Saturday, April 14, 2012

Providing Comforts

Krishna with cows“If water is poured on the root, the leaves are enlivened perfectly and automatically, but if water is poured on the leaves only, the whole energy is spoiled. Maharaja Yudhishthira, therefore, was constantly engaged in the service of the Lord, and thus the parts and parcels of the Lord, the living beings under his careful administration, were perfectly attended with all comforts in this life and all progress in the next. That is the way of perfect management of state administration.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.12.4 Purport)

Based on the way life presently operates, the common conception is that if you want comforts in life, you have to work hard for them. The “work” in this case involves industry. Some business venture is producing a good or service and selling it to the public for a profit. There wouldn’t be much issue with this practice if there were only a few businesses and a few products. As freedom is concomitant with residence in a playing field conducive to the pursuit of sense gratification, everyone has the same chance to chase after profit. Hence there is stiff and constant competition, requiring the businesses to regularly retool and look for new ways to continue earning a profit.

Caught in the fever of this competition, the good citizen of the state thinks that to find comforts in life one has to either start their own business and enter the competitive field directly or at least offer service to an existing company, acting as an integral member of a production unit. In reality, however, the comforts of life are provided by nature. That nature is not partial to anyone, as who can say that the nearby lake exists exclusively for their benefit? Is the sunshine only meant for me? Do not the countless trees and plants around the world derive nourishment from the splendorous sun?

Recognizing nature’s superiority is difficult when the necessities of life are currently acquired through purchases at a local market. The money used in those purchases is earned through work in industry; hence the obvious chain of causation. “If I don’t work at a business, how am I going to earn money to put food on the table?” In times past, more of the workforce was involved in agriculture, so they were directly responsible for producing the items that they would consume to keep life going.

Yet even in agriculture there must be conditions conducive to fertility. The soil must be right, there must be a certain climate, and there needs to be ample amounts of water. These factors cannot be controlled by the human being, no matter what they may falsely think. The inquisitive mind, reaching the conclusion that nature is ultimately responsible for the living being’s sustenance, can delve further into the matter. Where does nature come from? Who gives the clouds the water they need for rain? Who controls the heat?

“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 KrishnaIn the Bhagavad-gita, a sacred text of the Vedic tradition, it is said by Lord Krishna that He is the controller of heat and the rain. Krishna is purported to be God. Followers of the Vedic tradition know that God is not a sectarian figure. The Supreme Absolute Truth is beyond duality, so He is not favorable or applicable to only a certain set of people. There may be different viewpoints, varying levels of clarity in the vision of the Absolute Truth, but His fixed position as the savior of all surrendered souls never changes.

In the Vedas, the Supreme Personality of Godhead is described as all-attractive. To attract in such a way, there must exist a form, and if that form is real, it must have features which are somewhat identifiable. Depending on your angle of vision and your mood of worship, the features you are attracted to will be different. Looking at God in a mood of reverential worship, you may only know of Him in His form of Vishnu, which has four hands and is opulently adorned. If you are attracted by protection of the most innocent, who have to unjustly absorb the attacks of superiors, you might be attracted by the half-man/half-lion form of the Lord known as Narasimhadeva.

The Bhagavad-gita is spoken by Krishna, Bhagavan in His ultimate feature. Krishna’s activities and transcendental qualities are attractive in so many ways. The Gita contains His direct instructions, so anyone interested in high philosophy and rational thought can worship and honor Krishna as the smartest person in the world. If you’re attracted to sweetness in vision, then the same Krishna as a child roaming the sacred land of Vrindavana will be your preferred deity. There is also Krishna the transcendental lover and Krishna the protector of the cows and the devotees. In this way, through so many of His opulences, one can be attracted to God and learn their true position as His servant.

Lord Krishna with cowThrough the realization of God in His personal form one can take up bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. A benefit of this highest engagement is that it automatically takes care of other responsibilities. I offer service to the proprietor of the business and I may earn a good living as a result. At the same time, I am dependent on entities that are not all-controlling. Your boss cannot guarantee that you will always have a job because you can’t be assured that his business will always be profitable.

Relying on the field to grow food is the next-best option, but again the conditions are controlled by higher authorities, namely nature and its component elements. If you worship inanimate nature, you’re not guaranteed of anything good happening. Torrential downpours, earthquakes, tornadoes and the like can strike at any moment. And since nature has no way of responding directly to your pleas, acknowledging your allegiance, for you that worship will be difficult to continue.

On the other hand, with worship of Krishna, not only are your prayers heard and acknowledged, but the benefactor in this case can make the conditions auspicious for both you and your dependents. A great example of this fact was seen with Maharaja Yudhishthira. Krishna had directly intervened on the good leader’s behalf to ensure that he would be successful in a great war. As the victor, Yudhishthira regained the throne of Hastinapura that rightfully belonged to he and his brothers. If not for their devotion to Krishna, the brothers would not have survived the many prior attacks from their enemies.

Yudhishthira provided all the comforts in life for his citizens not by promoting industry or setting up fiercely competitive ventures. Rather, simply through his direct devotion to Krishna, nature made sure to supply enough comforts so that everyone was satisfied. Whether you had a little or a lot, you could get whatever you needed from the water, minerals, grains and fruits that abounded in Yudhishthira’s kingdom. From those commodities the cows were pleased, which in turn allowed for society to flourish.

The question remains: how to water the root of the tree? How do we worship Krishna in the same way that Yudhishthira did? The king had the good fortune of having Krishna by his side, but what about us? In pure devotion, the desire is to simply connect with Krishna. That is actually the tie that holds everything else together. What this means is that if your sincere wish is to think of God, be by His side mentally, and never forget Him, the person being worshiped will make sure that the conditions around you will always remain conducive to that remembrance.

King Yudhishthira and his brothersThis doesn’t necessarily equate to a one hundred percent success rate in fruitive ventures. If you get distracted through the pursuit of profit, perhaps the Lord will purposefully make you unsuccessful to keep you on the straightened path, which in the end is the best thing for you. So many devotees of the past have been favored in this way, and there is no blame to be put on Krishna for this. His rescuing the bhaktas from a hellish life they mistakenly took to be heavenly is equally as kind as His delivering good fortune to the materially struggling devotee.

Whether in Krishna’s presence or not, chanting His names always keeps Him within the heart. Reciting the sacred formula of, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, is the way to create a miniature replica of the famous Hastinapura within our immediate surroundings. Krishna is the root of the tree of material existence, so by watering the root the living being can start to relish fruits that no longer cloud but instead further purify consciousness. By knowing Krishna and His position, one acquires the greatest comfort in life in being able to always find the Lord by their side.

In Closing:

Bow to the feverish competition of industry,

Then worry constantly about money and property.


But know that on nature’s gifts we depend,

On sun, crops, and rain that the clouds send.


These elements have a higher controller,

Of every opulence He is the exclusive holder.


Shri Krishna, the Supreme Lord of all,

Worship Him through holy name’s call.


King Yudhishthira protected by Krishna’s grace,

Follow bhakti and avoid illusion’s chase.

Friday, April 13, 2012

May Everyone Help Me

Hanuman praying“May Varuna, who holds the noose in his hands, and Soma, Aditi, the great-souls the Ashvins, all the Maruts, all creatures, the Lord of all creatures [Vishnu], and other unseen beings along the path, grant me success.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.66-67)

varuṇaḥ pāśa hastaḥ ca soma ādityai tathaiva ca |
aśvinau ca mahātmānau marutaḥ sarva eva ca ||
siddhim sarvāṇi bhūtāni bhūtānām caiva yaḥ prabhuḥ |
dāsyanti mama ye ca anye adṛṣṭāḥ pathi gocarāḥ ||

Shri Hanuman asks that whatever elements he encounters in his next, most important, part of his search for the princess of Videha, they all be favorable upon him. Inherently understanding that even the sun and the wind have controllers, Hanuman asks that these higher powers grant him favor, that they allow him to be successful in his mission. In general, these elements are neutral, spreading their mercy to everyone. If one person should ask for a benediction, their gift might interfere with someone else’s desires. As material desires cannot be qualitatively compared, it is difficult to receive real favor from any of the material elements. Moreover, what we may think is favorable today ends up being to our detriment later on. Yet Hanuman’s propitiation wasn’t like this. It was free of defects.

Shri HanumanIf we incorporate the many truths of the material and spiritual natures provided to us by the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, we can better understand Hanuman’s request. An expanded version of the same prayer would be something like, “Will all the material elements and their controllers be favorable upon me? You work at the direction of the Supreme Lord Vishnu, who has kindly descended to earth in the human form of Lord Rama. For God there is no such thing as a material form, for His energies work at His direction. Since I am acting to please that very Rama by looking for His beloved wife, who was taken away from His side through no fault of her own, I am essentially using Rama’s material elements for His benefit. Therefore there is nothing to be gained by me personally. I simply ask the controlling deities, who are deserving of every honor and respect, to help me in my mission to please Rama, who is everyone’s father, the lord of all creatures.”

Hanuman’s mention of the personalities in his prayer shows that he was keenly aware of the many different elements of material nature and what he would encounter in the next part of his search. He was in the enemy territory of Lanka looking for Sita, Rama’s beloved wife. Lanka’s king, Ravana, had taken her away in secret, without Rama around to protect her. Therefore this king was worthy of punishment by death, something Hanuman was more than capable of delivering. Yet his mission only called for finding Sita and returning the information of her whereabouts to Rama, who was waiting back at the headquarters in Kishkindha. Hanuman was part of a clan of monkeys known as Vanaras who were headed by Sugriva. It was Sugriva who had ordered his soldiers to scour the earth to look for Sita, but only Hanuman was capable of making it to Lanka where it was later learned Sita was.

Thus far, Hanuman had made use of practically every mental and physical ability imaginable. He was by himself in a majestic city in a monkey form. Obviously he would stand out to the residents, especially since they were alert to foreign intruders who might be looking for Sita. Hanuman used his strengths in mysticism to diminish his size to the point that no one would notice him. This was a physical ability, but he would need his mental wherewithal to withstand the many scenes of hedonism and extreme material enjoyment he would see later on.

HanumanStaying focused on the task, Hanuman then had to deal with his mental demons, which were persuading him to give up. He hadn’t seen Sita yet, even after all his effort had been expended, so maybe she was no longer alive. Maybe Ravana killed her. How could he then return to Rama with such depressing information? Perhaps it would be better to just give up and not fight on. Ultimately, he decided that while his vital breath was still with him, he at least had the opportunity to please Rama. If Sita wasn’t alive, he would bring Ravana back to Kishkindha for Rama to take care of. In this way there was always an option for pleasing the Supreme Lord.

Noticing an Ashoka grove that he had yet to search, Hanuman mentally entered it, deciphering what the proper plan of action would be. Keeping his contracted size, Hanuman then offered prayers to Sita, Rama and Lakshmana, followed by prayers to the demigods, or devas. It seems a little like mythology that a monkey would sit there and pray to gods of fire and wind, but it is not out of the realm of possibility that there would be deities controlling the more potent forces of nature. If there is a God, why can’t there be deputies operating under His direction? So many people subscribe to the notion of angels, ghosts, aliens, etc., so why can’t there be controlling authorities in charge of the elements?

“The demigods, being pleased by sacrifices, will also please you; thus nourishing one another, there will reign general prosperity for all.”  (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.11)

Rather than mentally speculate on the issue, we can take it on the authority of Hanuman that these personalities exist. In addition, in the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna, the same Shri Rama but in a different outward manifestation, explains the position of the devas and what their duties are. Therefore the wise never think that everything is under their control. We may be independent in our choice of action, but the results can be affected by outside forces. We may wish to play a game outside on a particular day, but if there is a rainstorm or a hurricane, what can be done? Hanuman was entering a grove guarded by vile creatures, who were essentially accomplices in Ravana’s horrible act of taking away another’s wife and keeping her away from her husband. Knowing what he was up against, Hanuman, keeping his humble attitude, asked for the favor of the higher authorities.

Hanuman worshiping Sita and RamaAnd what could they do but agree to help? Hanuman is worshipable even to them, for he is engaged so purely in Rama’s service that his example is honored, remembered, praised and cherished to this very day. He is the emblem of devotion in the proper mood, so any chance the devas could get to help him would only be to their benefit. Hanuman would find Sita and then play a vital role in her eventual rescue. Sita, Rama and Lakshmana favor him all the time, for he only asks to be able to sing their glories on a daily basis. As this requires some material elements, those in charge of the required forces ensure that everything is favorable for Hanuman and his devotion. The same occupational duty of devotion is there for all of us, except it may take many lifetimes in a human form of body to realize it, let alone attain success in it. By remembering Hanuman, not only is the path to success easier to find, but there is so much happiness and joy in the heart accumulated along the way.

Question: Why didn’t Hanuman pray to just Rama and Sita?

Hanuman did initially pray to Rama, Lakshmana and Sita, so he didn’t need anyone else’s help. It is said in the Bhagavad-gita that only those who are less intelligent take full shelter of the demigods and worship them for personal rewards. This point is easy to misunderstand, so Hanuman’s example shows the proper way for this worship to take place. If the shelter of the sun-god or the moon-god is my ultimate source of happiness, my rewards will be limited. For instance, wishing for obstacles in my path to be removed is nice, for Lord Ganesha will certainly grant this reward, but what if my path involves something nefarious, something not good for me? What if my objective is to take away another person’s wife, like Ravana did? What if my desire is to enjoy intoxication without end? What if my path is to kill innocent animals and eat their flesh?

Hanuman’s objective was to find Sita, which had nothing to do with his personal enjoyment. He was acting in devotion, so he didn’t need anyone else’s benedictions. He asked for them nonetheless to show proper respect to the devas, who are exalted living entities. Their aid would actually purify them. If I have the ability to spend thousands of dollars on something, depending on how I spend that money, I will generate a certain reaction. The three kinds of charity are explained in the Bhagavad-gita, showing that not all gifts are the same. For instance, giving money to the person who will use it to get drunk or buy drugs is obviously a kind of charity that is detrimental.

“And charity performed at an improper place and time and given to unworthy persons without respect and with contempt is charity in the mode of ignorance.”  (Lord Krishna, Bg. 17.22)

Lord KrishnaIn general, the demigods are charitable in a way that can be beneficial to everyone. The devas are not affected by the reactions because their duty is to provide rewards in this manner. Why God would sanction this is pretty easy to understand. If someone wants to remain separated from devotional service, any reward or punishment they receive in the material world is essentially on the same level. By worshiping the demigods, a person at least advances to the state of consciousness where they have some religious awareness, albeit an immature one.

But when the demigods give benedictions used for bhakti-yoga, their fame increases. Lord Brahma’s weapon would be used by Lord Rama in His battle to kill Ravana. So many arrows were fired by Rama, but it wasn’t until Brahma’s weapon was used that Ravana ultimately died. Brahma’s weapons have been used by demons as well, but when they are used by the Supreme Lord, Brahma’s fame increases exponentially. The utilization of his gifts in this way makes Brahma happy as well, for the demigods are always on the side of Vishnu, or God.

Hanuman always behaves properly, regardless of the situation. He doesn’t need to ask anyone for help, but he does so out of respect, to set a good example. He is the strongest person but he never thinks he is better than anyone else. At the same time, his extreme humility does not hinder his exercise of devotion. If need be, Hanuman will go into an enemy territory and defeat whoever comes in his way, despite his overall nature of kindness and compassion. If one invokes the name of Hanuman, the savior who continues to rescue the fallen souls day after day, Rama’s dearmost servant will help them defeat their mental demons obstructing their devotional efforts.

In Closing:

Deities over elements have control,

Power to influence outcomes they hold.


Hanuman, to them with full humility prayed,

To help him find where Rama’s wife Sita stayed.


Varuna, the moon, the sun, and all creatures too,

Lord Vishnu, all unseen deities and the Ashvins two.


Sparkling is Hanuman’s physical ability,

But in attitude he retains full humility.


Sita and Rama and deities always to help him,

Success in devotion when Hanuman’s favor you win.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Prayer That Never Expires

Krishna's lotus feet“Chaitanya Mahaprabhu teaches us that we should only beg God for His service life after life. This is the actual meaning of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Lord Kapila, Ch 14)

The maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, is considered the perfect prayer for so many reasons. The foundation of the efficacy in chanting it is the motive, or to be more exact, the lack of one. Go through every other prayer you can think of, whether it emanates from scripture or from your own mind in a time of distress, and you’ll see that the objective is usually to meet a self-interest. The self in these instances is not properly defined, so the resulting benefit has a shelf life. Not so, however, with the prayer that addresses the Supreme Lord and His energy in a loving spirit.

For analysis purposes, let’s take the common prayer of asking for rescue from a troublesome situation. It should be noted that worshipers of the Supreme Lord who adopt a mood of pure love have often times asked for the same benediction, but the purpose was different. Let’s say that we’re in a difficult situation at work. The company who employs us has been in financial difficulty for months now, so we are worried about whether or not we’ll have a job in the future. “Don’t worry. I will not cut anyone’s pay until the company finally folds. You and your team are here to stay”, says the boss to allay your fears. He needs you to run the business, so he wants to make sure that you don’t go anywhere.

Fast forward a few months and suddenly everyone in the office has their pay reduced. Then the boss wants to fire some people on your team, but this time you fight for them. He gives you an ultimatum. Either agree to take another pay cut or the other people are getting fired. You take the pay cut. Wouldn’t you know it, he fires those people anyway. Now you’re making less money and have less time to look for another job, as the company itself might fold. At this time you may pray to God. “O Lord, please help me. I don’t know how I got into this distressful situation, but it is so painful that I can’t sleep at night. I can’t believe life can be so difficult.”

It is not uncommon to ask for divine intervention at such a moment, but what is it exactly that we’re praying for? A better job? The future health of the company? The reward is rooted in duality and also in the false identification with the body. Sometimes what we think is good for us actually isn’t. What if the company failing actually will help us to land a better job, at a place where we’ll be happier and make more money? Should not the Lord then keep a deaf ear to our pleas, no matter how heartfelt they may be?

“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.”  (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.13)

Lord KrishnaAnd what does a job do for us anyway? The Vedas reveal that the essence of identity is the spirit soul. The soul has travelled space since time immemorial, but with each entry into a new body the knowledge and experiences of the most recent life are forgotten. Those past actions influenced the circumstances of the present birth, but the conscious memories of those incidents is gone forever. Even within the present body one has limited memory. Can you remember exactly what you were doing one year ago? What about ten years ago? Obviously the minutiae are not easily recalled, indicating a defect.

The soul’s business is to become God conscious, as personal interaction with spirit is what gives the soul pleasure. You follow real religion to achieve that state of consciousness, to fulfill the destiny of meeting with God and staying by His side. The prayer in a time of trouble is good in the sense that there is acknowledgment of the higher being, but at the same time the request is akin to asking for food from a garbage pile that is outside of an establishment that has a free gourmet meal waiting for us inside.

The many prayers that we can offer have a point of expiration. With the previous example, if in one year we start working somewhere else and are happy, the previous prayer is no longer applicable. It must be thrown away. It’s like hearing back from a place of business about an open position after you have already accepted a position somewhere else. If we ask for wealth, eventually that wealth will dissipate. If we ask for good health, at the end of life we will have to exit the body.

With the maha-mantra, the request is for the opportunity for service. “Let me serve You, Krishna, who are the all-attractive form of the Supreme Lord. I know that You have many different aspects, but Bhagavan is who I am interested in. The impersonal feature of Brahman is terrific for those who are bewildered by duality, and Paramatma is wonderful for the yogi who sits in meditation, but I have no qualifications nor any desires for such interaction. I wish that I can see Your beautiful face in my mind’s vision at all times. I hope to hear about Your delightful pastimes in the holy land of Vrindavana. And most importantly, I hope to serve You and Your cherished devotees without fail, regardless of the outcome of that service. Whether in good times or bad, let me have the blessings of Your energy expansion, Shrimati Radharani, so that I may please You, or at least attempt to please You.”

These humble offerings are packed into the succinct maha-mantra, sixteen words that say so much. Perhaps one may not know what the mantra is asking for when they recite it. In that case there is still no loss, as the recitation of the mantra fulfills the above stated objectives even without a person’s cognizance of it. Hearing Krishna is as good as being with Him. Hearing His name eventually brings to mind His transcendental features, which provide the sweetness that every living entity is looking for.

Prahlada MaharajaWhat if we mix motives into our chanting? What if when we’re in trouble instead of explicitly asking for something from God, we chant the maha-mantra? Indeed, when devotees are in difficult circumstances they automatically reach for that sacred sound vibration, so isn’t there something wrong with that? In these instances for the devotees again it is the underlying motive that matters most. If we are in a distressed situation and worried about our ability to carry out service to Krishna, then surely the recitation of the maha-mantra is the way to go. Prahlada Maharaja, a famous five-year old son of a king, often prayed to Vishnu, Krishna’s four-handed form, to save him from the attacks of his father. The requests never expired because the desired condition was always the same. Prahlada asked to serve Vishnu, so that result’s applicability is never void.

In the case that there really are other motives, such as the accumulation of wealth or the reversal of misfortune, the devotion is considered mix. Hence we often see distinctions made between regular devotees and “pure” devotees. A devotee in mixed consciousness still has some desires for fruitive gain, high knowledge, mystic perfection, or the alleviation of distress. A pure devotee may receive these rewards, but their only motive is to serve Krishna. A particular section from the Gitavali of Goswami Tulsidas very nicely illustrates pure devotion. In describing the life and pastimes of Lord Rama in song, Tulsidas has a few verses towards the end of his work discussing the daily pastimes of Shri Rama when He became the King of Ayodhya. Rama is the same Vishnu and Krishna but in His transcendental form of a warrior prince who roamed this earth during the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation.

Kings during that time were known for holding open assemblies and sometimes granting whatever wish a citizen had. That’s right. If you wanted a cow or some gold, you could go up to the king on this day and ask for it. The king could not deny any request on these occasions; that was the vow. Tulsidas, cleverly taking full advantage, describes that on one of these assigned days he himself is figuratively approaching the King of Ayodhya, Shri Rama, the protector of the fallen souls. Tulsidas then asks for devotion to Rama for lifetime after lifetime. Because of the nature of the day, Rama cannot deny the request of the subject. He is compelled to give pure devotion to His feet to Tulsidas, the sweetheart poet.

Pure devotion can come from chanting the holy names regularly. The names of Krishna and Rama are what give the maha-mantra its strength, and since they are so nicely sequenced together in a string of words that can be sung in an infinite number of melodies, every person can adopt the perfect prayer as their mantra for life. Should the motives be impure at the outset, through steady chanting, the impurities are removed. The resultant reward of devotion to God never expires, and it continues to provide happiness both in this life and the next.

In Closing:

Having trouble in your particular task,

For success the Supreme Lord you do ask.


Tough times at work your resolve they test,

So you ask God for problems to redress.


But what about after, when things become good?

Through fruitive gain meaning of life understood?


Maha-mantra best prayer because of benefit,

Gives reward to continue after body you quit.


Even if motives impure chant the holy names,

Pure love for Krishna represents highest gain.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Vinoda Pramoda

Lord Rama's lotus feet“Seeing the children playing happily Vishvamitra’s heart fills up with love. Wherever they go the clouds hover above to give shade and the demigods drop flowers from the sky.” (Janaki Mangala, 35)

dekhi binoda pramoda prema kausika ura |
karata jāhiṃ ghana chānha sumana baraṣahiṃ sura ||

Seeing children play happily, as if there are no other worries in the world, brings delight to the caretakers. What more can the guardian ask for than to have their dependents naturally jubilant and playing innocently without a care? Many thousands of years ago a famous muni received two young children as an escort through the forest. Though they were in childhood forms, they were the best fighters in the world, capable of protecting anyone who surrendered to them in a mood of affection. To delight the onlookers and to show their happiness in interacting with their creation, the two young brothers joyfully played about. This vision gave the muni so much delight that his heart filled up with love.

Who were these youths? Why were they escorting a muni at such a young age? Rama and Lakshmana were sons of King Dasharatha. Rama was the eldest son and Lakshmana was His dearest friend, the closest to Him of the three younger brothers. Vishvamitra, the son of Gadhi, was residing in the forests to seek spiritual enlightenment. Sobriety of mind is a prerequisite for understanding the highest truths of life. If we are constantly distracted by where to find employment, how to make our paramours happy, or what kinds of food to eat for dinner, how will our mind be able to notice that the influence of time is guaranteed and that everything around us is temporary?

Vishvamitra with Lakshmana and RamaTraditionally, those seriously seeking spiritual enlightenment take to the renounced order, minimizing their interaction with nature and reducing their attachments and dependencies. In times past, the renounced order was tied to life in the forest. If you live in the forest, your biggest concern each day is how to eat. With the berries that fall off the trees and the roots found in the ground, you’re forced to live off of nothing and enjoy it. Your water is taken care of by the neighboring rivers, and your shelter can be found in a cave or through erecting a thatched hut. The fires provide the heat, and the holy names of the Lord provide the delight to the mind. Just sitting quietly and regularly chanting mantras from the Vedas are enough to bring about a spiritual awakening.

The wise know that the higher authorities are in charge of distributing the rewards we see in front of us. Just because there is meat on the shelves of the grocery stores for purchase doesn’t mean that an animal wasn’t previously killed. Just because the produce section is always fully stocked doesn’t mean that there aren’t farms to produce that food. At the root of all fuel is the earth, which is sustained through the higher forces of nature. We can maybe try to shop at different stores to get the type of food we prefer, but were it not for the rain we couldn’t eat at all.

The Vedic seers honor the benefactors of the living creatures on earth by regularly performing yajnas, or sacrifices. These sacrifices typically include an offering of clarified butter into a fire. The worshiped deities then take their share of the offerings and enjoy them. From being pleased they agree to provide good fortune and conditions auspicious for continuing the pursuit towards full enlightenment, which is the ideal mission of the human being.

Vishvamitra ran into some problems, though. A band of night-rangers concentrated in Lanka was harassing the ascetics during their times of sacrifice. The goons would change their shapes at will, destroy the sacrificial arenas, and then try to kill the sages. The night-rangers were Rakshasas, or man-eaters, so they wouldn’t stop at just killing. Vishvamitra, a powerful brahmana, could have retaliated with curses, but that would have involved losing some of his spiritual merits. Moreover, it wasn’t his duty to fight enemies. That responsibility fell on the royal order.

Lord RamaBearing this in mind, it was not an extraordinary request for Vishvamitra to go to Ayodhya and ask for protection. What was strange, however, was that he asked specifically for Dasharatha’s eldest son Rama. The Supreme Lord Vishnu, the leader of the gods, the person from whom the entire creation has emanated, had appeared in the Raghu dynasty to reestablish the principles of religion and give protection to the innocent. As God, Rama could not fully mask His amazing abilities. Though He was less than twelve years of age, it was known to everyone that Dasharatha’s eldest son was the best fighter.

The king reluctantly agreed, and Rama took Lakshmana with Him. During the initial days of the journey in the forest, Rama and Lakshmana played the parts of young boys perfectly. They would chase after deer and birds and make garlands out of plucked flowers, leaves and fruits. If they would get a little too wild in their play, they would look back at Vishvamitra and calm down a bit. This is a wonderfully endearing behavior shown by young children. They might try to test the parents’ authority, but if deep down they know that they shouldn’t be doing something, they won’t do it. For instance, if you tell a child not to touch a particular object, they might, in defiance, run up to that object and threaten to touch it. But right before they are about to break the restriction, they look back at the parents and realize that they are being watched. Through this behavior the children show the elders that they respect them and that they are cognizant of their authority.

Thus Rama and Lakshmana showed Vishvamitra that he was the authority figure of the situation, the guru who shouldn’t be dishonored. Vishvamitra was so overjoyed by the vinoda-pramoda, or delightful play, of the children that happiness filled his heart. The cynic may raise the objection that in the Ramayana of Valmiki accounts of this incident are absent. Thus Goswami Tulsidas may be using poetic license here in his Janaki Mangala. Yet knowing the inherent characteristics of the Supreme Lord, can there be any doubting that this incident occurred? As Shri Krishna, the same Rama would regularly sneak into the homes of the neighbors and steal their butter. It is also described in the Ramayana that Lakshmana never ate or slept unless Rama had done so first. Thus it is known that the two brothers always played together as children.

Rama and LakshmanaThe Supreme Lord loves to interact with His devotees, giving them delight through the personal attention. The deer and birds in the forest were Rama’s adherents after all, so why shouldn’t they get the pleasure of having Rama chase after them? Typically, the situation is reversed. Every living entity is searching after God, even if they don’t know it. The atheist searches for the Lord through surrender to sense gratification, the mystic through meditation, the philosopher through study, and the worker through fruitive engagement. But the bhaktas, or devotees, are held in such high esteem by their object of service that He sometimes comes to earth and playfully chases after them.

In the above referenced verse it is also stated that wherever Rama and Lakshmana went, clouds followed them to provide shade. The demigods also showered flowers from the sky. Again, these descriptions aren’t found in the original Ramayana, but we know that in many other instances similar things were seen. The celestials often shower flowers on the Lord when there is an occasion of victory. There are many references to such happenings in the Vedic literature. The clouds providing shade also isn’t that surprising, as even the Mainaka mountain arose from the ocean to lend service to Shri Hanuman when he was leaping to Lanka. That incident is mentioned in the Ramayana, for the ocean was indebted to the Ikshvaku dynasty, the family in which Rama appeared. Wanting to offer some service to that dynasty, the ocean asked the mountain to rise up and give aid to Shri Rama’s dearest servant, Hanuman.

“O Sita, see the golden lord of mountains [Mainaka], which is golden-peaked and which rose up, piercing the ocean, to provide rest to Hanuman.” (Lord Rama speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Yuddha Kand, 123.18)

Lord RamaVishvamitra’s joy from seeing Rama and Lakshmana play is meant to fill every heart. The kind poet included this verse in his Janaki Mangala precisely to allow the mind to remember that incident, to focus on it and to marvel at the divine sport of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and His brother. Those two sons of the king would go on to protect Vishvamitra and enhance the fame of the Raghu dynasty. The director of the clouds would gain immeasurable spiritual merits by providing shade and the demigods to this day are still under the Lord’s protection. Thus there is never any effort wasted in devotional practices, which can take place under any circumstance.

The refuge of the forest is not a viable option today. Left to live in a world full of chaos, turmoil and uncertainty, the mind still has the sanctuary of the descriptions of the Supreme Lord’s pastimes found in the Vedic texts. The appreciation of those topics increases all the more through regular chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Let the childish play of Rama and Lakshmana delight your heart every day and fill it with love that never exhausts.

In Closing:

Childish play of innocent children adults like,

Youthful exuberance so much a pleasing sight.


More endearing when adult’s authority children know,

And the attention to rules at last minute they show.


To the forest went Vishvamitra the ascetic devout,

With Rama and Lakshmana, watched them run about.


Clouds hovered above wherever they went,

Shower of flowers too by demigods were sent.


Thus the sage’s heart with love became full,

Seeing Rama’s kind attention so pleasurable.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Accepting the Unacceptable

Krishna and Arjuna“When one's intelligence, mind, faith and refuge are all fixed in the Supreme, then one becomes fully cleansed of misgivings through complete knowledge and thus proceeds straight on the path of liberation.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 5.17)

Religious life is hard. Following principles requires discipline, which immediately attacks at the tendency towards accepting the path of least resistance. The pitcher on a professional baseball team must always be mindful of his mechanics, for otherwise he will develop bad habits in his pitching motion, which in turn will lead to poor performance. As in every type of endeavor the natural tendency is towards a lack of discipline, in order to meet a desired end, one needs to accept regulations and follow them. In the realm of spirituality, the highest state of enlightenment is not one where activity ceases. Rather, processes like meditation, which are built upon renunciation, are meant to establish a proper consciousness, which then automatically creates the conditions necessary for finding happiness in life.

And isn’t that what it’s all about, finding happiness? To reach this end, one must follow guiding principles. Say, for example, that our goal is to find an absence of activity. I have worked so hard at the office that when I get home I don’t want to do anything. My goal is to ease my mind by sitting in relaxation, perhaps watching some television, i.e. doing any activity that doesn’t put stress on the brain. Attaining this objective requires some discipline. Seems strange in a sense because the identified goal is to loosen restriction, to feel pleasure from the lack of pressure. Nevertheless, to realize the stated objective one must instill some regulation, which automatically introduces pressure.

Take falling asleep each night. Sleep is the essence of laziness; it is the lack of activity. Of course the vibrant spirit soul never ceases to be; so during times of rest the brain continues to operate. Sleep is supposed to be effortless though; no pressure at all. Ah, but when there is a stated objective to be reached, there must be discipline. If I have to wake up early the next morning to get ready for work, I must lay down in bed at a specific time the night before. In addition, real sleep requires falling into a state of slumber, preferably where there is rapid eye movement, which is the deeper sleep that provides the necessary rest. Simply sitting in bed wide awake will not do the same magic that falling asleep will.

So you’re lying in bed, just waiting to fall asleep. You have to reach the state of slumber at a certain time in order to get enough hours of proper rest. Proper rest allows you to be fully functional the next day. The longer you lay there in bed awake, the less time you will have for deep sleep, as the time for arising the next day is not up for negotiation. It is a fixed moment that must be respected, regardless of whether or not you actually fell asleep the night before. Being cognizant of this, you feel the pressure to fall asleep. You have to follow regulation; you must be disciplined in order to rest properly.

This also helps to explain why the casual nap is so much appreciated. In a nap, there is usually no set time for waking up or falling asleep. Should you lay down for a few minutes, that’s just fine. If you’re feeling really tired, you can rest for a few hours. No worries at all; no pressure. The same doesn’t hold true with the longer slumber that occurs each night as part of a routine.

The Vedas present several varieties of spiritual practice to be implemented by the living entity according to their maturation. For instance, if I don’t know anything about God and why I should worship Him, perhaps my initial regulation is to attend a house of worship on a regular basis. Become familiar with the process, see what practices others follow, and then hopefully spark an interest. If right from the very beginning someone were to tell you about Brahman, reincarnation, the properties of the spirit soul, the inclination towards service within every life form, and how material nature creates illusion for those who want it, the information could be too much to handle.

yogaOn the more advanced levels of spiritual practice, one follows meditation, which has a requirement of renunciation that is strengthened through knowledge. If I tell you to sit quietly on the floor for hours at a time and focus on a specific sound vibration, you may not be so willing to accept the instruction. “Why do I have to do this? I want to have fun? What is sitting like this and forcing myself to be quiet going to do for me in the long run? My time will be better served enjoying.”

Knowledge, or jnana, helps in accepting the need for renounced meditation. With jnana, one learns that the temporary enjoyments in a life filled with fruitive pursuits do not represent the pinnacle of existence. If I take part in an activity that I know will provide misery in the end with a little excitement sprinkled into the beginning, why should I waste my time? Every activity that is not related to the essence of identity, to meeting the needs of the spirit soul, will reach a similar destination.

If there is skepticism on this point, look at every successful person, spanning all the different modes of activity. The sports star who was ranked number one for so many consecutive weeks eventually falls off the radar, with every future introduction beginning with, “former world number one” or “this many time past champion”. The business mogul also must relinquish their title as wealthiest person in the world, as the stock market regularly fluctuates and no large venture is guaranteed interminable profits. Should one be fortunate enough to make it to the end of life without encountering too many failures, they still have to renounce everything upon quitting the body.

Through study of Vedanta, one learns that they are spirit and not matter. The individual has no business with something temporary, just as the adult knows they have no use for the toy blocks they used when they were a child. To feed the needs of the self, one can sit in quiet meditation and recite and hear the sacred syllable om, which represents the Supreme Absolute Truth. With jnana, the dedication to renunciation is solidified, making the meditation easier to follow.

“After being situated in this yoga practice and vibrating the sacred syllable om, the supreme combination of letters, if one thinks of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and quits his body, he will certainly reach the spiritual planets.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.13)

Lord KrishnaIs meditation the end? Should everyone renounce activity and not do anything? The meditation has a purpose. Though the Brahman realized soul at the end of life no longer has to accept rebirth, they don’t retain a spiritual identity. As spirit craves activity, eventually the same liberated soul will want to take action. Meditation in renunciation is actually not the end, but rather a means.

A means leads to an end, so what is meditation supposed to bring about? Just as jnana and vairagya, or renunciation, go well together, Brahman realization and dedication to bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, go hand in hand. If you realize Brahman through study of Vedanta and meditation coupled with renunciation, understanding the validity of devotion to the Personality of Godhead, Bhagavan, will be less difficult.

“Out of many thousands among men, one may endeavor for perfection, and of those who have achieved perfection, hardly one knows Me in truth.”  (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.3)

In the Bhagavad-gita it is said that it is rare for someone to endeavor for self-realization and even more rare for the people in that small set to actually attain full success. The reason for the difficulty is rather obvious. The tendency towards lethargy, contentedness, complacency, and overall lack of effort is stronger than the tendency towards accepting discipline. The meditational yogi and the jnani show discipline in their dedication to concentrating on Brahman and Paramatma, the Supersoul residing within the heart. Through study of Vedanta one can learn Brahman, and through breathing exercises and sitting postures, one can realize the Supersoul, but only in devotion can one get the eyes to see Bhagavan, the complete representation of God.

Lord KrishnaWhy the need for connecting with Bhagavan? Take every desire you have and aggregate them. Take every beneficial condition you’ve wanted to reach and know that they are rooted in the desire to connect with Bhagavan. Hard to notice that when you’re covered by illusion, but through following the authority of a spiritual master dedicated to Bhagavan, you can not only understand who Bhagavan is, but you can serve Him as well.

That service goes against what we’ve previously been taught. From the time of birth the general instruction is to seek out personal sense satisfaction or give service to our fellow man, but both are rooted in illusion. The personal senses belong only to the temporary body and the service offered to man is based on a distinction in external features. A poor man is materially impoverished while a wealthy man is well off, but this doesn’t mean that only the poor man should be served. Both groups are spirit souls, so service to bodily forms is based on a mistake.

The real aim of life, the purpose to having an existence, is to taste the sweet fruit of loving devotion to God. Love must manifest through activity; otherwise it only exists in a potential or unreal state. The activity doesn’t have to be carried out right away, but the sincerity of purpose must be there. If a helpless individual imagines themselves offering up service to the deity manifestation, the offering is as good as made. On the other hand, someone who says they love God but never thinks of Him, never worships Him, and never desires to please Him, is considered a pretender only.

King Janaka was an expert mystic who qualified himself for service to God. He did not desire the cessation of action. On the contrary, he continued with his occupational duties, carrying them out with detachment. He knew that he was Brahman, so there was no need for attraction or aversion. Through his practice in yoga, he became eligible to have the vision of the Supreme Lord in His form as Shri Ramachandra, the jewel of the Raghu dynasty. Janaka’s eyes feasted on the sight of Rama as the Lord entered the kingdom of Videha to take part in the bow-lifting contest to determine the husband for Janaka’s daughter Sita. Janaka made the best offering to God by giving away his precious daughter to Him. When Sita reached an age appropriate for marriage, the king felt like he was losing all of his wealth, but he still made the sacrifice. Through it he got to think of Rama constantly and continue his devotion in that way.

Sita and Rama marriageFor the distressed, the end to the burden of action seems appealing, but there is no fun in losing your spiritual identity. What we’re really searching for is the purification of action, an enlivening occupation that keeps us connected with the reservoir of pleasure. As the conditions today are not conducive for practicing meditational yoga in the fully renounced spirit, the recommendation is to start with bhakti right away, even if one is in a contaminated state. The holy name is the pure representation of the personal form of Bhagavan, so whoever keeps company with it eventually sees the need for bhakti and basks in its open-ended nature. Regularly chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and accept that dedicated engagement of bhakti-yoga, which was once thought to be unacceptable due to its perceived difficulty.

In Closing:

At start path of devotion difficult to accept,

From ignorance, divine path we right away reject.


Meditation is a way to give us a good chance,

To reach a better end, enjoyment to enhance.


Regulation must be followed in any pursuit,

To reach desired end must take discipline’s route.


Know that knowledge and renunciation should lead,

To God’s feet, spiritual senses to feed.


Previously unacceptable thus to become,

The only path, towards Shri Krishna run.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Honor From The Most Honorable

Hanuman praying“May the glorious Brahma, the self-create, and the deities - including Agni, Vayu, and Indra, who is the wielder of the thunderbolt and who is addressed by many names - grant me success.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.65)

brahmā svayambhūr bhagavān devāḥ caiva diśantu me |
siddhim agniḥ ca vāyuḥ ca puru hūtaḥ ca vajradhṛt ||

Though a deva is a divine figure, they are still considered an embodied being, so they must live within a specific form for a set period of time. While this may seem like a good thing, just imagine staying within your present state for billions of years. Oh, by the way, after these billions of years have passed, you have lived just one day. This is the case with Lord Brahma, the self-create. He is described as such because he does not have a normal set of parents. He took birth from the stem coming from the lotus-like navel of Lord Vishnu, the Supreme Lord, the lord of all creatures. The devas are in a tough position because they are allowed to grant material benedictions, but in order to remain in their post, they have to step down from the platform of pure devotion, where one has no care other than to worship the Supreme Lord and think of His glories. Yet in certain circumstances, the devas get special favor. If the most exalted of personalities come to ask you for something, though you are granting benedictions to them, the benefit is actually to you, for you have the pleasure of accepting honor from the most honorable.

Shri HanumanSeems like a play on words, but the prayer of Shri Hanuman quoted above gives an example of the concept. Demigod worship wasn’t required for Hanuman. Not that he was above anyone else in his mind, but Hanuman was working directly for the lord of all creatures, the source of all men, Narayana. The person known as God has many different names in the Vedic tradition. We can refer to the Supreme Lord as God, offer up a prayer, and hope that He hears us, or we can take the option of knowing His many forms and names, contemplating upon them, and thus adjusting our activities so that those visions always stay within the mind.

The latter option is known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, and it is the summit of existence. The activity is considered the highest because what can be better than connecting with God through consciousness? Consciousness reveals the presence of the soul, and its proper conditioning unlocks the door to happiness that can be instantiated anywhere. Think of the portable video game system or the special features on your smartphone. These come in handy when you are in situations where you can’t have fun. Say, for instance, you’re in a doctor’s office waiting for your appointment. Rather than sit in the waiting room bored watching some television program that you can’t stand, you can take out your cell phone and start doing a variety of things. Perhaps read a book, check your email, play a game, watch a movie, or talk to your friends. With the advanced technology, pretty much anything you could do in more pleasurable situations can be done within even the most boring room.

The consciousness is the friend that follows us wherever we go. The downside is that if we are not properly situated in thought, we can be miserable at every second. Imagine being in the company of your friends and family and all you’re thinking about is that one task that has kept you up late at night. Worries and fears can be so debilitating that there are so many phobias identified by psychologists. If the fear rules the consciousness, then no matter what the external circumstances, the individual will be unhappy.

Lord RamaBhakti-yoga is meant for conditioning the consciousness to bring pleasure to the individual at any place and at any stage in life. If you’re feeling sad, just tap into the divine consciousness by regularly chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Find your Vishnu form of choice and remember His features. For Shri Hanuman, he got the opportunity to directly serve Vishnu’s warrior incarnation of Lord Rama, the handsome and pious prince of Ayodhya, the husband of Sita Devi and the elder brother of Lakshmana. Rama was the delight of Mother Kausalya and King Dasharatha, the cherished treasure for the attentive eyes of the innocent residents of Ayodhya, and the savior of fallen souls. His name is even more powerful than His personal self, as the name has liberated countless ascetics since time immemorial. The name is so powerful that it can turn a drug-like plant into a sacred tulasi plant. The name can turn the crow-like living entity accustomed to rummaging through garbage into a swan-like saint who only accepts the pleasurable lotus flowers for association.

“There is a proverb in Sanskrit which says, ‘Disappointment gives rise to the greatest satisfaction.’ In other words, when one’s sentiment or ambition becomes too great and is not fulfilled until after seemingly hopeless tribulation, that is taken as the greatest satisfaction.” (Shrila Prabhupada, The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 31)

It is said that the sweetness of victory is enhanced when there was failure previously, when it looked like things weren’t going to work out. This also applies to the bhakti realm, for if we can remember God after having forgotten him temporarily or after having been attacked by outside forces, the sweetness of that vision and the delightfulness of that sound vibrating within the mind can be relished so much that we’ll look back at the life-changing moment fondly.

Hanuman found himself in a distressful situation in Lanka, the home of the Rakshasa king named Ravana. Lord Rama, the same Narayana but in a seemingly ordinary human form, descended to earth to do away with this ruler, for he had been harassing the saintly class for too long. By harass we mean kill and then eat. Ravana took the bait in the form of Sita, Rama’s wife. He took her away from Rama’s side and tried to win her over. This gave Rama the excuse He desired to take on Ravana in a fair fight. Ravana could never win Sita over nor could he defeat Rama in battle. Therefore his fate was sealed as soon as he took Sita away from the Dandaka forest through a backhanded plot.

Shri HanumanTo increase Hanuman’s glory, to allow countless generations to bask in the wonderful vision of a powerful monkey lovingly engaged in devotion, through Sugriva Rama sent the king’s chief minister to scour the earth for Sita’s whereabouts. Sugriva was the king of monkeys in Kishkindha, and he had thousands of monkeys working under him. They were all sent to look for Sita, but it was thought that only Hanuman would be capable of success.

This premonition would prove correct, but a few times it looked like success wouldn’t come. Hanuman made it to Lanka all by himself, and he managed to search through the city and palaces unnoticed. But he could not find Sita. Almost surrendering to the depression of failure, Hanuman picked himself up and decided to continue on. He would search the nearby Ashoka wood, a grove of trees that he had yet to look through. Prior to entering it, he mentally pictured what it would be like. He told himself that he would worship the many devas in charge of the material creation. When it came time to offer the prayers, he first paid obeisance to Rama, Lakshmana and Sita. The primary benediction the trio offers is devotion, the ability to think of God and His closest energy expansions. Hanuman was engaged in a mission to please them, so he had no reason to explicitly ask for their favor, but he did so anyway because that is how he starts all of his difficult tasks.

“Men of small intelligence worship the demigods, and their fruits are limited and temporary. Those who worship the demigods go to the planets of the demigods, but My devotees ultimately reach My supreme planet.”  (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.23)

After propitiating God, His wife and His younger brother, Hanuman offered prayers to the important demigods so that they would favor him. In the Bhagavad-gita, a treatise on spirituality delivered by the same Rama but in His form of Krishna, it is said that men of lesser intelligence worship the demigods. This is because if we had the choice of a consciousness permanently focused on God or a reward that was only temporarily manifest, only the unintelligent would choose in favor of the latter. Indeed, only those who don’t know about bhakti [devotion], the ability to condition consciousness properly, and the true fruit of existence will consider paltry rewards to be superior.

Hanuman thinking of Sita and RamaSo does this incident say that Hanuman is unintelligent? What could he want from the demigods anyway? Ravana himself had received many of his boons from Lord Brahma, except he used them for evil instead of good. In this way we see that Hanuman’s offering of worship actually was for the benefit of the devas. To this day no one is more honored and celebrated than Shri Hanuman. He is not God, but in a lot of ways he is given better treatment, placed on a higher pedestal. This is Shri Rama’s mercy. The good leader takes the arrows, as the subordinates will complain about the conditions imposed by the head. The Supreme Lord is used to accepting both praise and ridicule, but for His dearest servants He takes extra steps to glorify them and elevate their stature.

Hanuman’s ability to fight with full dedication to meet someone he had never met shows that he was the purest of the pure. A servant in the form of a monkey, who is more humble than the grass, whose strength surpasses that of any fighter this world has ever known, was honoring the devas like Lord Brahma, Lord Indra, and other personalities regularly offered respect from both spiritualist and materialist alike. This was a great honor bestowed upon the devas, for they had Rama’s dearest servant showing them respect.

And what choice did the devas have? They grant benedictions to even the sinful, provided the worship is performed properly. How then could they deny Hanuman, a person acting in their favor? Rama is Vishnu, who is the savior of the demigods, the person who always favors the devoted when they are persecuted by the non-devoted. Ravana was the terror of the world, so powerful that he had immunity in battle against the devas.

The gods would be favorable upon Hanuman several times during both his search for Sita and his subsequent return to Kishkindha. Sita was in this grove, and after finding her Hanuman would have to battle many Rakshasas on his way out. Hanuman would show further honor to Lord Brahma when a specific weapon was shot at him. This weapon bound up its intended target and it was previously given to the perpetrator by Brahma himself. Hanuman had the ability to counteract the weapon, but then that would make Brahma a liar. Rather than dishonor Brahma, Hanuman allowed himself to be bound up. Ravana then took this opportunity to light Hanuman’s tail on fire and parade him around the city to humiliate him.

Hanuman burning LankaSita Devi, having just met Hanuman, saw what was going on and became very distressed. The wife of Rama, the goddess of fortune, the person who needs nothing in life because of her association with God, asked the god of fire, Agni, to not burn Hanuman’s tail, to allow the fire to feel as cool as ice for Rama’s servant. Though Sita asked nicely, this was more or less a command, as the devas have such high esteem for her that whatever she wants she gets. Thus the fire immediately became cool, and Hanuman knew that it must have been the work of Rama’s wife. Taking advantage of the benediction, he freed himself, expanded his size, and then used his massive burning tail to devastate Ravana’s city.

Going into the nearby ocean to put out the fire on his tail, Hanuman then used the wind to leap back to where he had come from. In this way the devas were always favorable upon Hanuman, and they were honored by him in so many ways. One who follows bhakti understands the big picture, where the different grades of living entities fit in. Hanuman honored the demigods out of respect for them, and they were thus obliged to grant his requests. How can Hanuman ever fail in pleasing the Supreme Lord? His efforts are sincere, he is never haughty, and he never fails to show respect to those who are deserving of it. In a similar manner, those who show respect to Hanuman, who ask him to remain in their thoughts so that his wonderful qualities and character can be remembered through any situation, will never be out of favor with the Supreme Lord.

In Closing:

Mission’s critical moment in front of him lay,

So for devas’ favor Hanuman did pray.


Material rewards to worshipers they grant,

Though life’s highest reward alone give they can’t.


Thus Lord says that worship do only the less intelligent,

For honor to demigods upon rewards contingent.


Hanuman to please Supreme Lord Rama aspired,

Thus attention to devas for him not required.


Still honor he did show, victory to achieve,

In his sterling example we can always believe.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Free Food

Krishna eating butter“Without distribution of food, no function is complete, and that is the way of Vedic culture.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.11.15 Purport)

You can never go wrong distributing food for free to guests. Should a person not be hungry they still might indulge in a few delicacies if they are offered them without charge. If the food items look delicious, if they stimulate the taste buds upon first glance, then why not at least try some of the food, see if it is worth tasting? This tendency in the human being can be used to the advantage of the sincere spiritualist looking to revive God consciousness within the society at large. Everyone is hungry, so why not feed them the remnants of sanctified food, items which are offered in a mood of love and devotion? This sort of consumption can start a spiritual revival whose benefits spread throughout the population.

The cable television network ESPN years back started running a series of now famous commercials to promote its nightly highlights show called Sportscenter. These advertisements showcased some of the on-air talent, depicting mock scenes from within the offices where the personalities would interact with each other and sometimes with professional athletes. In one of the commercials, one of the anchorpersons for Sportscenter is sitting at his desk, which is in a sort of cubicle area, and watching people run by him, one after another. In a quiet office environment a person running through the halls will garner attention. Similar to hearing the wailing sirens of ambulances, fire trucks and police cars out on the streets, the person whizzing by your desk will not go unnoticed.

After a few moments, the man sitting at his desk starts to wonder what the commotion is about. Are people playing a game? Are they running to try to catch the person running away? Is there an emergency situation that one should know about? Next thing you know, the man at the desk checks his email. He has a new note that was sent to the entire office. It reads something like, “Leftover muffins and donuts in the conference room.” As soon as he reads the email he jumps out of his seat and runs towards the conference room, essentially following the same behavior of the other workers in the office.

blueberry muffinsGood humor always has an element of truth to it, and there is no doubt that if you announce that there is free food available to an office full of employees, there will be a mad dash towards the area where the food is sitting. Should you have already eaten your lunch or breakfast, there is no matter, for how often do you get free food? Plus, you better take advantage, as you don’t know when this perk will come around again. Someone else is paying for it, so you wouldn’t want their money to go to waste, would you?

In Vedic culture, this tendency in the human being is fully accounted for and taken advantage of at the same time. Yet, just as with the Christmas season it is said that it is better to give than to receive, the initial offering in these Vedic functions is what matters most. The cycle is complete when the remnants are distributed to as many people as possible. So what is the difference between giving out this food right after it is cooked versus offering it to someone else first?

The act of love and devotion is what makes the remnants taste so nice. The food turns into a healing potion through the love that goes into the preparation and offering process. The person accepting the offering is pleased not by the amount of food nor its exact makeup but rather by the underlying sentiment. That’s because the person accepting the food is not hungry at all. He has everything He needs; hence one way to describe Him is atmarama, or completely satisfied in the self.

If He is in need of nothing, why does He recommend we offer Him things? In the Bhagavad-gita, this recommendation is made by Him in His original form of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Offer Krishna a leaf, a flower, fruit or water with love and devotion and He will gladly accept it. No need to go to great lengths if you don’t have the time. Rich or poor, young or old, anyone can make a simple and sincere offering and purify their consciousness in the process.

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

Lord KrishnaBut Krishna is the superior entity. He possesses the largest wealth, as everything in this world belongs to Him. If He’s got it all, shouldn’t He be the one giving gifts? Shouldn’t we pray to Him to offer us kind rewards such as beauty, good birth, and intelligence? Actually, these kinds of gifts are already available without an explicit request. The animals don’t have the ability to pray, but nature provides for their necessities regardless. The human being also has an abundant supply of water, milk and grains, which are generally easy to procure and relatively inexpensive.

The offering is made to Krishna for the benefit of the person doing the offering. As the living entity is the constitutionally subordinate entity, humbly submitting before the superior Krishna is the natural order of things. Through this method one finds the happiness they are looking for. If you think that you’re superior and don’t need to surrender to God, why do you offer so much service to other people already? If you didn’t have the service mentality within you, you wouldn’t be inclined towards the behavior even in the absence of a spiritual awakening.

With the process of offering food to Krishna, the service propensity is purified. At the same time, those who may not be willing to hear the truths of Vedanta - whose final conclusion is that one surrender to God in a mood of love and be delivered from all negative reactions - can gradually progress in consciousness by partaking of the remnants of the offerings made to Krishna. Thus the devotee who serves Krishna simultaneously does the best service to mankind through their love. Opening a hospital primarily affects those who will use the facility. The same goes for opening a school. Donating food to the poor and helping the distressed have a temporary influence only on the affected parties.

With bringing what remains of offerings to Krishna [prasadam] to as many people as possible, the right consciousness is gradually instilled within the consumers. From a proper consciousness one learns how to shape their activities so that they can simultaneously keep in line with piety and receive repeated happiness. That proper consciousness can then be spread to others as well. At the end of life, the cycle of birth and death is finished for the God conscious soul. If the catalyst for this awakening is the smelling of a flower offered to Krishna or the eating of foodstuff kindly prepared for the Lord, then the person making the offering deserves so much credit for their kind and influential work.

Flowers offered to Krishna's feetThis tradition of offering food to Krishna and then distributing it as part of a formal function has been carried out since time immemorial. When the Lord was present on this earth the tradition was also followed. One time He returned home to Dvaraka from Hastinapura, and the citizens laid out all sorts of offerings in His honor. They lived in an opulent city populated by the Yadu dynasty, so no one spared any expense in the celebration. When Krishna arrived to His city, He saw so many nice decorations and offerings of flowers and curd preparations laid out in front of the houses.

The same style of offering was seen many thousands of years prior when Krishna in His form of Lord Rama returned home to Ayodhya. That celebration later turned into the tradition known as Diwali, which is still celebrated today. The “festival of lights” as it is known now, Diwali sees the homes of devotees decorated with many lamps, flowers, and food offerings made to the Supreme Lord.

These offerings never go to waste. The people setting them up get to think of their beloved Bhagavan during the work. We have to apply work to support an end, so depending on the nature of that supported structure, our consciousness will have a specific object to focus on. If our work is to support our family, we will have one kind of consciousness. Better than this is to work to support a lifestyle focused on bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Through this method even routine work such as bathing in the morning and commuting to the office helps to support a purified consciousness.

In addition to the purification in consciousness within the workers making the offerings, there is the benefit received from distributing the remnants. In temples devoted to Shri Krishna and His non-different Vishnu forms there is regular distribution of prasadam. Chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and eat prasadam. This formula is simple enough that it can be followed by anyone, and pleasurable enough that it can be repeated day after day. The offerings made to Krishna upon His return to Dvaraka weren’t the first ones He ever accepted, but He still enjoyed them so much because of the love that went into them. To find happiness in this life and the next, think of your home as situated in Dvaraka and pretend that Krishna is returning there today from Hastinapura. Welcome Him nicely with kind offerings and then distribute them to as many people as possible. In this way stay connected with the charming Shyamasundara, from whom the bountiful gifts of nature emanate.

In Closing:

Everyone running to room meant for a break,

So that leftover muffins and donuts they can take.


Free food always to put a smile on the face,

Sumptuous food to delight buds of taste.


Vedas take advantage of this tendency in man,

With prasadam distribution help society you can.


Take simple flower, water, or make a luscious cake,

With love and devotion to Krishna offering make.


With sincerity in emotion Lord offering will accept,

The kind attention of loving devotees He will never reject.