Saturday, February 4, 2012

Let Me Stay

Shri Hanuman“There are many faults associated with ending my life, and if I remain alive I can find all-auspiciousness. Therefore, I will keep my life-breath, for by living success is assured.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.47)

vināśe bahavo doṣā jīvan prāpnoti bhadrakam ||
tasmāt prāṇān dhariṣyāmi dhruvo jīvati samgamaḥ |

In distress the bewildered man calls out to death personified, who he knows lives just inside of him, ready to come out at any moment. Addressing “death”, the man wonders if death can hear him calling. “Can you hear me? Won’t you come and take me away? I have suffered enough. I’ve done all I can to try to find success in life, but it’s of no use anymore. I know that you’re lurking around the corner, so just arrive here, right now, and end my suffering.” On the flip side, when times are good, when there is attachment to the life one has grown accustomed to since the time of birth, the plea is to have just a few more years. “Won’t you let me stay? Why do you have to take me away at this very moment?” Enjoyment and renunciation toggle back and forth, but through following a specific course of behavior, the mind can be properly situated and realize the reason for existence.

Why worry about either extreme? If death lives inside of us and is going to arrive, why worry about it? It’s like trying to control the temperature outside and stop the seasons from coming, both of which can never happen. In its struggles through life, the human being constantly accepts and rejects, like a swinging pendulum that operates on a fixed schedule. First there is the acceptance of the body, which takes place within the womb of the mother. Entry into the new, strange world brings the acceptance of parents and familial relationships.

toys blocksThe discovery process follows, wherein objects of the senses are noted and made use of. Yet at a young age, small children start to reject things, as they are given new toys which they don’t play with much. The tendency is for relatives and friends to buy toys for newborns, but the parents aren’t particularly fond of this. Seeing their child every day, they know that the interest in a new toy doesn’t last very long. The child may delight in the gift for one or two days, but after a while their interest will wane, leading them to discard the toy in favor of a new one.

The same acceptance and rejection occurs on a larger scale as the human being matures into adulthood. What throws a wrench into the mix is the knowledge of impending death. At some point in their life, the sober adult human being realizes their mortality. Seeing that their ancestors have passed on, they realize that at some point in the future, maybe even a long time from the present, they will be forced to renounce everything.

The constant struggles through acceptance and rejection, the hard work that goes into maintaining the body, and the pressures to repeatedly follow prescribed duties can become too much to take after a while. Especially when there is failure, the distressed worker may wonder what the purpose is to their existence. “Why do I constantly have to work? I’ve done enough in my life. Can’t I just live in peace? If I’m going to keep failing, I might as well renounce my body and thus remove the source of distress.”

On the flip side you have attachment to enjoyment. Eat, drink and be merry every single day and don’t worry about the future implications. Obviously there are consequences to every action, but not bearing the burden of the potential impact on future conditions can give some peace of mind. Nevertheless, irrespective of one’s viewpoint death arrives eventually. Therefore the need to find the proper engagement should always be the primary aim.

Can we say definitively that one set of activities is superior? Whether one wants to die or remain alive, what is the difference if the outcome will be the same? Existence is there for a reason. There is a purpose to our growth cycles, our repeated struggles through life. One way to realize this fact is to study every single behavior we’ve ever shown and try to decipher the root cause. “Okay, so I did this during my youth. Then later on I did that. Now, as an adult I regularly do this. What was I thinking when I first started out in each of these ventures?”

This sort of scientific analysis can be very tedious, as outside help will also be required. Sometimes we may forget why we took a certain action. Input from our friends and family can help, as they may remember what we told them prior to our involvement in a particular endeavor. Enthusiasm is shared with friends and family, so in this sense it turns out to be beneficial. They may remember certain things that we have totally forgotten about now.

Another route to figuring out information about the root cause is to accept it from authority. This is how we acquire many of the key pieces of information in life already. Indeed, we know that death will occur based on authority. We know from the authority of our sense perceptions and the past recorded sense perceptions passed on to us that everyone who has ever lived eventually died. We don’t know about death ourselves, for we have no memory of ever dying. We take it as a fact based on the words given to us by others and the visible results we see with our eyes. Noting down the outcomes, we see that as human beings, we are similar in makeup to the people who have died. Thus if they had to suffer death, the same fate will surely await us.

This method of knowledge gathering can also be used to figure out the reason for our existence. Take someone else’s experience, note down their thoughts, and then see if we are similar to them. If we can apply the same principles to our own lives, then we can learn the meaning of life directly from their experiences. This is much easier than trying to study every action that we have ever performed. That being said, where do we go to get this information? How do we decide who is worthy of acting as an authority figure, someone we can learn from?

Let’s take one example and see if it can apply to us. Many thousands of years ago, a royal kingdom was buzzing over a contest about to take place. The ruler of this kingdom had a beautiful daughter whose family ancestry was not known. Technically this girl was the king’s adopted daughter, as he had found her one day while ploughing a field. He could have left the baby girl in the ground or given her to someone else to raise, but immediately upon holding her in his arms, he knew that she was his daughter. Lest we think that this king was attached to family life or to his senses, he was actually famous around the world for being a great transcendentalist, one who had limited the influence of the senses.

What do we mean by the senses and their influence? Just imagine going through every day being perpetually hungry. Imagine always craving sex life, at every second. Imagine being unable to live for even a few hours without getting drunk. Imagine being so mentally distressed that you had to gamble on every game that was being played. These conditions are all the result of the influence of the senses, which, when left uncontrolled, can carry away the good mind of the sober person.

“There is no possibility of one's becoming a yogi, O Arjuna, if one eats too much, or eats too little, sleeps too much or does not sleep enough.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.16)

Krishna and ArjunaIn the Bhagavad-gita, one of the most famous scriptural works in history, it is said that a yogi is one who neither sleeps too much nor too little. He also doesn’t overindulge in eating, nor does he starve himself. In one sense, every person is taught the principles of yoga to some degree or another. Even if they are not taught them, they figure out some of the key principles on their own eventually. For instance, driving drunk is considered very dangerous behavior. The biggest alcoholic knows that it’s not a good idea to drink too heavily if they have to drive. Inebriation is merely an effect imposed by the senses; hence one who avoids getting overly intoxicated is following some sort of regulation.

Similarly, we know that if we don’t sleep enough the night before, we will be tired throughout the day. The same applies for eating too much or too little. If we don’t eat enough, the senses will attack us with hunger throughout the day. If we eat too much, we’ll have indigestion, lethargy, and overall weight gain. The senses are what drive us towards these different behavioral extremes, so by learning to control the senses, we can reach a favorable position.

The king in question was known as Videha, which means one who is outside of their body. Through the practice of yoga, the spirit soul, the essence of identity, becomes aloof to the senses. Instead of following the immediate demands for eating, sleeping, mating and defending, the yogi can control his behavior and remain fixed in calmness, peace, tranquility, and sobriety. The soul is not attached to the senses, so no amount of sense indulgence can bring true happiness. Yoga is practiced to limit the influence of the harmful effects of material existence, i.e. to remove distresses.

Though this king was an expert yogi who didn’t get too happy or too sad, he was warmed to the heart when he picked up this little girl. He immediately harbored affection for her, as he wiped the dust off of her body. Being childless, the king immediately desired to take the girl in as his daughter. As if the higher authorities knew what he was thinking, a voice from the sky appeared on the scene to let the king know that the girl he found was indeed his daughter in all righteousness, or dharma. In that particular time period, which was a long time ago, adherence to the principles of religion, or occupational duty, was the guiding force in life for the pious kings. This particular ruler was often described as dharma-atma, or righteous souled.

“Since he was childless, and due to affection for me, he placed me on his lap and said, ‘This is my child.’ Thus he developed feelings of love and affection for me.” (Sita Devi speaking to Anasuya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 118.30)

King Janaka and daughter SitaWhen the girl was brought back to his kingdom, the king and his wife raised her as their own daughter. When the time came for her marriage, however, the king was caught in a bind. On the one hand, as a soul devoted to dharma, the king had to get his daughter married; otherwise he would invite scorn from friends and family. For a king famous throughout the world for his mastery of yoga and adherence to religious principles, scorn based on deviations from righteous behavior is the worst kind of punishment. This ridicule would be rooted in his attachment to his daughter, which would stain his reputation.

On the other hand, the king didn’t know who the girl’s biological parents were. In those times the marriages were all arranged, as dharma called for women to be protected by men. The father would have loved to protect his daughter throughout her life, but there was the age difference. The king would likely pass on before the daughter, so who would take care of her in old age? Therefore marriage was necessary, with the father always looking to find an appropriate match in a groom. The boy’s qualities should be compatible with the girl’s, and he should come from a nice family.

Not being able to do an appropriate comparison of the astrological signs at the time of birth, the king settled upon a compromise. Previously he had been handed down a famous bow that was practically impossible to lift. He decided that he would hold a self-choice ceremony, where his daughter’s hand in marriage would be given to whoever could lift the bow. From her personal qualities, the daughter was worthy of the most chivalrous husband, so what better way to find the worthiest prince than to have them lift the famous bow?

As the news of the contest went out, seemingly all the royal kingdoms from around the world arrived to take their stab at becoming aligned with this famous king and his family. Like an assembly line, one by one valiant princes came and tried their hand at lifting the bow. Yet each of them went away dejected, as they couldn’t even move the bow. Just as one prince left a failure, another would immediately come in to fill his place in the rangabhumi, or arena. Yet he too would fail.

Rama with Vishvamitra and LakshmanaThen a famous sage and two handsome youths arrived on the scene. One boy was dark in complexion and the other was fair. The women of the town had gathered on that day to see the bow-lifting contest, as they too were very attached to the king’s daughter, wanting her to get married to the most suitable husband. Seeing these two youths, the women couldn’t help but be enamored. They remarked to one another, “Seeing these two young men our entire bodies are filled with bliss. Indeed, the fruit of our existence has arrived today upon seeing these two.”

The older youth, who was dark in complexion, would try to lift the bow. The younger brother was not a candidate for marrying the princess, because if the elder one were unsuccessful in lifting the bow, he would never even make an attempt. The younger seemed so devoted to the elder that he would never show up his brother. Thus the townspeople desperately hoped to have the darker one win the contest. He gave them so much delight just by His vision. If He would win the contest, then both brothers would join the family.

These two youths were Rama and Lakshmana, sons of the famous king of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dasharatha. They were travelling through the forests with the venerable Vishvamitra Muni, a sage whose sacrifices were being disturbed by the miscreant element of society. Upon the request of the king holding the ceremony, the trio was invited to come and observe the festivities.

The host king was Maharaja Janaka of Mithila and his daughter in whose honor the ceremony was being held was Sita Devi. Thus the women captivated by the sight of Rama and Lakshmana wanted Sita to be married to Rama. Some even began to worry that their preferred outcome wouldn’t happen. They wanted Rama to marry Sita so badly that they began to privately curse the king for having made his promise. “What if someone else comes and lifts the bow? What if, just like the rest of the princes, Rama can’t move the famous bow?”

From the remarks of the women, we see that they knew that the reason for living, the fruit of their existence, was revealed on that day from the vision of Rama and Lakshmana. They were on to something, as they weren’t exaggerating in their comments. From the ancient texts of India, the Vedas, we learn that Rama and Lakshmana are divine personalities. Lord Rama is an incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, or the person most of us refer to as God. Lakshmana is His dear friend, His eternal associate in the spiritual sky. Thus just by having a strong affection for the vision of Rama and Lakshmana, not holding any envy towards them and basically loving them without motive, the observing women realized the reason for their existence. Because of their pure motives, and also because of Sita’s divine nature, Rama would indeed lift the bow and win the hand of Janaka’s daughter in marriage.

Sita and RamaWe can take it on the authority of the women in Mithila what our reason for existence is. But the mind tends to doubt, and it also forgets things very quickly. Therefore, for further substantiation, we can look to the above referenced sentiment from Shri Hanuman. After Sita and Rama would be married in a grand ceremony, they would spend much time together, eventually roaming the forests of India. During that time Sita would be taken away from Rama’s side by the king of Lanka named Ravana. The king did this by temporarily luring Rama and Lakshmana away from Sita’s side. In His subsequent search for His wife, Rama formed an alliance with a band of forest dwellers in Kishkindha.

Their lead warrior was Hanuman, who later found himself all alone in Lanka, looking for Sita. Just like the women in Mithila, Hanuman fell in love with Rama and Lakshmana from meeting them the first time. This tells us that Hanuman is no ordinary person, for a spontaneous transcendental attraction towards God is very difficult to acquire upon first glance. The real purpose of yoga is to limit the influence of the senses to the point that the mind can relish the transcendental topics describing the Supreme Lord, His various incarnations, and their activities. God is a singular entity, but according to time and circumstance, He manifests Himself differently. In this particular time, God took the spiritual form of a warrior prince. In the Shrimad Bhagavatam, the crown jewel of Vedic literature, it is said that the incarnations of the Supreme Lord never actually assume or reject forms. They simply appear on the scene when the time is right. The conditioned souls don’t know what formless actually means, thus they describe the incarnations according to their visual appearances.

Though Hanuman had never met Sita, he knew that since she was married to Rama she was someone special. Therefore Hanuman tried his hardest to find her, searching practically every inch of space in Lanka. Yet he was unsuccessful. This is when doubt started to creep into his mind. What if he never found her? How could he live with himself if he returned to Kishkindha and gave everyone the heartbreaking news? In his mind, Hanuman decided that news of his failure would bring the destruction of everyone back home, of all of his friends and family. Hence he settled upon just resigning his body. He was essentially choosing the “death, take me now”, option.

HanumanPreviously he had been eager to act, as he had leaped across the ocean and bravely entered enemy territory without being noticed. Normally the renunciation attitude comes after the attachment leads to unhappiness. This wasn’t the case with Hanuman, though. He enjoyed working in devotion to please Rama. He contemplated suicide because he felt like a failure in serving Rama. In this way his actions in Lanka were not part of fruitive activity at all. Just as Janaka was a true yogi even when he had an attachment to Sita, Hanuman was always in yoga even while contemplating quitting his body over failing to find Sita.

Just like Janaka, Hanuman’s transcendental affection would lead him in the proper direction. In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, we see that Hanuman changed course by properly considering the matter over. He tells himself that quitting at this point in time would bring so many negative consequences, while remaining alive would at least keep some hope for seeing a positive future outcome. He’s basically deciding between life and death, the reason for continuing on. If he quit, if he demanded death to come, the chances of Sita being rescued would go away. Moreover, the people back home possibly would never find out what had happened to him. Hanuman was blessed in his youth with the ability to choose the time of his death, so special was his character. Therefore if he wanted to die, he simply had to summon death and he would be taken away.

On the other hand, if he remained alive, there was a chance at success. That victory would bring pleasure to both Sita and Rama, as well as to all the forest dwellers, his extended family, back home in Kishkindha. Thus we see that the purpose to one’s existence is not to satisfy the senses, but rather to feel bliss through service. This happiness is of the transcendental variety; hence it never fizzles out. It is so wonderful that it keeps the soul within the body fully craving transcendental association. The women in Mithila realized the fruit of their existence, and Hanuman showed that that fruit is worth tasting. When he had the vital force still within his body, while he still had the chance to see Rama’s smiling face, Hanuman desired to maintain his life and continue fighting on in devotion.

That same vision of the Supreme Lord in constant happiness can be seen by one who regularly practices bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Devotion can manifest in any type of activity; it can come from seeing the Lord as a youth about to lift a bow and also by looking for His wife in enemy territory. Should these rare opportunities not be available to us, we can always hold on to the holy names, the sound vibration representations of the Supreme Lord. The two best names for God are “Krishna” and “Rama” and they are nicely sequenced together in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. As long as we have the ability to recite this sacred formula, our life is worth living. Death will come regardless, but while we have the chance to stay in our body, we should taste the wonderful fruit of our existence by feeling the bliss that comes from associating with God. This was the path taken by Hanuman, and for his dedication he was rewarded with success. He would go on to find Sita and help Rama in rescuing her. Just being able to hear about Hanuman is reward enough for having taken birth.

In Closing:

If enjoying life ask death to let me stay,

Otherwise welcome it, take me away.

But there is a purpose, reason to exist,

To find bliss pure consciousness must persist.

In Mithila women Rama and brother did see,

Gave so much pleasure, like wish-fulfilling tree.

Hanuman found pleasure in time of trouble,

Contemplated death, but effort instead redoubled.

Take steps now before death does arrive,

Chant holy names, pleasure to derive.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Sannyasa At Home

Worshiping Radha and Krishna“The grihastha ashrama, or the shelter of spiritual family life, is as good as the life of a sannyasi, a member of the renounced order. Regardless of whether one is a householder or a renunciate, the important point is that of relevant inquiries.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Science of Self-Realization, 1f)

The structure you’re trying to support with your work determines the influence that the work will have on your overall consciousness, which is the determining factor in one’s disposition, positive or negative. Whether one is working on an assembly line and going through the motions or starting a brand new computer company at a time when the personal computer doesn’t even exist, it is the influence on consciousness that determines whether the work applied is worthwhile. When supporting the highest aim, that which keeps consciousness pure, even ordinary work can become a source of great pleasure.

In Vedic culture, the sannyasa ashrama is held in high esteem. Based on the conditions required to maintain this order we can see the obvious benefits. Sannyasa equates to renunciation, and specifically to giving up ties to the spouse. From the relationship to the spouse come so many obligations of family. Family responsibilities require that one has to support a household, which means that one has to work for many years. When one is obligated to do something, their time is immediately occupied in affairs that aren’t necessarily enjoyable. If it is my desire to play on the beach all day or just travel to different destinations, I obviously can’t do these things if I have to work to support my family.

Sannyasa relieves the most pressing of these obligations, as the order is typically accepted after one has been married for many years. When the spouse can be taken care of by the children, a person can accept the renounced order and be free from family obligations. Nevertheless, as it is an ashrama, or spiritual institution, sannyasa is meant to further the highest goal of attaining pure God consciousness by the time of death. Human beings have a higher intelligence for a reason. Without the ability to contemplate on God and achieve His association, the life of an animal is preferable, as there are minimal worries.

“And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.5)

Worshiping KrishnaWith the release of obligations, a sannyasi can dedicate more time to devotional efforts, such as chanting the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, assimilating Vedic wisdom, and travelling from place to place disseminating information about bhakti-yoga. Bhakti, or devotion, is the soul’s most pleasurable occupation and when it is tied to yoga, the love is directed at the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Through their position, the sannyasi acquires the highest gravitas. His message calling for exclusive devotion to God carries the most weight because he lives a renounced life. If I am overweight and talk to people about the benefits of exercise and eating healthy, obviously my message will not be taken very seriously. In a similar manner, if someone is attached to material existence, working hard to maintain a home revolved around sense gratification, the message that bhakti-yoga is the highest discipline for mankind will be more difficult to accept. A sannyasi has no source of income; they purposefully travel from one place to another, not staying for too long anywhere they expect to get good accommodations. Though the changing modern times have loosened some of the restrictions on the sannyasa order, the main purpose to the ashrama remains the same: dedicating one’s life completely to serving God.

So what about the family man? Is he lost? Does he have no chance for self-realization because he must work? As mentioned before, we accept work to support a certain goal. The grihastha ashrama, or married householder life, is not held in as high esteem as the sannyasa order because one must mix with fruitive activity to maintain their home. There is a risk in this, for if the goals start shifting towards increasing the luxuries at home, at having indulgence in sense gratification over anything else, the consciousness gets contaminated during the application of work.

If contamination does occur, the remedy is not to suddenly abandon the home and take up the life of a mendicant. Rather, if the primary occupational practice within the home is shifted towards bhakti-yoga, then even the fruitive work becomes pure. For instance, if I work hard to maintain a home where regular chanting of the holy names takes place, where sumptuous food preparations are offered to the deity representation of the Supreme Lord residing in a place in the home, then my work is actually part of yoga. In fact, everything that I do to support that lifestyle, from eating properly to sleeping on time, becomes a component of that yoga as well.

Shri Shri Radha Vrindavana-ChandraWho would ever think that arriving in the office and answering your emails and phone calls would be an act of yoga? Typically, the ancient discipline is associated with sitting in strange postures and travelling to remote destinations where one can meditate with limited distractions. The mind is the central focus of yoga, as its link to the divine consciousness forges a bond that produces bliss. Whatever state of being one remembers at the time of death, they attain that state in the next life. So whoever keeps the link to the divine consciousness active while exiting the body attains the company of the Lord in the next life.

“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.6)

A person who works for serving the Supreme Lord, for creating a spiritual atmosphere in their place of residence, who never flinches in their devotion, actually lives the life of a sannyasi though they may not have the necessary robes. The sannyasi is a traveller after all, going from place to place to deliver the news from the transcendental realm. That message is required because without accepting information from a chain of disciplic succession that originates at the beginning of time, mankind will continue to speculate on the nature of the Absolute Truth. That speculation will never reach a concrete conclusion, for without authority any person’s guess is as good as another’s.

Picture being in a room with other people when suddenly the lights go out. In the dark, the room’s occupants can speculate as to what’s going on externally, but no one can actually be sure that what they are saying is true. On the other hand, when the light is present, the same objects around the room can be described in a multitude of ways, with each person’s description being valid since they understand the actual nature of the objects about which they speak.

The human mind alone is incapable of understanding the Supreme Absolute Truth because of duality. Can we imagine something that is white and black at the same time? What about a form that has hands and at the same time doesn’t? These are some of the features that describe the Supreme Absolute Truth, who is both formless and with form. The absence of a form can only take place when there is a form that gets removed, sort of like how darkness only enters when light dissipates.

“By Me, in My unmanifested form, this entire universe is pervaded. All beings are in Me, but I am not in them.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.4)

In the Bhagavad-gita, the object of sacrifice, the Supreme Absolute Truth in His personal form, describes how He pervades the material existence with His impersonal aspect, which doesn’t have a form visible to the eyes. God resides within us as the Supersoul, but we don’t see Him. We can’t even see the individual soul within the body, which represents our identity, so how are we going to notice God’s unmanifested form?

The Bhagavad-gita and other Vedic scriptures describe the personal forms of the Lord which have appeared on this planet many times throughout the years. Spiritualists worship these personal forms, which are described as avataras of Bhagavan. Even if one doesn’t know the Absolute Truth’s personal form, they are still worshiping Him all the same, though that worship doesn’t bring personal association. Only the devotee connects with Bhagavan, for the Supreme Lord appears on the scene to validate their dedication. A long time ago, a famous five-year old son of a king was being tortured by his atheist father. Prahlada Maharaja was dedicated to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and his father Hiranyakashipu didn’t like this. Prahlada tried to explain to his father that God was inside of him as well, but the father wouldn’t listen. Rather, he mocked Prahlada and sarcastically asked if his God were in the pillar situated next to them. Prahlada said “yes”, and immediately the Supreme Lord in the form of Narasimhadeva appeared on the scene and did away with Hiranyakashipu.

Narasimha and PrahladaThe impersonal aspect of the Supreme Lord pervades the material creation, and the unmanifested Supersoul is also within every living creature, but these features did not appear on the scene to protect Prahlada. Rather, the Supreme Lord, in a personal form, appeared from a pillar to show that He is a personality, someone with features that are astonishing in their abilities. These features are all-attractive and all-good. Though Narasimhadeva killed Hiranyakashipu with His nails, that act of violence is wonderful to remember, as it showed God’s dedication to protecting those who surrender everything to Him.

Whether one is a householder or a sannyasi, dedication to bhakti-yoga is what matters. Our work supports a specific end, and if that end involves bhakti-yoga, the hard work that we apply will always be worth it. The Personality of Godhead hears the heartfelt cries of His holy name coming from His devotees, just as the mother of a newborn calf rushes to the scene and produces milk for her dependent child. The spiritual association is the greatest reward in life, for it is the only link that doesn’t sever at the time of death. Krishna remains with those who love Him, regardless of the specific work they may take up to please Him.

In Closing:

Sannyasi high gravitas to gain,

By no longer in home to remain.

From fruitive work’s full rejection,

No more duties or obligations.

But all work just meant to further an end,

The structure of home on our work depends.

For purification just change your goal,

Glories of God in home do you extol.

To love Krishna like Prahlada make life’s aim,

Personal divine association to gain.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

What To Give

Shri Rama's lotus feet“O Prabhu, you fulfill all desires and give the four fruits of existence. Understanding that, I am fearful of what I could possibly give to you.” (Janaki Mangala, 22)

tumha prabhu pūrana kāma cāri phaladāyaka |
tehiṃ teṃ būjhata kāju ḍarau munidāyaka ||

Just imagine being the wealthiest person in the world, capable of going into any area and taking property because of your ability. Then picture coming up to someone else and telling them that you can’t give them anything valuable. Your statement isn’t one based on sentiment and it is not rooted in a deficiency in ability. Rather, the person you’re speaking to is the one who can give you anything that you really desire, anything important to you. Though they outwardly have nothing, their wealth is more valuable than anything else, so it is impossible to repay them when they are kind enough to bestow benedictions upon you. Such a scene was present in the city of Ayodhya many thousands of years ago, but the acknowledged wealthy party in this scenario, the king Dasharatha, was able to provide the exalted sage Vishvamitra something invaluable. That gift is the most cherished item for every single person, and the fact that Dasharatha would voluntarily part with it for a moment only enhances his wonderful stature.

Who is Maharaja Dasharatha? The ancient kings of the world were concentrated in the area today known as India. Not that their influence was confined locally; they were addressed by such names as Mahipati and Bhupati, which mean “lord of earth”. The names weren’t assigned out of sentiment either. The kings had control over the entire earth, through either personal supervision or the influence of their many proxies. There were other kingdoms headed by other leaders, but the main king would have a recognized supremacy.

“The Blessed Lord said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and Vivasvan instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Ikshvaku.” (Bhagavad-gita, 4.1)

Bhagavad-gitaWith that firm authority came great responsibility. King Dasharatha and those rulers appearing before him in the family upheld virtue. Maharaja Ikshvaku set the standard for good governance, having heard the truths of the Bhagavad-gita from his father Manu. Manu heard it from Vivasvan, who heard it from Shri Krishna, the original speaker of the Gita. The Bhagavad-gita is a song containing the essence of Vedic teachings, the true meaning of life and the ultimate philosophy to guide mankind’s behavior.

How can we make qualitative comparisons between philosophies? How do we determine if one philosophy is better than another? The more the philosophy tackles the root issue of life, especially with respect to identity, the more valuable it will be. For instance, if we read a book on how to succeed in business, it will only benefit us if we identify with businessmen. The same goes for cookbooks, marriage counseling, and instruction on how to be a good life partner.

Sometimes even philosophies that seem larger in scope get mistaken to be guiding philosophies on life. The Constitution of the United States of America is a nice example in this regard. A document formed off of compromise and aimed to rebuke the perceived harsh treatment from the past government, the Constitution serves as the foundation of the American government. Some revere the Constitution and its principles so much that they refer to the document as their “Bible”, which is a stunning admission. For something other than the original Bible to be considered the guiding philosophy on life indicates that the Bible is either misunderstood or deficient in its ability to guide behavior.

Religion in the true definition is not based merely on sentiment. It is a science which has laws that cannot be denied. Just as it would be silly to say that we believe or don’t believe in the law of gravity, to deny the existence of spirit and its position transcendental to the material nature can only be a sign of ignorance. Documents like the Constitution negate behavior that is considered harmful from governing bodies, championing the concept of freedom and its benefit to society. At the same time, tyranny, oppression and those acts of government which are shunned by the founders of the United States are the very result of freedom. Without an exercise of freedom, we cannot get any outcome in behavior. Therefore freedom itself cannot be the answer to life’s problems.

The Bhagavad-gita addresses all of these issues, as it puts forth the ultimate philosophy on life, the primary guiding principle. It is said that the Vedas, the system of spirituality instituted by Shri Krishna, are the root of the tree of material existence. This means that every philosophy, existing past, present or future, is derived from the Vedas. Lord Krishna is the head of Vedic philosophy, and since He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, His original system of religion is meant for connecting the living entities with their most preferred destination. Thus every rule presented by Vedic philosophy, including the recommendations given to kings, is intended to carry the living entity further along towards the ideal destination of the Supreme Lord’s company.

King DasharathaA king like Dasharatha knew the governing principles, how to guide human behavior properly. Freedom is wonderful, but if it is misused you get chaos and misery. A document only limiting the actions of government will not provide man the guidance that he so desperately wants. History is filled with tyrannical regimes who killed millions of people to meet the demands of their brutal leaders. This could only occur because of the soul’s inclination to serve. Even with full freedom, with no restrictions on action, the living being will have a desire to offer some service.

Vedic philosophy does not overlook the service issue. Rather, the tendency towards service is completely embraced, with every member of society given an object of service that matches their body’s inherent qualities. The pious ruler implements these matches to keep safe what is known as the varnashrama-dharma system. Because of their fidelity to the Vedas and the nature of the work they had to perform, the pious kings like Dasharatha were in possession of so much wealth. They distributed charity, but only to the brahmanas, the priestly class of men who were voluntarily living by austerity.

One such austere brahmana was Vishvamitra, who visited King Dasharatha’s palace one time. The king could give away in charity pretty much anything valuable to a brahmana, even if they didn’t specifically ask. All special occasions were marked by the donation of such things as gold, cows and jewelry to brahmanas, who thus didn’t have a hard time surviving despite not specifically working for a living. The priests engaged in sacrifice, penance, austerity, learning the Vedas, teaching the Vedas, and giving instruction to society and its leaders. Since they were so busy providing valuable instruction, they didn’t have time to earn a living through fruitive activity.

King Dasharatha was so pleased to have Vishvamitra visit him and bless his family that he offered the above referenced sincere words of praise. The sage could grant any desire, including the four fruits of a human existence: religiosity, economic development, sense gratification and ultimate salvation. As this combination of rewards is difficult to come by, one is considered very fortunate to get all of them. If Vishvamitra, who had no possessions, could provide this to the king, what could Dasharatha possibly give in return? This imbalance instilled some trepidation in the king, for perhaps the brahmana would ask for something that he couldn’t give. If that were the case, it would be a shameful stain on the Ikshvaku line that Dasharatha belonged to. The king must always give the bona fide brahmanas whatever they want, for why else do they rule the earth? If the most intelligent and munificent members of society are not pleased and protected, how can the king say that he is doing a good job?

Fortunately for the king, Vishvamitra would ask for something that he could give. Nevertheless, the request tore at the heart of the pious ruler. Vishvamitra wanted protection while living in the forests. Some night-rangers were causing a disturbance, and rather than exhaust his spiritual merits by casting curses on them, Vishvamitra thought it would be better to have expert fighters guarding him for a while.

Did the sage ask for the most experienced fighter in Ayodhya? Did he ask Dasharatha for his most capable man who had proven his fighting ability in the past? Oddly enough, Vishvamitra asked for the king’s eldest son Rama to be his escort. This was strange because Rama was still a young boy, who barely had signs of maturity on His face. We know this from the accounts of one of the attacking night-rangers.

“At the time, there were not yet visible any signs of manhood on the boy’s beautiful face, which was dark-blue in complexion and had an all-auspicious gaze. Rama had a gold chain round His neck, a small tuft of hair on His head, wore only one piece of clothing, and held a bow in His hands.” (Maricha speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 38.14)

Lakshmana and Rama protecting VishvamitraRama was Dasharatha’s most prized possession, his favorite person in the world. The king would have to agree to the sage’s request though, so Rama went with Vishvamitra, with Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana following along. Lakshmana would never do anything without Rama, so strong was the love he had for his elder brother. While in the forest, Vishvamitra would get attacked by a night-ranger named Maricha during a time of sacrifice. Though Rama was so young, Vishvamitra’s intuition would prove correct, as Dasharatha’s eldest son would unhesitatingly string His bow and pierce Maricha with an arrow. The blow was so fierce that the night-ranger was thrown many miles away into an ocean.

Shri Rama was none other than the Supreme Lord, appearing on earth to enact pastimes and rid the world of the influence of Maricha’s clan, which was concentrated on the island of Lanka at the time. Dasharatha sacrificed his most beloved son, and for that kindness his stature as the most wonderful king would increase even more. Through Vishvamitra, Rama and Lakshmana would make it to the famous bow sacrifice held in the kingdom of Videha. There Rama would win the hand of Sita Devi, King Janaka’s daughter, in marriage. Thus it can be said that Dasharatha’s love for the brahmanas acted as a catalyst for the eventual meeting of the divine couple, Sita and Rama, the savior of the fallen souls.

In Closing:

Picture a person who has everything,

For no wealth is he at all longing.

Then to another admits that nothing can give,

For how to repay knowledge on how to live?

This situation long time ago occurred for real,

Vishvamitra king’s son for a moment wanted to steal.

To brahmanas Dasharatha never could say no,

So with Vishvamitra eldest son Rama did go.

Lakshmana, devoted brother took with Him,

In Janakpur hand of Sita Devi to win.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Changing The Subject Matter

Scenes from Mahabharata“No one can check the thinking activities of a living being, nor the feeling, willing or working processes. But if one wants actual happiness, one must change the subject matter only. Instead of talking of the politics of a dying man, one might discuss the politics administered by the Lord Himself.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.6.34 Purport)

This whole world is a product of God’s energy after all, so a blanket rejection of everything within it as being detrimental towards one’s spiritual aspirations is not a very wise policy. Though the human being has so many tendencies towards behavior that proves to be harmful in the end, the inclination to act needn’t be unnaturally checked. Rather, the same interests can be directed towards the inexhaustibly brilliant Vedic literature, which is full of enough variety to satisfy the inquisitive mind for many lifetimes. The hero in these documented accounts, the person who is the central focus of the pious behavior followed and the anger and rage of those who defy the established law codes, is none other than the Supreme Lord, whose spiritual form allows for an attachment that proves to be the most auspicious.

intoxicationCan attachment be detrimental? What is wrong with having affection for something? Is not the human spirit meant to love? If you have attachment to something that will cause you harm in the end, then obviously the emotional fixation is not warranted. For instance, having a few drinks at home after work may cause a slight relaxed sensation, but should the person indulge in even more adult beverages due to that feeling, in the process developing an attachment so strong that they can’t go a single day without intoxication, will they be benefitted by that behavior?

What about an attachment to a relationship, such as one involving romance or friendship? Fidelity to the relationship is certainly honorable, but basing attachment solely on bodily designations is flawed from the beginning, for the forms identified with must be renounced at some point in the future. Death is guaranteed for whoever takes birth, and whoever dies is guaranteed to take birth. The spirit soul, the essence of identity, is transcendental to these changes, but unless one knows how to identify with the self, the attachments they form will be based on temporary objects that must be parted with eventually. The stronger the attachment, the more painful the emotional fall at the time of separation.

In day-to-day affairs, there is a desire to hear about famous people. The news media profits from this desire. And the sentiments don’t necessarily have to be positive. Should there be a lascivious scandal on the campus of a university famous for its football program, the same figures previously adored and hailed as legends will be dragged down to the point that the newsmakers won’t settle until everyone hates the involved parties. Politics is arguably followed by the most number of people, for what a politician says and how they say it form the subject matter for the endless debates that take place both in print and television news media.

Should we not follow world events? If things are going on around us, why would we want to close our ears to them? The Vedas declare that the human form of body is the most auspicious, but not for its ability to form attachments to bodily relationships or famous figures described in the news. These tendencies indeed exist because of the properties of spirit, which from its constitution has a propensity to love. Love results in service, the kind which operates without motivation and interruption.

“The supreme occupation [dharma] for all humanity is that by which men can attain to loving devotional service unto the transcendent Lord. Such devotional service must be unmotivated [ahaituki] and uninterrupted [apratihata] to completely satisfy the self.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.2.6)

Radha and KrishnaService to worldly entities always involves motivation, and interruption is guaranteed. The attraction to the dealings of worldly figures carries the motivation for some type of personal enjoyment, either the ability to praise and honor someone or the inverse of harboring hatred and resentment. A famous athlete is praised for being so good at what they do, but should they fall from grace through illicit relations with many women, they will be hated by the same fans.

Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, a famous acharya on the Vedic teachings of Lord Chaitanya, remarks that hatred is borne of the same loving spirit found within the soul. Indeed, every emotion is derived from the soul’s desire to love in a transcendental way. This cogent fact uncovers the secret to finding lasting happiness, felicity which continues beyond the current lifetime. As the human being is the only species capable of rationally reaching this conclusion through following instruction and thinking it over before fully accepting it within the mind, it is the most advanced species. A precious human birth thus should not go to waste.

How do we break the tendency for harboring attachment to the temporary, or asat? When reviewing the disciplines of spirituality to potentially take up, it is natural to look at the restrictions first. To follow a discipline means that one currently does not have discipline. This only makes sense after all. We attend school to get educated because we are initially uneducated. We get trained in a particular field if we lack the training. Similarly, we start to follow religious principles because we currently don’t follow them at all.

The more restrictions you impose, the less appealing your system will be to potential followers. In the ultimate system of religion known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, the bona fide acharyas, when deciding to accept disciples, will impose a restriction on meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. It should be noted that these prohibitions are not necessary for practicing bhakti, as the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, can be taken up by anyone at any stage in life. The famous brahmana Ajamila inadvertently recited the name of Narayana, which is another word for God, at the time of death and was rescued from punishment for his past sinful behavior. During the latter half of his life Ajamila did not follow the regulative principles, so he would not have been accepted as a disciple of a bona fide spiritual master. Nevertheless, through past accumulated spiritual merits, he was fortunate enough to say the holy name while quitting the body, which thus guaranteed his salvation.

Ajamila rescued at the time of deathThis incident reveals the end-goal of the human birth: to think of God at the time of death. The restrictions are put into place to make that happen. Obviously for someone who grew up eating meat it will be difficult to give up the practice at every meal. The same goes for abandoning intoxication for someone who enjoys it so much, but the focus on the positives in bhakti is more important. With enough immersion in transcendental service, the restrictions will take care of themselves, though they are still explicitly stressed and monitored to show what is required in a spiritual leader. If a preacher speaks on the superiority of being attached to God and no one else, if they have attachments to sinful behavior, how will their message resonate? Example is better than precept, so one who actually follows the principles they preach will be a more effective leader.

Lord Chaitanya, the famous preacher incarnation of Godhead, took to the renounced order of life at a very young age precisely for this purpose. Imagine a twenty-four year old coming up to you and speaking about detachment, the endless existence of the spirit soul, and how one should abandon attachment to anything not directly related to Krishna, or God. Will we take such a youngster seriously? What could they possibly know anyway? But if the same person lives in the renounced order of life, they immediately become superior to others in terms of authority. After all, the person being preached to likely isn’t a sannyasi, and even if they are, they probably didn’t take to the order at such a young age. Thus through following the regulative principles, one earns respect from others and gets their attention when speaking on the glories of bhakti.

If the restrictions are imposed and followed, the tendency towards hearing about famous figures will be there anyway. If we don’t watch the news, we’ll still want to hear about someone else. Luckily for us, the Supreme Lord, the object of sacrifice and penance, comes to earth every so often along with His closest associates. As a respectful guest of the land He owns, Lord Krishna takes part in activities which mimic those of the ordinary living entities. The difference is that Krishna’s tejas, or splendor, is impossible to fully cover up. His activities, which include His instructing others, are the most splendid, so marvelous that they are still talked about to this day.

Pick up a gossip paper that is more than a week old and it likely won’t be useful to you. The twitter feed from a month ago doesn’t have any relevant information because the news reported was meant to only pique the curiosity of someone looking for higher enjoyment, not to satisfy them. With Krishna’s activities, the enjoyment derived from hearing lasts for as long as the Supreme Lord’s stories continue to be told. If you’re interested in hearing about politics, how people lie to get ahead, and how the pious counteract the influence of the sinful, just immerse yourself in the Mahabharata, which describes Krishna’s involvement in the famous feud between the Kauravas and Pandavas. If you like hearing about love stories, men and women getting together, condition yourself to learn about Shri Krishna and His eternal consort Shrimati Radharani. Then hear about their dealings from a bona fide source. These pastimes, though very intimate and thus off limits to the neophyte, are documented in the Shrimad Bhagavatam for a reason. They give tremendous joy to those who have an anxious desire to hear about God and His activities.

Radha and KrishnaIf you like hearing about weddings, focus your mind on the famous ceremony held in Janaka’s kingdom, where Krishna in His form of Lord Rama lifted an extremely heavy bow belonging to Lord Shiva to win Janaka’s daughter’s hand in marriage. If you want to hear about the struggle for existence, the successful triumph over both physical and mental obstacles, travel back in time to when Shri Hanuman, Rama’s most faithful servant, infiltrated the enemy territory of Lanka all by himself to find Rama’s missing wife, Sita Devi.

These mental trips will be so worth it that you’ll eventually abandon your attachment to the temporary. The natural yearning towards service and stimulation of the mind doesn’t have to be artificially renounced. Rather, just by changing the subject matter, one can go from living a material existence to enjoying a spiritual life which is full of knowledge, bliss and eternality. The human being’s birthright is to love God, and by following the methods laid down by Krishna Himself, that destiny can become a reality.

In Closing:

Stories of celebrities in papers you’ll find,

Piques the curiosity of your mind.

From hearing about scorn, love and deceit,

Some pleasure in your mind you receive.

These tendencies don’t outwardly reject,

Focus on Krishna instead, change the subject.

With proper training hear of highest love,

Radha and Krishna always think of.

For bravery Hanuman, and Mahabharata politics,

This way guarantee of salvation when body you quit.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Why Should I Live

Hanuman“There are many faults associated with ending my life, and if I remain alive I can find all-auspiciousness. Therefore, I will keep my life-breath, for by living success is assured.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.47)

vināśe bahavo doṣā jīvan prāpnoti bhadrakam ||
tasmāt prāṇān dhariṣyāmi dhruvo jīvati samgamaḥ |

Here the valiant warrior, Shri Hanuman, lays down a vital piece of information that is applicable to every single human being, irrespective of the time period of their existence and their mental state of mind. Who hasn’t been so dejected that they thought of ending their life, fleeing from the relentless pressures applied by material existence? The family, friends, work, school, and so many other forces constantly ask us to perform at peak levels, to maintain our obligations, to deliver when times are tough. With death, there is no such pressure, nor does one have to witness the unpleasant aftermath that follows failure.

Shri HanumanWhat was Hanuman so down about? The completion of a seemingly impossible task rested in his hands. A beautiful princess had gone missing several months back and it was up to a band of warriors to find her. The person who took her obviously didn’t want to be found, and he didn’t really leave any clues as to his location. Through scouring the globe, one of the search parties eventually came upon some valuable intelligence. Sita Devi, the daughter of King Janaka, was being held on the island of Lanka, the home of the powerful king Ravana.

One slight problem though. The members who came upon this information could not reach Lanka, as the island was so far away from the mainland. They could try to construct a boat, but that would take a long time, and time was of the essence. Hanuman, the most powerful of the members in the party, was the only one capable of leaping across the ocean. He took his perch on top of a mountain and then thrust himself into the air. Coursing through the skies, he looked so beautiful. The source of his beauty was not only his outward appearance but also the mission he was undertaking. The dastardly Ravana had a ghoulish figure which matched the nature of his activities. He had flown in an aerial car with Sita to Lanka, but now Hanuman was launching himself through the very same skies.

Hanuman was exhilarated upon reaching Lanka. He then found a way to infiltrate the city without being noticed. Yet after searching for so long, he still couldn’t find Sita. This is where dejection set in. The pressures applied to him were mounting more now that he was so close to victory. It is one thing to lose at the outset, knowing that you didn’t have a chance. It is more heartbreaking to fail just when you think you have overcome all the obstacles placed in front of you.

To make matters worse, Hanuman mentally reviewed what might happen should he return to his group a failure. The warriors in his group were forest-dwellers, or Vanaras. They lived in the Kishkindha forest, where ruled the king of Vanaras, Sugriva. Waiting with Sugriva were Rama and Lakshmana, two famous princes of the Ikshvaku dynasty. Sita was Rama’s wife, so Hanuman was essentially acting on Rama’s behalf. Just imagine a group of individuals staying at home and waiting to hear news on the mission. It is similar to being in the waiting room of a hospital to hear how a difficult surgical operation has gone for an ailing friend or family member.

Hanuman did not want to return to Kishkindha with bad news. He had settled in his mind that everyone would die if he told them that he had failed. Rama would quit His body, then Lakshmana, then the whole royal family living in Ayodhya. With Rama gone, Sugriva would soon follow, and then all the monkeys and their wives after that. In this way Hanuman ruled out returning home.

The next option was suicide. Not the kind where one jumps off of a ledge or overdoses on drugs, but rather the voluntary quitting of the body through yoga. The soul is the identifiable aspect within a particular life form, and since it is separate from the body, whenever the soul exits, the living being goes from being alive to being dead. The soul continues its existence, and where it ends up next is determined by the consciousness at the precise moment that the previous life ended.

HanumanIn ancient times men could choose when they were going to die by sitting in meditation and liberating the self from the body. This was the method considered by Hanuman, for he had mastery over every siddhi of yoga. A siddhi is a perfection, so when practicing yoga properly, the fruit is an ability to do something amazing. A real yogi can become lighter than air, become large or small in stature, or quit his body whenever he chooses. These events took place in the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, so it was not out of the ordinary for people to practice yoga properly.

Hanuman figured he’d either sit in trance and end his life or just dive into the ocean. Living off nothing but the fruits falling off trees, he wouldn’t enjoy his remaining time on earth. He didn’t want to take the option of quitting to enjoy life instead, for how could he be happy knowing that others were waiting to hear from him? Ah, but this would be the key factor that would eventually keep him going. Not that he was worried about his own stature or what would bring him fame. No, Hanuman was always concerned with the welfare of Rama, Lakshmana, Sita and all of his other beloved friends and well-wishers.

In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Hanuman makes a wonderful observation that everyone can take to heart. By ending his life prematurely, there would be so many bad things that would result. For starters, he would have abandoned the mission. A soldier must fight until the very end, not being concerned with victory or defeat. This level of detachment should be the goal for every person who is engaged in fruitive activity or just carrying out their occupational duties. If we get too elated over victory, we will have a difficult time dealing with trouble. If we become too dejected over defeat, how will we ever succeed? The house takes a long time to build, as each component must be layered upon one another, with eventually a full housing structure resulting. If there is dejection over a small setback, a day where things don’t go your way, how could the final piece ever be built?

In addition to the black mark of having abandoned the mission, Hanuman would have to face the fact that others would lose their hope of finding Sita and thus happiness in life. He would quit and give up his body, but what would happen to everyone else? They would just sit there and hope for no reason? They would wonder, “What has happened to Hanuman? Did he find Sita? Did he fail in his mission? How can Hanuman fail? No one is more powerful than him. What could be taking him so long?”

This very scenario went through Hanuman’s mind, thus leading him to the conclusion that the quitting option was fraught with peril. On the other hand, staying alive at least gave him a shot at success. He wasn’t guaranteed of victory by remaining alive, but ending his life ensured that there would be no chance. It is similar to how athletes playing in an important tournament will say that they can’t win the tournament in the first week, but they can lose it. This means that if they don’t take the early opponents seriously, they will have no chance for the prize at the end. As long as they can stay in the tournament, they have a chance to win.

While these points may seem obvious to the sober observer, to the person in the heat of battle fighting the mission the rules and principles to live by don’t always remain at the forefront of consciousness. With remaining alive and trying, Hanuman had a chance to find Sita and return the information of her location to the party back home in Kishkindha. This is exactly what he would do. His courage and bravery know no limits; he is the dearmost friend of Sita, Rama and Lakshmana. Hanuman’s feats are so legendary that they are still talked about to this day, and he is celebrated and honored by so many around the world.

Shri Rama DarbarIf his mission were ordinary, Hanuman would still be worthy of praise based on his heroic feats. But since he was working to please the Supreme Lord, Shri Rama, and His pleasure potency, Sita Devi, Hanuman’s heroic acts were part of the discipline known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. As mentioned before, yoga has to do with detaching the soul from the body and keeping it fixed in trance. But this doesn’t mean that one has to sit quietly and meditate all the time. There is another soul residing within the body known as the Paramatma, or Supersoul. This entity is non-different from God; it is His kind expansion accompanying the individual soul, or atma, wherever it goes. The first step in yoga is detaching from the senses, and the culmination is linking the individual soul to the Supersoul.

The best way to create this link is through a bond of love, which is bhakti-yoga’s aim. In this sense, quiet meditation, chanting sacred mantras like, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, reading Vedic texts, attending temple gatherings, and other devotional activities can constitute yoga. Even fighting and frantically searching through an enemy territory can be considered yoga. God is a singular entity, but to please those who follow bhakti He kindly appears on earth every now and then in different forms. As Lord Rama, God created scenarios where others could take up service to Him, for this would bring them tremendous happiness.

As we saw with Hanuman, service to God can actually increase the pressure for finding success. Hanuman’s mission is the same one given to all living entities, though they may not necessarily have to follow the same course of action. Conditioned life, which is marked by the soul accepting a temporary body that it has nothing to do with, continues for only as long as permanent yoga is not established. Does this mean that Hanuman had periods in his life where he wasn’t attached to God in a mood of pure love? For the eternally liberated souls, there is never a chance for falling out of the mood of bhakti. But this doesn’t mean that they stay safely tucked away somewhere, hidden from society. The divine descents mark the beginning act of a wonderful drama to be played out in a carefully choreographed sequence of events. The Lord fills the roles with the most capable actors, people who are fully immersed in God consciousness.

Hanuman’s role in the Ramayana gives a real-life example of how to overcome obstacles and find success in life. Attaining perfect yoga in one lifetime is very difficult. Lord Krishna, the same Shri Rama but in a different visible form, states in the Bhagavad-gita that it takes many lifetimes for a person to even endeavor for self-realization, and then to find success from there is equally as rare. Yet the unsuccessful yogi does not waste any effort. If he has not succeeded in purifying his consciousness by the time of death, he gets to resume his chase in the next life from the same point where he left off. This benefit is exclusive to bhakti. If we fail to complete a building we were working on, we don’t get to start over in the next life. Everything is erased at the time of death except for consciousness, the soul’s innermost desires.

Quitting life prematurely is not the answer because it removes the potential for success. There is no way to predict what type of body the soul will receive next, especially if a person is driven by lamentations over material failures. On the other hand, as long as the vital force is within the body, there is a chance to please the Supreme Lord. This can be the rallying cry that gets us out of bed each morning. “Let me get up so that I can at least try to please God today. This is not possible, as I am the most fallen person, but since I’m alive I might as well make the attempt. Let me chant the glorious names of my beloved Lord, sound vibrations which are equal to Him. No other person is as kind to give everyone the chance to love Him without fail. There is no way to smother God with too much love. He will accept whatever I offer Him, so why should I not take full advantage of that? We human beings are brimming with potential for the outpouring of so much affection that no one will believe that any person could love that much. In our material service we are checked by the beneficiary’s ability to accept our love and also by the effect that behavior will have on the relationship. With Shri Rama, however, the more love we offer, the more endeared to Him we become, like the mother cow that produces heaps of milk when she sees her dear children crying for attention. Therefore let me arise today and give my love to God in a mood of bhakti.”

Hanuman worshiping RamaBy thinking in this way, the devotees give themselves a chance at remaining vibrant, day after day. Surely there will be bumps along the road, but that comes with the territory, as there are many Ravanas in the world trying to bring unhappiness to the innocent. They don’t want to worship the Supreme Lord; they would rather everyone worship them. But while there are many evil creatures, there are also people who follow in Hanuman’s line, taking devotional service to be life’s mission. To them Hanuman is a teacher, an honorable personality, and a beloved figure who should be remembered every day. He is loved by Rama so much because of the great concern he takes into every action and his desire to remain alive to please God and His family. By harboring the same love for Hanuman, Shri Rama and His beautiful wife Sita Devi will bestow all fortune upon us, ensuring that success in bhakti will come.

In Closing:

A grave mistake I will commit,

If prematurely my body I quit.

My chances for success to ground to fall,

So the path of quitting riddled with faults.

If you remain alive there is still the chance,

To please God, stature of bhakti to enhance.

Thus Hanuman chose to continue to be,

Guaranteed that Sita he would finally see.

His example is the one for all to follow,

Practice bhakti, in misery don’t wallow.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Making Work Pay

Krishna stealing butter“When Lord Krishna was present in this material world to manifest His eternal pastimes of the transcendental realm of Goloka Vrindavana as an attraction for the people in general, He displayed a unique picture of subordination before His foster mother, Yashoda. The Lord, in His naturally childish playful activities, used to spoil the stocked butter of mother Yashoda by breaking the pots and distributing the contents to His friends and playmates, including the celebrated monkeys of Vrindavana, who took advantage of the Lord's munificence.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.8.31 Purport)

Mother Yashoda works so hard during the day to maintain the household. A good mother never gets the proper credit she deserves. Selfless in motive, the mother runs the household, attends to the needs of the children, both large and small. There are the children designated by nature, who need help in doing everything from getting up in the morning to dressing properly for school. Then there is the biggest child in the husband, who needs help in similar areas and also admonishment with respect to errant and forgetful behavior. Yet the leader of the family assumes her duties in stride, not asking for anything in return. She wants everyone else to be happy, and for this so much work needs to be completed every single day. Bearing this in mind, it’s a little strange that the person who created this and many other universes, a person who is all-knowing, would delight in foiling a good mother’s work, in making her tasks a little more difficult to complete. Through the elation that would result, the hidden meaning to the plan of the greatest plan-maker would be revealed.

Mother Yashoda with Krishna“Mom, I’m hungry. Mom, I need something good to eat. Mom, can you make my favorite dish tonight? Mom, I need a ride to such and such place, can you take me?” For such statements to be uttered by children is not out of the ordinary, but if you look at them on the surface, they indicate odd behavior. The human being craves freedom, for the many violent uprisings throughout the course of human history have revealed this fact. Without freedom of action, man feels trapped, made to work against his will and restricted from doing those things that he likes to do. Yet concomitant with freedom is responsibility. If I want to be able to do whatever I want, I should at least know how to do what it is I am desirous of.

With each pursuit that freedom enables comes responsibility. If I want the freedom to be able to play sports, I should take the responsibility to prepare myself for the games. Preparation doesn’t just involve the action on the field of play. One must additionally eat and sleep properly, which requires consideration to both time and quantity of consumption. Ideally, my exercise of freedom should not impose on the ability of others to enjoy life. I may want the freedom to go places and experience new things, but if others are obligated to take me from one place to another and manage my wellbeing, where is the question of their freedom?

The head of the household takes all of this into consideration when the dependents want this thing or that. Freedom is wonderful, but the good mother knows that the children shouldn’t have too much of it. Rather, accepting responsibility during childhood bodes well for the individual when they mature into adulthood. Nevertheless, the specific requests made by the children are more times than not granted by the mother. Though they may specifically ask for things, she doesn’t consider her child to be spoiled. Rather, the opportunity to serve is the greatest reward, for that is the way the parent offers love. If the child were completely self-sufficient or if they never asked for anything, how could the parents show their love?

Child KrishnaShri Krishna, the Supreme Lord, knows these ins and outs of human behavior. In the science that describes the interactions the living beings have with God, the exchanges of transcendental emotions are known as rasas. The offering of paternal affection is known as vatsalya-rasa, which was particularly enjoyed by mother Yashoda. The living being gets its yearning for freedom from its identifying aspect: the spirit soul. Lord Krishna is intimately familiar with the properties of the soul, so for those who are desirous of exercising their freedom in the spiritual arena, He creates a playing field filled with circumstances just suitable for the occasion.

Some five thousand years ago, the ideal playing field on this earth was Vrindavana. It is still the best place to interact with Krishna, but during the Dvapara Yuga the conditions were the most auspicious, as the object of service had personally descended to earth. The idea that the Divine can make appearances before us and not become tainted by the material elements and their inhibiting influence requires some faith to be extended by the sincere listener in the beginning. This shouldn’t be too foreign a practice, as the first day in every new class in college requires the same trust. The professor hands out the syllabus, and even though the required work may appear daunting, based on the credentials of the instructor the student understands that if they follow the coursework and complete the necessary assignments, they will be better off for it.

In a similar manner, accepting the statements found in Vedic texts like the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita on faith in the beginning can only lead to a better condition in the future. Even if one is of a different religious persuasion or not spiritually inclined at all, just hearing from these works will delight the mind, carrying it to a time and place of supernatural purity. Vrindavana is the home of homes, and its caretaking mother is Vrinda Devi, the goddess of devotion who creates circumstances favorable for the exchange of transcendental mellows.

The manager of the most sacred home in Vrindavana is the person who Shri Krishna especially blessed. How did He arrange for this? If Jesus were to come up to us, would we not feel a tremendous thrill? If the Supreme Lord in our worshipable form of choice were to bestow His glance upon us, revealing His identity and form, should that not be enough to fulfill the mission of life? While seeing God is wonderful, the spirit soul still craves action under conditions of freedom. Better than seeing God is being able to interact with Him. Better than interacting with Him is serving Him with every thought, word and deed.

Krishna stealing butterThis is precisely what mother Yashoda did. Under the pretense of motherly duties completed to maintain a family consisting of the child Shri Krishna and the father Nanda, Yashoda went to work every day. Though these were traditional times, where the women weren’t formally educated or allowed to freely intermingle with other men not their husbands, mothers like Yashoda worked very, very hard. Everything they did was for the benefit of their household. Shri Krishna enjoyed mother Yashoda’s cooking very much, but since He also took delight in enchanting the other residents of Vrindavana, He would sometimes steal from the stocks of butter in the homes of the neighbors.

The mothers would complain to Yashoda, but they secretly loved the fact that the adorable Krishna was attracted to their homes. They would find new places to hide their butter so that Shyamasundara and His friends would think of more elaborate plots for how to get to the secret stash. Mother Yashoda took Krishna’s activity as impetus to work harder at churning butter in her own home. In addition to cooking and caring for her dependents, Yashoda would sit down peacefully and churn butter in a pot; all the while singing of her beloved son’s most cherished activities. Aside from His playful pastimes, Krishna had thwarted the attacks of several ghoulish creatures who had infiltrated Vrindavana. As a child killing powerful creatures is completely out of the ordinary, Yashoda decided she wanted to remember those incidents all the time. What better way to immortalize a set of activities than to put them into song format that can be sung over and over again?

Since Yashoda worked so hard for His satisfaction, you would think that Krishna would oblige by being a well-behaved son. On the contrary, under the pretense of feigned anger over having been neglected for a moment while feeding, Krishna broke the pot of butter His mother took so much time to fill. To make matters worse, He ate some of the butter and distributed the rest to monkeys, animals who are known for stealing others’ food. It may sound strange to those who have never been in India for too long, but in places like Vrindavana and Chitrakuta, monkeys roam the streets just like ordinary citizens. They cause a disturbance by sneaking up on people and stealing whatever they have in their hands, hoping it is food. The unsuspecting visitors have to pay attention especially to their eyeglasses, as monkeys are fond of taking these.

As monkeys are already prone towards theft, the fact that Krishna was voluntarily handing over Yashoda’s wonderful butter was a brave act of defiance. Yet the mother delighted in this naughty behavior of her son. As He was playing the part of a delightful child, Yashoda made sure to stay true to the role of a caring mother. She chased Krishna with a whipping stick and then bound Him to a mortar as punishment. Rather than child abuse, this was a sparkling display of divine love, for the event is so wonderful that people still sing about it to this day.

Krishna caught by mother YashodaWhen Krishna was caught He faked tears of fear, which rolled down His face, mixing with the anjana, or eye-ointment, so carefully applied by His mother. This scene of Krishna crying after being caught by mother Yashoda was appreciated by Kunti Devi, the mother of the famous Pandava brothers. During adulthood, Krishna was particularly favorable to the Pandavas. After the brothers survived numerous attempts made on their lives and eventually reclaimed the throne of Hastinapura that was rightfully theirs, Kunti Devi offered a set of prayers to Krishna, thanking Him for His kindness and attention. In these wonderful offerings, she remarked on the good fortune of Yashoda, who was able to tie up the Supreme Lord with ropes of affection.

Mother Yashoda worked hard to keep her family happy, and the young Krishna made sure she worked even harder. While carrying out duties it is easy to forget the purpose behind them, the tie that holds all the actions together. Shri Krishna purposefully created situations where His mother could stop working for a few brief moments and give Him personal attention. That same opportunity is created for every living entity desirous of transcendental association, freedom of spiritual movement. Through the excuse of following a routine in bhakti-yoga, the devoted soul can take time out of their busy day to give attention to Krishna. By regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the beloved darling of Vrindavana will play regularly on the field of your mind.

In Closing:

Have to take care of my duties you’ll say,

But how to make this work actually pay?

From Shri Krishna’s charming glance you’ll find,

Supreme wisdom, tie that everything binds.

Children, young and old, to ask have the nerve,

Mother responds, never gets credit she deserves.

Yashoda to Krishna’s welfare was dedicated,

Lord acted like her efforts not appreciated.

All done for transcendental love to increase,

In caring for Krishna Yashoda never to cease.