Saturday, February 11, 2012

Living Well

Lord Rama's hand“Just as a tree starts to blossom during the proper season, so the doer of sinful deeds inevitably reaps the horrible fruit of their actions at the appropriate time.” (Lord Rama speaking to Khara, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 29.8)

“How can God exist if so many bad things happen to good people? The struggles from cancer are a glaring indication. The fact that the body could grow something that starts to attack you from the inside - spreading to the vital organs and sapping your energy until the life is extracted from you, forming a slow and painful death - how can any loving God allow that to happen? What about the people who don’t worship the Lord at all, who think they are the doers in action, responsible for every single result that manifests - how are they able to get everything handed to them in life if they don’t even acknowledge God’s existence? Doesn’t that represent a flaw in the theory of theology? Shouldn’t you have to worship God in order to succeed?”

These are certainly important issues that when left unaddressed can derail the progress of even the most sincere spiritualist. Fortunately, if the proper set of information is consulted, not only will the Supreme Lord’s position be properly known, but what was previously erroneously considered good fortune and favorability will be understood to be hellish life. When there is hellish life, there is no question of favoritism from any higher power. Since the Supreme Lord’s actual position is that of the reservoir of pleasure, the fountainhead of all beautiful forms, a vision that is so sweet that the living entity purified through proper exercise of penance, austerity and sacrifice can’t get enough of it, it is understood that any forgetfulness of this person automatically creates an unpleasant situation, regardless of what the external conditions may say.

Picture living in a palatial mansion. You worked hard to acquire enough money to live comfortably. You didn’t worship at all; you didn’t think of God except for the times when death affected a close friend or family member. Everything is there for you in this house: a spouse, children, appliances, a steady dose of food and entertainment. Now ask yourself this: are you happy? Is securing the amenities in life the ultimate goal? You may have been inclined to think so previously, but now that you have everything, you’re definitely left feeling a little empty. There has to be more.

Why is that? The animals, those without the intelligence to deny the existence of God, let alone conjure up His image, never have to work for anything and yet they get the same amenities. The bird is happy living in the nest on a branch, the pig in its slop, the tiger in the jungle, and so on. In fact, the basic conditions are present from the time of birth; they don’t have to be created through hard work.

The human being may not realize this, but they are meant to transcend the base instincts of the animal, for that is why intelligence exists. If this weren’t the case, then living like an animal would be the right way to go. Just eat, sleep, mate and defend to feel the pleasures of life. What need is there then for culture, education, philosophy, science and so many other things that stimulate the mind?

The person lacking the spiritual association lives miserably. They may have billions of dollars in the bank and no financial worries, but that supreme happiness eludes them. Moreover, they can lose everything in a second, including their own life. The spirit soul exists through the many shifts of the body, thus it is the essence of identity. At the time of death, the soul continues on, but the body just lies there. The soul continues to roam from body to body, while the inanimate material possessions can’t do anything on their own.

iphoneWith a life focused only on material enjoyment the mind turns feverish. With each new object acquired comes a new attachment. It may be neat to fly in an airplane to visit exotic destinations, but what if you didn’t need that to be happy? If one person is satisfied with a little and another with a lot, the former is automatically superior. They live a more efficient lifestyle, as they require less to operate. With each new requirement comes the difficulty in acquiring and securing that object. For instance, if I can’t live without my cell phone, I need to make sure to work enough to pay the bill for it each month. I also must back up my contacts, email, music, books and videos. These tasks are made easier with the increased use of the cloud, but even that requires a connection to the internet, which must be paid for by someone.

Each attachment brings a new obligation, which gradually builds up to a hellish life. The vacation is preferred to time at work because of the lack of obligation. Reduced work equates to increased freedom, thereby giving the person with less attachments more freedom. In the Vedic tradition, the topmost spiritualist is the sannyasi, who is in the renounced order. More than just a way to stay free of attachments and the allures of sex life, sannyasa allows for freedom of motion, a limit on obligations to free up time for fulfilling life’s ultimate purpose.

And what purpose is that? It is to connect with God. For that to happen, He must be understood. To know Him properly, one must follow a bona fide path, one laid down by past spiritualists who attained the proper realization. We know that they were successful based on their experiences which are documented. Though we have trouble accepting information not experienced personally, through applying a little faith and exercising the principles espoused, the same experience of spiritual happiness can be had within this very lifetime.

PrabhupadaThere is still the issue of misery and pain, which makes it difficult to accept the fact that there is a God. How could God create cancer? How can God allow such horrible things like murder and rape to happen? These are the negative reactions that are obvious to notice, but the actions that led to them are overlooked. In karma, every reaction arrives at the proper time. The planting of a seed brings a flower sometimes many months later. If the impatient person were to chastise the plant for not producing the fruit right away, would their behavior be intelligent? Is it wise to yell at an unbaked pie before it goes into the oven?

The reactions to work come at the appropriate time, like the blossom of flowers on a tree. The nature of the reaction is commensurate with the intensity of the action. You can look at so many examples to see how this works. If you stay awake all night, you may think there are no repercussions, but when you have difficulty waking up the next morning, the negative reaction is coming your way. The more ghastly acts like murder, rape and so on bring the worst type of reactions, though again at the proper time.

As far as God sanctioning the negative reactions, if He were to eliminate the unfavorable consequences, then there would be no action. Moreover, sometimes what we think is unfavorable turns out to be favorable. If we miss an assignment in school or say something hurtful to someone else as a child, our superiors will scold us. Getting yelled at is never fun. At the time it is considered the most miserable experience. Should the child yell at God for allowing that admonishment to occur, would the behavior be wise? When the same person grows up and learns to avoid the behavior that caused the scolding, they will reach a more positive condition. Thus what was previously unfavorable turned out to be favorable. What you were cursing God about before, you now appreciate as a valuable life lesson.

Lost in the complexity of action is the reality that any outcome can occur. For instance, if I decided to play a video game for fun, there is every chance of me playing that game over and over again and never winning. After my repeated failures, is it wise to lament how miserable life is, how God never allows me to win? The decision to play the game was in my hands, and I knew going in that success wasn’t guaranteed, and yet somehow I am blaming God for my problems after the fact.

The entire material creation operates in a similar manner. The system of karma is the most fair, as it is meant to distribute the proper results at the appropriate time. The desire to exercise freedom in the absence of God’s association results in the creation of a playing field where there is every type of possible outcome. If not for the full range of possible outcomes, there could not be material activity. Everyone would just sit in silence, not doing anything the whole time.

Lord KrishnaThe spirit soul is meant for activity, however. This property is built into its constitution. The soul’s dharma is to serve, and the more pure the beneficiary of that service, the higher the benefit to the worker. No one is more pure than God, whose original form is so sweet that it is addressed as Krishna, which means all-attractive. Stare at the beautiful youth, who holds a flute in His hands and wears an enchanting smile. Dedicate your life to remaining by His side. Chant His holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and fill your ears with transcendental nectar. Purify the tongue through transcendental recitation and get nourishment through Krishna prasadam, sanctified food first offered to the Lord.

In the many good and bad outcomes, if there is no Krishna consciousness, the situations are identical. Thus for someone who avoids bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, there is no chance of finding supreme auspiciousness. Rather, their illusion through attachment to material objects only further diminishes their opportunities for connecting with the reservoir of pleasure. The ghastly outcomes that affect the body so severely are also temporary, having no bearing on the spirit soul. In a world filled with illusion, there must be duality. For every healthy person there is a sick one as well. For every person of prominence there is another lacking notoriety. For every success story there is a person who has failed miserably.

In karma the extremes of life arise constantly, but in God consciousness the dualities are removed. Instead, every situation becomes favorable, even those previously thought to be horrendous. Knowledge of the time of quitting the body, whether voluntarily or through succumbing to the effects of disease, brings an increased eagerness to at least contemplate the position of God and whether or not He exists. Maharaja Parikshit, a famous historical ruler, was unfairly cursed to die within seven days by a brahmana. Rather than get angry at God for his ill fate, he used the opportunity to hear about the essence of spiritual life, devotional service to Krishna. Shukadeva Gosvami then spoke to the king the Shrimad Bhagavatam, the crown jewel of Vedic literature. The pious king heard and thought about Krishna while He was dying, which meant that His next destination would include Krishna’s constant association.

Anyone who has the opportunity to contemplate the meaning of life and why God would create this world is very fortunate. Through following a few simple instructions, like chanting the maha-mantra for sixteen rounds a day and avoiding the most sinful behaviors, the doubts that pervade the mind will soon dissipate. In an otherwise miserable world, the beacon of light is the holy name and the person it represents. One who always hears that name and understands the transcendental features of the entity it addresses will be living extremely well.

In Closing:

Why do the evil seem to get away?

No pain for the harmful things they say?

How can God create cancer, the worst disease?

Should not the suffering of His children He ease?

Incorrect is our assumption of living well,

Soul’s fortune is what counts, as the Vedas tell.

Every reaction comes at appropriate time,

Severity matches error’s nature in kind.

Beyond duality find condition,

Chant Krishna’s name, reach highest position.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Rock and a Hard Place

Lord Rama's hand“When the lord of munis told the king the reason for his visit, the king became caught between love and truth and thus couldn’t come up with a response.” (Janaki Mangala, 24)

jabahiṃ munīsa mahīsahi kāju sunāyau |
bhayau saneha satya basa utarū na āyau ||

There was a rock and a hard place, and in between was the king of Ayodhya, dumbfounded as to what to say to a stunning request, one he wasn’t expecting. As the mind is capable of working tremendously fast, within an instant the stunned king remembered both his love for Rama and his dedication to the truth. As the age-old problem between what to follow, your heart or your mind, rose to the surface, the king couldn’t settle upon a proper response. The lord of munis, Vishvamitra, had really stumped him with his request, but due to the all-pervading nature of the person whose association was desired, all parties involved would be satisfied in the end.

What was the dilemma facing King Dasharatha? Let’s look at the truth angle first. Kings in those days, the Treta Yuga, were dedicated to piety. Their guidebook for governance of the innocent citizens was the Vedas, especially the truths pertaining to the laws of man, which were handed down by Manu. The origin of life is God, who has more defined features in the Vedic tradition. Though there are many pictures of God and different realizations of Him, the lack of detail in one spiritual tradition doesn’t mean that the attributes are absent in the original person Himself. A child may not know that the sun rises and sets every day, but their lack of understanding has no influence on the operations of the sun itself.

the sunIn the same way the living entity’s ignorance of spiritual matters, of the transmigration of the soul, of the source of identity being the individual spirit located within the heart, of the paltriness of rewards pertaining to material sense gratification, of the need for following law codes of spirituality to reach a better end, and of the need to ultimately think of the Supreme Personality of Godhead at the time of death, has no bearing on the effectiveness of the teachings of the Vedas. Every living being is born ignorant after all, and since the duration of life is so short, it is impossible to acquire perfect knowledge. Nevertheless, the Vedas make sure that man is not left totally in the dark. The caretakers are provided instruction on how to guide the human being from the time of birth all the way up until death. At every step there is instruction, and for every type of person there is an occupational duty.

The administrators, known as kshatriyas, are responsible for government. As the primary duty of government is to protect life and property, the kshatriyas must be skilled at fighting. An aggressor has no concern for another’s life or their property, so in order to combat the aggressive forces, a more powerful fighter is required. The key to a successful government is applying justice equally. Not that one person’s protection is more important than another’s. Even the life of a cow is to be considered on a level equal to that of the wealthiest citizen of the state. A cow can provide some milk to be used for food, while a wealthy businessman can account for a large portion of the treasury through tax revenue, but the ruler is not supposed to see a distinction between the two. Every spirit soul is equal constitutionally, and thus every innocent being living within a particular jurisdiction is to be protected by the heads of state.

King Dasharatha upheld his dedication to the truth very well. He accepted that responsibility from his predecessors, who belonged to the line of kings started by Maharaja Ikshvaku, who was actually the son of Manu. Hence the rulers in Dasharatha’s family were known as Ikshvakus. King Raghu was another famous king in the line, so the princes were sometimes addressed as Raghava. As a kshatriya is expert at fighting, he is not required to be supremely intelligent on matters of spirituality. If there is a question on how to administer justice, he consults the royal priests, who belong to the brahmana community. The deference to the brahmanas is unconditional. This means that whatever a bona fide brahmana asks for, the king obliges. This usually isn’t a problem, because their requests turn out to be beneficial to everyone involved. The brahmana not only knows the duties of his own order, he is familiar with the occupational duties of every single person as well. Hence he can guide any person on the proper path in life. Think of it like a high school teacher who can teach pretty much any class perfectly.

Dasharatha's sacrificeNot surprisingly, love is what got in the way of Dasharatha’s commitment to the truth. He was childless for a long time. Though in the grand scheme this doesn’t matter, as the spirit soul is the essence of identity, still to uphold the family name, to keep the line of kings going, Dasharatha wanted a son. He would be granted that wish after performing a sacrifice at the insistence of brahmanas. The king would be blessed with four sons, with the eldest being his favorite. A parent usually doesn’t play favorites, even if their behavior indicates otherwise. A father may be closer with one son than another but it usually doesn’t mean that he loves any of his children more.

Dasharatha definitely did love Rama, the eldest son, the most. You couldn’t blame him, as Rama was the Supreme Lord appearing in the guise of a human being. It is said in the stories recited during the Satyanarayana Puja that Dasharatha in his previous life was pious and regularly performed the puja. Hence through his good deeds he became qualified to have the Supreme Lord appear as his son. The benefit of this, of course, is that you get to share your love without impediment. If we worship a deity or chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, we show our love through our actions, but having the same object of worship in front of you every day in the form of a child represents another level. The childhood form is the most effective at extracting the natural loving sentiments of the caregiving living entity.

The more attractive the child, the more endearing his visage and activities, the more that love will come out from others. No one is more attractive than God, so Rama thus enchanted everyone in Ayodhya. His younger brothers all loved Him, with Lakshmana especially attached to Him. It is said in the Ramayana that Lakshmana would not eat or sleep without Rama by his side. It is not uncommon for a younger sibling to latch onto an older one, but sometimes there are fights and rivalries. This was not the case with Rama and His brothers. All four thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company.

Rama and LakshmanaVishvamitra, who is described as the lord of munis because of his high standing and his dedication to austerity and penance, once visited Ayodhya. Dasharatha received him properly and felt ashamed in a sense. The king openly declared that Vishvamitra could fulfill any desire and easily provide the four fruits of existence: dharma, artha, kama and moksha. Religiosity, economic development, sense gratification and ultimate emancipation for the soul are the four rewards available to the individual who follows the system of religiosity passed down by the Vedas. The king was ashamed because he couldn’t think of anything he could give in return to Vishvamitra. Nevertheless, the king had vowed to give the brahmanas whatever they asked for, so he was a little fearful of what Vishvamitra wanted.

As if the muni knew exactly what to say to put the king in a bind, he asked for Rama to accompany him in the forest. A band of night-rangers had been causing a major disturbance in the forest, where other brahmanas lived. Can we ever imagine such a thing? Do thieves think of robbing homeless men? These brahmanas had nothing. They barely ate anything and they lived under trees or in conditions not seen in the poorest countries today. Yet they had tremendous wealth in their dedication to God, which these night-rangers despised. One ghoulish creature in particular was having a strong influence. His name was Maricha, and Vishvamitra specifically mentioned him when talking to the king.

“Please allow Rama to protect me during those times when I am observing religious functions and trying to keep my concentration. O chief of mankind, a terrible fear has befallen me on account of this Rakshasa Maricha.” (Vishvamitra speaking to Maharaja Dasharatha, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 38.4)

Dasharatha was in the toughest situation. For starters, why Rama? Why not any of the other royal fighters? Rama wasn’t mature in terms of years. Later on, when the same Maricha would try to attack Vishvamitra with Rama by his side, the night-ranger would notice that there weren’t yet any signs of manhood on Rama’s face. This meant that the Lord was quite young at the time. Dasharatha was bound by love to his eldest son, so how could he let Him go? At the same time, to deny a well-meaning brahmana is the most egregious violation of piety. What would happen to his standing as a pious king? He would likely destroy the good name of the Ikshvakus.

Rama holding His bowVery, very reluctantly, Dasharatha acquiesced. Lakshmana, true to his nature, followed Rama and the muni to the forest. The same Maricha would attack, but this time Rama would teach him a lesson never to be forgotten. Without hesitation, without blinking an eye, the young Rama would string His bow and then shoot an arrow at Maricha that had such force that the demon would be thrown hundreds of miles away into an ocean. Vishvamitra knew what he was asking for; he knew that Rama was the most capable bow warrior in the world. God assigns Himself the duty to defend the religious practices of the devotees who take shelter under no one else except Him.

Externally, Dasharatha followed his mind instead of his heart, but since thinking about Rama is as good as seeing Him, the king’s love for his son never dissipated. If anything, in separation the fondness grew stronger. The majority of us don’t have God as our son, so the option of worshiping in separation is all we have. Through a consciousness fixed on God, even following your mind ends up keeping your heart pure. Vishvamitra’s request and the king’s rightful acquiescence would enhance the glory of the Raghu dynasty, and it would give countless future generations more of Rama’s pastimes to remember and honor.

In Closing:

King of Ayodhya really stuck in a bind,

Way out of rock and hard place couldn’t find.

To protect the truth was his vow,

But part with son Rama could he how?

“I need Rama” lord of munis did say,

To drive the likes of Maricha away.

Dasharatha did not know what to do,

Agreed in end, love for Rama to stay true.

In bhakti no fault with following the mind,

Because even by thinking of God love to find.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Immeasurable

Krishna with Yashoda“Every individual person can be measured, but Krishna has already shown that although He also is an individual, the entire cosmic manifestation is within His mouth. All these points considered, Krishna cannot be measured. How then did Yashoda want to measure Him and bind Him? We must conclude that this took place simply on the platform of pure transcendental love. This was the only cause.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.9.13-14 Purport)

Take the largest object you can imagine and then try to keep in mind its size. This exercise is a little difficult considering the fact that there are land masses so great in scope that you can’t appreciate the impression they make unless you have a bird’s eye view from an airplane or other vehicle flying high above. Not until you see something with your own eyes can you be truly awe-inspired. This explains the purpose for sight-seeing, travelling to landmarks and world wonders to see the scenes in question for only a few brief moments. The experience doesn’t last long, so one might even say that it is easier to just look at the same scenes in pictures, for in either case the association with the object will be temporary. But we like to experience awesome things in person so that their wonder can truly make an impression.

grand canyonWhatever it is we think is the greatest is actually minute in comparison to the land mass that is the earth. And then the earth is puny compared to the many other planets existing in this solar system. Then all the planets themselves can’t compare to the sun, which is so powerful that we can’t even get close to it. The sun is thousands of miles away, yet even from that distance it has such a tremendous effect on us.

The wonder of space is noticed by the size and scope of physical objects, but there is also time. Look at old pictures of yourself and you can’t imagine how strange the time period shown in them was. Then see and hear about the period of time on earth prior to your birth. Again, the feelings are strange. “What did people do back then? What a great time it must have been? I would love to go back and live through that.” While it may seem interesting, the recent past, perhaps one hundred years ago, is nothing in comparison to the infinitely large time factor. It operates in both directions: past and future. Think of the environment around you right now. In one hundred years everything will seem strange to the people living on earth. They will yearn to travel back in time to what you consider the present.

Take the full breadth of time and space and you get a slight idea of Lord Krishna’s position with respect to the world. As the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna is unmanifest. This means that from our perspective we cannot see how large and pervasive His energy is. It is said that the deity is the authorized object of worship for the fallen souls in the material world. The deity is made of earthly elements, and through authorized procedures it can accept the obeisances of those looking to see God and connect with Him. The deity is but a small replica of Krishna’s features. Say that the worshipable statue is one foot tall. Does this mean that Krishna is so short? Does this mean that we’re taller than Krishna? In actuality, the Lord is so tall that we could never find enough materials to dress Him properly. His transcendental belly has so much room that we could never properly fill it with sumptuous food preparations.

Lord KrishnaDespite the fact that Krishna is unmanifest [alakshyam] and beyond the perception of the senses [adhokshaja], in mother Yashoda’s courtyard some five thousand years ago He was bound up to a mortar as punishment for having broken a pot of butter. The relevant details are presented in the Shrimad Bhagavatam, the crown-jewel of Vedic literature, a bhakti-shastra. The difference between any other scriptural work, or shastra, and a work on bhakti is that the Supreme Lord is described in the most complete detail in a bhakti-shastra. In other works Krishna may be described as the Supreme Absolute Truth, the feature of Brahman that is beyond duality. Brahman is explained to be all-pervading, unmanifested to the naked eye. Brahman cannot be perceived by blunt senses or by instruments. No microscope exists that can perceive the size and presence of the spirit soul. We can only go off of outward symptoms.

The Bhagavatam also touches on Brahman and its features, but as it is a bhakti-shastra, it spends more time describing the source of Brahman, Lord Krishna. Despite the fact that He is unmanifest, in His original feature God is still a person. His personality is indescribable; hence the common use of the term “neti neti”, meaning “not this, not that”, in the Vedas. If you took a label maker and went from object to object and noted its relation to the Supreme Absolute Truth, you would have to label everything as “Not God.” After all, how can even the sun, which is composed of the material element of fire, be considered beyond duality? Something which is created must be destroyed, thereby indicating that it is subject to the influence of time and space.

Krishna, on the other hand, is not bound by any force. Time never touches Him, as His spiritual body is always blissful and knowledgeable. He holds a flute in His hands and dazzles the ears of the liberated souls who take their only wealth in life to be Krishna consciousness, the steady stream of transcendental thoughts that can constantly flood the mind through recitation of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

The inconceivably brilliant Krishna appeared on earth in the form of a human child, one that looked like it was subject to birth and death like everyone else. A child is the dependent of the guardians, be they parents or other elderly figures. As a child can be controlled by a loving guardian, so Krishna could be tied to a mortar by His mother, the sweetheart Yashoda, the wife of the king of Vraja, Nanda Maharaja. This incident was so cherished by the reciter of the Bhagavatam, Shukadeva Goswami, that in the shloka that presented it the juxtaposition to Krishna’s all-pervasive and beginning-less and endless position was made.

Yashoda with KrishnaHow was Yashoda able to bind Krishna? Elevated transcendentalists try their best just to see God, what then to speak of controlling Him? As Krishna is beyond past, present, future and the influence of space, the only conclusion is that He allowed Yashoda to bind Him. Children have no ability to pay for expensive vacations or to go to the amusement park, but adults find themselves in these places regardless. Through their loving innocence, the children are able to get the parents to willfully agree to visiting these places.

Krishna is the Supreme Father, so to allow for loving exchanges He agrees to play the part of a naughty child who needs to be punished for His transgressions. The ropes used by mother Yashoda were never long enough, as Krishna retains His amazing features even when in the form of a child. Therefore devotees rightfully look at the deity with the utmost respect. Though in the form of a statue made of resin, wood or stone, the deity is non-different from Krishna. It accepts the offerings of flowers, food and water made to it and returns them as prasadam, or the Lord’s mercy.

The rope became long enough once Krishna allowed it to be. The significance of the incident with mother Yashoda cannot be discussed enough. The beautiful Shyamasundara was more than just intentionally captured by Yashoda’s ropes of loving affection. Shri Krishna would do anything for His devotees, regardless of the time or circumstance. If someone’s only desire is to connect with God in pure innocence, why would the most powerful person deny their request? He will go out of His way to do whatever it takes to please them, even if it means transgressing the social standards He instituted as part of His Vedas. The rules are meant to bring one to Krishna after all, so someone who is already there need not worry about self-realization. We don’t see any mention of Yashoda’s having viewed her son with awe or reverence. She did not sit in meditation or study Vedanta. She had no interest for understanding Brahman, but from her sincerity of purpose, she got to love God without inhibition.

Krishna with DraupadiKrishna would have a similar interaction with a devotee later on during His time on earth. This time a princess found herself in trouble and needed Krishna to make her dress infinitely large. As a child being tied by His mother, Krishna first made sure the rope was never the proper size, as what measurement exists that can accurately account for Krishna’s body? With Draupadi, the princess of Panchala and wife of the five Pandava brothers, the situation called for a sari that did not have an end. Draupadi was in the middle of being disgraced in an assembly of kings, who were trying to take off her sari. In utter helplessness, Draupadi prayed to Krishna to save her, and He did so by making sure that no matter how much the kings pulled, her sari would never completely come off. The person who is above matter assumed the form of the largest garment in the world to protect His devotee.

The loving spirit of devotion is best felt through separation, though we may not be fond of this method. Yashoda bound Krishna that day to the mortar, but eventually the Lord would have to be set free and then leave Vrindavana completely. Never to fear, though, as through reliving His pastime and chanting His holy names, that same butter thief can be bound up and remain in our consciousness forever. He can leave anytime He wants to, but since He is won over by pure love, He makes the heart and mind of the devotee His most comfortable residence.

In Closing:

As He has no end and no beginning,

His greatness there is no measuring.

Adhokshaja means His presence cannot measure,

Unmanifest also is Vrindavana’s treasure.

Yet from Yashoda He could not hide,

With ropes of love to mortar she tied.

That He let her only way to explain,

His loss in chase was mother’s gain.

Chant holy name with faith and confidence,

So in your heart Shri Krishna to make residence.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Sea of Sorrow

Hanuman worshiping“Having thus considered many kinds of troubling thoughts within his mind again and again, that elephant among monkeys could not cross over his despair.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.48)

evam bahu vidham duhkham manasā dhārayan muhuḥ ||
na adhyagacchat tadā pāram śokasya kapi kunjaraḥ |

If you have a strong affection driving you towards your intended destination, no amount of mental anguish caused by temporary setbacks will stop you in your progression. The intense love means that you don’t need to remember every single slogan fed to the mind through its many travels in life. Strong attachment for meeting another’s interests can help the distressed cross over the sea of sorrow and reach the land of victory. Even if you are unsuccessful, there is no cause for concern, because the dedication will continue nonetheless. It was through this dedication that Shri Hanuman carried forward in his most difficult mission of finding a missing princess.

Hanuman“Slow and steady wins the race.” This is a famous proverb that is helpful to those who are impatient. “I want it right now. Why can’t I just get it already? How much longer will it take?” These laments are understandable, as the desired outcome is considered so favorable that you just can’t wait until that moment comes when you don’t have to worry about working so hard. This helps to explain how nostalgia operates and why taking the mind into the past can be so comforting. After the fact, the trepidation over the fear of failing is absent. The outcomes of the past are already known, so the experiences can be relished, as opposed to having the mind constantly worry about whether or not a particular set of procedures will produce tangible fruits. Remaining calm also helps to prevent exhaustion, keeping the worker steadily motivated.

“Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” This is a famous proverb that is taught to young children, who are forced to fall asleep earlier than adults. The parents know that their children will not follow any regulation unless it is imposed. Regulation in activity is important to follow at a young age, for it prepares the individual for what they have to face in the real world, when they will have to support themselves. “If my child grows up spoiled, they will expect others to meet their demands. They won’t value hard work and money, and instead they will look to just have fun without paying heed to the consequences of shirking responsibility.”

If the children are taught discipline, to go to sleep at a reasonable time and to wake up early, they will be better suited for accepting instruction, showing up on time to school, and remaining awake and alert throughout the day. An alert child is one that can think more clearly and act more rationally. On the other hand, a child who perpetually falls asleep late at night, has no discipline, and does whatever they want will have tremendous difficulty assimilating to circumstances that are unpleasant. The need for regulation continues into adulthood, as drinking and partying all night are not good if one wants to perform well at work the next day.

“Never give up”. This is a rallying cry that can apply to pretty much every person. This saying is needed because giving up is quite common, as it is the easy way out of any situation. Why keep trying, when you can just quit? Pressure goes away, and with it also the work required to meet the desired end. The safety of inactivity awaits the quitter, thus making the path of least resistance appealing. But afterwards, the reality sets in that the wished for objective could not be attained. Moreover, the quitter doesn’t know if they would have been successful or not, because they didn’t put forth a full effort. They gave up before they knew what their action could potentially bring.

These different slogans are fed into the mind over the course of a lifetime, but they are very easy to forget. If they weren’t, there would be no need to try to conjure them up or have them repeated to us. But why do we forget? If we know that the person who is slow and steady eventually wins whatever race they are running, why do we give way to lamentation when we suffer bumps along the road? If we know that eating in moderation will maintain our physical appearance and help us to avoid bodily discomfort, why do we pig out and eat junk food? If we know that we should never give up, why do we still have a strong attachment, an almost magnetic-like one at that, to the comfortable position on the sidelines of life?

The “why” questions can be asked over and over again until you eventually reach a point where answers are no longer possible, but with respect to the need for the mind to be constantly reminded of cogent facts, the issue is rooted in desire. In a world conducive to forgetfulness of life’s real mission, the satisfaction that results from endeavors is temporary. In more simple terms, whatever we are doing is not making us happy. Since one thing doesn’t give us full satisfaction, we jump to another. As soon as the seed of desire is watered, immediately there is the chance of another desire sprouting. A small fire is much easier to control than a raging one. Similarly, the mind is easier to control when desires are not running about. But as soon as the senses start to constantly seek satisfaction, the thoughts of the mind run rampant.

So how do we control the mind? How do we get the mind to remember the clever slogans that were given to us many times in the past? Though desire constantly arises and thus causes the mind to run around like a pack of horses let loose, desire itself doesn’t have to be renounced. Rather, if it is purified, if it is directed in the proper area, the resulting effects go from being detrimental to beneficial. How does this work exactly? We can take one of the most celebrated divine figures in history and his difficult time in an enemy territory many thousands of years ago to get an idea.

A princess had gone missing. More accurately, she was taken away by force by a powerful king famous around the world for his fighting prowess. Lest we think he won this princess fair and square, this king was actually too afraid to fight the woman’s husband in a fair conflict. Knowing that he would lose to this seemingly ordinary human being roaming the forests after being kicked out of His hometown, the evil king set up a ruse so that he could take away the princess while her husband was not around.

Lord RamaThe prince in question was Lord Rama, the jewel of the Raghu dynasty and eldest son of Maharaja Dasharatha, the king of Ayodhya. Rama was an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, the Supreme Lord’s four-armed form residing in the spiritual land of Vaikuntha. Rama had a purpose for roaming the earth: He was to take out Ravana, the demoniac king in question. Ravana had been harassing the innocent people of the world for too long, and because of the boons he had been previously given, he could not be defeated in battle by even the strongest heavenly figures.

But Ravana was not immune to the attacks of human beings. The problem was that no human being had the fighting prowess to stand against Ravana. Therefore Vishnu Himself, after being petitioned by the heavenly figures, decided to come to earth in the guise of a human being to do away with Ravana. With the kidnap of His beautiful wife Sita Devi, Rama had the excuse He needed to take on Ravana in battle. As He was especially dedicated to dharma, Rama did not want to attack the king without just cause.

But first things first. Rama, who was accompanied by His younger brother Lakshmana during their travels in the forest, needed to find out where Sita had been taken. For this Hanuman, the faithful servant of King Sugriva, was required. As a wise member of the administrative class of men, Rama knew the importance of alliances. When looking for Sita, He formed a friendship with Sugriva, who had himself been kicked out of his kingdom and separated from his wife. After helping Sugriva regain his kingdom, Rama enlisted the help of the Vanaras ruled over by Sugriva to find Sita.

HanumanHanuman was the most capable of the Vanaras in Kishkindha, so he eventually made his way to Lanka, Ravana’s kingdom. As Lanka was an island situated far away from the mainland, no one else in Sugriva’s army could reach it. Hanuman was endowed with divine qualities, which included tremendous strength and the ability to increase his stature at will. Assuming a large form and leaping from a mountaintop, Hanuman flew through the air to reach Lanka.

As amazing as this feat was, he still wasn’t close to fulfilling his mission. Now he had to find Sita, whom he had never met. He had to do this without being noticed by the citizens of Lanka, who were loyal to Ravana. Yet Hanuman found a way through this, as he diminished his stature and crawled through the city unnoticed. Despite his ability to search every inch of space unseen, Hanuman still could not find Sita.

Finally, the violent waves from the sea of sorrow started rushing in. Hanuman now began to think of what would happen if he couldn’t find Sita. Pondering the matter over, he decided that if she wasn’t found, Rama and everyone back home would renounce their lives. This meant that Hanuman would be the cause of their deaths; that his failure would lead to a lot more than personal dejection. In this way, through his thoughts he put even more pressure on himself.

Deciding that going back home a failure wasn’t an option, Hanuman contemplated suicide. Rather than deliver the bad news to everyone, he would stay in Lanka and renounce his life. As his mind was frantically rushing through so many thoughts, he quickly realized that this wasn’t a viable option. If he killed himself, there would be many negative consequences, whereas if he remained alive, there was at least the chance of Sita being found.

In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, we see that all of this thinking weighed heavily on his mind. So many different pieces of information, so many potential outcomes, and he had to decide right then what to do. It’s completely understandable that he would start to feel the pressure. In this troublesome time it was difficult for him to admire how he had just crossed over the ocean, which was an amazing feat. He brushed aside how he had searched through Lanka without being noticed. All the famous slogans were far away from the mind. All he could think about were the consequences and how he had to find Sita.

Hanuman meditatingIt was because of love that he eventually forged ahead. He loved Rama more than anything, so that is what kept him going. The sea of sorrow created in his mind was quite vast, but with devotional service to Rama, there is nothing that the devotee cannot cross. It was his devotion to Rama that enabled Hanuman to leap across the ocean, for he wasn’t normally known to exhibit such divine qualities. It was only when he needed them to please Rama, who is God, did he invoke them.

Similarly, when it seemed like his mental demons were going to get the best of him, he remembered his love for Rama and His wife Sita. He crossed over the sea of sorrow by remaining firmly committed to his devotional service. For the living entities struggling in the ocean of material suffering, Hanuman and his wonderful activities are the lifejacket to keep them afloat. His dedication to Rama is the example for everyone to follow, for life’s mission is to become fully devoted to God. There is no other business for the spirit soul, the essence of identity.

In Closing:

In difficult tasks follow the proper pace,

Because slow and steady does win the race.

Fall asleep early, early will you rise,

Makes you healthy, wealthy and wise.

These slogans very easy to forget,

Mind in fever at slight trouble’s onset.

Hanuman couldn’t cross sorrow’s sea,

Felt responsible for success did he.

Devotion to Sita and Rama to help in the end,

On his example let troubled mind always depend.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Resetting The Clock

Worshiping Krishna“Always chanting My glories, endeavoring with great determination, bowing down before Me, these great souls perpetually worship Me with devotion.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.14)

The sun is such a central component of life on earth that man revolves his routine around its relative position. The demarcation of a day is based on the full cycle of a rise and set by the sun, and with that day comes the routine of work, leisure, play, interaction, travel, rest, eating, etc. Yet man doesn’t have to do things this way. After waking up in the morning, he could just continue on from the previous day, as if no time had passed, as if the calendar hadn’t rolled onto another day. The routine, though, brings regulation, and regulation brings the ability to achieve a larger stated objective through a methodical process. When that same methodology is applied to fulfilling life’s ultimate mission, that of achieving the perfect consciousness while quitting the body, the rising and setting of the sun turn into welcomed and anticipated events.

sunriseImagine seeing a giant housing structure full of intricacy. There are many floors and rooms, and the layout is such that you can’t begin to imagine how someone thought up the architecture. But someone did indeed envision the plan, which they subsequently put into place through the work of engineers and builders. As they say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, the project takes dedication and effort through many days, building little pieces here and there. In one way, forgetting about the big picture can be helpful, for by giving attention to tiny components that should fit perfectly well together, the mind doesn’t get overwhelmed about the length of the project. If someone were to tell us during youth that school would take twelve years to complete and we knew what that meant, we’d likely not want to attend.

Instead, we take one year at a time, focusing on advancing to the next grade. The same pattern is followed in any large scale project. In software application development, there are many complexities that need to be worked out. The enterprise application isn’t built in a day, but through building a solid codebase, adding routines, testing them, redesigning for efficiency and then retesting, eventually a solid program is completed.

According to the Vedas, the oldest scriptural tradition of the world, there is an Absolute Truth, an entity who is beyond duality. The world we live in is filled with polar opposites: heat and cold, light and darkness, success and failure, and birth and death. The Absolute Truth is the entity that is above these dichotomies. He is the same in birth and death, in heat and cold. The relative conditions don’t matter to Him because He is situated in complete knowledge and bliss. As His existence stretches the bounds of time and space, He is eternal.

The human form of body is meant for understanding that Absolute Truth. Indeed, the search for pleasure is rooted in the desire to associate with non-duality, though the feverish worker may not be aware of this fact. The bliss resulting from innovation in technology, from finishing a difficult project, or even from enjoying with friends and family is derived from the inherent relationship every living being has with the Absolute Truth.

The questions remain: how to connect with the Truth and where to find Him? How do we know that the Truth is a He? Doesn’t the masculine delineation make the Truth the opposite of something else, namely the feminine? If we have an opposite, isn’t that a duality? The Absolute Truth is referred to as a male because of its position of dominance. Mutually contradictory attributes must exist in the Supreme Person; otherwise the lack of features would indicate a defect. Man is looking for perfection in a worshipable figure, someone without defects. The daily stories in the news reveal this inner desire of man. A noted inventor, technologist, politician, athlete, or celebrity is propped up to “rock star” status and adored for their achievements. If they should fall, have a slip up, the same adoring media will punish them relentlessly, looking for any way possible to release their hatred.

The perfect being is known as God to most, but the Vedas provide many more names and descriptions for Him. Moreover, the Vedas say that the human brain cannot conceive of God on its own. Man must consult someone who knows the Truth from having both accepted the information from their own spiritual guide and from practicing the regulative principles of freedom. The highest form of religious practice is equated with freedom because through connection with the Absolute Truth, the duality of the phenomenal world ceases to be inhibiting. The sunlight shining bright in the eyes in the morning inhibits the ability to drive and to see what’s up ahead, but this doesn’t mean that the sunshine is bad. It all depends on how one uses the material elements. Through following the regulative principles of freedom, the material elements fulfill their proper purpose to the individual.

“One who can control his senses by practicing the regulated principles of freedom can obtain the complete mercy of the Lord and thus become free from all attachment and aversion.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.64)

Lord KrishnaAnd what purpose is that? Not surprisingly, it is to help the individual connect with God. The bona fide guru learned from his guru the principles of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. The guru’s chain of disciplic succession must originate with the Absolute Truth; otherwise the information presented will be based on mental speculation, which is flawed. The issue with following any regulative discipline is that the forces of material nature will operate all the same. If my goal is to lose weight, the enticements of sumptuous foods and late-night partying will get in the way of success. If my desire is to study for an important exam, then fatigue, inertia, and the allurements of relaxing without any pressures placed upon the mind can serve as wonderful distractions.

In bhakti practiced in a land conducive to illusion, the distractions are everywhere. The spirit soul has travelled through so many bodies in so many lifetimes that understanding the need for self-realization is rare enough. One who strives for understanding the position of the spirit soul, the essence of identity, is considered very fortunate. Once the sincere soul hears about the Absolute Truth and what’s required to connect with Him, they may accept the bhakti discipline in earnest, but the same past habits borne of attachment to use material elements for enjoyment in the absence of God’s association will still remain.

“After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.19)

In the pursuit for self-realization, for understanding the individual’s identity and how one is meant to be in God’s association, the repetition of days can be very helpful. In a life where one feels trapped, as if they are in a prison, the monotonous days can be too much to take. With the start of each new week, you have to go back to work, immerse yourself in the same arduous tasks from the previous week. The same goes for each new day. You have to shower, eat on time, do your chores, manage the home, keep family members happy, and follow so many other routine engagements just because another day has passed. The weekends and vacations are anticipated for the very reason that time loses its influence. The more the human mind can forget about the pressures that time brings, the more relaxed it will feel.

japa malaIn bhakti, however, routine things that are monotonous can be turned around into pleasurable dependencies. The passage of time, the repetition of days, suddenly becomes a wonderful boon. The central component of the bhakti-yoga discipline is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The recommendation is that one chant this mantra for at least sixteen rounds a day on a set of japa beads. A japa mala consists of 108 beads, and chanting the mantra one time on each bead around the mala equates to one round. Therefore sixteen rounds means saying the mantra many, many times. Once finished with the daily routine, the same procedure must be repeated the next day, and the next, and so on.

But what if we didn’t have that routine, which is built on the passage of time as marked by the relative position of the sun? The opportunity for repeatedly reciting the holy name would go away. The chance to hear the sound of Krishna, which brings to mind the sweet vision of the Supreme Personality of Godhead smiling while holding His flute and giving that innocent glance that is both charming and inviting, would be missed. The most wonderful vision of the Supreme Lord in His form as Rama, holding a bow in His hands and waiting to defend and protect the innocent, receiving the service of Shri Hanuman and delighting in the company of Sita Devi and Lakshmana, would remain far away from the mind.

Chanting is the foundation stone of bhakti-yoga, and it is meant to act as a springboard. From chanting comes hearing. From hearing comes the accumulation of thoughts, ideas for new ways to potentially connect with Krishna, the Supreme Absolute Truth. With other activities, such as visiting a temple, reading a book about Krishna, cooking nice food preparations and offering them to the Lord to become prasadam, and singing along to kirtana songs, new aspects can be added to the routine.

From following a routine, habits develop. It is said that the habits one develops before they reach the age of thirty shape their behavior for the rest of their life. Therefore in the Vedic tradition, students are introduced to Krishna-bhakti as early as possible. There are other methods of self-realization, such as meditation, study of Vedanta, and fruitive work with the results renounced, but they each carry prerequisites. To meditate requires ideal conditions of peace and quiet, Vedanta study demands high intelligence, and fruitive work with detachment depends on knowledge of the impact of the work and the ability to carry out the functions properly.

Lord KrishnaAll bhakti requires, however, is love. This love can be seen in even the child, so someone immature can take to chanting and dancing and be immersed in yoga. The aspect of spirituality that is applicable to the most number of people will be the best, and it will have God represented most fully. The holy name is non-different from Krishna, a truth proved by the fact that anyone can recite the holy name, even if they are unintelligent or unfamiliar with the principles of Vedic teachings.

From following bhakti, the dawn of each new day brings renewed hope, a chance to connect with Krishna again. The new day arrives without our desiring it, so this means that we will continue to get new opportunities in bhakti for as long as we shall so desire them. Just as the lotus flower opens at the sight of the splendorous sun, the sincere servant of the Supreme Lord wakes up every day with bright enthusiasm over their chance to tell their beloved just how much they love Him. At the end of life, that spiritual sunshine is met in His permanent home, with life’s mission fulfilled.

In Closing:

At rising of the bright sun we are glad,

But to repeat misery we are sad.

To man the sun is giver of light and heat,

But each day chores and tasks we must repeat.

Use the passing of days for your benefit,

So that best end you’ll meet after body to quit.

Daily chant maha-mantra rounds that are sixteen,

So that in your mind’s vision Krishna to be seen.

Take every day as giver of chance that is new,

To please the Lord of complexion dark blue.

Monday, February 6, 2012


Vishvamitra“Hearing the words of the king, Vishvamitra complimented him in return. The sage then discussed dharma and his reason for coming there.” (Janaki Mangala, 23)

kausika suni nṛpa bacana sarāheu rājahiṃ |
dharmakathā kahi kaheu gayau jehi kājahiṃ ||

While it’s nice to have peers to share your experiences with, it is more beneficial to be in the company of authority figures who are capable of assertively identifying and revealing the real religious principles, remaining unafraid to discuss them with whoever is worthy. Our friendships are formed for our own immediate satisfaction, as it is beneficial to have people around whom we consider to be equals. Just being able to share experiences with others, to let them know what you are feeling and not have them judge you in return, is such a contributing factor towards mental health that people who lack this association often have to resort to approaching trained professionals to hear their problems. Dharma-katha, or discussion on religious topics, is a primary benefit coming from the brahmana community, and in this interaction the relationship is one between teacher and student. Hearing about dharma is so powerful that even a famous king like Dasharatha stood by quietly and listened attentively while such words came from Vishvamitra, an exalted sage who visited his community.

VishvamitraWhat would a king have to gain from listening to a person with a long beard who lived in the woods? Can a homeless person give us advice on how to live our lives, which are dependent on technological advancements and involve the constant pressure of having to meet the monthly bills? What would they know about raising a family, tending to matters at work, or maintaining a sound financial footing? The brahmanas of ancient times weren’t poor without cause. They voluntarily accepted a meager lifestyle so that they would have a wealth of knowledge. From distractions in activity, through the feverish pursuit to best our fellow man in competition, a loss of rational thought results.

The first thing to go is proper identification. The country of origin, religious tradition, bank balance, skin color, gender, and so many other factors get used for identification, when in reality such attributes are transient. The bank balance can change quickly, as can the country of residence. Our physical abilities gradually diminish over time, yet we still remain vibrant living beings. Therefore identification must come from something besides the body or external attributes.

A brahmana earns their distinction by knowing Brahman, which is pure spirit. Strip away external appearances and conditions and you’re left with a vibrant energy, a spark of life if you will. Since that spark pervades nature, it can be thought of as a singular collective energy. The Vedas give a name to that force: Brahman. The living beings are all part of Brahman, which means that their identity comes from pure spirit and not external conditions.

Hearing about Brahman is easy, but actually realizing it is a totally different matter. To maintain the proper identification, to not get sidetracked by illusion, the Vedic literature institutes dharma, which can be thought of as religiosity or religious law codes. Dharma actually means an essential characteristic, so when it is used in place of religiosity, the guiding principles are meant to maintain the essential characteristic of Brahman within the living being.

Dharma is flawless, so even the person not willing to accept any philosophy at all can progress in knowledge through following the guiding principles. Not everyone you meet will be up for philosophical discussion. They will sometimes be guided by emotion, the problem of the day. The worldwide news media exploits this tendency. Television news especially caters to emotion rather than intellect. The latest murders, shootings, rapes and statements from politicians are presented as important events, but if you looked at the entire picture from a mathematical point of view, these incidents are trivial. For instance, yesterday the majority of the world lived peacefully, didn’t die, and didn’t have anything horrible happen to them. Yet if only one tragedy occurred, it becomes the most talked about event due to the influence of news providers and their consumers.

newspaperFollowing dharma maintains sobriety of thought within the living being. Each personality type is provided their own religious principles to follow, with the idea being that eventually, maybe even in a future life, full enlightenment will be reached. The brahmanas are already at this stage, and their occupational duties call for teaching others about virtue and how to follow the proper principles. A wise king like Dasharatha was already a devoted soul, so he didn’t need a lecture on dharma. He was a wealthy king, but this didn’t mean that he somehow took his identity from his wealth or his standing in society. Rather, he viewed everything within the framework of his purpose, what role he had to play in upholding dharma for the good of everyone else.

Vishvamitra, a forest-dwelling brahmana, once visited the good king. Dasharatha received him nicely and offered him kind words of praise. The sage complimented the king in return and then discussed matters of duty, or dharma-katha. He also revealed the purpose of his visit. Brahmanas don’t need much for their maintenance. As their aim is to behave righteously and stay connected with Brahman and its source, the Supreme Lord, they can get by with a small amount of land and basic food. In Vedic rituals held by pious kings, the brahmanas were always gifted things so that they didn’t have to work for a living. Gold, jewelry and cows were regularly donated to the priestly class for their benefit.

Vishvamitra didn’t need any of these things from the king, however. He required expert protection, for the terrorist-like night-rangers in the forest were disturbing his adherence to piety. These creatures would appear in the dark with false guises and then attack just at the moment that a fire sacrifice was culminating. In the Vedic tradition a religious sacrifice is known as a yajna, which is another name for God. A sacrifice didn’t have to involve an animal being killed or offered up. A sacrifice generally consisted of a fire, with clarified butter offered as oblations. With a fire sacrifice, the component actions are pure and the presiding deities of creation are pleased. As Lord Krishna points out in the Bhagavad-gita, even though other figures take their portions of the sacrifice, it is the Supreme Lord who is responsible for the rewards distributed by the demigods.

“Endowed with such a faith, he seeks favors of a particular demigod and obtains his desires. But in actuality these benefits are bestowed by Me alone.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.22)

Lord KrishnaKrishna, or God, is the enjoyer of sacrifice. If one isn’t worshiping Him directly, the Lord still must be present for any of the worshiped personalities to receive their share. In this way sacrifice is very important. It is the backbone of a life dedicated to dharma. In the modern age the most effective sacrifice is known as the sankirtana-yajna, where one regularly recites the holy names: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

To try to picture what Vishvamitra was going through, imagine sitting in meditation in your room and then getting attacked just as you started to think about God. This was basically what the sages in the forest were facing, as the night-rangers weren’t just attacking but also killing them and then eating their flesh. Dasharatha had jurisdiction over that part of the forest, so Vishvamitra came to request special protection. What the king didn’t know was that the sage had a special protector in mind, He who protects all the fallen souls.

Dasharatha’s eldest son Rama was the same Krishna, the Supreme Lord, in the guise of a human being. Though quite young at the time, Rama was an expert bow warrior. He played the role of a fighter to give pleasure to Dasharatha’s family line, the Ikshvakus, and protect the surrendered souls, the pious brahmanas, living in the forest. Dasharatha would rather die than part with Rama, but since he lived dharma, since he swore to uphold it, since he praised Vishvamitra with the sweetest words, he had no choice but to agree to the request.

From that acquiescence Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana would accompany the good sage into the forest. As a brahmana thoroughly understands Brahman and how to maintain realization of it, Vishvamitra’s dharma-katha continued when he was in the company of the two boys. They would make sure to regularly tend to the sage and perform their morning and evening prayers. In return, the sage would speak to them about dharma, narrating ancient stories of historical incidents relating to God. How amazing is Lord Rama? His pastimes are so wonderful that even He likes to hear about them.

Rama and LakshmanaVishvamitra would also impart on the boys confidential mantras to be used in fighting. Rama is the creator of the universe and Lakshmana His eternal servant, so they don’t require any aid in fighting. Nevertheless, to add to Vishvamitra’s stature, to prove just how important discussing dharma and teaching it to others is, they listened attentively, as if they were ignorant on the matter. Maintaining that veil of ignorance, the boys would enter King Janaka’s kingdom on the day of a grand sacrifice, where Janaka’s daughter would wed whoever could lift the extremely heavy bow given by Lord Shiva. The maintainer of dharma, Dasharatha, listened to the words of the speaker of dharma, Vishvamitra, and thus ensured that the object of dharma, Shri Rama, could lift Shiva’s bow and reunite with His eternal consort, Sita Devi. In this way attention to dharma always pays, as it is beneficial for both those who follow it and those who hear about it.

Vishvamitra didn’t need to provide a reason for his visit to Ayodhya, but he did so to let Dasharatha know that he wasn’t just taking his son away without cause. Moreover, Dasharatha didn’t need to worry about whether or not the request was appropriate, for by hearing about dharma, the king was reminded of his duty to uphold it. The most elevated brahmanas live bhagavata-dharma, or devotional service, so their cogent requests should never be denied, especially by one who is capable of meeting them. The king would benefit from his wise decision by receiving Sita as a daughter-in-law and giving countless future generations the opportunity to bask in the glory of the couple’s marriage story.

In Closing:

About dharma the brahmana speaks,

Others about purpose in life to teach.

These discussions attentively hear,

Cycle of birth and death no longer fear.

Praise and honor Vishvamitra earned,

The kind words of king he did return.

Sacrifices of sages night-rangers did harm,

Thus needed Rama, He of mighty arms.

Because King Dasharatha finally did agree,

Splendid marriage of Sita and Rama world to see.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Be Your Own Scientist

japa mala“In our Krishna consciousness movement, we have recommended that the neophyte chant at least sixteen rounds. This chanting of sixteen rounds is absolutely necessary if one wants to remember Krishna and not forget Him. Of all the regulative principles, the spiritual master's order to chant at least sixteen rounds is most essential.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 22.113 Purport)

The proponent of bhakti-yoga, which is the spiritual discipline following a mood of devotion directed at the Supreme Absolute Truth’s position as a personality, recommends that chanting the holy names is the best way for attaining realization of the self in the modern age. Specific acharyas, who lead by example in their quest to distribute the glories of bhakti to others, have more specific recommendations, targeted practices that can be implemented by anyone, removing some of the doubts associated with where to go next in the quest for enlightenment. The central practice, the one which all other rules and stipulations depend on, is the chanting of the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, for at least sixteen rounds a day.

Shrila PrabhupadaChanting this mantra is difficult for someone who is not accustomed to reciting words derived from the Sanskrit language. In the beginning it is recommended that one recite the mantra very slowly so that they properly enunciate the words, enabling the ears to hear the sounds and soak in the spiritual nectar. From the requirement for deliberation can come the immediate fear relating to how one will ever be able to follow sixteen rounds as a daily routine. “It takes me forever to finish just one round, which is 108 recitations of the mantra. How am I going to find time to finish sixteen in one day? And say that I do accomplish the feat once, how can I continue that day after day? I don’t think I can do it. There must be some other way for self-realization. What if I chant another mantra? What if I chant just eight rounds and focus the rest of my time on other pious acts?”

While this rationalization may seem valid, there is no reason for the outright rejection of the sixteen-round recommendation, especially since it was first instituted by Lord Chaitanya, the preacher incarnation of Godhead and saint most effective at disseminating the glories of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Lord, to the masses. The efforts of His disciples and descendants further add to Lord Chaitanya’s glory, revealing His true power in getting others to awaken their dormant love for Godhead. The human brain is quite powerful, so much so that it can conduct miniature scientific experiments throughout the day. If that dedication to science is applied to the bhakti field, and specifically to the chanting recommendation, through experience one can not only elevate themselves to the position of chanting sixteen rounds daily, but they can be firmly convinced of the necessity of the practice.

How does this work exactly? In any activity that you take up, you have a resultant reaction. For instance, if you decided to eat at a particular restaurant one night, depending on what you pick from the menu, you can notice the reaction that follows. If you visit the restaurant in the future, applying tight controls on the experiment you can see if the same reaction comes from following the same behavior. We already perform these little experiments in our mind all the time, even if we’re not consciously aware of it. Taking a different route to work in the morning is a sort of experiment, with the measurable result being the amount of time it takes to get to the office. If the new route, the change to the otherwise controlled environment, consistently yields better results, behavior will be altered permanently.

In the arena of bhakti, instead of dismissing the chanting recommendation, one can try to increase the number of rounds recited daily and see what effect it has on life. Start off with dedicated chanting of just one round, repeating the routine the same way, at the same time, day after day. If the time of day chosen doesn’t yield benefits, pick another time. The human being develops habits through behavior, so if the habits are beneficial, one can follow pious behavior without consciously thinking about it. Just as getting up on time is a force of habit based on obligations, one can make recitation of the holy name for one round on a set of japa beads a sort of involuntary behavior.

bead bagTo be able to retain the results of the scientific experiments within the mind, sobriety is required. Therefore accompanying the chanting recommendation is the restriction on meat eating, intoxication, gambling and illicit sex. Seems rather restrictive, but every recommendation exists for a reason. It is not just that one preacher decided he would scan his light of righteousness upon everyone and mark as many people sinners as possible. Something is a sin based on the negative effect it has on consciousness. As the boon of the human birth is the ability to find the highest bliss through transcendental association, whatever behavior prohibits that attainment should be avoided.

Once the chanting of the maha-mantra for one round daily becomes a habit, another round can be added on. The key, however, is to make sure that the number doesn’t ever diminish, for that will foil the experiment. If the controls are not tightly maintained, there is no chance of the results being worthwhile. The second round doesn’t have to come at the same time as the first round. The perseverant devotee can try different timings and routines to see what can be done to fit both rounds into a single day. Once the two rounds of chanting becomes a routine, a third round can be added, and so on.

The wonderful thing about following this routine is that we already know what results to expect. So many people have reached the platform of chanting the maha-mantra for sixteen rounds daily, and they love it so much that no amount of money will make them give it up. Instead, they look for even more ways to connect with God in bhakti. There is the offering of food preparations to the deity manifestation within the home or temple. There is the singing of songs congregationally with others. There is dancing to the songs and reading books about Krishna. The chanting routine only opens up so many other avenues, though it is never abandoned by the serious spiritualist.

Radha and Krishna deitiesThough we can take the word of the practicing devotee as authority, still the doubting mind needs convincing. Therefore through our own scientific experiments, tweaking the daily routine and finding what works, we can reach a stage of purity that is not found through any other endeavor. The feverish pursuit for material success attacks one’s honesty and compassion. Review the great entrepreneurs and businessmen of the past and you’ll see that they were quite brutal on many of their workers, not tolerating any blemishes or subpar effort. In business, bending the truth, acting harshly, negotiating with toughness, and trying to destroy your competitors are par for the course, almost requirements for success. Yet for all that effort, only material success is attained, which vanishes at the time of death.

In bhakti there is a similar pursuit for success, except one becomes purified of all vices and character flaws during the process. The necessary ingredient is sincerity. The more one is sincere in their service to Krishna and the spiritual master, the more they will get out of the process. The topmost transcendentalist is referred to as a paramahamsa, which means that they can extract the sweet nectar out of anything in life. Notice that the topmost spiritualist isn’t he who can find new ways to criticize others. That can be done by anyone, even the most ignorant hater. The truly enlightened see God’s influence everywhere and can appreciate everything He has to offer.

More importantly, the paramahamsa knows how to extract the topmost loving sentiments, the undying spark for transcendental action, from within everyone. That is a definition of a true saint. A saintly character is one who sees good in others and tries to help them, but the best saint is one who sees everyone with an equal vision and knows their true potential for serving Krishna, which makes both the Lord and the worshiper happy.

Question: What if I get to sixteen rounds and still don’t see any results?

What should the spiritualist do if they reach the sixteen round routine and still don’t find any results? It should be noted that there is no such thing as a utopia, even in spiritual life. The uniqueness of bhakti is that time and space have no influence. Time is the agent for change, causing misery when there is happiness and dissipating the sadness that comes from separation and loss. In bhakti, there is the eternal link to Krishna, so even separation can become a time of joy. The perceived loss of Krishna’s association only strengthens one’s mental attachment to Him. And since Krishna is absolute, thinking of Him is just as good as being by His side.

The most important barometer in bhakti practices is the change in behavior and how much Krishna is within the consciousness. If through chanting and following the regulative principles one is more in control of their senses, less angry, more determined to reach Krishna, less attached to material objects, and more appreciative of their spiritual guides, then progress is being made. If there are still issues in these areas, chanting still should not be abandoned. There is no loss on the yogi’s part, especially if they are sincere in bhakti. This is validated by Krishna Himself in the Bhagavad-gita.

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

Lord KrishnaIn any other area of endeavor, failure to complete the tasks results in a waste of effort, or a total loss. Perhaps there are some lessons learned about what not to do and some experience gained, but the object only half constructed has no value. On the other hand, in bhakti there is progress in terms of knowledge and temperament and also the house of devotion, wherein one keeps Krishna within their heart to be remembered and honored daily. Thus making an experiment out of bhakti and tweaking the procedures to meet the stated objective is always worthwhile, something every intelligent human being can take up and then monitor for progress.

In Closing:

Follow the same path to work day after day,

Let me try something new, a different way.

If my commute does improve this move,

Then going forward to use me it behooves.

In bhakti recommendation is holy name to chant,

Recite mantra daily even if you think you can’t.

Vow of one round daily first to take,

Add on later, see what effect it makes.

What can be the harm, in chanting no cost,

To see God soon, no chance of loss.