The latter option is considered superior because then at least the proper mood to apply in hearing about Krishna is created. No one can fully understand God, but the more that is learned about Him, the greater the chances are for harboring an attachment to Him.

The playing field that is the body is temporary. Because the human form is the most advanced temporary form, the keepers of the faith, who glorify Krishna constantly, consider the human form to be the most auspicious. Despite whatever playing field we enter, the material elements will have to be renounced at some point. The lower animals also get playing fields, and the life forces within them are also the knowers. There is no potential for knowledge acquisition in the lower species though. That benefit is reserved for the human being, who thus has an obligation to make the best use of that opportunity.

To find Krishna before we leave our body we have to locate a person who is speaking about Krishna in the proper way. Association with their words is the most important, for physical association can dissipate within a second. If I can speak about Krishna in a room there is a benefit for the people in the immediate vicinity. If I can speak about Krishna through published words that can travel all across the world, obviously the benefit will be larger. In the advanced technological age, there is every chance to find the association of someone who has connected with Krishna. They may not even still be on this earth, but their preaching continues through their recorded words.

“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, Bg. 15.8)

Lord KrishnaThough the playing field is renounced at the end of life, consciousness stays with the individual. It carries from one life to the next, so if there is an attachment in consciousness to Krishna, that association will not dissipate with the exit from the body. If our cure for loneliness is to always think about Krishna now and stay attached to Him, He’ll stay with us in this life and the next.

How can we stay attached to Krishna when we have so much work to do, so many obligations to fulfill? We can hear about the Lord for a few hours a day maybe, but what do we do with the rest of our time? Thankfully the holy name is just as good as Krishna; it carries all of His glorious features. In any time period, in any situation, one can simply chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and be in the Lord’s company. Regularly reciting this mantra is so powerful that it will start to automatically play within the mind even during times where other work is being performed.

The devotional writer finds yet another way to keep Krishna by their side. As the tendency is for the individual to prefer their own writing to the words of others, if one can write about Krishna regularly, remembering His pastimes and describing His sweet form, the attachment to the resulting work will allow for Krishna’s association to continue. Krishna will remain with the writer during the time of composition and also during the time of reading. If the author is very proud of their work and likes to read it over and over again, they get to see Krishna every time through the descriptions found in the pages.

Hearing, chanting, remembering, talking, travelling to places important to Krishna; there are so many avenues available to cure the most acute loneliness. Every other attachment formed in life is an attempt to alleviate the pain of separation we feel from the dearly beloved Lord, the most attractive entity who also holds the most amount of love for us. Through the many processes of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, Krishna can be seen within the heart, a place wherefrom He never leaves.

In Closing:

Interest from writing of others sight,

But still your own work more do you like.

Use that penchant for your highest benefit,

Immerse in thoughts of God before body you quit.

Know that Shri Krishna is the reservoir of pleasure,

That His vision within the mind is greatest treasure.

Let not a moment pass by with this opportunity,

From cycle of birth and death gain immunity.

From those who know Krishna knowledge take,

Then write yourself, a cure for loneliness make.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Succeeding in Work

Vishvamitra's visit to Ayodhya“With folded hands the king said the following words which were auspicious and good to hear: ‘Seeing your pure lotus feet today I am very much obliged to you.’” (Janaki Mangala, 21)

rāu kaheu kara jora subacana suhāvana |
bhayau kṛtāratha āju dekhi pada pāvana ||

The pious king tirelessly works to maintain the standard of law and order, to ensure that his subjects are properly taken care of and that the rules and regulations of the administrative class are not violated. Yet it is a little difficult to know when that work is successful, whether or not the effort expended has been appreciated or made a significant impact. With the blessing of the sight of the pure lotus feet of the servant of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, however, the past work proves fruitful, and the king becomes obliged to the kind person who provides the affirmation.

Who doesn’t want to make a difference? Who doesn’t want to matter? A word of caution in this regard, though, for the worst tyrants in the world made an impact on history. Going on a killing spree, causing mass starvation, and bringing otherwise capable people to utter destitution make a tremendous impact on society, but not for the better. The common unstated purpose to the desire to make a difference is to positively affect someone else’s life, to show that your work has meaning.

The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, are so intricate that they reveal the root cause of this desire. At the heart of the living being’s vitality is the spirit soul, which has inherent properties, the foremost among them being the desire to serve. If you look around, you’ll see that there is a common trait shared in all behavior. One person is the CEO of the company while another is a worker, but both of them are offering service. The boss is seemingly independent, not having to answer to anyone, but unless there are customers to buy the product or service, the title becomes meaningless. Hence the company head, who is the face of the organization and thus equivalent to the business, serves the customers. The worker serves the company and the customers serve their own interests by purchasing relevant products.

Krishna with cowIn the animal species the tendency towards service is also present. Motherly affection is seen just as much in the cow as it is in the human being. The cow brings forth heaps of milk when its child starts to cry, just as the Supreme Lord, who is also the Supersoul, rushes to the scene when His devotees cry out His names in a mood of love and affection. Hearing the chant of, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the Supreme Person takes it as a signal for help, that one of His innumerable children is requesting His loving association.

The work the spirit soul takes up when in a particular form of body can end up either successful or unsuccessful. This binary view isn’t as limiting as it seems, for work can be repeated or directed to other areas. The larger the scope of the work, the more people it affects, the more important it is to see a successful outcome. Next to the authorities governing the material elements at large, the ruler of the state has the most responsibilities. His actions affect a large number of people. Therefore, for his work to be successful, kritartha, he needs someone who can see the bigger goal and assess whether or not that is being satisfied with the actions undertaken.

How do we find someone who has this proper vision? The fact that spirit exists within all species is not known to many. In fact, the external features of the species make just the opposite realization commonplace. I see that a dog and a cat have different behaviors and outward features, so I think that they are inherently different. At the same time, I know that there is variety within the human species, but in the end everyone has the desire to serve, to make a difference.

“That knowledge by which one undivided spiritual nature is seen in all existences, undivided in the divided, is knowledge in the mode of goodness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.20)

cow with KrishnaThe wise seer studies Vedic philosophy under the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master and quickly realizes that spirit is present within all forms of life, from the tiny ant all the way up to the large elephant. As spirit is the catalyst to action, it can be thought of as a singular, large energy pervading all of space. Perceiving the presence of spirit and its equal influence within the species is one thing, but actually knowing what is good for spirit is another.

With spirit comes the penchant for service. Those who can take their desire to make a difference and direct it towards pleasing the one person who can accept the most service thereby attain the greatest profit for themselves. The ruler’s duty is thus quite clear: allow for everyone in society to reach that stage of spiritual evolution, where their service is offered to God. How to fulfill this obligation is a little tricky, as not everyone will immediately be open to accepting the ultimate mission in life as genuine. Some will be too distracted to contemplate the truths of spirituality.

Just because a perfect success rate is not practical doesn’t mean that the king should abandon the pursuit. Rather, the work assigned to the king is very important and should be carried out as a matter of obligation, with not too much concern placed on success or failure. Think of a school system with the different grades. The first grader can’t understand algebra and the laws of physics, but this doesn’t mean that their time in school is wasted. Through performing the work prescribed to their grade-level, they can gradually advance to the higher stages of knowledge.

The head of state ensures that the conditions in society are conducive towards the realization of the self, which then leads to service to the Superself, or the Supreme Lord. Though the king is supposed to be detached while carrying out his obligations, it is still nice to know whether or not progress is being made. If there are some errors, the advisors to the king, the brahmanas, can come on the scene to rectify the situation. A brahmana is a priest who understands the all-pervasiveness of spirit. If he gives a blessing to a king, saying that their work is being done properly, the king feels most obliged, for he knows that his effort is not going to waste.

King DasharathaOne king a long time ago got that very blessing, which indicated the success of his work, when he was visited by one of the most famous sages in history. King Dasharatha of Ayodhya one day had the honor to greet Vishvamitra, who was living in the forest as a hermit. The brahmanas of the time chose the pristine wilderness as their home because it had conditions better suited for sacrifice and penance, two key aspects to any genuine discipline of spirituality. The brahmanas would teach others about their relevant occupational duties, and since the kings had the most influence through their work, they required the counsel from the brahmanas the most.

Vishvamitra visited Dasharatha and was duly honored by both the king and his family. The muni in turn gave his blessings back to them, which made Dasharatha supremely happy. Vishvamitra was a servant of the Supreme Lord, so to see his feet, to take the dust coming from those feet and place it on the head, is the greatest blessing one can ask for. That association results in purity in thought, humility in demeanor, and the chance to receive knowledge on how to make future work profitable.

The supreme profit for the living entity is to be immersed in God consciousness. Through a properly situated consciousness, even routine work becomes a kind of yoga, or divine trance. King Dasharatha was a fighter who administered the kingdom of Ayodhya, yet he was a yogi as well, as the Supreme Lord had appeared in his family as his eldest son. It was this son, named Rama, that Vishvamitra came to borrow, for he needed protection in the forest from the attacking night-rangers, who had suddenly increased in influence.

0149Dasharatha knew that Vishvamitra’s association made all his work successful, so he couldn’t go against the request, though he was reluctant to. Because of that faith in the spiritual guide, the entire world would be benefitted. Lord Rama, Bhagavan who carefully arranged this beautiful sequence of events, would travel through the forests with Vishvamitra and Lakshmana, the Lord’s younger brother. The trio would inadvertently make their way to the kingdom of Videha, where a grand contest with a bow was being held. If not for Dasharatha’s acquiescence, Rama may never have made it to that contest, where King Janaka’s beloved daughter Sita was awaiting. Through the help of the combination of Vishvamitra and Dasharatha, the marriage of a lifetime took place.

Question: Does the opposite condition of not meeting a devotee mean that your work is unsuccessful?

If through the prosecution of his work Dasharatha hadn’t met Vishvamitra, it would have indicated that the king was not worth visiting at the time. The bona fide brahmana is the spiritual master of society, but he doesn’t disseminate the confidential information of the Vedas to just anyone. If something is very important to you, why would you discuss it with people who won’t understand that importance? Will you trust a young child with an expensive vase that could break easily? Will you hand over your family fortune to a money manager who doesn’t understand the value of hard work and money?

The distribution of transcendental knowledge occurs through the proper qualification of both parties, the sender and the receiver. Vishvamitra felt that Dasharatha was worthy of his association, and the king made sure to abide by dharma, or virtue, so that the priestly class would be pleased with him. The servant of the Lord and the sincere recipient of transcendental knowledge make the perfect combination. Through their interactions others can learn so much as well. In the case of Vishvamitra’s visit, the love shared between the involved parties and their affection for Shri Rama set the best example for countless future generations to follow. The rules and regulations may shift based on time and circumstance, but the primary dharma of the soul to love God never goes away. Bring it to the forefront of your consciousness by hearing always about the Lord and humbly accepting the sincere words of instruction kindly offered by the devotees, whose lotus feet act as boats offering safe passage across the ocean of material suffering.

In Closing:

Person works hard for a reason, not easily to quit,

So that in the end some success, tangible profit.

For the ruling king, the duties are increased,

With influence many people are reached.

Success or failure in tasks nice to know,

For from it dedication to virtue can grow.

King Dasharatha fortunate for Vishvamitra to meet,

Validated work through seeing sage’s pure lotus feet.

The two’s love for eldest son Rama mind should note,

Devotee’s mental company acts as rescue boat.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Password Change

Krishna's lotus feet“To surpass the influence of the illusory energy is very difficult, but those who are determined to catch hold of the lotus feet of the Lord are freed from the clutches of maya.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 3.89 Purport)

As if we are Pavlov’s dog requiring specific training to follow certain actions, repeatedly taking the wrong tact and seeing the negative response is required before we can actually change our behavior. If it weren’t for the negative reactions and our dislike for them, the pattern of behavior would never change. And the change is necessary in order for a higher purpose to be fulfilled. In the absence of the change we’re just wasting time torturing ourselves. The repetitive pattern actually can teach us a lot about the makeup of the world, how the Supreme Controller has perfectly arranged everything for our benefit and how we can use objects around us to further the highest end.

While it’s nice to ponder these concepts theoretically, a practical example is more helpful. Staying in tune with the modern times, the password change suffices, especially that instituted by the managers of an IT infrastructure. If you work in an office these days, you are likely using a computer. A computer uses a system that requires authentication; otherwise any person could sit at your desk and pretend to be you. With authentication comes the ability to track performance and progress, to see if the person sitting at the desk is actually doing the work assigned to them.

computerIn a computing environment, it is common to have sensitive data, information that not just anyone should have access to. Hence to facilitate the authentication and data protection requirements, each end-user is assigned a login and password combination. The password is where things get tricky. It is specific to each person and it is so sensitive that under an ideal setup, the system itself won’t know what your password is. Should you happen to forget it, the system will allow you to create a new one, which is stored internally with some sort of hash applied to the original characters. If your password is say “Krishna”, the system will perform a hash function to the characters in the word and maybe store the password as a bunch of unrelated characters.

There is no explicit way to retrieve the crypted password, for the hash function operates only on input. Therefore the only way to get the password is to repeatedly make attempts into the hash function to see if what you entered matches what is stored in the system. Bearing this in mind, a properly implemented system will place a limit on the number of login attempts that you can make. Otherwise one could easily perform what is known as a “dictionary” attack, wherein an automated system tries many combinations of letters and numbers until a correct login is made.

In addition to the limit on the number of failed login attempts, there are specific requirements for what a password can be. In ideal setups, this policy is implemented across the system, which means that even the highest person managing the company has to follow the rules and regulations. Your password likely has to have characters, both upper and lower case, and numbers. The password must also be a minimum length, for the longer the password, the more difficult it is to break or guess.

Here comes the kicker. This last requirement is probably the most annoying for the user. In addition to the length and character requirements, the password must be changed periodically, perhaps every month. This shouldn’t be too difficult, right? Have two passwords that you normally use and just rotate them every month? Ah, but the system is one step ahead of you. You cannot reuse any password that you have used recently. Therefore you really have to come up with a unique password each month, something which you may not even remember so quickly.

This rule is helpful for obvious reasons. Say that you decide to give your login credentials to a friend one time because you’re not at your computer, or perhaps you wrote down your password somewhere on a note placed on your desk. The biggest issue with having secrets is keeping them secret. This especially applies to the password, which is the secret of secrets. Should someone get ahold of your password and have nefarious motives, they could do a lot of damage to the system. The longer that secret stays valid, the greater the chances of a security breach. With the requirement for periodic change, if someone should happen to find your password, they only have a short time to use it, which greatly limits the chances of a violation occurring.

For the end user sitting at the computer regularly, authenticating all the time, the password change every month is beyond annoying. Why is this? If you can touch type - that is type without looking at the keys on the keyboard - the entering in of the password essentially turns into a muscle memory operation. You can likely type your password faster than you can verbalize it. If you had to write down your password, you might have difficulty, for it is your fingers that have memorized it more than your mind. Now that you have a changed password, the next time you go to authenticate, you will surely first enter the most recent password that just expired.

The immediate reaction to this behavior will be an invalid password warning flashing up on the screen. Since the password is so long and the characters masked on the screen, you try to enter it again really quickly, only to have the same message come up. Now the pressure is on. You have one more attempt to log into your account before you are locked out for having reached the failed account login threshold. This time you carefully type the letters, remaining conscious of the keys you are pressing. Whew! You made it. You can now use your computer with your login. You weren’t doing anything wrong before, but somehow the machine treated you like a criminal.

What’s probably more annoying is that you have to follow the same tact repeatedly, at least for a day or two, before your muscles get used to the new password. If not for the stern warnings and the fear of having your account locked out, you would never change your behavior to account for the new password. In this sense the warnings train you, sort of like shock treatments. As if you were a dog that was learning how to relieve himself at the proper time, the machine, for your own safety, to protect your data and identity, trains you every month to use a new password.

“Unseen and indefinite are the good and bad reactions of fruitive work. And without taking action, the desired fruits of such work cannot manifest.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.17)

Lakshmana and RamaWhat does this mean in the grand scheme of things? The entire world is filled with smaller and larger versions of the interaction with the authentication system on the computer. For every action there is a reaction. This is how karma, or fruitive activity, works. As Shri Lakshmana so nicely states in the Ramayana, there are both good and bad reactions to work, pious and sinful activity, and the results are not always immediately seen. They may not remain manifest for long either. Nevertheless, for every reaction seen, there is an initial cause, some work which was applied.

Knowing this information is only helpful if we can use it to change our behavior. We should follow actions that will effect changes that are worthwhile. At the same time, we should avoid behaviors that produce negative reactions. Ah, but here is where things get interesting. How will we know which reactions are bad? How will we know which consequences are worth avoiding?

The easiest way is to accept the information from authority figures, those who learned the relevant truths through either their own experience or through the words of wisdom passed down from previous authority figures. Our parents can tell us during childhood to not place our hand in a fire. At such a young age, we have no clue what fire is or that it will burn our hand, so if we follow the advice of our parents, we acquire perfect knowledge of something to avoid. The other option is to try it out ourselves, to feel the sting and then hopefully have it register that the same reaction will occur again and again, each and every single time the same action is repeated.

The latter option is the more painful one, as there is no guarantee of how quickly the proper knowledge will be acquired. For the larger picture, the entire duration of existence within a human body, the Vedas, the scriptural tradition of India, provide information about which activities to avoid and how they relate to the ultimate mission in life. Of the harmful activities, the most sinful, or detrimental towards the achievement of the end goal, are meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex.

Not to be misunderstood as restrictions meant to punish us or keep us from having fun, the negative reactions from these behaviors are visible even if we should ignore the warnings of the Vedas and the people who teach Vedic wisdom to others. Meat eating is harmful not only because of the detrimental health effects, but also because of the violence that goes into it. In a system of fairness, with no partiality applied by any governing agent, if one side is killed unnecessarily just for the satisfaction of taste buds which can be pleased through so many other areas, the same reaction must be imposed on the killer at some point in the future. In addition, through unnecessary violence, mankind loses his merciful attitude, his ability to harbor compassion. Killing innocent cows without discrimination makes it easy for man to kill innocent babies, confiscate wealth, and have an overall vindictive attitude towards their fellow brothers and sisters. This last attitude is the root cause of all strife in the world, and since it is a byproduct of a contaminated consciousness, we see that meat eating becomes one of the causes for wars and conflict.

rouletteThe harmful effects of gambling are quite obvious. The mind feverishly engages in games and wagers for hopefully winning sums of money that don’t provide any happiness at all. People’s lives can get ruined by gambling, as there are support groups to help those with gambling addictions. The same defect is present in intoxication, as the false escape from the senses brings tremendous negative effects on one’s health. Drunk driving is eliminated through abstention from consuming alcohol, as are so many other negative consequences.

Illicit sex brings the most lasting and visible negative effects. If sex urges driven by lust are not controlled, you can get attachments and burdens that you don’t expect. You also remain beholden to an urge that is easily satisfied in the lower species. The monkeys and dogs have sex life without discrimination, so how can imitating their behavior be worthwhile for a human being with advanced intelligence?

The negative reactions resulting from these sinful behaviors are actually a great blessing. Just as the warnings from the invalid entry of the password helped to change our behavior for the better, the harmful sequence of negative effects arriving from impious acts are meant to change the way that we act, to keep us on the straightened path. The Vedas reveal that the precious human form of body is meant for realizing God, the ultimate reservoir of pleasure. Every ritual, regulation, restriction, and recommendation is intended to further that highest aim.

The knowledge coming from Vedic teachings is necessary; otherwise man remains lost like the animals. Thankfully for us, there is one tool that is so powerful that it automatically carries with it sublime wisdom. It brings peace of mind at the same time, which helps steer us clear of the dangerous path of impiety. That tool is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. In this age where sin is taken to be piety, where the end-goal of life remains unknown, a positive action is required to teach the highest truths. Repeated negative consequences resulting from sinful behavior can help us gain knowledge of what to avoid, but even with that, the soul needs a constitutional engagement, an area to go where pleasure is found.

Lord Krishna's handThe holy name is that area, as it carries the forms, pastimes and qualities of the Supreme Personality, who is known as Krishna because of His sweetness. Krishna’s words spoken in the Bhagavad-gita are sweet, as are His dealings with the cowherd women of Vrindavana. Krishna’s portrait is sweet, with its peacock feather, beautiful smile, and flower garland. Krishna’s material energy can also be viewed as sweet, for she purposefully makes life here difficult so that the wise will find the loving embrace of Shri Krishna awaiting them in the next life, in the spiritual sky where no one requires training in their actions, as they are all driven by the most beneficial attachment to Shri Krishna’s service.

In Closing:

Every month or so password must change,

Has to be new, not within recent range.

Old password entered through memory of muscle,

But with change system gives user much trouble.

The fear of losing access a good thing,

Reason to change behavior it does bring.

In same way forces of nature teach,

That for higher purpose man should reach.

Don’t follow animals who satisfy with ease,

Opportunity for loving God fully seize.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Concern For Our Friends

Sita and Rama in Hanuman's heart“Seeing Rama in such a condition, the king of monkeys, Sugriva, who is grateful and true to his promise, will give up his life. Being depressed, aggrieved, sad, and full of miseries, poor Ruma will give up her life, being tortured by the grief for her husband.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.28-29)

kṛtajñaḥ satya samdhaḥ ca sugrīvaḥ plavaga adhipaḥ ||
rāmam tathā gatam dṛṣṭvā tataḥ tyakṣyanti jīvitam |
durmanā vyathitā dīnā nirānandā tapasvinī ||
pīḍitā bhartṛ śokena rumā tyakṣyati jīvitam |

Shri Hanuman, the faithful Vanara warrior, the eternally celebrated divine figure of the Vedic tradition, has concern for every living being. Not sidetracked by his own interests, he uses his love for the Supreme Personality of Godhead to guide all of his decisions, his choices in life. In others this natural impetus for action can get sullied through a desire for self-aggrandizement or personal profit. Hanuman would become famous for his successes in one of the most difficult missions in history, yet his concern was always directed at the innocent people of his village back home, especially because of their close ties to Shri Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana.

HanumanDepending on your angle of vision, bhakti-yoga can be considered a method of mysticism aimed at removing distresses in life or it can be viewed as the foremost occupational duty for the spirit soul. Bhakti is multi-faceted, so we can’t just point to one activity and say that it is the definitive embodiment of bhakti. Meditational yoga has its sitting postures and breathing exercises, jnana-yoga has its study of Vedanta philosophy, and karma-yoga has its fruitive work where the results are renounced for a higher cause. Yet bhakti, which is nothing more than pure love for God, can follow any activity. Even assuming a false guise, infiltrating an enemy territory, and looking through different rooms inside of a palace for a woman can be part of bhakti.

Just as the soldier is not punished for his act of killing an enemy fighter, one who takes to seemingly sinful behavior but for the proper cause does not suffer the negative consequences. Just as if we let go of an object from our hand it will fall to the ground, any action taken against the injunctions of scripture will lead to a negative reaction in the future. Because of this property the prohibited actions are considered sinful. If not for the negative consequence, there would be no question of sin.

Lest we think the guaranteed delivery of the unwanted side effects is just a sectarian belief, we can see evidence of the negative reactions from our own lives. If we were to run a red light, not only is there a chance of getting a ticket, but there is every possibility of colliding with traffic crossing from the sides, for they have a green light. If we eat too much food, we will feel physical discomfort. If we don’t pay our taxes, the government will eventually come after us. Each of these actions goes against standard codes of conduct.

The scriptures, the law codes instituted by the Supreme Lord at the beginning of creation, are meant to guide human behavior. The animals are excluded because they don’t have the intelligence to understand right and wrong and the purpose to their existence. Children are also excluded, as the responsibility for their actions falls squarely with the guardians. But the adult human being, who has the capability to make a sober choice in his pursuits, is advised to follow scriptural injunctions to avoid punishment. Following the recommended rules and regulations allows for advancement in consciousness, and going against the same obviously leads the worker in the opposite direction. Like trying to reach the sky by catching hold of falling raindrops, one who lives a life of sin and is wholly averse to bhakti has no chance of advancing the plight of the soul.

“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)

Bhagavad-gitaHow can the soul advance? Does not the soul reside within a particular body? Therefore if we want to move the soul somewhere, shouldn’t we just take our body to that place? Though the soul dwells in a particular form, it is known that it doesn’t stay there forever. The soul existed prior to our birth, for Lord Krishna reveals in the Bhagavad-gita that the soul does not ever have birth or death. Hence we know that the soul will continue on long after the current life is finished. Something must determine where the soul ends up, and according to revealed information, that something is the sum collection of work and desires. Just as if someone works hard to become physically fit and desires to eat healthy they will get a lean and properly functioning body, someone who desires the best end for the soul and takes to the necessary work will be granted that reward in the future.

Yet bhakti is so nice that one who practices it doesn’t have to wait until the distant future to see results. They can place the soul in a happy place right away, just by accepting the need to serve God. He is a singular entity, the Supreme Lord, but based on time and circumstance He can be viewed differently. Bhakti is considered the highest practice because only in this discipline is the Supreme Personality taken for who He is, the best friend of the living entities. God is most certainly the original proprietor of everything and the ultimate enjoyer, but His inherent friendship to everyone makes the spirit soul a candidate to act in the Lord’s interests at all times, to enjoy His company. As God is not limited to a single residence or personal form, He can accompany the lonely soul in its travels just by appearing in a sound vibration. The devotees practicing bhakti thus always chant sacred mantras like, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, to keep their beloved’s company close by.

Hanuman, though using deceit and risking sinful behavior, was completely immersed in bhakti. Since Hanuman had Lord Rama’s image within his mind and was acting to please his beloved Rama, his actions in Lanka were not sinful at all. Moreover, he turned a playing field considered the “sin city” of its time into his sacrificial arena. Just as a church is a building turned place of worship, any area can be used to formally adore the Supreme Lord if it is sanctified properly. In the Vedic tradition, the sacrificial arena is where the relevant parties sit down together, chant sacred hymns, and offer oblations into a fire to please the Lord of sacrifice, Yajneshvara. The Vedas tag God with thousands of names to describe His limitless features and to give the devoted souls more ways to address Him.

The land of Lanka, an island hosting thousands of ghoulish creatures given to the worst kind of sinful behavior, was Hanuman’s sacrificial arena, where he would pour oblations into the fire to please Shri Rama. Sita Devi, Rama’s wife, had been taken to Lanka against her will by Ravana, the king of the island. Hanuman’s duty was to find where Sita was and return that information to Rama, who was stationed back at the camp in Kishkindha. Hanuman was part of a monkey race known as Vanaras who lived in the forests. Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana were there looking for Sita, and through Hanuman’s efforts they formed an alliance with the king of Vanaras, Sugriva.

HanumanThough on a reconnaissance mission, Hanuman remained in the bhakti spirit. Because of this he didn’t have to worry about sin. Though different actions carry small and large consequences relating to future fortunes, if one has the image of the Supreme Lord firmly etched within their mind, how can any temporary consequence be considered beneficial or negative? Hanuman already had Rama, so he didn’t need to worry about where his soul would end up next or what type of situation he would enjoy or suffer in the future.

Normally, if we were to reach such a state of mind, the obvious effect would be to become callous to the welfare of our friends, family, and community. I have God in my mind, after all, so what do I care whether someone else is happy or not? With the other kinds of yoga the aim is to find some level of detachment. If we work hard and renounce the fruits of our labor, we aren’t bound by the concern for loss or gain. If we study Vedanta and learn that we are spirit soul not attached to the body, we will not have concern over happiness or failure. By steady meditation in specific asanas, the effects of the senses will be mitigated, thus allowing for the mind to ease its attachment to friends and family.

As bhakti is the culmination of every kind of yoga practice, it would make sense if Hanuman didn’t care about anyone except Rama. But God is the source of everything, as the Vedanta-sutras so nicely state, janmady asya yatah. From one comes everything; from God has sprung forth the entire creation. One who knows this understands that every creature has an inherent link to the Supreme Lord, even if they are unaware of it. By serving God in a mood of pure love, the compassionate attitude derived from devotion will automatically extend to others. The topmost transcendentalist is referred to as a paramahamsa, or supreme swan. He can extract the good from any situation. Even if he sees a world full of sinners, since he knows they are linked to the Supreme Lord, he thinks of how best he can bring about their salvation.

Conversely, if the devotee should feel they are letting down the Supreme Lord, they automatically think of how that failure will affect others. This is what Hanuman faced in the situation in the above referenced verse. After having braved every obstacle and searched far and wide, Hanuman had yet to find Sita. Not surprisingly, he started pondering over what might happen if he did actually fail in his mission. He had convinced himself that Rama would renounce his life, Lakshmana right after, and then all of Rama’s family in Ayodhya following them. Hanuman knew that Sugriva was also hoping for Sita to be found, so if Hanuman returned to Kishkindha and announced failure, the monkey king would surely give up his body. The king’s wife Ruma would then have nothing to live for, so she would also give up her body.

HanumanIn this way Hanuman essentially made himself responsible for the deaths of everyone he loved and adored. Yet he had done nothing wrong up to this point. He hadn’t taken Sita away, nor had he hidden her in a distant island. Hanuman tried everything in his power to find Sita, so why should he feel bad? Love is impossible to explain, especially when talking about those who practice bhakti at the highest levels. Hanuman would not settle for anything less than Rama’s complete satisfaction. The pressure was already great on Hanuman, as he had no friends or family with him while in a hostile territory. Rather, everyone in the immediate vicinity was rooting for his failure, even though they didn’t know he was there. Now that he made himself believe that everyone back home would die from disappointment should he fail, Hanuman put even more emphasis on his bhakti practices.

“O son of Kunti [Arjuna], I am the taste of water, the light of the sun and the moon, the syllable om in the Vedic mantras; I am the sound in ether and ability in man.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.8)

With this kind of devotion, how could Hanuman ever fail? Shri Rama is the ability in man, as He so nicely points out as Krishna in the Gita while discussing matters of life and death and the properties of spirit with His disciple and cousin Arjuna. Hanuman’s bhakti would lead to happiness not only for Rama, but also for all of the Lord’s friends and family. Hanuman was keenly aware of this, and he took the responsibility assigned to him very seriously. Therefore it should be known without a doubt that bhakti only increases our love for our fellow man, something no other kind of yoga can claim to do. As everyone’s constitutional position is to be engaged in God’s service, the bhakta isn’t shy about sharing their wisdom about the meaning of life with others. This is the kindest welfare work, as no temporary reward or sweet speech can provide lasting benefits to the soul looking to match their loving propensity with the proper beneficiary.

Just as Hanuman could survive in enemy territory by remembering Rama, so we can manage our way through the rough waters of the current age of quarrel and hypocrisy by remembering Hanuman and his dedication. Time after time, in situation after situation, Hanuman stepped up to the plate and delivered a top notch performance. When he faced doubt and worried over what might happen to his loved ones, he still didn’t give up. He kept fighting and eventually succeeded. Not giving up remembering Hanuman will similarly bring success in bhakti.

In Closing:

When on Supreme Lord only you depend,

Compassion for all humanity does extend.

For Hanuman, sea of doubt his mind did engulf,

But still only cared about others, not himself.

Shri Rama’s sadness Sugriva also would affect,

Then his wife Ruma too, body to reject.

This chain reaction Shri Hanuman saw,

Making himself ruination’s sole cause.

No matter, fight on with mission instead,

In finding Sita full speed ahead.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Measuring Efficiency

Krishna's hand“Advancement of material vision or material civilization is a great stumbling block for spiritual advancement. Such material advancement entangles the living being in the bondage of a material body followed by all sorts of material miseries. Such material advancement is called anartha, or things not wanted.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.8.27 Purport)

“Son, back in my day, we used to walk five miles in the snow to school and back. We didn’t have the comfortable, air conditioned and heated bus to take us places. We would go to work on the farm right after school. None of this video game playing, television watching, and general time wasting. We also got married at a young age and didn’t get divorced. In my day, we didn’t have so many of the things that you have now, and yet we liked everything that we did have.” The classic old fuddy-duddy grumbles about how much life has changed since their time and how the newer generation doesn’t know how good they have it. Though it is natural for the human being to get into this mindset as they grow older, the attitude actually uncovers the secret of how easy it is to find a baseline of happiness. Though the advanced lifestyle hinged on progress seems the better option, by comparing the disposition of the consciousness and the minimum requirement for having peace of mind, there is no question which system is superior.

iphoneHow can there be any contest in this matter? Nowadays we have microwaves, internet, cellular telephones, high definition television sets, automobiles and airplanes. Just from these basic advancements so much of everyday life has changed. No longer do you have to worry about the harsh winter coming to wreak havoc on your family. The drought in the summer is also okay, for you can buy your food from some other source. The vital provisions can be shipped in from an area where the harvest is bountiful. Because of these options there is not so much of a reliance on aspects of the past lifestyle which now seem primitive.

Easy to overlook in this analysis is attachment. With each new gadget and advancement of technology comes a new source of misery. You can take something as simple as the automobile to see evidence of this. In days past, you had to walk many miles to get to places. Correspondingly, the places you needed to get to weren’t too far away. The neighborhood school served the people living within close proximity. The larger plots of land allowed for food to be grown locally; you didn’t have to travel very far to eat. With the requirement for walking, exercise was automatically accounted for. This not only helped in keeping one’s physical health strong, but it aided in mental faculties as well. A sedentary lifestyle can become so mentally debilitating that it can lead to depression. Obesity in children is now an epidemic, though this is a veritable enigma. Children have the most energy, so why should they ever become excessively overweight? They can handle a tremendous amount of food because of how much energy they can burn off in a given day.

With the automobile comes the responsibility of insurance payments and maintenance. If the car stops working, you have to find a way to fix it. This is going to cost money, which means that part of the time that you travel to work is spent on maintaining your car, which, ironically enough, you use to get to work. In one sense you’re working just so that you can maintain something that can ensure that you keep working.

The automobile also brings an increased risk of accidental death. The news media pays much attention to soldiers killed in action overseas, but the number of deaths on the highway each year dwarfs that by a significant amount. On one side you have people killed while carrying out their occupational duties, namely the protection and defense of the innocent, and on the other you have people travelling to work, school, or the homes of family and friends. Obviously the number of deaths should be higher for those involved in dangerous combat, but the total number of traffic fatalities is much greater. Though the number is so high, it is just brushed aside as being part of the collateral damage that comes with having the freedom to drive on the open road.

For the champions of advancement the underlying appeal of progress is the ability to travel to new destinations. A person can now explore outer space if they want instead of being stuck in a tiny little area with no way out. Why would a person choose prison life over a life of freedom? Why would someone want to remain complacent and follow the same behavior every day when they can continuously explore and discover new things about this complex place that we call the creation?

outer spaceThe questions can be turned around though. Who is actually more advanced, the person who is content with a simple lifestyle dedicated to service to one particular entity or the person who requires constant expensive change to feel stimulated in the mind? Let’s think of it another way. Say we have two cellular telephone devices. They are identical except for the performance of the battery. One phone has a battery that can allow the phone to operate for up to a week with average use. The other phone’s battery goes dead in a few days. Obviously the phone with the stronger battery is superior, as it is more efficient. It can do more work with the same amount of energy as can the other phone with the inferior battery.

Applying the same principle, the living entity who requires costly advancement simply to find mental felicity is less efficient than the person who can find happiness at any time and in any circumstance. Lest we think the latter person is a myth, the Vedic principles provide instructions to create that very disposition for all of us. At the heart of activity is the search for ananda, or bliss. The external appearances can cloud this fact, but when the wise person abstracts behavior, both present and past, it is seen that this desire for pleasure is the instigator of every single action. Even austerity measures like dieting and observing ritualistic functions are undertaken for eventually furthering a better mental condition.

As consciousness is the key determining factor in a person’s happiness, when it can be focused on something that has an inexhaustible supply of bliss, pleasure can be found in any circumstance, regardless of the time period or how advanced society may be. That ultimate source of pleasure is, not surprisingly, the Supreme Lord, who thus gets a specific description based on this feature. Since He is the reservoir of pleasure and all-attractive, He is known as Krishna in the Vedic tradition.

Lord KrishnaHow do we connect with Krishna? Do we need the simple life of the farm or the hustle and bustle of the city? While for the spiritualist it is easy to put down the latest advancements in technology, can’t things like e-readers and internet videos help one to connect with God? Aren’t these outlets easier to use than the past requirements of having to travel to a place where discussions on Krishna were being held? Shri Krishna, being absolute, can be found through His holy names, which are put together nicely in the perfect prayer known as the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

The maha-mantra addresses Krishna and His energy and asks them to be allowed to be engaged in the Lord’s service without motivation and without interruption. The same desire for pleasure is there, but since it is directed at connecting with Krishna, the devotee is considered free of desire, akama. Since there is no personal desire, the service can continue without interruption, for there is no stage of maturity that causes the outflow of service to cease.

For the spiritualist who makes the chanting of the maha-mantra a serious occupation and follows the prescribed regulations of reciting it for sixteen rounds a day on a set of japa beads coupled with abstention from meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex, the Supreme Lord and His smiling face can be remembered at any time and at any place. Shrila Haridasa Thakura, the acharya of the holy name, would find tremendous pleasure by living in a cave and chanting the maha-mantra in front of the sacred tulasi plant, who as a goddess grants devotion to Krishna to those who honor her.

Shrila PrabhupadaOn the other side, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and his disciples found supreme pleasure by travelling around the world and distributing the holy names to as many people as possible. This endeavor required travelling on airplanes, using typewriters and computers, and making use of basically everything the modern advanced society had to offer. Therefore in either situation, in the primitive or the modern, the soul desperately craving lasting happiness can find it.

In general, the simplified, renounced lifestyle is considered superior, for at least there are less distractions. But all in all, it is the efficiency of the mind which determines whether one’s condition is superior or not. The person who doesn’t need to travel far and wide to find happiness is much better situated than one who is aimlessly looking for that elusive happiness in all places around the world. As inside of every living being rests the Supreme Lord within the heart next to the individual soul, we don’t have to go far to find God. Through following the simple instructions of the bona fide spiritual masters, the mind can turn into a very efficient machine that uses the strong attachment to God to fuel further activities, which in turn keep the flame of devotion alive.

“For one who remembers Me without deviation, I am easy to obtain, O son of Pritha, because of his constant engagement in devotional service.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.14)

More than just finding happiness in the present, it is promised by Shri Krishna Himself, who is the source of that pleasure, that into the next life the same engagement will continue for the devoted soul. The lower animals find sense pleasure through basic activities, but we don’t consider the animals to be advanced because they don’t know anything about the soul. Repeatedly taking birth as a pig is considered a punishment because one never learns how to connect with God, who brings the highest pleasure anyone can ask for. In this respect there can be no comparison between the person immersed in bhakti and the living entity comfortably situated in material affairs. One side has an engagement that will continue for lifetime after lifetime, while the other is both burdened by many unwanted responsibilities and limited by the duration of their body’s existence.

Krishna's lotus feetThe supremacy of bhakti is proved by the efficiency of the workers who follow it. Moreover, their superior standing validates the position of Shri Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Material life in an advanced society requires exploitation of resources that aren’t so abundant. With scarcity comes fierce competition, and with competition comes a loss of compassion, leading to the predicament where everyone is always suspicious of one another. Therefore it shouldn’t surprise us that there are so many wars and constant strife in a life focused on material pursuits.

The fact that those things we actually need are the most abundantly available shows that God exists. Water, grains, milk and sunlight are available to practically everyone, and they are not expensive. Those things that we don’t require - elegant jewelry, modern electronic gadgets, and fancy cars - are more expensive on purpose. In a similar manner, in spirituality, Krishna is most fully represented in the processes that are the easiest to implement, that are applicable to the most number of people. The holy name is thus His greatest blessing, a sound vibration that is Krishna Himself. Anyone can recite it and find their way towards a most advanced consciousness.

In Closing:

Primitive better than advanced lifestyle, say we dare?

Before you scoff, the efficiency levels do you compare.

One side to so many amenities is attached,

While the other from everything is detached.

To find mental stimulation must travel far and wide,

While simple take pleasure having God by their side.

No need for expense, chanting holy name is free,

From the benefits supremacy of bhakti you’ll see.

Whether old or new, use everything that is around,

To serve Krishna, to maintain His name’s sound.