Saturday, February 18, 2012

Door Number Two

Vishvamitra“Hearing Vashishtha’s words with patience, folding his hands the protector of Koshala said: ‘My lord, you are an ocean of kindness and knower of everything, thus it is not proper for me to request anything from you.’” (Janaki Mangala, Chand 3.2)

dhīraja dhareu sura bacana suni kara jori kaha kosala dhanī ||
karūnā nidhāna sujāna prabhu so ucita nahiṃ binatī ghanī |

In the classic television game show, “Let’s Make a Deal”, the contestants’ curiosity was piqued by first giving them a certain prize that they could have immediately. There would be no doubt as to what they could take home, but then there was another prize, which was unknown, suddenly introduced into the equation. If the contestant should be so willing, they could change their mind and trade for what was behind a curtain. It was a gamble, for if something worthless was behind the curtain they would lose the initial prize that they were previously guaranteed to have.

In a retail outlet, sometimes the same game is played by the salespeople to the customers, except the intent is to sell something that needs to be moved. What the customer actually wants is not important to the salesperson. Instead, what the salesperson wants to get rid of takes precedent. The person holding something of value will not want to part with it, but the knowledgeable customer will not be taken off track. Their intelligence is insulted by the pitch of the salesperson looking to push something else. Many thousands of years ago, a sort of similar situation occurred in the kingdom of Ayodhya. Since all the participants were pure of heart, their small exchange turned out to be celebrated for many years into the future. No wrong was committed by either party, for through their efforts their knowledge and dedication to virtue shined through for everyone to see.

The buyer in this scenario was a venerable muni named Vishvamitra. The son of the king named Gadhi, Vishvamitra was famous during his time for having converted from a warrior to a priest. Though during his initial period of austerity and penance Lord Brahma, the creator of the universe, failed to recognize him as a brahmana, Vishvamitra still reached such an exalted position that when he one day visited the king of Ayodhya, everyone stopped what they were doing and offered him the utmost hospitality.

Valmiki writing the RamayanaThe brahmanas are to be protected by the head of the state. The teachers in an education establishment earn a living and they provide instruction only upon payment. Why should they act otherwise? You need money to survive in a world where the majority of the population isn’t self-sufficient through farming. Why should not the person accepting valuable information pay for the teacher’s time? Only a miser would think that others owe them something, that they should work without compensation.

Under ideal circumstances, however, the priestly class does not charge money for what they do. They receive plenty of charity from those who are in positions to give it, but the purpose for the brahmana is to remain enlightened and on the path of dharma, or religiosity. The wise know that material dispositions change constantly, like a rollercoaster that goes up and down. The person with few material possessions and attachments weighing them down can focus more on studying the nature around them, performing sacrifices, teaching others about the difference between matter and spirit and, most importantly, worshiping God.

Your worship is more effective when you don’t get sidetracked by fears over maintaining your possessions. Who can blame the person sitting in church praying to God to maintain their livelihood and ensure that food gets put on the table? As the material land is a place full of miseries, there is constant uncertainty with respect to the future. You work so hard to pay your bills and keep your family happy, but you know that one small wrinkle in the equation can cause the entire system to collapse. Thus it is not surprising that the fearful worker would look to the Almighty to save them from peril.

But when you have no possessions to maintain, your worship can be more pure. You don’t need anything from God; instead you look to offer Him your time and attention. In any loving relationship the key ingredient is the quality time spent in each other’s company. This relevant fact is easily forgotten through the many responsibilities that require attention each day, but the more the quality association is present, the more pleasure will be derived from the relationship.

The brahmanas on the highest platform of understanding have an intimate relationship with God, who is all-pervading. Simply by chanting His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the devoted soul can see God, remember His activities, become anxious for His personal association, and steer clear of behavior that will jeopardize that future meeting from happening. The brahmanas devoted to the Personality of Godhead, Lord Vishnu, swim in an ocean of transcendental nectar. They offer their services to society for little to no money because they don’t require much to live. Their goal in life is not to be wealthy or to have material comforts provided to them. They only look for circumstances favorable for bhagavata-dharma, or the system of religiosity in devotion, connection to Bhagavan, the Supreme Lord who is endowed with every opulence.

Vishvamitra visited Ayodhya’s king because his ideal circumstances were being threatened. Was Vishvamitra bugged by his wife to find a better house? Were his children asking for money? Was he worried about how to get nice food to eat? On the contrary, these worries were absent in his life. What was threatening his pious activity, however, was the influence of night-rangers. One fiend in particular, Maricha, loved to harass the brahmanas living in the forests. The sages had abandoned material life, they weren’t looking to surpass anyone in stature, and they didn’t have any possessions of value. Just based on this we can see how fiendish Maricha and his Rakshasa associates were.

Without a life dedicated to the mode of passion, where one pursues enjoyable fruits through hard work and competition, there is no reason to commit violence on anyone else. Hence the brahmanas live by the general principle of nonviolence. The attacks by the night-rangers presented a problem, so Vishvamitra approached the king, whose responsibility it was to protect the innocent. Dasharatha was thrilled to see the son of Gadhi, but he was a little hesitant at the same time. He knew Vishvamitra had a purpose for his visit. The king also knew that Vishvamitra could give him anything, including the four rewards of life: dharma, artha, kama and moksha. If someone can provide you anything through their counsel and association, when they should ask for something in return, the benefactor can’t possibly deny the request, lest he feel like the greatest miser.

“…There is no one else in this world who has the power to resist the Rakshasas except your son Rama. O king, you are undoubtedly a great protector of the demigods, and your exploits performed during past wars are well-known throughout the three worlds. O annihilator of the enemy, even though your son is merely a boy, He is very powerful and capable of controlling the enemy. Therefore, O destroyer of foes, let your great army remain here and please allow Rama to accompany me. May there be all good fortune for you.”(Vishvamitra speaking to Maharaja Dasharatha, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 38.8-11)

Lord RamaDasharatha’s concerns were validated when Vishvamitra asked for Rama to protect him. Dasharatha lived in opulence as a king, but he was not attached to material life. He lived by dharma, or virtue. He had no desire to enjoy the senses, but he acted as a good king in order to maintain the society. He did have one weakness, though. His attachment for Rama could not be broken. Lord Rama, Vishnu Himself appearing in the form of an ordinary human being with extraordinary capabilities, was Dasharatha’s eldest and most favorite son. Dasharatha would sooner die than part with Rama’s company.

In hindsight, Dasharatha’s initial thoughts were not something he was proud of. He wanted Vishvamitra to take the entire royal army led by the king himself instead of Rama. The king knew that Rama was capable, though He was still under the age of twelve. Using that age as an excuse, Dasharatha tried to convince the knowledgeable Vishvamitra to “buy” something else, to look at another product on the shelf, all the while knowing that what Vishvamitra wanted was the most valuable item in the store that was the kingdom of Ayodhya.

Since the king remained in silence after seeing Vishvamitra’s insistence, the royal priest Vashishtha stepped in and tried to make the king understand. He reminded Dasharatha that Vishvamitra was powerful through his austerity and that he knew what he was doing. He told Dasharatha that Vishvamitra’s assessment of Rama being the most capable was accurate. The king needn’t worry about Rama’s welfare in the forest, for the Lord was expert at fighting already.

Deep down Dasharatha knew that his priest was correct. In the humblest way possible, Dasharatha responded to Vishvamitra by praising his kindness and knowledge. He said that it wasn’t proper for him to try to ask him to take someone else, for the brahmana’s request was one based on knowledge. Dasharatha certainly can’t be blamed for trying to change the sage’s mind. If you had the most beautiful prince as a son, who was so affectionate to you that you wondered what you had done to deserve such association, wouldn’t you fight your hardest to try to keep that son with you all the time?

Dasharatha’s eventual confidence in Vishvamitra would prove correct, as Rama would protect the sage from the attacks of the Rakshasas, including one intrusion by Maricha himself. The night-ranger was so impressed by Rama’s ability to protect that he later recounted his experience to his leader Ravana in the hopes of dissuading him from perpetrating an iniquitous deed.

“I am your dear friend and ask you again to desist from this plan. If you should aggressively take Sita away by force, you and your relatives will lose your life and be taken to the abode of Yamaraja, being destroyed by Rama's arrows.” (Maricha speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 38.33)

Lakshmana and Rama fighting TatakaVishvamitra would borrow Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana to be escorts for a brief period of time in the forest. Rama had barely any signs of manhood on His face, yet when the group was attacked, the Lord would string His bow without a problem. During Maricha’s attempted attack, the force of Rama’s arrow that struck the demon in return was so great that it launched the night-ranger over eight hundred miles away into the sea.

The knowledgeable brahmana knew what he was asking for and the king of Ayodhya knew what he was holding on to. Therefore neither party could be blamed for their behavior in that famous meeting in Ayodhya. Through Vishvamitra, Rama would visit the kingdom of Videha and marry Janaka’s daughter Sita. Thus the son of Gadhi, through his request, would bring the goddess of fortune back to Ayodhya, which allowed the city to flourish even more.

In Closing:

The pressure of losing son he did feel,

Thus king decided to play let’s make a deal.

“Instead take me and my massive army,

Through our protection pleased you will be.”

To keep Shri Rama at home king wanted,

Therefore other offer to sage presented.

From Vashishtha’s counsel king knew he was wrong,

Supreme wisdom to Vishvamitra did belong.

Rama and Lakshmana to go, king to acquiesce,

Valuable lesson upon night-rangers to impress.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Adjoining Ropes

Lord Krishna“’Unless I agree,’ Krishna desired to show, ‘you cannot bind Me.’ Thus although mother Yashoda, in her attempt to bind Krishna, added one rope after another, ultimately she was a failure. When Krishna agreed, however, she was successful.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.9.15 Purport)

Mother Yashoda is now ready. Having caught the culprit of a strike on a supply of freshly churned butter, the time for punishment has arrived. The criminal in this case is a small child, so it shouldn’t be difficult to implement the sentence. An adult is, after all, more mature, both physically and mentally. Another advantage for the adult is that the child doesn’t realize that certain kinds of punishment aren’t really so harmful. If you tell a kid to go to their room for an hour, they may become fearful, but the adult knows that sitting in a room for that long isn’t that big a deal. Though Yashoda had everything in place to teach her son a lesson, for some reason her method of punishment wasn’t working. The target of her motherly duties happened to be the world’s greatest magician, who through a simple exhalation creates this and innumerable other universes and then brings them back into Himself with a subsequent inhalation.

Lord KrishnaTo call the Supreme Lord a magician borders on offensive, as a magician is known for using slight of hand, illusion in his dealings. He can’t really saw his assistant in half; it just looks that way on stage. With Yashoda’s young child, the actions He takes look like magic, but for Him there is no mystery. If He can arrange for objects that are billions of tons in weight to float in the air without a problem, what difficulty is there in either elongating or shortening a rope without any visible effort? The “unknown” will forever remain a mystery to the human mind, which is limited in its thinking by the concepts of time and space. Just sit down and try to think about the beginning of the beginning, the oldest point in time. You can’t reach it, for even when you say the beginning, there had to be something before that. On the other side, the future continues infinitely. This is why the theory that a big bang of chemicals created life doesn’t hold any water. If chemicals are the source of life, what were they doing before the purported bang? Where did the chemicals come from? If the answer is, ‘They were just there’, the theorist is essentially saying that chemicals are God, holding the property of eternality.

Space stretches infinitely as well. Go to the outer limits of this present galaxy and eventually you’ll drift so far away that you’ll worry about making the long journey back home. So much of the universe is unknown, even in light of the many discoveries made in the past one thousand years. With the mind unable to grasp the concept of infinity, why should a young child’s dealings with a rope be so difficult to understand? Indeed, the apparent display of magic in Yashoda’s courtyard had nothing to do with substantiating the position of her son as the Supreme Lord. Rather, as with every activity of the darling of Vrindavana, the aim is to provide pleasure, to both Himself and the people that love Him.

How was mother Yashoda pleased from this situation? Her son had just broken a pot of yogurt that was in the process of being churned into butter. He broke the pot without proper cause, and intentionally. Yashoda was feeding Him when a pot of milk started to boil over in the kitchen. Was she supposed to just let it spill over and burn on the stove? She had only been away for a few moments when the petulant Krishna decided to break the pot. He knew that the mother had worked so hard during the day to make that sweet butter. She made it for her son too, for she was worried about why He had been sneaking into the homes of the neighbors to take their butter. Perhaps He didn’t like what was available at home.

Yashoda tying Krishna to a mortarAfterwards, the mother, rightfully attempting to catch the culprit, had difficulty inflicting the chosen punishment. She decided she would tie Krishna to a mortar. For starters, this would show Him that children can’t intentionally defy the orders of their parents and get away with it. Secondly, since she was holding a stick when chasing after Krishna, the Lord showed signs of fear. By tying Him to a mortar, Krishna would not be able to run away from the home due to that fear. Also, Yashoda wouldn’t have to worry about where her son went.

The problem with the method of punishment turned out to be logistics of all things. The rope Yashoda used was short by the width of two fingers. She was close to tying the delight of Maharaja Nanda, but the rope wasn’t quite long enough. No problem. Yashoda went and got another rope and joined the two together. Time to tie up Krishna again. Oh, but somehow this rope had the same deficiency. Just too short to tie the Lord to the mortar. In this way the problem continued with each rope the loving mother added on, until finally Krishna allowed for the rope to be long enough.

The incident was not an imagination. It happened for real and it was documented in the Shrimad Bhagavatam, the crown-jewel of Vedic literature. With Krishna’s actions, so many purposes are simultaneously fulfilled. The incident with the rope is tremendously delightful to those kind-hearted souls sincerely interested in hearing about and connecting with God. Secondly, trying to catch God and not being able to symbolically reveals so many lessons. Unless the Supreme Lord agrees, He can never be caught. If you want to travel to another planet, you may be able to see it for a while after expending great effort in aviation and science, but unless the Lord agrees to give you a body suitable for habitation, you will not be able to find permanent residence there.

The same requirement for sanction holds true with all other aspects of life. The spirit soul, which is the essence of identity, is a vibrant life force. It’s easy to overlook, but all the amazing inventions and complex structures we see around us were built by people who are no more smarter than we are. They invested much effort and had a passion to complete their work, but at their core they are spirit souls just like us. This means that one tiny spark within a larger body has so much potential for action. Because of the amazing abilities of the soul, the individual sometimes gets deluded into thinking they have full control over personal fate.

As a simple example, if we are going on an interview for a position that we know we are qualified for, if we present ourselves nicely, demonstrate our proficiency in the skills necessary for the job, and really hit it off with the hiring committee, the expectation is that the job will be secured. At the same time, however, there are other factors that the candidate has no control over. The place of business has an operating budget, human resources to manage, and considerations based on personal sentiments. If any one of these pieces of the delicate balance of the work environment should fall the wrong way, even a perfect candidate for the job will be denied.

Yashoda and KrishnaIn mother Yashoda’s courtyard, we saw a woman who should have had no problem tying up her son. Finding a rope long enough to fit the task should not require much effort, especially when the object to be tied is a small child. Lord Krishna, however, is greater than the greatest and smaller than the smallest. Many years later on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, He would show His gigantic universal form, the virat-rupa, to the hesitant warrior Arjuna. Then moments later, Krishna would change back to His original two-handed form which took its seat in front of the warrior. Both forms exist simultaneously, so the shifting was just related to external vision, not to functionality. If we put on a specific outfit on a particular day, we are automatically not wearing the other clothes in the closet. With Krishna, even when He descends to earth, He is still in Vrindavana in the spiritual sky and within the hearts of the living entities.

Because He sanctioned it, Krishna was eventually caught by mother Yashoda and tied to the mortar. Following the Lord’s direction is the only way to gain the favor of the one person whose exhibition of prapti, or the mystic perfection of being able to get whatever you want, is perfect. Fortunately, Shri Krishna does not ask much from His sons and daughters. Yashoda’s qualification was her pure love for her son, which thus enabled her to interact with Him in so many wonderful ways. The adjoining ropes finally became long enough when Krishna decided that His mother deserved to emerge successful in her parental duties. That vision of sweet Damodara was cherished by Yashoda on that day and it remains implanted within the mind of the dear servant who regularly recites the holy names with firm faith, reliance and love: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

In Closing:

Finding the culprit Krishna was tough,

Then adjoining ropes never long enough.

Assistant sawed in half at the hip,

Part of magician’s illusory tricks.

Krishna similar but His magic is real,

Lives in Vrindavana but presence can still feel.

After seeing how hard His mother did try,

Krishna made ropes long enough to tie.

That darling Damodara to mortar He stood,

Remember incident so God to be understood.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Hanuman carrying a mountain“Or, lifting him up and carrying him across the ocean, I will offer him to Rama, like an animal offered to Lord Shiva, the lord of animals.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.50)

athavā enam samutkṣipya upari upari sāgaram ||
rāmāya upahariṣyāmi paśum paśu pater iva |

With ancient texts that are written in the Sanskrit language and have descriptions of talking monkeys and seemingly ordinary human beings with extraordinary fighting prowess, the tendency to look for symbolism, to extract hidden meanings out of verses instead of actually just reading the texts and taking the explanations as they are given, is understandable. We have never seen a talking monkey, let alone one who is adept in mystic yoga. The greatest long jumpers in the world still can’t jump very far, certainly not far enough to cross over a massive ocean after launching from the top of a mountain. Shri Hanuman, however, did amazing things like this, and up until this point in his journey in the enemy territory of Lanka he had yet to show all of his capabilities. What was to come next would be more amazing, as simply with his tail he would lay waste to the entire opulent city. In the above referenced verse, we see that there is no need to strain to find symbolism, as the Vaishnava has the poetic ability to make such comparisons on the fly with their own thoughts. Their love for the Supreme Lord permeates every one of their activities, including their thinking.

A Vaishnava is simply a lover of God. Why the specific term then? The personal style of worship is preferred to all others because it best extracts the recessed emotions of the conditioned living entity trapped in an ever-changing body roaming a land where misery is guaranteed. How can we say this? Isn’t the birth of a new child a joyous occasion? What about graduating from school? How can there be misery in these events? If we look more closely, however, it is seen that the temporary elation at the beginning is followed by the strongest type of separation pain. The joy of birth is tempered by the sadness of death. The wonderful sense of accomplishment resulting from completing four years of college or twelve years of school is paired with the anxiety of having to look for a job, one that matches the field of study and expectations for self-satisfaction of the job-seeker.

“For one who has taken his birth, death is certain; and for one who is dead, birth is certain. Therefore, in the unavoidable discharge of your duty, you should not lament.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.27)

Lord KrishnaWhere there is birth, there is also death. With a gain there must come a loss. What goes up must come down. These are simple truths that are most often purposefully overlooked, so as to maintain some peace of mind. “Why do I want to think about my death all the time? I’d rather just remain happy.” But there is a purpose to having this knowledge. Just as good things come to those who are sober in thought, one who assimilates the highest truths of life into their daily activities will not only find a cure for the depression caused by the dualities of material existence, they will also find a way to direct their loving propensity along the proper channels.

How do we know that there is a loving propensity? The desire for pleasure drives every single activity. And we also see that the more one satisfies their own senses, the less happy they are. The wealthiest moguls in the world eventually turn towards philanthropy for this very reason. They have seemingly accomplished everything in life, but they don’t have satisfaction of the soul. Since they don’t know about the source of individuality, the presence of duality in every venture, and where to properly direct their service, they seek to please the senses of others through opening hospitals, schools and charitable organizations.

In addition to the behavior of philanthropists, the evidence of the spirit soul’s loving propensity is seen in the interaction with pets. The dog is adored because it offers unconditional love. It will never mature to the point that it will cause distress by using harmful words. It accepts whatever love you offer it and only asks to be cared for in return. The more you care for it the happier you will be. Though such outlets for the loving propensity seem harmless enough, guaranteed still is the endpoint to the service, a time when you will no longer be able to offer your love.

This property is not present in service to God. Hence the foremost occupational duty of the soul is referred to as sanatana-dharma, or the eternal occupation. Loving God is not something done in just one lifetime, and neither is it reserved for a specific class of individuals. As the soul is brimming with this potential for offering unadulterated love, when the qualities of the worthiest recipient are known, the potential can be met. A Vaishnava is one who understands that God is a personality, a spiritual entity with qualities that cannot be properly understood or described. Nevertheless, the qualities are honored, remembered and used for comfort. For example, in His spiritual manifestation as Lord Rama, God’s qualities of kindness, chivalry and dedication to protecting the innocent are remembered by the Vaishnavas.

Sita and RamaWho are some of these Vaishnavas? There are too many to count, even though it seems like they are few in number. As far as devotees of Rama go, Hanuman is at the top of the list. In the above referenced verse, we get a glimpse into just how infused with spiritual love Hanuman always is. Even during times of dejection he finds ways to glorify his reason for living. In this particular instance Hanuman found himself in the enemy territory of Lanka looking for Sita Devi, Rama’s wife. Ravana, the king of Lanka, had taken her from behind Rama’s back and hoped to have her for his wife. Sita can never be swayed to look at any other man except Rama. Aside from being duty-bound to honor and cherish her husband, Sita is won over by Rama’s divine qualities. As for Rama, He is forever devoted to his beloved wife.

Hanuman was chosen to go to Lanka for many reasons, the most important being his enthusiasm for service. It is often seen that young children have enthusiasm for doing things that the adults have either grown tired of or simply don’t want to do anymore. If a son or daughter is eager to go out and get the mail on a particular day, the parent will gladly allow them to do so. This takes care of the task of bringing in the mail and also allows the loving propensity in the children to be acted upon. For God, there is nothing He can’t do. He could rescue the entire world in one fell swoop. For instance, Lord Chaitanya, the preacher incarnation of the Supreme Lord, roamed the sacred land of Bharatavarsha some five hundred years ago and converted countless people to the bhakti cult. By conversion we refer to the transformation in worshipable objects. Not that they were changed from one religion to another; rather, instead of being religionists in name only who were engaged in material activities, the people Lord Chaitanya preached to were converted into following the real religion, devotional service.

How did Lord Chaitanya preach this message? He asked everyone to simply chant Krishna’s holy names. Krishna is the same Rama, or God, but in His Shyamasundara form, the attractive youth with a bluish complexion holding a flute in His hands. The sacred maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, was Lord Chaitanya’s favorite slogan, His life and soul. He and His associates would sing it out loud and ask others to join in on the fun.

Lord ChaitanyaSince He is God, Lord Chaitanya could have converted every single person in the world to the bhakti cult. Yet He left the job unfinished so that future generations could take up the task and put forth their best effort. In this respect the outcome in bhakti is not necessarily the important thing. The energy expended and the sincerity of purpose are what matter most. The soul is dying to please God, who is already self-satisfied, or atmarama. Yet in the spiritual world the hard and fast rules of mathematics don’t apply. Someone who is constantly smiling and pleased fully within can become more elated by seeing the sincere devotional efforts of those who want to remain steadily connected to Him. Connection to God is known as yoga, and one who dedicates their life to being a legitimate yogi will always be in the Lord’s good graces.

Hanuman, having the odd form of a forest dweller, was very anxious to act. Therefore Rama, through the proxy of Sugriva, the king of monkeys in Kishkindha, gave him the task of finding Sita’s whereabouts and returning to the camp with the information. Sort of like a scavenger sent to find the enemy, Hanuman was sent off with a singular purpose. Because of his divine qualities and his unmatched love for Rama, he eventually made his way to Lanka, searching practically every inch of space within for Sita.

But when he didn’t find the princess of Videha, he grew despondent. He even contemplated starving himself to death, as he could not bear to cause pain to his friends and family back home by telling them he had failed. Through enough sober thought, however, he was able to turn the tides. In the above referenced verse, we see that instead of feeling sorry for himself, Hanuman was determined to get revenge. “Why am I going to wallow in pity over something that’s not even my fault? Ravana is the one who took Sita. Therefore he should be the one to pay. As I have tremendous powers, I should be the one to deliver that punishment to him.”

It should be noted that this was not the task assigned to Hanuman. He was well aware of the fact that he could destroy Ravana in a fair fight, as he would actually note this many years later in a conversation he would have with his half-brother Bhima, one of the five Pandava brothers. Yet his wanting to punish Ravana was simply an outgrowth of his love for Rama. In this particular verse, we see a wonderful comparison made by Hanuman to illustrate what he would do to Ravana. Hanuman here says that he will grab Ravana and forcefully take him across the ocean and back to Rama, as an animal is brought before Pashupati, which is another name for Lord Shiva.

Lord Vishnu is considered the deity of the mode of goodness, which is the highest mode of material activity. Activities in goodness are meant to further knowledge. Think of pious behavior and good deeds, those things which aren’t sinful. These constitute the mode of goodness. Lord Vishnu is actually above the mode of goodness, so one who worships Him properly engages in bhakti, which carries no reactions in karma, either good or bad. As eating is one of the primary engagements of the living entity, if food can first be offered to Lord Vishnu before eating, the resultant items are known as prasadam, or the Lord’s mercy. Vishnu is the same God that the pious souls worship, except He is the personal form known only to the Vaishnavas.

“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.26)

flowers offered at Krishna's feetThe items that can be offered to Lord Vishnu are briefly mentioned in the Bhagavad-gita by Lord Krishna, who is the very same Vishnu. In that wonderful work we see that God accepts simple items like fruits, flowers and water offered with love and devotion. Nowhere is it mentioned that Krishna accepts meat items, i.e. animal flesh. Animal sacrifice is an age-old tradition known to practically every prominent religion. Though there are procedures to this effect mentioned in the shastras, or scriptures, they are there for a purpose. The human being doesn’t need to be taught how to eat or kill, yet the guidelines are placed into the sacred law codes to provide a way to curb the sinful tendency. If animals can be killed in formal rituals dedicated to godly figures, their souls will make advancement to a higher species in the next life. In addition, the person eating the meat at least follows a regulated system of animal killing. In this way they can ideally give up the practice in the future.

Lord Rama, being Vishnu Himself, obviously doesn’t accept animals in a sacrifice, but the comparison is made nonetheless to show Hanuman’s poetic qualities and his knowledge of the Vedas. Certain worshipers of Lord Shiva do offer him meat, as he is known as the lord of animals. Pashu can also refer to human beings, so Pashupati can also mean the protector of human beings. Lord Shiva is in charge of the mode of ignorance, the lowest rung of activity. Even the most sinful men in society are not denied religion in the Vedas. They are given a regulative system to follow that will hopefully provide advancement in consciousness.

HanumanThough Lord Shiva accepts the animals sacrificed by those following the mode of ignorance, he is himself a wonderful Vaishnava. His favorite Vishnu form is Lord Rama, the same person Hanuman was devoted to. Hanuman here wonderfully references an ancient Vedic ritual to properly convey his intentions and to show what would happen to Ravana. A person who offers up their thoughts, words and deeds to God is granted salvation. Ravana would unknowingly offer himself up later on when he would be killed by Rama’s arrow during a fair fight, the one he was afraid to have when he first took Sita. Hanuman’s enthusiasm caused him to continue to search through Lanka some more until he finally found Sita.

His desire to offer up Ravana was always there, for he couldn’t help but want to please Rama in that way. Rama is never disappointed in Hanuman, for who could be angry at someone who acts out of pure love? Among other things, Hanuman is poetic, for he knows how to describe his actions using comparisons. Though he uses symbolism, his identity, his personal self, and his place in the famous Ramayana are real, and anyone who takes advantage of this will be forever benefitted.

In Closing:

On Ravana Hanuman wanted to get revenge,

Abduction of beautiful Sita to avenge.

Trouble in finding, now what to do,

Why get away, the evil king should pay too.

Perhaps pick up Ravana and go ocean across,

Like animal to Shiva, in sacrifice toss.

These options constituted Hanuman’s thoughts,

Did not want effort in search to go for naught.

Success to find because desire was right,

Located Sita to the eyes most pleasurable sight.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Making the Impossible Possible

Krishna pastimes“The activities of the Lord are always inconceivable to the tiny brain of the living entities. Nothing is impossible for the Supreme Lord, but all His actions are wonderful for us, and thus He is always beyond the range of our conceivable limits.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.8.16 Purport)

Perception has built in limitations. Based on what we witness ourselves, we get an idea of what is possible. Whatever does not fall within those limits goes into the “impossible” category. As the amount of experiences witnessed increases with time, the reservoir of the impossible gradually diminishes. Now just imagine someone who is older than everyone else, who has remained within their form since the beginning of time. Spirit is immutable, unchanging, undecaying and primeval, but this doesn’t mean that one’s experiences from thousands of years back are remembered. For the Supreme Person, however, there is no such thing as forgetfulness. Should it ever be shown, it is done so on purpose, to fit into the arrangement that fulfills a larger goal.

The Supreme Person’s impeccable memory holds information of every event ever to take place. Hence what is normally considered impossible for us is never out of the realm of possibility for the person who has seen it all. The oldest person’s ability to remember the complete past is revealed in the Bhagavad-gita, where in His original form the Supreme Personality of Godhead uncovers the amazing truth of the soul’s interminable existence to a hesitant yet sincere listener named Arjuna.

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

Lord KrishnaArjuna’s hesitancy was related to the bodily welfare of members of the opposing army. As a capable fighter himself, Arjuna was preparing to lead the war to end all wars, which was instigated by the rival party headed by Duryodhana. If someone should set fire to our house, hoping to kill us, what would our reaction be if we survived? Perhaps if we were really forgiving we’d think, “Oh okay, I’ll try to forget about it. Let me just live my life.” For Arjuna and his four brothers, they had followed this tact one too many times. What made matters worse was that they were the rightful heirs to the kingdom in Hastinapura, and they were all members of the royal/fighting order.

Thus it was Arjuna’s obligation to fight to take back what rightfully belonged to him. Nevertheless, as a kind-hearted soul, Arjuna was not comfortable with the cost that came with winning the war; he didn’t want to kill members of the opposing army for the purpose of ruling over a kingdom. Lord Krishna, Arjuna’s best friend and charioteer at the time, stepped in and offered profound words of wisdom, instructions which went way beyond war, family infighting, and life and death.

Krishna initially mildly rebuked Arjuna for showing such hesitancy. Can we imagine such a thing? Shouldn’t having compassion be a good thing? Are we not supposed to care for the wellbeing of our fellow man? For Arjuna the compassion was misplaced. In a world full of duality, sometimes even violence falls in line with piety. Violence to protect religious principles and to uphold the rule of law against those who openly violate it is the very definition of compassion.

There was also another issue with Arjuna’s thinking. The body is only temporary, and the spirit soul lives on despite whatever changes occur to its temporary covering. Thus to deviate from the righteous path in order to pay more concern to the bodily welfare of another living being is not very wise. In the system of varna and ashrama, or societal and spiritual divisions, the lowest class man is known as one who easily laments, a shudra. The lamentation occurs based on the body, which does not represent the identity of the individual.

ArjunaTo reinforce the idea of the eternal existence of the soul, Krishna told Arjuna that the instruction He was offering had also been given at the beginning of time to the sun-god, Vivasvan. Arjuna was a bit perplexed by this. Vivasvan was much older than Krishna at the time, so how could the Lord have provided that instruction? While the spirit soul is eternal, the consciousness it carries from one life to another doesn’t retain information completely. The disposition of the consciousness determines the next type of body received, but the experiences from the memory bank are wiped clean during the transformation. This explains why we consider so much to fall under the category of “impossible”.

Because of this forgetfulness, Arjuna thought it impossible for Krishna to have instructed the sun-god at the beginning of creation. Shri Krishna revealed that His type of spirit is not the same as any other kind. While the individual spirit soul resides within one body at a time, and thus has only a localized consciousness, Krishna is all-pervading. As the Supersoul He rests within everyone’s heart, remaining conscious of all of their actions. Not only is Krishna within everyone’s heart right now, but He has lived within every being of the past as well. Thus His knowledge of experiences is complete. He has seen it all, including what will happen in the future.

Because of Krishna’s supreme standing, His all-pervading consciousness, doing something as simple as entering a womb and saving a child from a fiery weapon is not that difficult. Based on our paltry knowledge, we think it is ridiculous for the womb to even be attacked by such a weapon. At the same time, however, people living in the past would have thought receiving the latest news from around the world on a device held within your pocket was impossible. How two people separated by a distance of thousands of miles could speak with each other as if they were in the same room also could not be understood. Yet just because no one had ever experienced these things didn’t mean that they weren’t possible.

Maharaja Parikshit was the posthumous child of Arjuna’s son Abhimanyu, who was killed in the ensuing battle of Kurukshetra. As Parikshit was the only descendant left of the great family, one of the opposing fighters, Ashvatthama, released a brahmastra weapon targeted for the embryo within the womb of Uttara, who was Abhimanyu’s wife. Lord Krishna, who protected Arjuna by providing him the proper instruction in a discourse to be subsequently known as the Bhagavad-gita, came to the rescue by amazingly entering Uttara’s womb and counteracting the brahmastra weapon. Thus Parikshit was saved by the Lord’s direct intervention.

Lord KrishnaIn the description of this event in the Shrimad Bhagavatam, a warning is given to the listeners to not be so amazed by Krishna’s actions. The idea is that just because we can’t picture something described in shastra, or scripture, doesn’t mean that it cannot happen. The young child has no idea how a baby is created and how it can come out of the womb, but after enough education and experience, the same ignorance one day dissipates. With the history of the creation, there is no way for us to experience everything that has previously occurred or even all that is happening now. This defect explains why the theories based on ignorance of the laws of spiritual science will always be flawed. Even if you took the wisest scientist on earth and gave them the opportunity to read through and understand every scientific experiment ever conducted, perfect knowledge would still be lacking, so inconceivable is the breadth and scope of this creation and its history.

Fortunately, we don’t need to acquire complete knowledge to meet the perfect end. The Vedas, which act as Shri Krishna’s mouthpiece, provide just enough information and instruction to help us live our lives the right way. The right way to do something ideally brings the successful outcome. Life has many different stages, along with variety in assumed material qualities. Therefore the scriptural recommendations aren’t always the same for every person, but the many pieces of information are like pearls strung on a thread that is devotion to Shri Krishna. Without the thread, the pearls cannot possibly bring one to the proper destination of the Lord’s abode.

The warning given to those who doubt the seemingly miraculous events described in shastra is reiterated in many other places as well. Goswami Tulsidas touches on it in the introductory verses to his Ramacharitamanasa, which is a poem that sings the glories and pastimes of Lord Rama, an incarnation of Krishna who roamed this earth during the Treta Yuga. The amazing feats of strength exhibited by Krishna and His avataras during their times on earth are but a small representation of the Supreme Lord’s true potency. Krishna is larger than the largest and smaller than the smallest. He is the harshest punisher of the miscreants and the kindest friend to the pious. He creates the wall of darkness for those who desire to remain shut off from spiritual life, and He creates the light of knowledge that is the combination of sadhu, shastra and guru for the devotees wanting to relish the transcendental taste.

Those who take the descriptions in the Ramayana, Puranas and Bhagavad-gita to be mythology deep down don’t really think it so. How do we know this? Known fiction stories already receive so much patronage. The science fiction movies and books are very popular, so much so that people dress up as the characters and attend public showings and fan conventions. If this much attention goes to admitted fictional stories, why wouldn’t it also be there for the purported mythology of the Vedas?

“But ignorant and faithless persons who doubt the revealed scriptures do not attain God consciousness. For the doubting soul there is happiness neither in this world nor in the next.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.40)

Krishna and ArjunaIt is the content and the overall message of the Vedic literature that keeps it at another level. Those who don’t want to serve Krishna take His saving of Parikshit in the womb to be mythology on purpose, for otherwise they would have to believe in the eternal nature of the soul, its flight through reincarnation, and the inferiority of material association. The doubting soul is shut off from the transcendental sweetness that is Krishna’s association. During Krishna’s advent as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, there were nightly sankirtana events held in various homes. The participants would chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, in devotional ecstasy. Those who were inimical to Krishna, who had no attraction for reciting the holy name, were shut out from the fun.

But Mahaprabhu was so merciful that He would later spread the same sankirtana movement to everyone, even to people unwilling to hear it. The power of the holy name is such that it can soften the hardest heart. That which was previously thought to be impossible becomes possible through the divine association.

In Closing:

Parikshit, son of Abhimanyu the fighter brave,

In the womb him did Krishna really save?

Amazing events, how could they be?

With our own eyes these things we must see.

Leverage of experience learn to harness,

Impossible dwindles with more that we witness.

To God’s divine acts don’t apply the same test,

Doubts about His existence put to rest.

Chant holy name, for God and His name are one,

Soon watch impossible possible become.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Rest Assured

Lord Rama“Seeing an answer not forthcoming from the king, Vashishtha tried all kinds of ways to make him understand. He said that the son of Gadhi is powerful through his great austerities and explained that Rama is also very capable.’” (Janaki Mangala, Chand 3.1)

āyau na utarū basiṣṭha lakhi bahu bhānti nṛpa samajhāyaū |
kahi gādhi suta tapa teja kachu raghupati prrabhāu janāyaū ||

When in doubt, don’t say anything. Stumped on a particular question, if you say the wrong thing, you might offend the person you’re speaking to. Moreover, if the cameras are rolling, your incorrect answer will be remembered and repeated over and over again. One king a long time ago was dumbfounded at the request coming from an innocent sage. Having just praised the vipra for his standing and good deeds, the king couldn’t now outright reject the request, as it would invalidate his previous words. At the same time, saying ‘yes’ would mean parting with his most beloved son. At this time a well-wishing adviser, another member of the priestly class, stepped in to offer some calming words.

debateWe’re not always so lucky. In the trickiest situations, coming up with the right thing to say is not easy. If politicians should hesitate on national television in a debate, their candidacy can end immediately. Nobody wants to be led by someone who can’t speak with confidence and knowledge. The leader is in the top position for a reason. Good communication skills can mask the lack of intelligence, but at the same time someone who is knowledgeable can be perceived to be a dunce if they cannot in a short amount of time come up with the proper words to convey their thoughts.

There are so many issues to contend with in troubling situations that sometimes even if there is pressure to respond, it is better to just stay silent. After all, you can’t hurt someone’s feelings if you don’t say anything. In fact, the Miranda warning given to people arrested in the United States starts off by saying that the detained person has the right to remain silent. The reason for this is that anything said during the time of arrest can be used against them in the court of law. If that’s the case, why not stay silent throughout, not divulging any information? If you stay quiet long enough, maybe the troublesome situation will pass.

Vashishtha knew that the king of Ayodhya could not afford to hesitate for long. The son of Gadhi, Vishvamitra, had come as a matter of urgency. Night-rangers were foiling the religious practices of the ascetics living in the forest. More than just foil, these creatures would attack with force, often killing the sages and then eating their flesh. One ghoulish creature in particular was intent on harassing Vishvamitra. Named Maricha, he was a chief counselor to the king of Rakshasas in Lanka, Ravana.

“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)

Lord RamaIronically enough, though Maricha was on the other side of justice, he later turned out to be a speaker of the glories of both Vishvamitra and the person the sage desired for personal protection. In one way through his wickedness Maricha increased the fame of the eldest son of Maharaja Dasharatha and also affirmed the king’s dedication to piety. As the leader of a famous land, Dasharatha’s primary desire in life was to uphold righteousness. In a world full of duality, the right course is not always discernable, so the safe bet is to follow the direction of the brahmanas.

But here now was a brahmana asking the king to lend his eldest son. There was a massive royal army that could have gone with Vishvamitra, guarding the perimeter of his ashrama. But as if to strike at the very heart of the king, to take the one possession that meant more to him than anything else, Vishvamitra asked to have Rama as an escort. Rama was not even twelve years old yet, but the sage knew that only He could protect against the attacks of Maricha.

Before future events could validate the sage’s premonition, Dasharatha’s royal priest stepped in to offer some sound words of advice. After Vishvamitra made his request, the king was stunned, basically speechless. Seeing that an answer was not forthcoming, Vashishtha reminded the king of the qualities of the people in question. He rightfully said that Vishvamitra was a strong ascetic, completely dedicated to austerity. In the Bhagavad-gita, the song of God, Lord Krishna states that He is the penance of the ascetic.

“I am the original fragrance of the earth, and I am the heat in fire. I am the life of all that lives, and I am the penances of all ascetics.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.9)

Krishna’s statement was part of a series of remarks meant to indicate how God is the life of everything. To make this concept easier to understand to the conditioned living beings, Krishna went through some common activities and occupational positions and revealed how He is the specific identifying feature in each of them. For the ascetic to have true value, he must be dedicated to austerity. The statement, “If I could only be king for a day”, indicates a desire to get whatever you want and enjoy the regal life but for even a brief period of time. The ascetic lives with just the opposite mindset. “What more is there that I can renounce today? So far I have fasted and lived in the wilderness, but surely there is something more that I can live without.”

Asceticism and its powers are so great that the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, are filled with accounts of historical incidents where famous personalities took to asceticism and achieved a higher end. The potency of austerity for religious purposes is not limited to men either. The daughter of the mountain king was told in her youth by Narada Muni that she should marry Mahadeva, the greatest of the gods. Mahadeva, or Lord Shiva, is in charge of the material mode of ignorance, so he is the ideal worshipable figure for those who are into black magic, those desirous of material opulence to be used for nefarious purposes, and the ghosts and the goblins. Lord Shiva is himself completely renounced, yet his devotees are often very wealthy, having acquired their riches through simple offerings made to him.

Mother ParvatiThe mountain king and his wife were a little taken aback by Narada’s words. Lord Shiva wears a garland of skulls around his neck and has ashes smeared all over his body. He hovers around crematoriums and holds poison in his throat. What kind of husband would he make? None of this mattered to Parvati, the king’s daughter. She immediately went to the forest to perform austerities, with famous seers arriving many years later to test her devotion. Parvati was even offered Lord Vishnu, the same Krishna and Rama, as a husband, but she refused, stating that she would abide by the words of her guru, Narada. Through her penance she was able to please Mahadeva and earn him as a husband. The two are to this day happily engaged in devotional service and overseeing the affairs of the material world.

Vishvamitra was not an ascetic in name only. He had previously been a king, but due to his asceticism he was now recognized as a saintly man. King Dasharatha had a vow to uphold righteousness at the direction of the priestly class, so he should not have thought that Vishvamitra’s request would cause harm. Vishvamitra knew what he was doing, as he was very powerful through his austerity.

Vashishtha also reminded Dasharatha that Rama was capable, though He was very young. Dasharatha didn’t know that Rama was the Supreme Lord appearing in his family to delight the residents of Ayodhya. The Lord would charm the world and countless future generations of man with His splendid deeds, which included protecting Vishvamitra from Maricha. As described by Maricha to Ravana in the Ramayana, Rama, though a young man with barely any signs of manhood on His face, without hesitation strung His bow and thwarted Maricha’s attack on Vishvamitra’s sacrificial fire.

“Then I, resembling a cloud and having molten-golden earrings, made my way into Vishvamitra's ashrama, for I was very proud of my strength due to the boon given to me by Lord Brahma. As soon as I entered, Rama quickly noticed me and raised His weapon. Though He saw me, Rama strung His bow without any fear.” (Maricha speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 38.16-17)

Lord RamaThe force of the arrow released by Rama was so strong that Maricha was thrust thousands of miles away, never daring to bother Vishvamitra again. In this way Vashishtha’s words were prescient, and Dasharatha was fortunate to have him around. When we are in doubt or if we don’t want to do what is right, hearing from someone else about what to do isn’t always pleasant. We may even get angry with them for speaking the truth, but in the end we are benefited by their honest and wise counsel.

Dasharatha knew that Vashishtha was correct, though the king never looked at Rama as being supremely powerful. The Supreme Lord’s splendor and might take a backseat to His beauty, charm and endearing qualities in the eyes of the divine lovers. The fact that He is God and offers protection from wicked characters and speaks pearls of wisdom like those found in the Bhagavad-gita is not the primary cause for the dedication to bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Rather, in divine love the emotions can be so strong that the devotee starts worrying about the Lord’s welfare and whether or not He will be able to handle different situations.

Taking Lakshmana with Him, Rama would protect Vishvamitra from the attacks of several Rakshasas. Through the good steward’s leadership, Rama and Lakshmana would be led to the kingdom of Videha, where the marriage of Rama’s eternal consort was being arranged. Her husband was not already decided. Whoever could lift Mahadeva’s bow would win Sita’s hand. Just as Parvati was meant for marrying Shiva, Shri Rama was meant to raise the bow and live happily ever after with Sita Devi, the daughter of King Janaka. Thanks to Vashishtha’s good counsel, the wheels were set in motion for that wonderful marriage to take place.

In Closing:

From vipra’s request king’s heart did sink,

Follow virtue or keep Rama, couldn’t think.

The distressed condition of king he could tell,

Vashishtha stepped in for doubts to dispel.

As brahmana, Vishvamitra’s opinion right,

And Shri Rama, though young of great might.

Mahadeva daughter of mountain king to marry,

To the woods vow for austerity she did carry.

Sita Devi meant to wed Rama in the same way,

Vashishtha’s words to make real fateful day.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Getting Away With It

Rama holding His bow“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)

You arrive at the construction site in the morning, ready to continue working on the new building that has to go up. You have certain procedures that you’re supposed to follow, guidelines that must be adhered to in order to see a successful completion. This building is important, as it will house many people on each given day. Suppose, however, that on one aspect of the construction you are a little lackadaisical. You don’t give it your full attention, but you think that it doesn’t matter because the building is so complex that what harm is one incorrectly built section going to do? This same mentality is quite commonplace in other activities as well, and it is a contributing factor in the disbelief in God and a higher power.

house-constructionWhat will the result be if the section of the building is not constructed properly? For starters, the proper construction guidelines are there for a reason. Someone did not come up with them on a whim so that they could personally serve as a dictatorial controlling figure who wants to be in charge of every aspect of the worker’s life. Rather, the instructions are there to bring about the stated objective, which in this case is a safe and sturdy building. Defiance of the guidelines due to laziness or poor judgment will obviously jeopardize the meeting of the end-goal.

Interestingly enough, the negative reaction to the spotty work may not be witnessed by the worker who perpetrated the deed. The incorrectly built section could cause a wall to collapse or a floor panel to be loose or, worse yet, the entire building to crumble. The worker may be long gone when the time arrives for this disastrous event; thereby making it difficult for them to realize the consequences to their actions. Nevertheless, in spite of how long it takes for the negative reaction to arrive and whether or not the worker himself is affected, the consequence to impious deeds comes all the same.

The Vedas, the original scriptural tradition of India, reveal that this system of cause-and-effect operates universally and at both the microscopic and macroscopic levels. Known to most as the system of karma, fruitive work undertaken has consequences, or phala. The fruits aren’t always sweet in taste, and they may not manifest immediately. With the case of the poor building procedure, the bitter fruit arrived much later on, and it affected others who weren’t involved in the initial transgression. But karma is so fair that the person who commits the horrible deed reaps their due reward at the proper time as well. Indeed, every negative reaction we encounter in life, even if it arrives seemingly due to the actions of others, is the result of past work, or karma.

In the famous Ramayana, a remark made by the lead character, the chivalrous and pious prince of Ayodhya, Lord Rama, reveals the same truth. During the time of the included events, the Treta Yuga, a band of night-rangers was terrorizing innocent sages residing in the forest of Dandaka. Imagine a priest being attacked, killed and then eaten up right as they were delivering a sermon. This is similar to what was going on, except the situation was even worse. The priests in this case, brahmanas, were alone and simply desirous of fostering God consciousness, which is the ultimate aim of life. The night-rangers had no just cause for attacking, other than their hatred for dharma, or religious principles.

Lord RamaThe perpetrators were apparently getting away with it. They were successfully harassing the sages and eating their flesh after killing them. Then along came the prince of Ayodhya to give them their just rewards. In speaking to Khara, one of the lead night-rangers, prior to battle, Rama informed him that the sinner gets his fruit at the appropriate time, just as the trees blossom flowers during the proper season. In addition, the reward they get is as ghastly as their initial deed. Khara would get the reward due him, punishment by death, delivered personally by Rama, who was an incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Karma is helpful to know about because it explains the many situations we encounter. Karma must span beyond the current lifetime because of the variety in circumstance in birth. We can talk all we want about the difference between matter and spirit and how the sober human being should be able to tolerate the ups and downs that material life brings, but if a person is constantly harassed by material nature, put into regular discomfort and fear over the future wellbeing of both themselves and their family members, how will they have the opportunity to sit down and peacefully contemplate the highest truths of spiritual life? How will they make the best use of their valuable human form of life, which carries the highest potential for the assimilation of wisdom that can provide the most beneficial end?

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

The fact that one person is born into peaceful circumstances and another into turmoil is the result of past karma. As the soul is the essence of identity, the death of the living being is not the end of the road. Neither is death the ultimate punishment, for consciousness pervades into the next life, just as the air carries aromas. If a person thinks they can escape troubles through the end of life, the active propensity of the soul must continue on, which means there must be a future destination. Those born into rotten circumstances, where they face tremendous hardships at every corner, obviously had bad karma from the previous life. It is unkind to mention this, but no other explanation can be given for their condition.

Indeed, when karma is taken out of the mix, all the philosophies pertaining to spirituality and even atheism crumble. For instance, if there is no karma and God just wants us to acknowledge His existence during the “one” life we get to live, what about those people who never make it out of the womb? What about the children who never mature to the point that they can acknowledge God? Are they eternally damned to hell, or are they automatically sent to heaven? The punishment to hell seems rather harsh, considering the fact that children are innocent and need guidance. The automatic ticket to heaven also seems unfair, as it would make premature death a boon rather than a tragedy.

Under atheism, there is no concern given to cause and effect. The body, a collection of material elements, is taken to be the identifying aspect, though it constantly changes. In atheism there is no regard for piety and sin, with the thought being that consequences just come on their own. Under this model, birth in the animal kingdom would actually represent advancement, for the mental worries pertaining to earning a living and maintaining a family would be absent.

Even if one wants to deny the influence of karma as a fact of spiritual life, fruitive action still proves to be the determining factor to circumstances. The person born into a poor family may not have done anything wrong, but the poverty is there for a reason. The parents that were in troublesome situations arrived there through the result of their work and the work of others. Therefore action always has consequences, regardless of whether we see them or not. The Vedas just complete the picture by revealing that the reactions to work carry over into the next life.

The concept of a life is relative, as it is sort of like a chunk of a timeline cut off and used for analysis. We break down events based on days, weeks and years, but these are just relative measurements. The time continuum hasn’t stopped nor will it in the future. We refer to last year so we can better gauge the difference in circumstances between the present and the past, but there has been no shift in identity. In a similar manner, the spirit soul has a perpetual existence, with the different “lives” serving as markers for the various body types the soul assumes.

Lord Krishna holding His fluteKnowing that the thief who regularly steals will eventually get robbed later on in life is comforting, but the human brain is meant to go beyond karma. Karma manages fairness in terms of fruitive activity, but there is one person who is above the influence of karma. Not surprisingly, that person is God, who is known by many names in the Vedic tradition. Some call Him Krishna, while others refer to Him as Rama or Vishnu. Some even worship Lord Shiva as the Supreme Person, though his position is actually somewhere in between Lord Vishnu and the living entities, who are tiny expansions from the original spiritual storehouse of energy.

Karma is instituted to manage the affairs of the spirit souls not desirous of personal association with God. Think of karma as the referees in a sporting event, except its judgment is not flawed. The offensive lineman may get away with a hold every now and then in American football, but in the grand scheme of life, the higher authorities note down every action and manage to deliver the appropriate reaction at just the right time through nature’s influence. As human beings are part of nature, they sometimes unknowingly deliver someone’s due rewards to them.

Karma stops for the Krishna conscious soul, who is always desirous of connecting with the Supreme Spirit. The beginning of Krishna consciousness is hearing about Krishna and becoming familiar with His transcendental features. As Bhagavan, Lord Krishna is the wisest, most famous, most renounced, strongest, most beautiful, and wealthiest. In the beginning one will have to accept these truths on faith, but through adhering to devotional principles, Krishna’s position is validated. The knowledge of karma comes from Krishna Himself in His discourse on Vedic philosophy known as the Bhagavad-gita. Rama’s statement to Khara is another example of Bhagavan’s supreme intelligence.

If, after hearing, the seed of the creeper of devotional service is sown and further desire to connect with Krishna springs forth, the next step is to chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. All the saintly figures of the Vedic tradition, the most famous acharyas teaching devotional service through their example, follow the chanting routine as their life and soul. Not all recite the same mantra, but the key ingredient in their chanting is the holy name. For example, Shri Hanuman, Rama’s most faithful servant, always chants Rama’s name. In pictures Hanuman is shown to be chanting the glories of Sita and Rama. Sita is Rama’s eternal consort, and the couple’s features are fully represented in their names. Just in Rama’s name alone are found the beneficial features belonging to both the Personality of Godhead and His closest associates.

As further taste is developed in chanting, increased dedication to the path of bhakti results. Activities in bhakti look awfully similar to acts of karma, but the difference is in the nature of the consequences. In karma, the resultant reward must bear fruit, and since the nature of the activity is sense driven, the reaction must apply to the body accepted by the living being. If one is extremely pious and follows religious rituals throughout their life, the reward they get is ascension to the material heavenly planets. Thus the rewards of karma are still there for the pious, and a commensurate body is required.

In pure bhakti, the only desire is to continue bhakti, to be able to worship Krishna, chant His names, hear about Him, and speak about His glories to others. Therefore the reactions to work don’t require a material body. The work in bhakti is free of karma, but it is not free of beneficial rewards. The bhakta is guaranteed to be put into conditions which are conducive to devotional service. Externally the conditions may not appear to be auspicious, but through remembrance of Krishna even the horrible conditions end up being supremely beneficial. It is guaranteed in the Bhagavad-gita that the departing soul who is Krishna conscious attains the Lord’s nature, which is blissful, knowledgeable and eternal. That combination exists in the spiritual world, where Krishna resides.

“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, Bg. 8.5)

Krishna's lotus feetThe interest in karma can lead to Krishna, so the negative reactions we witness in life can actually bring us to the right place. Therefore karma, material nature, ignorance, and other things apparently not related to Krishna aren’t universally harmful. Rather, anything that brings one closer to their constitutional position of servant of the Supreme Personality of Godhead can be considered favorable. Though the thief thinks that since no one is looking he will get away with the crime, the system of karma will take care of him all the same. Taking the pure version of the same principle, even if we don’t think God is watching us while we chant, He hears our sincere recitations of the holy name and duly rewards us at the appropriate time.

In Closing:

Thinks with his crime away he is getting,

To avoid consequences world is letting.

Doesn’t know that from above being watched,

Higher authorities make sure he gets caught.

The resultant actions karma to deliver,

Severe too, can’t escape forever.

Know that karma has the final say,

From its influence can’t get away.

Know Krishna and His devotees are above reaction,

In bhakti taste sweet transcendental interaction.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

From Suicide to Redemption

Hanuman“Or I will kill the ten-headed Ravana of great strength. Whatever has happened to Sita, at least her abduction will be avenged.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.49)

rāvaṇam vā vadhiṣyāmi daśagrīvam mahā balam ||
kāmam astu hṛtā sītā pratyācīrṇam bhaviṣyati |

The supporters of Hanuman will rejoice at the mere mention of this verse. Screams of joy, adulation, victory, triumph, hope, and good feelings abound when those who love Hanuman hear the words of this verse, which is found in the sacred Ramayana, the wonderful poem describing the pleasant and heroic acts of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Rama. Yet, ironically enough, this verse touches on the victory over mental demons of a seemingly ordinary monkey, a being not belonging to an advanced species. Hanuman is no ordinary figure, though, as his victory over the debilitating forces of evil concentrated on the island of Lanka are well documented in the Ramayana, with special attention given in its Sundara-kanda, or book of beauty. The Ramayana is about Rama, and since Hanuman is always tied to the Lord in consciousness, hearing about him is as good as having the Lord’s company.

HanumanWho hasn’t suffered from the effects of mental demons every now and then? The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, account for every type of misery encountered in this world by grouping them into three categories. Adhyatmika miseries are those which arise from the body and mind. These pains would seemingly be the easiest to fix. For example, if we’re plagued by bad thoughts, just turn the situation around and think of good things. If we’re feeling sick, take some medicine. If we’re not getting enough sleep, just sleep more.

Obviously the practical application of the solutions isn’t so easy. The mental demons are especially the toughest to get over, for as soon as negative thoughts creep in, a sea of sorrow starts to rise and fill up the mind until a large ocean has been created. The despondent individual, the owner of the mind, is stuck on one side of the ocean and the length and breadth of the water seem too vast to overcome. Finding your way into this helpless situation is not very difficult. You just need a few setbacks, grouped together, one after another. Then you need to start fearing what will happen if you never succeed, if you never find your way out.

Think this way long enough and pretty soon you’ll find yourself in a situation where you want out. “O poor twisted me. I’m drowning in my sorrows and I have nothing to rescue me. Life has treated me poorly, as it seems that wherever I go, a black rain cloud constantly drenches me. No one else is wet; just me. In fact, because of my failures, so many other people are going to suffer. Therefore it is better if I just end it all, escape from the tumultuous life that I never figured out how to survive in anyway.”

In this way the mind can go from a peaceful existence to the brink of suicide in a few short steps. The material existence is very conducive to this type of defeatist attitude. After all, the land is created with this defeat in mind. The jivas, the individual spirit souls basking in the company of the Supreme Person in His imperishable realm, have no need to leave their engagement, devotional service. Only when there is a desire to compete with God, to surpass His abilities in creation, maintenance and destruction, can there result a negative condition.

The threefold miseries of life only exist in a temporary world devoid of God’s personal association. What is the difference between personal and impersonal? The proprietor starts a business and sets the wheels in motion for its operation, but this doesn’t mean that he’s always at the jobsite. There is generally a stark difference in behavior between the days the boss is in the office and the days he isn’t. When the company owner shows up to work, everyone has to be on their best behavior, as they have to show him that they are working hard. Yet as soon as the boss leaves, it’s party time, provided that another strong hand of authority is not there to watch over everyone. If someone like this is present, their influence likely isn’t as great as the boss’s.

Despite the differences in behavior, the presence of the owner is still perpetually there, as his proxies and energies keep the business running. Similarly, even if we deny the existence of God or just forget about Him because of being distracted with other work, it doesn’t mean that the Lord’s influence is not present. It is said that not a blade of grass can move without God’s hand. He created the material elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether and the subtle elements of mind, intelligence and false ego. He controls the heat and the rain, and He is responsible for the creation and destruction of the universe in repeating cycles. All of this information is there in the Vedas, and it shouldn’t be surprising to hear. In practically every spiritual tradition the same information is presented, except maybe not with as much detail.

“O Arjuna, I control heat, the rain and the drought. I am immortality, and I am also death personified. Both being and nonbeing are in Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.19)

Lord Krishna's lotus feetThe material world introduced miseries because the boss, the Supreme Lord, is not personally present. He has expansions and different manifestations that reside within every atom, but this influence doesn’t necessarily direct anyone towards anything. For example, in the living entity there reside two souls. One soul is the essence of identity and the other represents the Supreme Lord. Though God’s expansion, the Paramatma, is responsible for all the visible results we see, it is the individual atma, the soul, that takes responsibility for driving the ship, deciding where to go and what to do. The Supersoul has no say in this, as He is an impartial witness, simply watching everything going on and waiting until the day when the individual soul will turn its mind towards spiritual life.

In the imperishable land, there is no distinction between personal and impersonal. God’s features, pastimes, names and other things directly relating to Him are not hidden. Nor is anyone there aloof to His presence. Rather, everyone engages in working for His pleasure. Even if He is not directly in front of them, they think of Him nonetheless. With the Supreme Lord thinking about Him is as good as being with Him. In this way even if one is trapped in a material realm and suffering from the threefold miseries of life, they can turn their area into a replica of the spiritual world by acting in the Lord’s interest.

How do we do this exactly? Moreover, how do the effects manifest? We can take the wonderful Shri Hanuman as an example to learn from, though his behavior should not be directly imitated. The great ones make it look easy, but if anyone were to try to repeat their feats of strength and bravery, they would come up short. Hanuman was purposefully put into the situations he found himself in by the hand of God, because the Lord knew that Hanuman was up to the challenge.

Lord RamaThough God, who is known as Krishna in His original form, does not have a personal presence in the material land, He can choose to make appearances in it whenever He wants. Depending on the time and circumstance, He will take on different spiritual manifestations. In the Treta Yuga, Krishna appeared as the pious and handsome prince of Ayodhya, Lord Rama. One way to tell if someone is God is by noticing their exquisite beauty. Rama was a warrior prince, and for an important period of time in His life He roamed the forests without any royal garb. In fact, the stipulation was that He had to roam around like a beggar, though He was allowed to take His weapons with Him, His bow and arrow set.

Yet even when roaming the forests, Rama looked more beautiful than anyone else. Accompanied by His wife Sita Devi and younger brother Lakshmana, Rama’s beauty increased all the more. When the different villagers would see Rama and Lakshmana walking by, they would remark that the creator must have first made them and then used whatever he had left over to populate the rest of the world. Those with a pure vision could become immediately liberated from the pangs of material existence by seeing Rama and Lakshmana.

Devotion to God as a practice is known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. There are specific tastes that come from this interaction, tastes only available to those who recognize, honor and cherish the personal forms of the Supreme Lord, understanding that He is a personality just like everyone else. In the abstract vision of God or in the impersonal mode of worship, the transcendental tastes are absent. Hence these other paths are always inferior to bhakti. Looking upon the Lord with amazement and feeling a thrill throughout the body is one method of worship, but service can also manifest through direct acts, work performed for the Lord’s satisfaction. This was the route taken by Hanuman. His work was no ordinary business either.

Playing out her role in the dramatic, real-life play that is the Ramayana, Sita was taken away from Rama’s side by a powerful king named Ravana. Rama was the greatest bow warrior in the world, so Ravana knew he couldn’t defeat Him in battle. Struck as he was by the impulse to have Sita, the most beautiful woman in the world, for his wife, Ravana devised a plan where he could take Sita away without anyone knowing. When it came time later to find His wife, Rama enlisted the help of a band of forest dwellers residing in Kishkindha. They were mostly monkey-like, but they had many human features and tendencies as well.

Hanuman was the most capable of these warriors, so he was tasked by Sugriva, the king of these Vanaras, to look for Sita and return the information of her whereabouts to the camp. Though given the task by Sugriva, Hanuman was essentially performing devotional service for Rama. Long story short, Hanuman ended up in Lanka, Ravana’s remotely situated island. Hanuman was all by himself; no one was there to help him. No telephone to use to call home. No text message to send to get advice. He had to find Sita using his tremendous skills, which included an unmatched fighting prowess, a keen intellect, and mastery over every mystic perfection of the ancient system of yoga.

As endowed as he was in these areas, Hanuman’s greatest strength was his devotion to Rama. This is what initially enabled him to infiltrate Lanka without being noticed. He searched and searched, but he couldn’t find Sita. Lest we think devotion to God is all roses and lilies, Hanuman then quickly fell into a depressed state. His love for Rama coupled with his failure to find Sita made him sadder than ever. Though he had such wonderful abilities and had already exhibited tremendous feats of strength and heroism, he essentially hated himself for not having found Sita. Obviously, none of this was his fault, for what had he done wrong? He did everything asked of him. Ravana was the one who took Sita, so he was really to blame. Nevertheless, Hanuman decided that if he returned to Kishkindha a failure, everyone else would soon quit their bodies. Rather than be responsible for that, Hanuman thought it would be better to just starve himself to death. This way he would give himself the proper punishment.

He was on the brink of suicide. Then he thought to himself some more. He correctly decided that if he should quit, so many bad things would happen. If he continued to fight on, however, at least there would be a chance of succeeding. This is the rule to live by. The Paramatma is always residing within us, so as long as the life breath is there, there is an opportunity to connect with Him, to make the most of the human form of life. With death we have no idea where we will end up next. There is no guarantee that we will even get the opportunity to try to understand God and the need for worshiping Him.

Deciding that living was better, Hanuman still couldn’t get over his sadness. That Sita wasn’t found was really bothering him. In the above referenced verse, we see him change course, reawaken from his temporary slumber. Hanuman decided that if he was going to fail, he was going to take Ravana down with him. Hanuman is described as having tremendous fortitude and being an elephant among monkeys. One would have to be courageous to continue to fight, especially when they were just on the brink of suicide. Hanuman is the most powerful person, and he only uses his strength for good. If Sita were no longer living, Hanuman would get revenge by taking out Ravana. Who was Ravana to escape punishment? Why should Hanuman have to suffer while Ravana continued to live?

Hanuman's heartThrough this wonderful passage Hanuman once again reveals his unmatched level of devotion to Sita and Rama. His love for them is a thing of beauty. Though he roams the earth in the guise of a monkey, his portrait is flawless, bringing satisfaction to those who are dedicated to serving the Supreme Lord in thought, word and deed. Hanuman’s fortitude would enable him to emerge victorious, to find Sita and help in her eventual rescue. He showed us that even in devotional service there are severe ups and downs. But if our heart is situated in the right place, we will find the right course of action every time. Anyone who regularly remembers Hanuman and his devotion will be guaranteed to find redemption from the curse of material existence.

In Closing:

“Not finding her Sita may be gone,

Sadness mind constantly dwells on.

Ravana should escape, who is he?

By me punished with death will he be.”

From failure Hanuman first in sadness dove,

Then thinking of success from despair arose.

Ravana for his deed would not get away,

The powerful Hanuman the demon to slay.

In devotion Hanuman always to finish strong,

His deeds and qualities daily dwell upon.