Saturday, February 25, 2012

Win Win Win

Mother Yashoda“’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)

What to do now that your young child has been caught red-handed? Butter smeared over His hands and feet, having just tried to flee like a criminal attempting to outrun the police on the highway, Krishna was in a vulnerable position.  The dear mother was left with a few options. Should she just let the incident slide, pretend as if nothing happened? Or should she punish Him for doing something that was wrong? Thankfully for countless future generations she chose an option that would bring delight to all the parties involved.

How can everyone win? Isn’t that contradictory? In an episode from the American television sitcom The Office, there is a situation where the human resources manager has to resolve a dispute, mediate between people who have a disagreement with one another. One solution is to just let both sides vent until they forget about what the problem was. The manager, seeing the indecision, decides to step in and read the guidebook on how to handle situations like these. He decides on an option called win/win/win.

Krishna and Mother YashodaObviously such an outcome is considered next to impossible, for how can all the parties be satisfied? In Krishna’s case the favorable outcome would be to get let off the hook. Mother Yashoda’s preference would be for her son to feel bad and never break another pot of butter again. For the third party, the reader of the story, the best option is for the mother’s love for her son to increase and vice versa.

This is precisely what would occur. The good mother threatened punishment with a whipping stick, but there was never any intent to use it. Why should such a young child be struck just for taking some butter from a pot that He broke? Rather than strike her boy, the dear mother decided to tie Him to a mortar. This way He would think He was being punished, but in reality He would just remain in the mother’s vision. He had no reason to run off either. Why should He be scared when the mother was so happy just to have Him in her life?

So the solution was simple enough, but Yashoda's son was no ordinary human being. To add to the fun, He made sure that the rope used by the mother was always just too short. Every time she added another rope the final rope came up short by the width of two fingers. The mother couldn’t understand the mystery, but because of her sincerity of purpose, eventually young Krishna relented. He allowed her to bind Him in ropes of affection.

With this option the mother felt like she was doing her job. She did not shirk her responsibility out of attachment to her boy. That would have been a rather selfish thing to do. If a parent doesn’t provide tough love from time to time, how will the child ever learn that their errant behavior is wrong? We know not to touch fire because of the intense pain that results from contact. If that pain were not there, our hand would burn rather quickly in the fire. In this way the pain exists for our benefit.

Lord KrishnaMother Yashoda was used to dealing with trouble from her son. He was known for going into the neighbors’ homes and stealing their stocks of butter. He had also been involved in several strange situations with ghoulish creatures. There was the witch named Putana who tried to kill Him while He was still an infant. Dressed as a beautiful woman, the witch smeared poison on her breasts and then tried to nurse the young child. She got her wish, as Krishna placed His lips on the poison, but in the process sucked the very life out of her. In the end, all that was left was this gigantic hideous corpse fallen on the ground, with young Krishna crawling on top of her. Then there was a wicked character in the shape of a whirlwind who had taken young Krishna high into the sky. Again, the plot was thwarted, but Yashoda knew that her son was always finding His way into such dangerous situations.

This particular pastime with the broken pot started with Yashoda’s desire to churn tasty butter for her son. She thought that maybe the reason He was stealing butter from others was that what He was being fed at home wasn’t to His satisfaction. Therefore she went to churn yogurt into butter from the products of her husband’s best cows, which were fed the sweetest grass.

To her dismay, Krishna angrily broke that pot that she worked so hard to fill. Krishna’s past transgressions were forgiven because the other cowherd mothers did not want Krishna to be punished. Though they protested to Yashoda, they were so charmed by her son that they did not want Him to stop His activities. This time, however, Yashoda was directly affected, and she had to keep her son sitting still and make Him aware that He couldn’t foil her hard work that was intended for His benefit to begin with.

Being tied to the rope was pleasurable for Krishna because He got to see His mother’s sincere effort. He had broken the pot for want of affection, and now He was getting it. The pure-hearted listeners of this real-life incident documented in the Shrimad Bhagavatam end up winners by getting to see the sweet pastimes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The entire Vedic literature is directed towards this purpose. The human mind likes to be entertained by external events. If this weren’t the case then the news would never be put on television. Nobody would ever go on the internet to see what is going on in the world. The Vedas take the natural penchant within human beings for hearing stories and purify it by providing countless stories relating to the real-life pastimes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. A simple incident like breaking a pot of butter may not be noteworthy in a movie or book, but when it relates to Lord Krishna, it can be remembered over and over again, for years to come.

Lord KrishnaProof of the claim is that Krishna’s activities are still talked about today. If He were just a folk hero or mythological creation this wouldn’t be possible. If a tangible benefit, that of supreme happiness and comfort, wasn’t received from tapping into the voluminous Vedic literature, Krishna’s popularity would have died down a long time ago. Because of His absolute nature, hearing about the Lord’s activities has an effectiveness that stands the test of time.

Hearing is as good as seeing when it comes to Krishna. Hearing is more effective in the sense that it requires more attention. There is an active response elicited within the mind through the process. The same attention is absent with seeing, for visuals can bring distractions, with the eyes focusing on certain aspects while ignoring other things that are going on.

In various public opinion surveys, it has been shown that people who listen to the news, either through a news radio station or talk radio, have more knowledge of current events than people who only watch the news. This should make sense, as it is easier to remember something heard as opposed to something seen. Increased memory equates to increased contemplation, which keeps the brain working to formulate arguments and opinions. Moreover, the opinions formed are better supported by the logic and reasoning applied during the initial hearing.

Though young Krishna could not go anywhere, He eventually managed to move the mortar in between two trees, causing them to fall down. Thus began another pastime, which was instigated by Krishna’s crime of stealing butter and then mother Yashoda’s subsequent punishment. The dear mother took all the effort in the world to love her son, and the child reciprocated by interacting with her in the way that an affectionate child does.

Mother Yashoda is as glorious as her beloved son. She was loved in Vrindavana some five thousand years ago, and she continues to be honored to this day. She took the effort to provide motherly affection to her son, and because of this the transcendental pleasure seekers were able to get a steady supply of life-giving nectar. Just as the lotus flower automatically opens at the rise of the sun, the devotee cherishing the sweet nectar of the pastimes of the Supreme Lord comes to life upon hearing Krishna’s interactions with His mother in Vrindavana.

That same darling of Vrajabhumi is our constant well-wisher, as He is just waiting for us to recite His holy names, "Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare". From that chanting comes remembrance of His pastimes, the sweetest of which took place in Vrindavana when Krishna roamed this earth as a young child.

In Closing:

To mother Yashoda a heartfelt thank you,

For to motherly duties being always true.


Angry at mother, Krishna’s stubbornness strong,

Broke pot of butter, knew what He did was wrong.


With a whipping stick the good mother chased,

Tied with ropes to a mortar young Krishna placed.


Krishna happy, mother able clearly to see Him,

Devoted listener pleased too, win win win.


Both mother and her son cherished to this day,

With us may their sweet vision always stay.

Friday, February 24, 2012

A Potent Combination

Rama with Hanuman“If, based on Sampati’s words, I bring Rama here, Raghava, not seeing His wife, will burn all of the monkeys.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.53)

sampāti vacanāc ca api rāmam yadi ānayāmi aham ||
apaśyan rāghavo bhāryām nirdahet sarva vānarān |

Hanuman’s consideration for his friends and well-wishers is amazing. Sometimes it is annoying if someone else keeps being nice to us for no reason, not wanting to offend or upset us in any way. After a while you feel like saying, “Just be real with me. Stop treating me like I’m so special.” In Hanuman’s case, the beneficiaries of his kindness cannot be smothered with love. The dog or cat will eventually leave your side after you give them too much. They are animals after all, so their instincts dictate where they will go. The spouse similarly cannot accept too much affection because they will start to feel smothered. With every gift accepted they start incurring debts, the burden of which can be too much to bear. Only the Supreme Lord, the fountainhead of all energies, appreciates even the smallest kind gesture made towards Him. Whether they are delivered just once during a lifetime or one after another like a conveyor belt manufacturing products in a timely manner, these gestures are accepted regardless. With Hanuman, his kindness never goes in vain, as every time he thinks of his beloved Lord, his resolve strengthens, allowing him to continue on his mission, no matter how difficult the obstacles placed in front of him may be.

HanumanWho does Hanuman view as God? And who is Hanuman? Is he a monkey god of the Hindu tradition? We are introduced to Hanuman in the sacred Ramayana, which was composed by Maharishi Valmiki many thousands of years ago. The creation is divided into four time periods to make things easier to understand. Why would we need to understand the creation? Knowledge is power, so any time you can understand your position relative to others in society, and even to larger periods of time, it is to your advantage. Something is advantageous when it is used to positively affect an outcome. Knowledge of both the advantages and the right purpose to further is a wonderful combination, one of the most potent in fact. Bring these two pieces of information together and you get maturation of consciousness, which is the ultimate benediction.

It’s difficult to think beyond our current lifetime or prior to the time of our birth, but in reality our time on this mysterious land is like a small blip on a radar screen. In fact, it would take the most powerful microscope to see the point on a timeline that plotted each person’s duration of life since the beginning of creation. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, provide some details into the nature of creation and how man’s tendencies progress as further time elapses. This information is not meant to be a punishment, criticism, or a way of scaring someone into believing in a specific religious figure. Rather, the science is presented so that the inquisitive, those looking for real and lasting pleasure, can make an informed decision as to which path to take in life.

A path in Sanskrit is known as a marga. By default, the living entity takes the kama-marga, the path of sense gratification. Do whatever makes you happy. If you like to eat, eat. If you want to drink, then drink. Eat, drink, be merry and enjoy your time. Pay no attention to how you got here, what your purpose is, or where you will go in the future. Just live in the here and now. This path obviously brings short term happiness, but even a minimally developed consciousness of the human species understands that there are many perils with only following the impulses of the senses. Drug addiction, obesity, inability to cope with loss, and so many other debilitating issues arise from only looking to satisfy personal desires, or kama.

The kama-marga is automatically followed by the lower species, the animals and the like, because they don’t know any better. They don’t have the ability to recognize patterns in behavior and make alterations to further a better purpose. Maybe a dog can be trained to sit up, fetch a paper, and go to the bathroom outside, but this doesn’t put any controls on desire. Rather, the ability to think critically and to self-impose restrictions to further a higher goal belongs exclusively to the human species. This ability also exists for a reason.

The Vedas reveal that there is a science to account for the different species. Picture a laboratory where you have all sorts of raw elements. You get to pick and choose how you want to mix them up. The different combinations have different results. This sort of explains how the species are created. The higher authorities - which can be God, mother nature or just the elements depending on your angle of vision - take combinations of material substance and form a specific body type.

Yet just the material elements are not enough. We cannot grab a lump of dirt from the ground, add some blood, and create our own autonomous living being. We need the injection of spirit, a spark of life that ensures that the living being can grow, leave byproducts, and then diminish when needed. Though scientists have come a long way in their treatment of diseases, they are still baffled by how the individual comes and goes, how the bodies grow on their own and then decay once the person dies.

A living being, a spirit soul, part and parcel of Brahman, is placed into a specific body type to live out their life. As the spirit souls have different desires, not all body types are the same. The different species are influenced by past karma, or fruitive work, and desire. In this sense, birth in a lower species is only considered a punishment if you have an aim higher than sense gratification. As the pursuit of pure sense enjoyment proves to be quite harmful, leading to a neutral state in the best case and utter misery in other instances, the human being has a much higher business to fulfill.

The sad thing is that as more time elapses from the beginning of creation, knowledge of that purpose becomes more hidden to society. This should make sense because if the first piece of information is missing, that of the position relative to other species, how will the proper destination be known? If I am playing for one sports team but I identify with the opponents, how will I help my team achieve victory? Similarly, if the human being imitates the animals, thinking that sense gratification is the ultimate aim of life, how will it know the proper path to follow?

The four time periods of creation represent the four manifestations of dharma, or religiosity. Dharma is also an essential characteristic. When it applies to the soul, it refers to individual spirit’s tendency to serve. The highest pleasure is found through service, irrespective of what anyone’s opinions or experiences say. Even the most selfish person is simply serving themselves. The soul’s characteristic can never be removed, but it can be misdirected depending on the development of consciousness or lack thereof.

In the first time period, dharma stands on all four legs. This means that man is generally pious and knows of the spirit soul’s position superior to matter. Spirit is described as Brahman because it is truth. Material existence is full of dualities because what may be favorable for one person may not be for another. “One man’s food is another man’s poison”, as the famous saying goes. For Brahman, there is no such double-sidedness. Spirit is above the duality of life and death. Hence a spirit soul never takes birth or dies. The grief that comes with death is due only to temporary ignorance, which is fostered by visual evidence that doesn’t penetrate deep enough to see the presence of the spiritual spark within the bodies. Different body types are continually accepted through what is known as reincarnation. Brahman is transcendental to this cycle.

Valmiki composing the RamayanaWith each successive time period, dharma loses one leg. In the Treta Yuga, the second period, man was still very pious, as dharma had three legs to stand on. It was in this period of time that the sweetheart sage Valmiki composed his Ramayana poem, which describes the glorious acts of Lord Rama, an incarnation of God. While Brahman indicates that all spirit souls are equal, there is a higher entity known as Parabrahman. As more information is revealed about Parabrahman, His features are better known. With enough education and practice the knowledgeable living entity eventually receives the fruit of their existence: full God consciousness. The tendency to serve within the individual spirit has an ideal beneficiary. Not surprisingly that target is God.

Thus we have the two vital pieces of information: our position relative to nature and other living entities and our ultimate purpose in life. As we see it can be very difficult to acquire either set of information. Combine that difficulty with the fact that the Supreme Lord’s glories can never be properly enumerated and you get the vast collection of works that comprise Vedic literature. The Ramayana describes Parabrahman’s spiritual manifestation as a warrior prince. Though Rama roamed the earth like other human beings, He was not subject to the influence of material nature, karma, or kama. There is no difference between God’s body and spirit, irrespective of how that body appears to us.

Shri Hanuman is Rama’s greatest servant. Imagine someone who knows their constitutional position and the meaning of life. Now take that same person and put them in the company of their beloved, the ideal beneficiary of everyone’s service. That combination gives us Hanuman and Shri Rama. For service to take place, there must be specific tasks that need to be accomplished. God has everything, so what can any of us do for Him? Knowing that our constitutional position is to serve Him, the Lord creates opportunities for service. The opportunities are paired up with the individual’s ability and level of enthusiasm.

With Hanuman these two features were in the highest supply. No one is more eager to serve God than Hanuman. Also, no one is more capable of action, both physical and mental, than Hanuman. Therefore Rama gave him the daunting task of finding His wife, Sita Devi. She had gone missing while the Lord and His younger brother Lakshmana were roaming the forests. Hanuman belonged to a monkey race known as Vanaras, but since this was the Treta Yuga, even the monkeys were rather civilized. Rama and Lakshmana aligned with the Vanaras residing on Mount Rishyamukha in the Kishkindha forest. Their leader was Sugriva, and he had a massive army of monkeys just ready to help Rama. Hanuman was part of that army.

HanumanIn the above referenced verse from the Ramayana Hanuman’s concluding thoughts during a particularly difficult time in his mission to find Sita are given. The monkeys divided into search parties, and the one Hanuman was in almost didn’t make it. Getting nowhere in their search, they were ready to pack it in, but at the last minute they got help from a bird named Sampati. He told them that Sita was on the island of Lanka being held captive by the king of Rakshasas, Ravana. A Rakshasa is like a human being but more prone to sinful activity. Through black magic and austerities performed for the wrong reasons, they get tremendous material powers, which are then used for nefarious purposes.

Only Hanuman was capable of reaching this distant island. Thus he left his friends behind and had to take up the search by himself. The difficulties of his journey are nicely described in the Ramayana’s Sundara-kanda. Yet whatever physical barriers there were, they couldn’t compare to the mental hurdles facing Hanuman. With love comes a strong desire to please the object of your affection. The negative side of this is that when you fail to properly offer service, you feel the worst kind of sadness. This is essentially what happened to Hanuman. He amazingly made it to Lanka and roamed around the city without being noticed. Yet he could not find Sita anywhere. He finally had to settle upon the horrible thought that maybe he wasn’t going to find her. Maybe she wasn’t there.

The strongest mental demons still can’t defeat Hanuman. Thinking the matter over, he decided that the proper course of action would be to continue searching. In the above referenced verse we see that he doesn’t want to bring Shri Rama to Lanka, for if the intelligence received by Sampati were incorrect, Rama would not be happy. Of course Rama would not slay the monkeys or be angry with Hanuman, for they had tried their best. Yet Hanuman thought along these lines because that is how angry he was at himself for having not found Sita.

Hanuman wouldn’t have minded punishment from Rama. The devotees love to be chastised by their spiritual master for faults. This seems like an odd trait, but the stern displeasure caused by disappointment on the superior’s part shows that they really care about you. Hanuman also is not concerned about his own wellbeing. Whether he is famous and worshiped by millions of people or completely unknown is the same to him. His happiness comes from knowing that Rama is happy. In this particular thought, Hanuman’s concern is also for the wellbeing of the monkeys. They were his friends and they didn’t deserve to be punished. Thus, rather than make everyone unhappy and put them into worse off positions, Hanuman would continue his search alone.

Hanuman meeting SitaShould there be any doubt as to what happened next? How can such a sincere divine worker ever fail? Hanuman is endowed with tremendous physical and mental strength, but where he really stands out is in his dedication and devotion to God. His mental struggles in Lanka and his eventual triumph are included in the Ramayana for a reason. They serve to glorify Hanuman eternally and to let future generations know that bhakti-marga, or the path of devotion, is not easy, but it yields the best results. If even Hanuman has to struggle, what then to speak of us lowly mortals trying to find our way through a time where dharma stands on only one leg. In the Kali Yuga, the current age and last time period of creation, dharma is conspicuous by its absence. Despite the impediments thrown our way, the example of Hanuman is still there to give guidance. He would eventually find Sita and help Rama and the monkeys defeat Ravana and rescue the beloved princess. In the process Hanuman found his way into the hearts of many sincere listeners.

Hanuman never wastes anyone’s time, though he thought he might be doing so by bringing Rama to Lanka without having found Sita. He succeeded in his mission all by himself, and he promises to help any soul interested in following the path of devotion back to the sugati, the supreme destination. Reincarnation does not have to continue. The fully God conscious departing soul quits their body for the last time and finds God’s personal association in the afterlife. The best tool for realizing that end is the regular chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

In Closing:

Know how to form proper identification,

Along with life’s aim, potent combination.


In beginning dharma with strength stands tall,

With each time period, from it one leg falls.


In Kali Yuga for dharma only one leg left,

Thus of proper knowledge mankind bereft.


Still Hanuman there to be beacon of light,

From pages of Ramayana get divine sight.


Search for Sita a toll on him started to exact,

Would win, for Rama’s pleasure only Hanuman acts.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Always In Stock

Krishna's lotus feet“The Personality of Godhead is perfect and complete, and because He is completely perfect, all emanations from Him, such as this phenomenal world, are perfectly equipped as complete wholes. Whatever is produced of the Complete Whole is also complete in itself. Because He is the Complete Whole, even though so many complete units emanate from Him, He remains the complete balance.” (Shri Ishopanishad Invocation)

If your knowledge of food is based only on walking into a store and picking up the materials necessary for cooking, you may overlook the fact that land, water, sunlight and careful attention are required for those food ingredients to be produced. The same principle applies when eating out at a restaurant, as the finished dish received on the plate is the result of someone mixing the ingredients together in the kitchen. Due to the blindness in extensive vision, the fear of scarcity can arise, wherein one thinks that there aren’t enough precious resources available in this world to keep everyone alive. But from the properties of the creator, we learn that there can never be such a thing as scarcity in this or any other world.

Lord KrishnaWho is the creator? How do we know that someone created this world and how can we know their properties? As we can’t tell what’s going on three thousand miles away unless someone tells us or beams a video feed from a satellite, our knowledge gathering abilities are limited. Rather than insist on direct perception for every kind of information transfer, a superior method is to just hear from authority sources. As the most inconceivable topic is the creation of the earth and the person who is responsible for it, the best way to accept that information is also through hearing. Hence the oldest scriptural tradition in the world is known as the shrutis, or that which is heard. Passed on through an oral tradition since the beginning of time, the Vedas, which have more recently been documented in written word, reveal the genesis of the creation and, more importantly, the properties of the creator.

Why is it important to know both? Well, for starters we can already tell that there was a creation. The end result proves that fact. How that creation came into being is more important, because that gives us the intelligence behind the creating actions and the ideal use of the playing field that we call earth. If a series of chemicals just collided to create this universe, why can’t someone take the same chemicals and make their own planet, filled with diverse species like trees, birds, beasts, and human beings? What is to stop those same chemicals from dissipating and thus causing colossal destruction?

Just as within every living being there is an intelligent force known as the spirit soul, the movements of the entire creation, which are too many to fully understand, take place under the direction of intelligent spirit. The shrutis apply many names to that intelligent entity, with the most descriptive being Krishna. Krishna means all-attractive, so the original creator has every desirable feature imaginable. His creative potency falls under the categories of His strength, wealth and knowledge. From His strength He can make this and many other planets that are still less powerful than He is. From His wealth He can generate the necessary ingredients for creation. The entire land of the earth, which includes its component seeds, belongs to Krishna, so He is thus the greatest land owner.

Krishna’s knowledge is partially passed on to those who manage the material creation and those looking to flourish in it. It is through His indirect energies, His proxies, that this creation comes into being. Lord Brahma, the creator of mankind, populates the earth at the direction of Krishna, and from the same Krishna Brahma gets the necessary information for surviving within the complex nature governed by fruitive activity and the corresponding reactions, or what is better known as the system of karma.

apple sdkKrishna’s direction in the shrutis is akin to an instruction manual, or better yet, a software development kit. An SDK lets you know which functions you can call on a specific platform, thereby giving you information on how to make the best use of the tools that you have. The SDK is purposefully missing an end-goal, however, so the developer is free to make any type of program they wish, including those which are useless and have no appeal to anyone.

The shrutis provide information on how to use the material elements for one’s advantage. That advantage is from the perspective of spirit and not matter. The difference between the two is that spirit is eternal, unchangeable, and immutable. Spirit transcends both birth and death and the bounds of space and time. Matter, on the other hand, is limited by these factors. Without knowledge of the shrutis, without hearing the information on how to make the best use of the material elements around us, the bewildered spirit soul will wrongly identify with that matter and thereby remain in illusion.

Identifying with something that doesn’t represent our identity is always a losing proposition. The body is the matter we interact with in the closest proximity, so it forms the obvious basis for false identification. The direction of scripture starts by emphatically declaring that the living being is not their body. At the same time, the material elements are required to keep the spirit within the temporary covering known as the body. The field is not shunned entirely, as through interaction with material elements the proper end can be reached.

Not surprisingly, that end is devotion to the origin of life and matter, Lord Krishna. As He is all-attractive, devotion to Him proves to be most beneficial. Yet even in the absence of the pursuit of devotional service, whatever is required for sustenance in life is provided by Krishna. The earth, with its many fields that hold trees and grass, can provide for man’s needs. The minerals and jewels naturally resting within the mountains provide the opulence, the water from the rain the nourishment for the crops, and the sunlight the warmth from the cold.

Scarcity is only an issue when there is complete ignorance of the shrutis and the person who instituted them. The attitude is akin to walking into the kitchen and saying that there is nothing to eat. “Mom, we’re out of food. What are we going to do? I don’t want to starve.” The problem is that there is a full supply of food. Grains, vegetables, water, and juices line the shelves of the refrigerator, but since the petulant child doesn’t see any finished items on the table, they think there is scarcity. If they simply went into the fridge and prepared the items they wanted they could see that there is plenty to eat.

In a similar manner, this earth contains the seeds to grow endless crops. It is said that the relatively small land mass of the United States grows enough food to feed the entire world every year. This means that from a very short section of earth enough food can be grown so that no one would ever starve. Thus where is the question of scarcity? Shri Krishna provides His innumerable spirit souls all they need to survive. If they don’t take the time to make use of those gifts, what can be done? Spirit is never bereft of its ability to choose. The unbreakable affinity for free will explains the natural yearning for freedom within systems of government and the constant migration of people from areas of oppression to those lands where there are few restrictions on liberty.

Knowing the properties of the creator, that He is all-attractive and extremely benevolent, helps in taking up devotional service with firm faith, love and determination. If you don’t believe in a particular path’s effectiveness, why will you stick to it? If there are reservations about accepting the ultimate path of bhakti-yoga, or love and devotion to God as the primary occupation in life, then the same conclusion can still be reached by studying the nature around us. Those things that we really do need are readily available. Land is not scarce and neither is water. Maybe in certain areas there is famine because of mismanagement in leadership, but the items themselves are not lacking. On the other hand, those things that we really don’t need, like expensive meats, jewelry and high end appliances, are not very abundant. They cost more to procure, serving as nature’s way of reminding us of what is important in life.

“Just as within the earth are found every kind of seed and within the sky live all the stars, Tulsidas knows that Shri Rama’s holy name is the reservoir of all dharma.” (Dohavali, 29)

japa malaJust as the earth is ready to produce bountiful resources to serve the needs of a limitless number of people, the holy name, the most powerful tool of bhakti-yoga, can save countless souls looking for an eternal engagement that provides undying happiness. As there is variety in the desires of the different sparks of spirit roaming this and many other lands, there are multiple paths leading to spiritual enlightenment. To find which one is best, we can apply the same screening test used for determining which material items are worth possessing. Those tools of transcendentalism that are the most expensive, which are the most difficult to accept and more restrictive in terms of entry, are the ones we don’t need. This means that suffering through strict austerity, sitting in difficult yoga postures for hours on end, and becoming a high scholar of Vedanta through philosophical speculation are not the best ways to find the Absolute Truth.

The aforementioned pursuits are difficult and limit the number of people that can be accepted. Bhakti-yoga, on the other hand, is the easiest to implement and can be perfected by any person, regardless of age or level of intelligence. The quintessential act of bhakti is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Within the names of Krishna and Rama can be found the limitless blissful features and transcendental pastimes of the Lord. The holy names sequenced in the maha-mantra can be sung, recited on a set of japa beads, or simply repeated within the mind over and over. It is the travelling field of bliss, ready to produce the ingredients necessary for feeding the mind starved of spiritual association. From divine association in bhakti-yoga the precocious developer makes the best use of the SDK that is the shrutis by writing an application that turns everything in this world into an object of value. Whether living in opulence or squalor, heat or cold, light or darkness, the spiritually infused devotee finds Krishna’s association, which is never out of stock.

In Closing:

From SDK tools of language take,

So that custom applications can make.


Whatever thing you want you can do,

No direction given, choice up to you.


Same way the earth with its many seeds,

Grow food so that hunger to be appeased.


To think there is scarcity is mistake,

From nature’s gifts resources create.


With Krishna how can scarcity exist?

Chant His names, from foolishness desist.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Sage’s Favor

Rama and His brothers“Dear Sir, my children, relatives and citizens are protected by your blessings, either at home or in the jungle.” (Dasharatha speaking to Vishvamitra, Janaki Mangala, 25)

nātha mohi bālakanha sahita pura parijana |
rākhanihāra tumhāra anugraha dhara bana ||

It’s a tough fight. You’re not sure what the outcome is going to be. You’ve invested so much time and effort travelling throughout the region that will be governed. You have shaken so many hands, flipped numerous pancakes, and kissed about every baby there is in each town. Despite your best efforts, you’re still in danger of losing. The polls say that the race is neck and neck. What you really need to get you over the top is the endorsement of this one particular group. If they can favor you, you will get the necessary votes on election night to sweep into office. Once at the helm, you have all the power. You can do whatever you want and make a real difference in the lives of others.

electionNow the election is over. The group you wanted support from came through and pushed you across the finish line. Ah, but governing is a totally different story. The groups that supported you now want their favors returned. Thus you have to appoint connected people to important posts and pass legislation specifically targeted to their interests. The groups in question may be benefitted, and you may have been helped by getting elected, but the welfare of your family, children and most importantly, citizens, is not guaranteed through this practice.

Why is this the case? From a moral standpoint the interests of one particular faction shouldn’t automatically take precedent over others. For instance, if one group is in favor of passing a law to help their particular business, what about the group that doesn’t want the bill to pass? All citizens are equal in the eyes of the law, despite the discrepancy in incomes. Perhaps the person who pays millions of dollars in taxes feels more entitled to government protection than the person who pays no tax, but a good head of state doesn’t take this difference into account. The government’s duty is to provide for the general welfare by first protecting life and property, and in this respect the property of the poorest man is equally as worthy of protection as the largest estate of the multi-millionaire.

By rule, focusing attention on specific parties, repaying them for favors granted in the past, is a losing proposition. Unless everyone is benefitted by what you do, you are not a good leader. King Dasharatha of Ayodhya knew this hidden gem of the Vedic teachings a long time ago. Though he had it all and could give favors to any specific group, he knew that the blessings of one particular class would be beneficial to everyone. He thus praised Vishvamitra Muni to no end, telling the sage that the family, children and citizens under the protection of the king were actually protected by the blessings of the saintly class.

Let’s say that I get favored by Vishvamitra, whose position in this case can correspond to that of a priest, or religious figure. Vishvamitra is a single person, so how is receiving his favor any different from getting the endorsement of a powerful lobbying group? The special interest organizations at least represent so many other people, but someone like Vishvamitra is a loner. He doesn’t have family to support or a business to run. In one sense you could say that he is selfish. He lives in the forest alone, and worships God through austerity and sacrifice. Why should the king or any man of prominence be interested in what the sage wants?

VishvamitraWell, Vishvamitra’s dedication to austerity is what makes him most eligible for being heard from. He doesn’t have any possessions. He calls the forest his home and the holy name of the Lord his wealth. Abandoning a life of sensual pursuits, exalted sages like Vishvamitra prefer the quiet surroundings of the forest, where they can worship God fully and thus remain enlightened. From connecting with God one acquires the knowledge necessary to survive in any situation. A special interest group looks for a benefit that temporarily aids their situation, but life has much more important things than mere bodily maintenance. The form accepted at the time of birth will eventually be renounced, but the spirit soul, the vital force within, is always there. Its needs take precedent over the body’s.

Someone like Vishvamitra accepts knowledge from the shrutis, or the scriptural tradition passed on through aural reception. From the shrutis one can impart wisdom to others, regardless of the target’s position in life. In this way Vishvamitra’s favor can mean acquiring knowledge on how to take care of children, relatives and citizens. Not everyone is in the same position or has the same desires, but through following the direction of the brahmana community, those who are by quality in the mode of goodness and dedicated to God, every person can advance spiritually, which is the real purpose of the human form of body.

The animals enjoy eating, sleeping, mating and defending, including bouts with intoxication and illicit sex. In fact, there is no such thing as marriage in the animal community. They don’t operate under piety and sin because they are not intelligent enough to understand these higher concepts. Right and wrong are introduced to the human being because soberly following guidelines allows a better end to be reached. The instruction manual accompanying the new appliance allows the owner to properly assemble and operate their purchased item. The instructions are rules in a sense, lines drawn between virtue and sin. Accepting virtue brings one closer to the desired end and sin brings about negative consequences.

The brahmana knows right and wrong, good and bad, favorable and unfavorable, for any person. Thus having their favor turns out to be the greatest blessing for a king. Dasharatha was hesitant to give up the company of His son Rama, whom Vishvamitra requested as a personal bodyguard. The sage was being harassed in the forest by night-rangers, a situation similar to terrorists going after priests while they are delivering a sermon. These vile creatures would attack the sages and then eat their flesh. Vishvamitra knew that Rama was the most capable bow warrior in the world, that He could defeat anyone though He was not yet twelve years of age.

Lord RamaDasharatha had fatherly affection for Rama, the eldest of his four sons. As a lesson to us all, Dasharatha showed that even attachment to family members can be renounced for a higher purpose. Vishvamitra’s desires and instruction were beneficial to everyone, regardless of where they were living. If Rama were in the forest or in the royal palace, the sage’s favor would protect Him nonetheless. The hidden secret was that Rama was the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna Himself in the guise of a warrior prince. This made parting with Rama that much more difficult for Dasharatha and Rama’s protection in the forest more necessary for Vishvamitra.

The issue may be raised that if you invest so much trust in one person, if they lead you astray then so many other people will be negatively affected. This highlights one of the appealing aspects to democracy, the insulation from tyrannical rule gone wrong. If you have just one leader who messes things up, there is nothing anyone can do to stop them. In a democracy, however, major change requires majority vote, so passing legislation that goes against the wishes of the general population is more difficult, but still not impossible. There was certainly a risk in assigning so much stock to Vishvamitra, but the sage’s qualities were what made him worthy of his position. He was not a spiritualist in name only. He was known for having only the welfare of the people in mind. He didn’t have much, so why would he act in a way that would harm Dasharatha? Vashishtha, Ayodhya’s royal priest, reminded Dasharatha of Vishvamitra’s lofty standing, how he knew very well what Rama was capable of.

The sage’s intuition would later prove to be correct. Lord Rama, accompanied by His younger brother Lakshmana, would protect Vishvamitra from many attacking night-rangers. By pleasing the sage, the brothers would learn mantras applicable to the standard method of warfare of the time, bow and arrow. From uttering a specific mantra Rama could make one of His arrows equal in force to modern day nuclear weapons. Aside from benefitting Dasharatha with his blessings, the world would be better off as a result of Vishvamitra’s actions. The sage would bring Rama and Lakshmana to Tirahuta to attend a contest to determine the husband for King Janaka’s daughter Sita. Rama, the only Lord for the surrendered souls and the only husband for the goddess of fortune, would win Sita’s hand in marriage. Thus having Vishvamitra’s favor continues to bring benefits to the eager souls of today looking to connect with God by hearing about His glorious deeds.

In Closing:

The brahmana piety’s defender,

All good comes from their special favor.


With clever words and political spin,

And group’s endorsement candidate wins.


But favoritism not governing way legitimate,

Politician needs instruction for everyone’s benefit.


From sage like Vishvamitra piety learn,

So that highest reward in life to earn.


His favor does good to king that is humble,

His family too, whether at home or in jungle.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Heart and Soul

Lord Krishna's hand“Those with the vision of eternity can see that the soul is transcendental, eternal, and beyond the modes of nature. Despite contact with the material body, O Arjuna, the soul neither does anything nor is entangled.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 13.32)

Due to rapid advancements in technology, which include the internet and its accompanying popularity, the encyclopedia sets aren’t as widely used anymore. Though their sales aren’t what they used to be, what if you could sift through those many volumes and absorb every piece of information presented. You would become a human encyclopedia, able to quickly reference information on pretty much any topic. But according to those who are enlightened about the workings of the subtlest science, whose operation takes place in the background unseen to the naked eye, that knowledge wouldn’t be worth much. The spirit soul is the essence of identity, and without knowing both body and soul and their relationship to one another, how can the proper end be achieved?

Encyclopedias“So people who read the encyclopedia inside and out are stupid? What about doctors who know about medicine? They save lives with their knowledge and skill. Lawyers help the innocent defend themselves from wrongful attack, and teachers instruct their students on the basic skills necessary for holding down a job later on in life.” The encyclopedia example is one, but what if we applied the same principle to something more modern like the internet news sites. What if every day you could have all the information ready to be published on internet and blog sites fed into your brain? Would you have perfect knowledge?

Of course the real issue is what to do with all that information. The occupational duties of the professional who is knowledgeable about their field is one way to make use of the information absorbed, but the limits of time and space are always there. The essence of identity is actually not limited by these factors. The spirit soul is transcendental to the changes of the body, which occur throughout life automatically. At the time of death, the subtle elements of mind, intelligence and false ego carry the soul to its next destination, sort of like the passing of a sweet aroma through the unlimited space.

“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)

Krishna holding His fluteThis information and much more about the spiritual science is presented in the Bhagavad-gita, the most famous and profound scriptural work emanating from the area today known as India. Just as with the encyclopedia and news examples, we can ask the same question relating to what knowing about the soul and body can actually do for somebody. Whether I am knowledgeable about reincarnation or not will have no impact on its operation. Ah, but there is something we can do. From knowledge of the body and soul comes the ability to charter a course in life that reaches a destination where reincarnation is absent, where the soul is freed from a body that is bewildered into taking worthless information to be worthwhile.

The Vedas deal only with real knowledge because under ideal circumstances, no other type of education is necessary. For instance, if one has a plot of land, some cows and a humble dwelling to call home, what need is there for education? The offspring can pick up the tools of the trade just by watching the elders, and general morality and obligation can be learned the same way. Love and affection don’t have to be taught; so the future generations can live peacefully, have enough food, and not worry about taxing their brains.

Indeed, in the “advanced” modern age, slowly but surely that rural lifestyle was pushed aside in favor of a more “enlightened” approach, where new generations of family members would attend college for the first time and enter the workforce in the cities. With this model education became a necessity, a requirement for being able to earn a living, which would in turn put food on the table. The topics discussed in educational circles ideally allow students to develop a skill that will help them be valuable to a firm that sells a good or service for a profit. In some cases the enlightened student can start their own business if they so choose, operating on the principles instructed to them during the prior period of education.

In the Vedic scriptures you will not find information on how to get a job. The earth and its many seeds solve the food problem. Growing crops and harvesting them at the appropriate time isn’t too complicated, and surely it is not as important as the meaning of life, the reason for being placed on this earth. The concepts of fruitive activity, sense enjoyment and mental speculation are the abstracted versions of what we think to be variety in information. The news sites and encyclopedias deal only with information about these three topics, but the presence of the soul and what it needs for a better condition are not addressed.

Bhagavad-gitaIn the beginning of the Gita we learn that the living entity is not the body. The body changes all the time, from boyhood to youth to old age. Just as a person gives up old garments in favor of new ones, at the time of death the departing spirit soul discards one body in favor of a new one to be given at the time of the next birth. The soul is the superior entity; it is the spark of life. We know that life is present when there is autonomous growth. In the degraded mindset where sex life is sought out without any concern for repercussions, the debate over whether a fetus is a life is introduced. This is a silly notion, for if the fetus weren’t a living being, there would be no need to abort it. In the same way, the trees and plants are living because we know that as soon as we cut them down, they start to decay, just as the human body does when the soul exits.

The soul thus proves to be the only ingredient necessary to have life. The material elements are an after thought, as some living beings are extremely tiny and others large. The soul’s position transcendental to the body is important to know because through the playing field that is material nature the proper destination can be reached. Think of it like having a car to take you places. The car does not represent your identity. You can sell it at any time in favor of a new one. You can even get rid of it and use other modes of transportation, such as walking.

Nevertheless, the car’s separate identity does not automatically make it useless. If you utilize the car to take you places that will benefit you, it is worth having. Similarly, the spirit soul’s temporary body serves as the vehicle for interaction with nature. Under the proper guidelines put forth by the Vedas and their sincere followers and teachers, the soul can direct the body towards those activities which are supremely beneficial for not only this life, but also the next.

The knowledge of the soul and body ideally steers the living being towards bhakti-yoga, the summit of activity. In yoga there is both the restriction of sense interaction and a meeting of two spiritual entities. The individual spirit resides within the body alongside the Supreme Spirit. The Supreme Spirit is not visible, so He is sometimes described as nirguna [without qualities]. To show what the Supreme Spirit really looks like and what He is capable of, the original feature of the Absolute Truth, the Personality of Godhead known as Bhagavan, appears in select places and gives His association.

Lord KrishnaSince Bhagavan is Absolute, His instruction is as good as His association. Especially when that instruction comes directly from Him and is remembered as such, as soon as the student sincerely hears that information they are automatically associating with Bhagavan. In the Bhagavad-gita, the Supreme Soul revealed Himself to a distressed warrior who had temporarily forgotten the distinction between matter and spirit. Arjuna, the leading warrior for the Pandavas, only forgot about the science of self-realization for a moment, but more unfortunate is the majority of the population of the Kali Yuga who has never heard this information.

The Bhagavad-gita is a collection of verses describing how Krishna reminded His dear friend Arjuna of the meaning of life, the difference between the two souls residing within the body, and how one can go about acting without being materially attached. The Gita, now available to the world through the efforts of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and his disciples, provides Krishna’s association through His instruction. The pearls of wisdom coming from the Gita cannot be found anywhere else in the same format. In the past it took a lifetime of penance and austerity, detachment from material sense gratification and mental speculation, to reach the same point of enlightenment that Arjuna was able to find through Krishna’s direct instruction.

Now that same information is available to anyone who is sincerely interested in hearing about it. Without knowing that you are spirit and not matter how will you ever find the right path in life? If you don’t know that the spirit soul doesn’t have to suffer through reincarnation, how will you ever decide to follow the spiritual path in earnest? The quintessential act of bhakti is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The benefits of bhakti are not exclusive to those following Vedic traditions. Any name of God chanted with faith, love and determination will bring the enlightenment necessary to eschew the material path that is filled with so many sinful activities, like meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex.

But if one is unsure about which name to chant, why not take Krishna’s name? Why not give recitation of the maha-mantra a try and see if you are better off for it? For starters, just by chanting for a brief period of time the feverish material existence around you goes on pause. This means that there is immediately some peace of mind for as long as the chanting continues. The food problem, the economic problem, and the enjoyment problem don’t require high knowledge to be solved. In the past people lived just fine without rapid information transfer. They did okay without television and internet, for the human brain will always seek out a pleasurable condition. The real aim of life is to transcend the temporary and seek the permanent, that which is similar in quality to the soul, the essence of identity. Bhagavan Shri Krishna is intimately familiar with the soul’s properties, so He provides instructions aimed only at benefiting the individual in the long run. Absorbing Krishna’s words, holding on to them as the most valuable information, leads the soul within the heart towards transcendental ecstasy.

In Closing:

For enlightenment know both body and soul,

Otherwise your knowledge filled with holes.


The body is your vehicle with which to act,

Amazing abilities from it you can extract.


If coupled with this the soul you know,

Then can find proper direction in which to go.


Bhagavad-gita is for knowledge the primary source,

Learn pearls of wisdom from this sacred discourse.


Chant Krishna again and again, though any name is fine,

From Bhagavan’s association sweet happiness to find.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Another Thing Coming

Sita and Rama“Thus worrying over not being able to see Sita, with a mind seized with lamentation the Vanara began to consider: ‘As long as I have not found Rama’s illustrious wife Sita, I will explore the city of Lanka again and again.’”   (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.51-52)

iti cintā samāpannaḥ sītām anadhigamya tām ||
dhyāna śokā parīta ātmā cintayām āsa vānaraḥ |
yāvat sītām na paśyāmi rāma patnīm yaśasvinīm ||
tāvad etām purīm lankām vicinomi punaḥ punaḥ |

If you thought Hanuman was just going to sit down and wallow in self-pity while the enemy continued to get away with their horrific deed, you thought wrong. Today was not the day that fear over failure was going to win over. While self-doubt, the fear of failing miserably, and the feelings of sadness over disappointing others may prevail on other days, Shri Hanuman was not going to be yet another victim. So much had been invested in him; so many hopes and dreams about the future, about the reunion of Sita and Rama, the divine couple whose match seemed like it was made in heaven, rested in the abilities of Shri Hanuman. The Rakshasas of Lanka counted on Rama to never find Sita; they counted on Rama not having the ability to find her. They counted wrong.

HanumanOh sure, Hanuman almost did give up. He was on the brink of failure, trapped on the other side of the ocean of distress without a life-raft to save him. The situation was perhaps worse than being stranded on a deserted island. At least on an island there is the chance of doing some work to find rescue. You can construct a raft, figure out how to live happily, or just sit and wait to be rescued. The sea of mental distress, however, is more agonizing. The fear of failure and knowing that you let countless other people down cause so much pain within the mind that you don’t want to live anymore. This was how Hanuman felt.

Why was he so dejected? Just imagine if everyone else had faith in you, had openly declared so, and had told you that you were their only hope. Imagine then that you took these words to heart and did everything you could to succeed in your mission, to prove that the faith invested in you wasn’t a mistake. Imagine that you beat the odds, overcame obstacles that were impossible for any ordinary person to beat, only to have failure look you square in the face at the very end.

Shri Hanuman is celebrated around the world for his devotion to the Lord, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Yet this doesn’t mean that everything just falls into place for Hanuman, that he doesn’t have to struggle with the fear of failing or that he doesn’t suffer sadness from time to time. The difference between Hanuman’s sadness and the ordinary variety, however, is that his despondency only strengthens his resolve to remain connected with God through consciousness. As this result is the ultimate goal in life, he is never a failure. Even his sadness is wonderful, glorious to hear about, and worthy of honor.

How can we honor someone for contemplating suicide, which is what happened with Hanuman? Why would we want that example to be heard about, especially many thousands of years after the fact? Hanuman’s glorious deeds in favor of Shri Rama’s primary mission took place many thousands of years ago, during the Treta Yuga, but they are still talked about to this day. Ordinarily, the suicide option is seen as the easy way out, something regrettable. “If only I could have talked them out of it. If only I knew of a way to get through to them.” So unfortunate is the taking of one’s life, for we know that the struggle through material existence involves constant ups and downs. If only the down periods could have been tolerated a little longer.

It is in this respect that Hanuman’s temporary bout with despondency is celebrated. He did tolerate it a little longer. Not only did he wait to see the final outcome, he took assertive action to make a difference. He did this not for his own benefit. In his youth, Hanuman was granted the boon of being able to quit his body at the time of his choosing. This means that if he wanted to die, all he had to do was desire it. As the son of the deity of wind, Hanuman was blessed with all sorts of benedictions by those associated with his father, people who grant boons.

“Shri Rama’s name is greater than Brahman, and it grants boons to even those who are capable of giving boons. Lord Shiva knowingly selected it out of the one hundred crore verses describing Rama’s acts.” (Dohavali, 31)

Lord RamaYet as wonderful as these gifts were, Rama granted Hanuman an even greater boon. It is said that the holy name of the Lord is more powerful than His impersonal aspect known as Brahman. It has also proven to give boons to those who are themselves capable of giving boons to others. Brahman is spirit, truth, the all-pervading spiritual energy. Every living entity is Brahman. Even the material substance is part of Brahman, the mahat-tattva, but generally Brahman is equated with the living entities. Understanding Brahman is very difficult; it takes many lifetimes for one to be fortunate enough to learn what it is, and then following procedures and guidelines aimed at realizing it is even more difficult.

The Brahman realized person knows that every single life form is valuable. The most powerful human being and the insignificant ant are the same constitutionally. They may have different external features, and they may exhibit different qualities and work, but at their core they are the same. Hence Brahman realization follows the real definition of equality, not one that is limited. Nationalism, racism, affiliation with community, gender, or any other group is limited in its scope of vision. Therefore none of these affiliations leads to the peace that they purportedly seek to achieve.

The Vedas give us the definition of Brahman very nicely through so many works. If only the whole world could be given this education, so many issues would be taken care of. In a world where horrible violence is committed against innocent animals, there must be constant strife. After all, if I don’t see a problem with killing a mother who has fed her children nicely, how will I have any moral standing in my affairs? What will then stop me from killing a child in the womb, taking someone else’s property, or lying when I get into trouble? These are the activities endorsed by politicians, and therefore the entire human society is full of unhappiness, though there is seemingly no reason to feel this way.

One person owns many yachts and has more money than they need, while another person is starving, but what’s ironic, though, is that even the people who aren’t starving think they are poor. This is the result of competition in a field of play where the positions of the players remain unknown. An innocent cow is a living entity like the rest of us. She provides milk to her newborn children. Is it civilized, then, to send her to a slaughterhouse after she has given both her young children and the human society milk products to use? Is it not barbaric to use her milk to make cheese and then add enzymes from the intestines of her slaughtered body to the cheese?

Brahman understanding addresses all of this. That’s why in the Vedic tradition, aham brahmasmi is the first instruction taught to new students. “I am Brahman”, is worth knowing because it guides other activities. A person who knows their true position as spirit soul will not harbor envy or resentment towards other creatures. Brahman removes the doubt as to the nature of our existence and the flickering position of material happiness.

Brahman understanding is only part of the larger picture, though. Once we know who we are we have to figure out what to do with ourselves. If we are all equal, doesn’t this mean that we can just do whatever we want? If we’re all spirit souls that are transcendental to material nature, what does it matter what anyone does? It won’t have any effect on the position as spirit soul, so why the need for following a certain set of activities? Superior to Brahman is God, who is known as Parabrahman. God is a personality, a figure with form, attributes and a penchant for activity just like the rest of us. The difference is that His activities and features are vastly superior in quantitative output than ours are. Therefore He is worshipable and we are meant to provide that worship.

Lord RamaFor the sparks of Brahman travelling on the train of reincarnation, there are several non-different aspects of the Lord which can be used to gain exit from the world filled with illusion. The holy name is considered the best rescue vehicle, because it is the same as the Supreme Personality it addresses. The holy name is always superior to Brahman, because association with other liberated souls, Brahman realized persons, doesn’t necessarily bring God’s association. Only life in devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, carries with it the potential to see the Personality of Godhead. Bhakti is best facilitated through the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”

Just below God are numerous elevated living entities, who are also sparks of Brahman, that are in charge of distributing various rewards. These figures are known as devas, or gods, and they can provide things like nourishing rain, material opulence, beauty, and the ability to communicate very well. The holy name, however, is above these wonderful personalities. In the case of Hanuman, the holy name, which rested comfortably within his heart, gave him the perseverance and intelligence to continue in his mission. The love for the holy name superseded all of the boons previously bestowed upon Hanuman, for without it, Hanuman could not have carried on.

Why exactly was he dejected in the first place? When the Personality of Godhead in His form of Lord Rama roamed the earth, He created scenarios for others to engage in loving devotion. Hanuman was the most eager to serve, and since his qualities were suited for fighting and taking on many enemies at a single time, Rama gave him the most difficult task of finding His wife Sita Devi, who had been taken away from behind His back. Hanuman braved his way to the enemy territory of Lanka where Sita was, but after searching the entire city, he could not find her.

Hanuman had settled in his mind that his failure would lead to everyone else’s demise. The sadness resulting from his inability to find Sita would push everyone over the edge. At least this is the conclusion he reached in his mind. Therefore he had two options. He could return home and tell everyone that he couldn’t find Sita. This wasn’t preferred because of the aforementioned effect it would have. The other option was to just quit. Starve yourself to death and never face the burden of being the cause of tremendous pain to others.

Though Hanuman entertained these ideas, he settled against selfishness. Instead, he correctly asserted that as long as he remained alive, he had a chance of pleasing Rama and everyone back home, his other monkey friends who were aligned with Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana. Hanuman decided that if he wasn’t going to succeed, he would then at least punish Sita’s captor, Ravana. Hanuman was determined to bring back the enemy with him, sort of like how an animal is sacrificed before Lord Shiva, the deity in charge of the mode of ignorance. Material activities fall into one of three modes, each of which has a presiding deity.

HanumanIf this mission were related to his personal business, Hanuman might have quit. But since he was acting in Rama’s favor, he would not give up. Anyone who was rooting for Hanuman to fail would be disappointed in the end. In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, we see Hanuman laying down the new ground rules for himself. As long as he didn’t find Sita, he would not leave Lanka. He would keep searching and searching, no matter what.

Hanuman would of course succeed, as no one ever fails in pleasing the Supreme Lord when their motives are pure and their determination strong. As long as we remain in this world and have the ability to hear, we can find happiness by being just as determined to remain connected with Hanuman, for he is the gatekeeper of the imperishable kingdom that Shri Rama, Sita and Lakshmana call home. We may fail over and over again in our attempt to find the meaning of life and make the most out of our existence, but if we keep Hanuman in our thoughts, success will come eventually. Even if we repeatedly try to follow devotional service, taking to heart the principles imbibed in us by the Vaishnava acharyas, the true saints of the world, and don’t find happiness, the dedication should not waver. The path of devotional service is not the path of least resistance. Therefore there will be bumps along the road, but when the connection to God through His holy name is there, repeated endeavors will eventually prove fruitful, a fact validated by Shri Hanuman.

In Closing:

What else from Hanuman did you expect?

Could possibly perseverance he reject?

As long as not found Rama’s wife Sita Devi,

Not at all happy would he be.

For her in Lanka he’d search again and again,

Spirits of devoted soul his example to enliven.

Brahman only half the story, know soul’s real place,

Follow devotion, with knowledge ignorance replace.

In sincere bhakti devotee has no chance to fail,

Like Hanuman, whose glory Ramayana hails.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Self Realization

Krishna's lotus feet“To know one's constitutional position means to know also the sublime position of the Lord. One who wrongly thinks that the living entity's position and the Lord's position are on the same level is to be understood to be in darkness and therefore unable to engage himself in the devotional service of the Lord.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 2.51 Purport)

To fully understand a component object, one needs to know the purpose that it is meant to fulfill. If tied to a larger object, familiarity with that larger object is also required. In the absence of knowledge of the whole, the understanding of the component will be incomplete. For the infinitesimally small spiritual spark cased inside of a larger, yet ever-changing, material covering, to know oneself is the ultimate pursuit. Along the way, so many identifications are shed. To find the ultimate knowledge of the self, one must know to whom that self is intimately tied. Knowing the benefactor and its divine features is thus concomitant with self-realization.

What does this all mean really? Are there people who only understand the identity of the spirit soul and ignore the presence of the superior soul? How is that even possible? Actually, depending on the path of spiritual life you accept, you can perpetually remain in the dark about the presence of a superior form of spirit. For instance, there is the route of mental speculation. This is fraught with peril, as the human brain is limited in its thinking capacity. Moreover, perception is the fuel for mental effort, and this perception is limited. Even if we have x-ray vision and the most expensive microscope to use for our observation, the surrounding environment plays an enormous role in the information gathering. When the sun goes down at night and there is full darkness, it is much more difficult to see our surroundings.

The range element of a machine to help us in perception is a limit with respect to space, and there is also the more powerful limiting force known as time. Because of time’s influence, we have no way to perceive something as important as our emergence from the womb. The whole of human history must be accepted on authorized information presented by others, including their written-down sense perceptions. To add further complexity to the mix, the brain must be able to retain all the visuals it consumes and then know how to process them. As we have difficulty remembering what we ate for breakfast a few days ago, the sole reliance on sense perception is flawed from the very beginning.

In the Vedic tradition, those interested in self-realization are taught the first instruction of aham brahmasmi, which means “I am Brahman.” Right away the Vedas slap the silly mental speculator upside the head by saying: “Abandon this pursuit of high knowledge on your own. Don’t even try to speculate. You are pure spirit, Brahman. Brahman is the truth. It is above the dualities of heat and cold, happiness and sadness, up and down, and birth and death. Brahman is your real identity. Follow authorized methods of instruction and practice to understand your position as Brahman.”

With the self’s position identified in the beginning, the proper target is also set. Without a proper target, going through life is like running around as a chicken with its head cut off. A gun must be pointed at a proper target in order for its bullets to have the desired effect. The automobile must be given a destination for its ability to mean something. The student must know which assignments to complete and which tests to study for in order to reach the end of successful completion of the course.

With the individual’s position as pure spirit identified, the authorized Vedic instruction applies rules and regulations aimed at allowing for that position to be realized. Someone may stand up in front of the classroom and teach me about the concepts of mathematics, but unless I can apply those principles myself, my knowledge of that information will be incomplete. Someone can tell me that two plus two equals four, but if the situation arises where I need to use that equation myself, I need to know the truth behind it.

The practical application of Vedic principles comes through sacrifice, penance, austerity, and study of the Vedas, which delve into the difference between matter and spirit, the genesis of creation, and the constitutional position of the living entity. The material body is not the source of identity. This fact needs constant reiteration because in the absence of Vedic instruction, the living being automatically succumbs to the debilitating effect on consciousness brought on by material nature, which brings illusion at every second. I know that my ancestors have died, yet somehow I don’t think that the same fate awaits me. Even if I do acknowledge it, I try to forget about it, as why would I want to make myself depressed?

“One should perform sacrifice, penance and charity with the word tat. The purpose of such transcendental activities is to get free from the material entanglement.”  (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 17.25)

Lord KrishnaThe Vedas are the true light of knowledge, so remaining in constant contact with them through the information presented by its most highly qualified teachers keeps the proper identity of the self intact. By following Vedic guidelines for abstention from material association, detachment from the constant ups and downs of life, and recitation of the sacred syllable om, which represents the Absolute Truth, one can become Brahman realized, or brahma-bhutah.

Yet the living being’s identification with Brahman is only one part of the puzzle. The realization is not complete unless one learns where Brahman fits into the larger picture. As an example to see the distinction, let’s say that we’re studying an automobile. Through mental effort, we learn the ins and outs of the steering wheel. It is made of a certain compound, operates through the effort of the driver, and requires a certain type of fluid in order to rotate smoothly.

But what if all we knew was the steering wheel? What if we ignored its position relative to the automobile? Obviously the steering wheel on its own isn’t of much value. It’s a circular object that may look nice and do neat stuff.  But only when placed inside of a functioning vehicle is the steering wheel really useful. So in this sense knowing about the car and its value is equally as important as knowing about a component piece.

The individual sparks of Brahman are by nature blissful, eternal and knowledgeable. These features are inherited from Parabrahman, which can be considered the Supreme Self. On a tree we may have many small bananas and one very large one, but there isn’t an inherent relationship between the larger object and the smaller pieces. Different degrees of size and stature are there in virtually every field, but with Brahman and Parabrahman there is an ideal relationship. Brahman emanates from Parabrahman, and that link can never be broken; only forgotten.

Parabrahman’s features are revealed to the spiritualist who follows the topmost Vedic discipline of bhagavata-dharma, which is also known as bhakti-yoga. Though Parabrahman is a separate entity, it resides within the individual body alongside the individual soul. Its presence is felt through following the instructions of the acharyas familiar with bhagavata-dharma. To be a qualified teacher in this discipline, one has to be practicing its principles. The primary activity of bhakti is the chanting of the holy names: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

If we’re trying to learn about the features belonging to a superior collection of spirit, what is chanting a mantra over and over again going to do for us? Connection with Parabrahman doesn’t necessarily require sight perception. That may help, as seeing makes a believer out of a staunch doubter, but if that vision goes away the ability to connect does not. This reveals Parabrahman’s absolute position. Chanting the names of the Personality who Parabrahman represents is as good as seeing Him, because the name carries with it Parabrahman’s qualities, pastimes and forms.

“My dear Krishna, O infallible and most beautiful one, any human being who happens to hear about Your transcendental form and pastimes immediately absorbs through his ears Your name, fame and qualities; thus all his material pangs subside, and he fixes Your form in his heart. Through such transcendental love for You, he sees You always within himself; and by this process all his desires become fulfilled. Similarly, I have heard of Your transcendental qualities. I may be shameless in expressing myself so directly, but You have captivated me and taken my heart.”  (Letter from Rukmini Devi to Lord Krishna, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 51)

Lord KrishnaOne famous divine figure during her time on earth had never met Parabrahman in His original position as Shri Krishna, but since she had heard about Him, she knew that He was the only person she wanted to marry. The sound vibrations she took in describing Krishna’s features painted the mental picture within her mind, which allowed this most beautiful princess, Rukmini Devi, to fully surrender herself to Him. Though she wasn’t a transcendentalist consciously looking to understand the self, simply by harboring attraction for Krishna, from hearing about His features, she was intimately familiar with her own constitutional position.

Krishna’s position is sublime. His name, which is assigned to Him by those who love Him, indicates that He is all-attractive. Brahman’s tremendous potency is meant for serving Parabrahman. That is the real purpose to self-realization. If I understand my constitutional position as pure spirit and know where I fit into the larger picture, I can follow activities that will bring the ultimate benefit. Therefore self-realization is meant to culminate in service to Krishna, which operates without motivation and without interruption when the sublime vision of the Lord is kept within the mind. Seeing Him for a second can bring bliss to the eyes, but once that vision dissipates, the eyes are left to look upon other things. In this way Krishna’s name is actually superior to Him, because it can be repeated over and over again, creating that same sublime vision within the mind at any time.

“But those who fully worship the unmanifested, that which lies beyond the perception of the senses, the all-pervading, inconceivable, fixed, and immovable—the impersonal conception of the Absolute Truth-by controlling the various senses and being equally disposed to everyone, such persons, engaged in the welfare of all, at last achieve Me.”  (Lord Krishna, Bg. 12.3-4)

What about those who never learn about Krishna but reach the state of brahma-bhutah? Shri Krishna addresses this issue in the Bhagavad-gita, His discourse on spirituality which has the essence of the Vedas in a format presentable to even those not fully immersed in self-realization. Understanding only the self while ignoring Parabrahman is akin to understanding the impersonal feature of the Supreme Lord. Through the impersonal understanding man can shun material nature and thus avoid the harmful attachments that develop over the course of a lifetime. This path is quite difficult to begin with, as without the bliss of Krishna’s association, adherence to dharma will be severely tested.

Nevertheless, if the motivation is genuine, if the desire for self-realization is true, eventually the impersonalist will find Krishna. The bhagavata-dharma route is direct, as it identifies the living entity’s position as Brahman and servant of God simultaneously. With bhakti, Krishna can stay within the mind, bringing the sweetness of association. Brahma-bhutah relies on knowledge and renunciation, but even the most unintelligent person can bask in Krishna’s association if they are sincere in purpose. Hence they can find their constitutional position without knowing Brahman first. The bhakti route is easier to implement but much more difficult to accept, as the spirit soul has grown averse to divine love through its travels through many species in the wheel of the samsara-chakra, the cycle of birth and death. Nevertheless, those who are fortunate enough to understand Krishna’s position will never have to take birth again, reaching His transcendental abode at the end of life, gaining the opportunity to live in their original home.

In Closing:

Self-realization, pursuit of identity to know,

But to higher being our existence we owe.

To know self one must know Him as well,

His beautiful form ignorance dispels.

From bhakti know God without Him in front of you,

Let mind worship image of sweet form of bluish hue.

Rukmini loved Krishna though Him never having seen,

Asked Him to rescue her, arrive at marriage scene.

In bhakti for progress won’t have to wait,

Through Lord’s help at end reach highest state.