Saturday, May 26, 2012

Emergency Stockpiles

Krishna and Balarama stealing butter“Formerly, in every household, yogurt and butter were kept for use in emergencies. But Krishna and Balarama would pile up planks so that They could reach the pots and would then pick holes in the pots with Their hands so that the contents would leak out and They could drink it. This was another means for stealing butter and milk.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.8.30 Purport)

Though today’s amenities weren’t available in the holy land of Vrindavana a long time ago, there were other means to ensure that enough food and critical provisions were available when needed. The human being can do amazing things when properly inspired, when the necessity arises. Though the tendency is towards lethargy and inactivity, when pushed the vibrant spark of life within every being can rise to new heights and stretch the boundaries of ability within their particular species. During ancient times, the inhabitants of Vrindavana had emergency supplies of yogurt and butter, and what better emergency could there be than the hunger of the Supreme Lord and His elder brother?

How can feeding God be an emergency? By definition, an urgent situation requires attention because ignoring it will result in a disastrous condition. Arrive to the scene of a car accident a few seconds too late and the victims can go from having a chance to live to dying. Detect a deadly disease within the body when it is no longer treatable and you can’t save the ill person. The Supreme Lord doesn’t have the same urgency with respect to His travels, but the stockpiles saved up for a dire situation fulfill the urgent need to connect with the Supreme Lord in all His glory.

Krishna eating butterIn His original form, God is known as Krishna, which is a Sanskrit word that means all-attractive. Krishna is not God for only the Hindus. If that were the case, any person could come up with their own God, give Him a name, and then institute a set of principles necessary for worship. Indeed, this is what occurs anyway when real religion is purposefully rejected as being sentimental, made up, or unnecessary. Despite the denial, the principles of a religious system will exist nonetheless. A foundation of governance serves to guide behavior to ensure an ideal situation. The streetlights and stop signs keep the road safe for drivers and passengers. Someone who violates the laws of the road is a sinner and thus earns punishment. Even prior to their admonishment by a governing body, transgressions made on the roads can lead to a damaging result, such as an accident which can badly injure others.

Real religion exists to govern as well, except the ideal condition targeted is beneficial for all people and all aspects of life. Whether you are in need of a better job, a stable condition for your family, or the removal of distress, following the true principles of the eternal occupation of the soul can benefit you. Real religion in the Vedic sense is known as sanatana-dharma, the soul’s eternal duty. The soul is eternal in its constitutional position, thus it must have an engagement which is applicable to any time period and any localized space.

That engagement corresponds to a purification of consciousness, which thus ensures a blissful state within any condition. The food problem, the happiness problem, and the fear problem are all solved with a proper consciousness. If I’m thinking correctly, I will know what steps to take to keep myself in a good situation. Surely there are outside factors that I can’t influence, but the constitutional engagement has an ideal beneficiary, who happens to be the most powerful entity. The all-opulent features of the real Personality of Godhead are absent in the manmade gods. Hence the concocted systems of religion fall flat on their face from the outset. Even if innocent people should be duped into following such bogus systems, with the lack of positive results, soon afterwards the engagements are given up. This is the reason why we see so many systems of maintenance, which include the many self-help books that line the shelves of the bookstores.

“The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste] .”  (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 5.18)

Lord KrishnaKrishna is the perfect word to describe God because only someone who is all-attractive could be the object of worship for every single spark of spirit. The spirit soul is the agent of identification with all life forms. The ant, the dog, the dog-eater, the wealthy businessman, and the learned sage are the same at their core. Perhaps the levels of consciousness vary, but this doesn’t mean that the constitutional positions are different.

As Krishna is the most attractive, there is always an urgency for connecting with Him. You desperately need food when you are running low on energy, when your body is starved of the necessary nutrients to sustain life. If you just ate a big meal, perhaps you can go many hours without eating again. The human body can survive without food for days, though it can’t go as long without water.

Yet there is always a need to connect with Krishna, even if one doesn’t know it. If one has connected with Krishna just moments prior, the benefit of again having His association doesn’t diminish. Thus all the fears pertaining to life and death are unfounded in a sense, as the more pressing need is to put the soul in its ideal position, situated next to the Supreme Lord, at least in consciousness. Thinking about God is as good as seeing Him, and serving Him is better even than seeing or hearing Him.

If connecting with God is the ideal occupation, why are there so many rules and regulations in religion? Why not present the summit of activity in the beginning? This way people could take religion seriously and follow the right course of action from the start. Because of the spinning wheel of reincarnation, which is also known as the samsara-chakra, the living entity is forgetful of his constitutional position. Identification is instead taken from the temporary body, and religious principles are enacted based on the desire to benefit that body.

Because of this deficiency in logic, presenting the highest principles of spirituality, which belong to the discipline known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is not always the best option in the beginning. You may have to take it slow at the start, perhaps enticing interested parties with smaller rewards for pious behavior. “Go to church every week and God will take care of your needs. Perform this ritual once a month and you won’t have to worry about bad fortune. On these particular days, don’t eat anything, and from your austerity you will acquire many spiritual merits.”

Radha and KrishnaThese procedures bring one closer to the Supreme Lord, and in the process they purify consciousness. In the heightened state of thinking known as bhava, there is only a spontaneous desire to love Krishna, without motivation and without interruption. That love can take many forms, including showing displeasure over the acts of the Supreme Lord Himself. This is what occurred with a few residents of the farm community of Vrindavana some five thousand years ago.

Though they lived in what we would consider “primitive” times, the residents had plenty of food to eat. The milk from the cows and the grains grown on the land were enough to take care of the eating needs. Shelter was found through modest huts, and the entertainment was the chanting of the holy names, such as those found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

The delight of the town was the beloved son of mother Yashoda and Maharaja Nanda. Their beautiful boy was the very same Krishna, the person the majority of the world worshiped as Lord Vishnu, the origin of matter and spirit. Vishnu is practically the same as Krishna, except Yashoda’s son has features that exhibit more sweetness, which is what the eyes of the residents of Vrindavana deserved. Krishna engaged the townspeople in ways suitable to each person. To Yashoda, He acted as a helpless child. To His friends, Krishna was the best person to play with each day on the fields.

To the neighbors, Krishna was the naughty child who kept breaking into their homes and causing trouble. The residents kept supplies of yogurt and butter stashed away because these were two vital ingredients. Yogurt could be used in so many food preparations and butter was especially important for religious sacrifices. With enough yogurt, butter and milk, there was no need for eating animal flesh. The cows lived happily, and they were considered members of the family, sort of like how domesticated animals are treated today. The difference was that the cows were a vital aspect of the economic development. Just by protecting the cows, so many benefits could be received.

Krishna and Balarama stealing butterKrishna and His elder brother Balarama would enjoy stealing butter and yogurt from the neighbors. The fact that the stocks were carefully hidden away made the heists that much more enjoyable. Sometimes the pots would be situated high up, so the boys would assemble planks together and turn over grinding mortars for climbing. Then they would pick holes in the pots so that the butter and yogurt would sift through and strategically fall into their open mouths. Since the rooms were dark, Krishna and Balarama’s nice jewels would provide the light.

Normally this isn’t good behavior, as the yogurt and butter were carefully set aside for a reason. But the incident gives so many lessons, with one of them being that all of nature’s bounty is to be used for the Lord’s benefit. The residents were so pure that they got to see Krishna all the time, and He wouldn’t leave them alone either. The reserves were put away for emergencies, such as if there were a drought or a calamity that wiped out the food supply. But Vrindavana already saw many potential calamities in the form of attacks from wicked creatures. Krishna was there to save the day each time, so there was no need to worry about running out of butter.

Simply at the sight of Yashoda’s darling the cows would fill up their bags with milk. This meant that milk was never in short supply. Lord Vishnu is the creator of matter, so how can there be any shortage in a land that He personally supervises? Rather, the excess was there to delight the Supreme Lord, who happily took the contents from the shelves and then played innocent when accused. The residents loved this very much, as they couldn’t stay angry at the beautiful Krishna.

Though they didn’t know it, Vrindavana’s people were worshiping God with their offerings of food kindly taken by Krishna. Following the same tradition, devotees of the Lord to this day make regular offerings to Krishna, hoping that He will enjoy the preparations made with love and devotion. The remnants, known as prasadam, are then distributed to as many people as possible. The real emergency situation in Vrindavana was the need to feed Krishna, and if the same devotional attitude is followed by the humble devotee looking to fulfill life’s purpose of remaining God conscious at the time of death, there is no doubt that the sweetheart son of Yashoda, whose belly never becomes full, will gladly arrive on the scene and eat to His heart’s content.

In Closing:

Excess butter and yogurt carefully stashed away,

To be used in emergency, for a rainy day.


But know that God all of this does make,

Therefore entitled He is His share to take.


For supply of milk in Vrindavana no need to fear,

For cows’ bags fill up when Yashoda’s son is near.


Krishna and brother Balarama make plot to reach hidden pots,

Poking holes in them so that in mouths butter to drop.


To fill the belly of Krishna is life’s only pressing need,

With your devotional offerings the Supreme Lord feed.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Spring Personified

Shri Hanuman“Seeing that monkey going in all directions through the collection of trees, all the creatures there took him to be Spring personified.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 14.12)

diśaḥ sarva abhidāvantam vṛkṣa ṣaṇḍa gatam kapim |
dṣṭvā sarvāṇi bhūtāni vasanta iti menire ||

The beauty of the modern day city is artificial, as it is built through human effort. The network of large buildings that illuminate the night with their many shining lights gives a wonderful image to the observer from a distance. The ability of man is showcased in the scene of the skyline of the metropolitan area, but there are aspects of nature that are even more beautiful. These places don’t require human intervention or the work of smaller creatures from the animal community. Just from the arrangement of the Supreme Soul, the lord of all creatures, the beauty arrives on its own, instigated by the onset of spring.

There are patterns to the appearance and disappearance of the beauty created by nature. Just as the moving living beings go through the cycle of birth and death, the nonmoving creatures that appear on earth must also eventually discard their bodies. The soul is what stays the same throughout, so the growth and decay periods are due to the influence of time on the bodies. To better understand how the time factor works, there are seasons, divisions that are known through the effect they have on other living entities.

SpringIn the summer season, there is intense heat, and autumn marks the retreat of summer. When winter comes, the nonmoving creatures wilt away. They no longer produce fruits and whatever flowers they had have fallen off and died. Thus spring naturally represents the rejuvenation of life; the return of fruits. The harsh cold of the winter is over, and the environment is suitable for flowers to thrive once again. There is a return to life both externally and internally. On the outside the trees start to blossom, and on the inside the moving creatures are ready to be active, to enjoy the life form God gave them.

In Lanka many thousands of years ago there was this dichotomy between artificial and natural beauty. We are given the details about the contrasting images in the Sundara-kanda of the Ramayana. The descriptions are presented through the travels of a warrior sent on a reconnaissance mission. He was to find the missing princess of Videha, the daughter of King Janaka. The land he entered was ruled by ogres, vile creatures who lived in the mode of ignorance. Tamo-guna, the lowest of the three modes of nature defined by the Vedas, is marked by an absence of both passion and knowledge. The behavior in tamo-guna is not wise at all, yet the participants are too spellbound by their low-grade activities to know that they are destroying their lives.

The area hosting the majority of the population, the city, had tremendous manmade beauty. There were golden archways, exquisite buildings bedecked with jewels, and decorations that were unbelievable. It seemed as if the city were situated in a heavenly realm, with all the jewels of the world taken and collected in this one place. There were many beautiful palaces, and this warrior had to search through them to find the missing princes. Thus through his travels we learn all about the opulence inside of Lanka, which was ruled by the King Ravana.

But within all of this bountiful material opulence the chaste wife of Lord Rama could not be found. The seeker, Hanuman, then noticed a grove of Ashoka trees. This was situated next to the head palace, and Hanuman hadn’t searched through it yet. When he finally entered the grove, he noticed so much natural beauty. There were wonderful creepers and mango trees. Birds were sleeping peacefully, and nothing about the area was negative. It had natural beauty, nothing to be tampered with. It was peaceful and quiet, and gave hints of the mode of goodness. This stood in stark contrast to the long nights of partying, drinking, and eating animal flesh that Hanuman had just seen in the city. That kind of life wouldn’t go well with this beautiful park.

HanumanSince he was in the form of a forest-dweller known as a Vanara, Hanuman was sort of monkey-like. Therefore he could jump from tree to tree without a problem. However, due to his strength and force, he caused birds to wake up when he jumped. They then flew away, clipping the branches of the trees with their wings. This caused so many flowers to fall from these branches onto Hanuman. He looked like a mountain covered with flowers. Just from this we know how conducive to life the Ashoka grove was. Wherever there are nice flowers there has to be a good climate, conditions where fruits can grow and trees can thrive.

In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, we see that all the creatures in that park looked at Hanuman and thought that he was Spring personified. He was covered in flowers after all, so perhaps he was there to bring life to the area. The conditions of spring are pretty much universally appreciated, with the notable exception being the allergic reactions they bring to many. Nevertheless, from a visual perspective, there is no beating the vision of the blossoming trees and the rejuvenated plant life of spring. Thus in the Vedas especially spring is often described in wonderful ways.

Previously in the Ramayana, Lord Rama described the features of spring and how it reminded Him of His wife Sita. The husband and wife pair used to enjoy the spring very much, for that was when they had the most fun together. This is quite natural, as with beautiful scenery the activities undertaken are enjoyed that much more. And now here was Hanuman in the Ashoka grove appearing like he was spring itself coming to add beauty to the area, to bring auspicious conditions where all the creatures could be happy.

Indeed, Hanuman was there to bring life, but to one person in particular. Sita only held on to her life in the hopes of again one day seeing Rama. She always chanted His name and remembered His divine attributes, of which there are too many to count. She was kept in this area because Ravana did not want anyone to find her. She wouldn’t fit in with the city life, for she was spotless in character. The grove of Ashoka trees was the only place Sita could stay in Lanka while waiting for Rama. Her hopes starting to wilt, the Spring that was Hanuman would come to give her life, to inform her that Rama was indeed intent upon finding and rescuing her.

Hanuman meeting SitaEverything would eventually end well, as Shri Rama is the Supreme Lord and Hanuman His dearest servant. The origin of spirit and matter can will anything to happen, but then doing so would take away the opportunity for service from eager and enthusiastic spirits like Hanuman. For the devotee, it is always like spring in the heart, for there is a constant hankering to serve the Supreme Lord without motivation and without interruption. Such a burning desire equates to the highest bliss, as the living beings have an existence for a reason. The vital force within the body has tremendous potential for action, and through the hand of the divine coordinator, an infinite amount of work is there to be done, allowing for that vibrant spirit to remain in the mood of spring perpetually.

Just as Hanuman was spring for the creatures in Ashoka, he is the life-giver to the soul wandering aimlessly through the cycle of birth and death. Know that there is certainly a purpose to life. There is a reason for living, though with mental speculation alone we will never stumble upon the correct reason. The gatekeepers to the spiritual kingdom keep this valuable information with them, and if they see sincerity in an inquisitive soul, they will pass on that treasure. Sita automatically earned the favor of Hanuman based on her love for Rama. She was the Lord’s wife, but more importantly she was His number one supporter. That instantly made her important to Hanuman.

In a similar manner, those who regularly chant the holy names that incorporate both Sita and her husband, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, are sure to get the attention of the swiftly travelling spring season known as Hanuman. He is quite benevolent in his distribution of the sweet nectar of bhakti, or devotion, which is a gift worth savoring. Just as the newly blossomed flowers of the spring season are a pleasant sight for the eyes, the sincerity and determination of Rama’s dearest servant are a wonderful and enchanting spectacle for the mind’s eye, a vision to forever cherish.

In Closing:

Pain from cold warmer temperatures to soothe,

Signals that winter season away has moved.


Spring the blossoming of flowers to bring,

A pleasant atmosphere too where birds can sing.


Sita, for her fate and husband’s fortunes feared,

But to get new life when Hanuman appeared.


In Ashoka grove for a moment on branch stopped,

Departing birds hit trees, flowers on him dropped.


To the creatures Hanuman looked like spring, and they were right.

Sweet vision of Rama’s servant always a pleasing sight.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Best Use of Time

Radha and Krishna on a swing“A living being, especially the human being, is seeking happiness because happiness is the natural situation of the living entity. But he is vainly seeking happiness in the material atmosphere. A living being is constitutionally a spiritual spark of the complete whole, and his happiness can be perfectly perceived in spiritual activities.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.3.17 Purport)

There are many ways to define a saint, but if we look at the core of the individual, what it is that makes them tick, it’s uncovered that someone who knows how to best extract that quality and direct it towards the proper area can be considered the most saintly. The saint under this definition is the kindest welfare worker, and despite the negative reception they may receive on occasion, they stand tall and have a positive, lasting influence.

How do we determine what makes someone tick? What is that single property that gives a meaning to our existence? As a famous philosopher once said, “I think therefore I am”, the ability to do something on your own indicates that you have an existence. A sleeping man isn’t capable of solving complex equations, preparing an elaborate dish, writing a computer program, delivering a groundbreaking speech, taking care of dependents, or serving the right person. Granted, sleep is still an activity, a necessary one at that, but it is not until one is awake, full of ability to consciously direct thought and perform intelligent action, that they can really make a difference.

So, the ability to act defines our existence, but breaking things down further, the difference between a dead body and a living one is the presence of the spirit soul. The soul is the essence of identity, and its features are kindly described in the Vedic scriptures, whose most brilliant and concise work is the Bhagavad-gita, spoken by the delight of Maharaja Nanda and mother Yashoda, Lord Krishna. That is just one way to describe the blue-complexioned chariot driver of the Pandava warrior Arjuna, but since He is the oldest person and also the wisest, He has countless names, which each address a different feature. As He is the origin of life and matter, He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Naturally, His instructions would then prove to be the most valid and worthwhile.

“This individual soul is unbreakable and insoluble, and can be neither burned nor dried. He is everlasting, all-pervading, unchangeable, immovable and eternally the same.”  (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.24)

Krishna speaking to ArjunaFor argument’s sake, let’s say that we aren’t familiar with the teachings of the world’s original preceptor. Let’s say that we don’t even know about the soul and its ability to transcend birth and death. In ignorance of the laws of the spiritual science, we still know that the awake human being has the potential to act. Therefore the primary question is on how to use that ability, and not necessarily on studying from where the ability came or where it will go in the future. Granted, familiarity with the properties of that spirit is helpful in directing activity, but we can tell right now from the results we see that so many activities do not make the best use of the individual’s ability.

For instance, it is seen that in the absence of knowledge of spirit, time is spent doing things like playing sports, gambling, and drinking to get heavily intoxicated. In remote areas, there is even cow-tipping and other strange games invented to pass the time. We also know that young children are given an education. The adults provide this instruction, and yet they are the ones using their free time for these other pursuits. Therefore we can conclude that the instruction is guiding the pupil towards a destination where the same activities of the adult will take place.

The emergence of extreme sports and odd games played out in rural areas shows that the human being craves activity. He has the ability to act, but without knowing where to direct that ability, he will look for new ways to pass his time. At the end of the day, there is no difference between the person who plays sports and the person who doesn’t. Both are trying to fill the void created by endless amounts of free time. Whether one spends that time in quiet or in noise is of no difference, as the mind is occupied in both situations.

Prabhupada teachingThe saint arrives to guide man’s energy along the proper channels. Man is capable enough to do crazy tricks in extreme sports and creative enough to find new ways to spend time, but these efforts don’t extract the true potency of spirit: the ability to love. That love can continue uninhibited and uninterrupted, but only when the target is pure. Not surprisingly, that ideal object of service is God, who can be understood with greater clarity through the Vedic texts, which are the oldest scriptural tradition in the world.

The mere mention of “religion” will introduce fears pertaining to law codes and harsh condemnation of specific kinds of behavior. Actually, only in ignorance are these fears present, for a bona fide system of spirituality intends to focus on a notable destination, which when reached doesn’t signal the end to activity. Typically there is interruption with our projects because at the time of completion the work stops. That is the whole point after all. The desire to reach completion also represents the motivation, which then must vanish at the attainment of the end goal.

Spirituality followed under authorized guidelines takes the worker to a place where motivation never runs dry, which in turn creates a condition devoid of interruption. Sure there are temporary respites from work, but in this higher plane of consciousness, service continues even during rest. There is action in inaction and inaction in action for the devoted soul.

“One who sees inaction in action, and action in inaction, is intelligent among men, and he is in the transcendental position, although engaged in all sorts of activities.”  (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.18)

The saint can teach the divine principles to others because he follows them himself. He knows that man has amazing abilities, the potential to love to the highest. The wonderful innovations created in recent times could not have come about without great intelligence and capability for work. When those capabilities are applied to a system of spiritual practice that aims to please the Supreme Lord, the result is ananda, or bliss, that is in such high supply that there is plenty to go around.

Lord Chaitanya worshiping Radha and KrishnaThe saint takes the ingenuity that goes into inventing a new sport like truck racing and directs it towards finding new ways to please the Supreme Lord. At the heart of a loving relationship is association, and since Krishna is full and complete in His name, chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, is as good as being in the Lord’s presence. Of course we can’t understand this fact in the beginning, but since the saint follows the prescribed regulation of chanting this wonderful mantra for sixteen rounds a day on a set of japa beads, others can see a valid and functioning prototype to copy.

But imitation alone isn’t fun. Instead, there is the competitive spirit which tries to add on to what others are doing, maybe even surpassing them. Rather than be threatened, the saint is warmed to the heart when this attitude is directed at them in the realm of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. The same sportive tendency used to race against other cars can be applied to chanting the holy names more and more, to writing about the glories of the darling of Vrajabhumi, to preparing the most sumptuous food dishes to be offered to Krishna and then distributed to others.

The competitive attitude is sometimes even used to try to please the saint, who acts as the kindest teacher. He expects a lot from others because he knows that others are capable of amazing things if they apply themselves. If prizes are won throughout a process, then incentive is always present. There is no greater reward than Shyamasundara’s association, which comes through His holy name, so the more one follows bhakti the more they are inclined to cling to the process, which is initially supervised by the guiding hand of the saint.

An individual is considered saintly when they extend the fraternal attitude beyond themselves. In fact, the further out that vision of kindness spreads, the more their sainthood increases. The Vaishnava extends the vision of equality to all creatures, large and small. The human beings should have compassion for one another because they are all in the same boat, and they are also the elder brothers of the lower species like the animals, birds and aquatics.

Prabhupada chantingYet the Vaishnava, the devotee of Krishna, doesn’t stop with the gentleness extended to all creatures. Real compassion is showing others how to properly direct their energy. Therefore the Vaishnava kindly speaks of the glories of God in public forums, personal conversations, written words, and beautifully sung songs. This way they show others the proper destination, which is a newer consciousness more than a different physical location. The person connected to the divine consciousness can find a pleasurable situation wherever they go.

The end of life will come eventually, and when it does every person must ask themselves whether they spent their valuable time wisely. Time can be passed through any endeavor, but only when consciousness develops properly is the time well spent. By following bhakti-yoga, by devoting your life to God in any way possible, large or small, consciousness makes lasting progress for the better, and from that right way of thinking the vibrant force that is the spirit soul can get the most out of its energy.

In Closing:

What to do today, on my hands I have so much time?

What activity will keep active and also pacify my mind?


Should I gamble or play video games for fun?

Or on the fields chasing animals should I run?


If adults who play as such others do teach,

Guaranteed that same position pupils will reach.


Know that the individual within is a vital force,

Through intelligence place action on proper course.


For that, from the most saintly characters learn,

So that with work residence in spiritual abode to earn.


Saint does more than just affection to all extend,

Shows others proper way, to state of bliss man to send.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Endless Happiness

Rama and Lakshmana“Like an ocean of purity are the mother and father of these children, who are like a heavenly desire tree, who have a spotless beauty that gives the eyes so much happiness that is without end.” (Janaki Mangala, 43)

punya payodhi mātu pitu e sisu suratarū |
rūpa sudhā sukha deta nayana amarani barū ||

The vision of Shri Ramachandra and His younger brother Lakshmana is so sweet that there is really no way to properly describe it. It is one thing to look at something beautiful and be awestruck, but it is another to try to put what you are feeling into words. Goswami Tulsidas, in singing of the famous initial meeting of Lord Rama and His beloved consort Sita Devi, touches on some of the emotions felt by the different parties, describing what they felt when they first laid their eyes upon Rama and His brother. Indeed, the eyes exist for this very purpose. The eyes can move very quickly, and depending on what is in front of them, they may inadvertently glance upon something that is unpleasant. But the act of seeing should not be shunned, for under the right circumstances the reason for existence can be revealed through a quick glance.

How does this work exactly? So one day we’ll be lucky enough to see something that is out of this world, something which will force us to ask the right questions? If you look into the sky on a clear night, you’ll notice the many stars in the solar system. You can’t see everything that’s out there, but the infinite beyond reveals a portion of itself to the person viewing it from thousands of miles away. In a second you can go from feeling important to knowing how insignificant you really are. The universe is so vast and complex, and this fact is reinforced just by looking into the night sky.

Lord RamaIf you are fortunate enough to gaze upon the spiritual form of the Personality of Godhead, a higher realization will come to you, provided you have the proper mood. You’ll wonder how anything could be so beautiful and how you lived so long without having seen it. With King Janaka, the astonishment went further. He immediately thought of the parents of the vision in question. Where did they live and what did they do to get such beautiful sons? Surely they must be full of virtue, like an ocean of purity. To be pure in thought, word and deed is very rare, for it requires a long time of practice and dedication in saintly life, administered by bona fide spiritual leaders who are themselves pure.

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

As is so nicely revealed in the Bhagavad-gita, whatever we think of at the time of death is the state that we will attain in the next life. This occurs without fail. There is no flaw to the system; what we think is what we get. Obviously the moment of death is the time of greatest panic in one’s life, so there is little control over the faculties of the brain at that moment. What you will remember is what you thought about most during your time on earth. For the pious individual, a pure consciousness will be the reservoir of thought at the precise moment of exiting the body.

In the next life, the reward for that piety is birth in circumstances that are favorable for spiritual elevation. The quickest pathway towards the ultimate destination of the imperishable spiritual sky is the association of that land’s leader. When that association exists through a bond of love, which involves service flowing in both directions, there is no requirement to even wait for the afterlife. The present circumstances turn into a spiritual land, a place where there is no concern over past, present, or future. There is no worry over change because the association you have is with the changeless. The only concern is over whether or not the love will be offered properly, and because of this sincerity, the object in question ensures that the conditions are always auspicious.

King Dasharatha and familyKing Dasharatha of Ayodhya in his previous life accumulated pious merits by regularly observing the Satyanarayana-vrata. The vow relates specifically to a form of the Supreme Lord that accepts a certain kind of worship offered at regular intervals by householders and those looking to gain pious credits. The vow isn’t directly related to bhakti, which is the pinnacle of religious practice. Nevertheless, pious behavior followed under authorized guidelines never fails to provide spiritual benefit. In his subsequent birth, Dasharatha would taste the fruit of his existence.

That would come through obtaining Shri Rama as a son. Rama is God Himself, who appears on earth in every Treta Yuga, or second time period of creation, as a warrior prince to annihilate the miscreants and protect the pious. No one was a better defender of religious principles than Dasharatha, who followed the example set by the ancestral line he belonged to known as the Ikshvakus. Thus Rama blessed the family further by appearing in it and granting Dasharatha a way to offer love without motivation and without interruption. Dasharatha’s three wives also had gained many spiritual merits from previous lives. Queen Kausalya got Rama as a son. The bond the mother has with her son is unique. The good mother cares for her son so much that she is not concerned with what he asks for or what he wants. Mother knows best, so the son can never stop her from offering love.

Dasharatha had three other sons through his queens. They were all sweethearts in behavior and reservoirs of pleasure. Shri Rama is a direct incarnation of the Supreme Lord Vishnu, and His three younger brothers are partial incarnations of Vishnu. Thus they were really one and the same, though Rama was the leader. Every day the parents got to enjoy the company of their divine children, who were seemingly sent from heaven to delight everyone in Ayodhya.

On the particular day referenced in the quote above, King Janaka was attune to noticing qualities of parents. He was holding a bow-lifting contest to determine who would marry his daughter Sita. In the spiritual world Sita Devi is Rama’s eternal consort. She is the goddess of fortune, Lakshmi, who is also an incarnation of Krishna’s pleasure potency Shrimati Radharani. Janaka, while welcoming the many guests that came to his kingdom to witness the ceremony, paid attention to the attributes of the participants. In the arranged marriage system, the parents are just as important as the children. The wife is marrying into the groom’s family after all, so the support system must be in place for the girl to be protected for the rest of her life.

The more pious the parents are the more likely the children will be to grow up pious. Seeing how beautiful Rama and Lakshmana were, Janaka immediately noted that the children’s parents must be an ocean of purity. The boys are compared to a surataru, or heavenly desire tree. If one is still on the material platform at the time of death, if they have acted piously enough they get to enjoy many years of life on the heavenly planets. In that place, which is still part of the perishable material world, there are trees that can grant any desire immediately.

Lord RamaShri Rama, or God, is often compared to a desire tree because whatever you want from Him you can get. This seems strange because don’t many people not pray to God at all and still get benedictions? Ah, but what is it exactly that they receive? The absence of a desire to approach God is simultaneously a desire as well. While there is not an explicit desire to turn away from God, the implicit is just as good in this scenario. If someone doesn’t want to love God, they are granted every ability to exercise that mistaken choice in an arena where the personal influence of the supreme master is absent. Hence even the spiritually disinclined get benedictions from God.

But the desire tree is best used to receive specific rewards. In the case of Rama, the reward He granted was supreme happiness, which was facilitated through His spotless form, which was as sweet as nectar. Nectar gives happiness to the person who consumes it. If it is in liquid form, it is enjoyed through drinking. With Rama and Lakshmana, the nectar came through their vision, the spiritual forms that stood before whoever was fortunate enough to see them. The eyes which drank that nectar received so much happiness that was amarani, or immortal or unending.

How can one vision give so much? Well, think about this specific occasion. Rama was in the kingdom of Janakpur, with He and His younger brother Lakshmana escorting the exalted sage Vishvamitra through the forests. The son of Gadhi had brought the two sons to Janaka’s kingdom to have Rama try to lift the bow. Janaka had sent invitations out to every kingdom across the world to come to his town to participate in the contest, but Rama was not home at the time. He was the eldest son in the family, so only He could attempt to win Sita’s hand. In the traditional Vedic system, it is considered a sin for a younger brother to get married before an elder one does.

Rama was away from home, but were the parents back home bereft of their beloved children’s company? Were King Dasharatha and Queen Kausalya unable to see Rama when He wasn’t at home? Dasharatha certainly felt the pain of separation when Rama left with Vishvamitra. The sage kindly asked for protection in the forest, and the king was ready to send his most capable fighters, his whole army if he had to. Ah, but Vishvamitra knew what he was doing. He only asked for protection as a pretense to have Rama’s company. The saintly class are selfish in this regard, as they want to spend as much time with God as possible. Thankfully there is plenty of Him to go around, as any person can hold on to the Lord as their best friend by chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Rama and LakshmanaA brahmana’s request should not be denied, especially by a king. Therefore Dasharatha had to agree to allow Rama to go, who in turn took Lakshmana with Him. It should be noted that Lakshmana was as beautiful as Rama, a spitting image of the jewel of the Raghu dynasty except that he had a fair complexion while Rama was dark. Sumitra, Lakshmana’s mother, was not happy to see Lakshmana go either, but she knew that he couldn’t live without Rama. The faithful younger brother would never leave Rama’s side, for he would only eat after Rama had eaten and sleep after Rama had fallen asleep.

While Rama and Lakshmana were with Vishvamitra, their visions remained within the consciousnesses of the parents. In this way we see that God’s personal form grants a nectar to the eyes that never dies. Seeing God is only the beginning, for that sight ideally results in a dedication to service that continues forever. Janaka was amazed at the purity of the children’s parents, but little did he know that he was equally as qualified to see God. He already had Sita as a daughter, so there was no questioning his spiritual merits. Through his contest, the divine couple would be reunited, and that divine vision would remain in Janaka’s mind eternally.

In Closing:

From contest where Shiva’s bow to lift,

Vision of Sita and Rama in Janaka’s mind to sit.


First all the royal families from around the world were called,

To Janaka’s capital city their royal entourages were hauled.


But two boys accompanying Vishvamitra were different,

Sparked full attraction in king who to world was indifferent.


Parents of the boys must be of purity an ocean,

Get to see children and their daily playful motion.


Piety brings God’s company, from Janaka’s thoughts believe,

Endless happiness from desire trees Rama and Lakshmana receive.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Umbrella of Protection

Krishna lifting Govardhana Hill“He is called the well-wisher for the devotees only. He appears to be partial to His devotees, but factually the matter rests on the living being to accept or reject equal treatment by the Lord.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.16.26-30 Purport)

It’s pouring rain outside. There is nothing you can do to avoid the downpour because you have to make the walk to your intended destination. You have just exited a shopping center and your car is parked a long ways away, as this was a particularly busy shopping day. The forecast didn’t call for rain, so you’re a little surprised that so much rain has come by unannounced. If only you had an umbrella at this moment when you really need one.

Oh, but you could have brought one with you. You keep a spare umbrella in the trunk of your car for emergency situations like these. But you didn’t remember to bring it with you as you left the car. Since you were entering a shopping center, you intended to carry at least one bag in your hands, if not more, on your way out. A closed umbrella, though compact, would have added to the burden of items to carry around, and since it was sunny outside when you parked your car, you paid no attention at all to the umbrella.

Ah, but now you desperately need one. To make matters worse, you see other people who have their umbrellas; thus they are safe from the pouring rain. They can make it to their cars without a problem. They will not be soaking wet when they sit behind the wheel to drive home. In this scenario, is the umbrella to blame for your misfortune? Obviously it is an inanimate object, so it can’t make any decisions of its own, but if for argument’s sake we say that the umbrella is capable of hearing your complaints, should it consider them valid?

umbrellaFrom the rational human being’s perspective, it is understood that the fault lies completely with the person who forgets the umbrella. The umbrella gives protection from the rain, but it is still impartial. It doesn’t only protect one type of person. It does not look down to see who is holding it and then decide whether or not to block the scorching rays of the sun or the falling raindrops. In fact, you know that the umbrella gives protection; that’s why you kept one in your car. But in this situation you forgot, and though the umbrellas seem to be partial when they protect others, they are simply fulfilling their role.

This hypothetical situation and the analysis of the umbrella’s function help to explain the Supreme Lord’s position and how He diffuses His energy. These points are worth understanding because only in ignorance does the human being blame the higher authorities for their troubles. “Oh God, why did you let this happen to me? How could you do this to me? I never did anything to deserve this. You favor everyone else except me.”

In reality, when someone accepts the gifts of God already available to everyone else there is only the appearance of favoritism. The highest pleasure comes in the transcendental arena, where the previously conditioned living entity associates with Supreme Spirit and His direct energies. Something that is completely knowledgeable, blissful and eternal can share its transcendental radiance with others, provided they choose to interact in the proper mood.

To understand what the proper mood is, we can use a crude example like a lavish ice cream cake. The cake is meant to satisfy hunger and be enjoyed by the taste buds at the same time. But what if we used the ice cream cake as a tray, something to hold our other food items. We place whatever it is we want to eat on top of the cake, but this is actually not the proper use. The cake is meant to be consumed, and by its constitution it cannot remain in its ideal state for too long without melting. When taken out of the freezer and used as a tray, once the melting cake sinks and thus fails in our desired use as a tray, the blame for our troubles actually lies with us. The cake had its ideal role, and we rejected it.

Lord KrishnaThe Supreme Lord lives inside of us as the Supersoul and outside as the soul of all creatures. He is the existence of all existences, and not a blade of grass can move without His influence. Nevertheless, that influence is difficult to spot if we don’t know the proper use of objects. The hands we’re provided are meant to be used for such things as clapping along to the congregational songs glorifying the Supreme Lord. The eyes serve their ideal purpose when used to look at pictures of God and His beautiful form. The legs allow for travelling to places where the Supreme Lord is glorified, and the taste buds can eat the remnants of food first offered to Him, prasadam.

The tongue can also be used for chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This simultaneously takes care of hearing, for Krishna and His name are non-different. The name Krishna indicates that God is the most-attractive, that His features are perfect in every way. Those features give pleasure to the devotees, and hence He is also known as the reservoir of pleasure.

The results of utilizing the various body parts in an ideal way are peace of mind, the removal of stress, and an invigorated spirit that is ready to take on new tasks in the discipline known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Thus far there has not been any mention of caste, color, ethnicity, age, or country of origin. The holy name can be chanted by any person, and the beautiful deity in the temple is the sight for any person’s sore eyes. Even if the houses of worship unjustifiably deny entry to some, the mental pictures of the Supreme Lord based on descriptions and accounts of His activities found in the sacred texts can be drawn and enjoyed.

“I envy no one, nor am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all. But whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him.”  (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.29)

Krishna speaking to ArjunaIn the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna’s song that touches on the meaning of life, it is said that the Lord does not envy anyone, and neither is He partial to anyone. Nevertheless, He still shows favoritism to the devotees, who are friends to Him. This apparent contradiction is resolved by the fact that the offer for protection and favoritism is open to any person; but there is the requirement that they make the conscious decision to accept it. The Supreme Lord proved to be an umbrella of protection for the distressed Queen Draupadi when she surrendered everything to Shyamasundara and asked for His help as she was being disrobed by wicked-minded family members in an assembly. Prahlada Maharaja was protected by Krishna during trying times because he only thought of the Lord. The residents of Vrindavana were saved from a torrential downpour, which was instigated by the king of heaven, when they went underneath the umbrella Krishna created by lifting the massive Govardhana Hill and holding it over His head.

That same protection is available to anyone who recites the holy names with love, faith and humility. Those who refuse to accept this protection cannot blame Krishna for their troubles. How kind then are the Vaishnava saints who try to spread the holy names to as many people as possible? They know the tremendous protection that God provides through His personal energies, so they selflessly try to share the knowledge on how to utilize nature’s gifts properly to as many people as are willing to listen.

The Vaishnava, the devotee of Krishna, hopes that no one will reject the kind treatment offered by Krishna to all. The distresses relating to temporary conditions arise from ignorance of the true meaning of life, which is to become God conscious by the time death arrives. Through the holy names and the proper implementation of bhakti-yoga learned from a bona fide spiritual master, the divine umbrella resting within opens up to protect you from the many rainy days the material land has to offer. Under that protection the protector’s company is cherished and appreciated daily.

In Closing:

Umbrella meant to block out falling rain,

Shields you from wetness’s pain.


But what if umbrella you should forget,

Pummeled with rain, in your trunk it rests.


Others took theirs, you could have done the same,

But you forgot, so is umbrella to blame?


Know that Supreme Lord to all His glorious light diffused,

Pain only comes when His protection refused.


Chant holy names for transcendental shelter to gain.

And thus make sunny even a day filled with rain.

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Mountain of Flowers

Hanuman with flowers“Covered with flowers, Hanuman, the son of the wind, became brilliant in the middle of the Ashoka grove, looking like a mountain of flowers.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 14.11)

puṣpa avakīrṇaḥ śuśubhe hanumān māruta ātmajaḥ |
aśoka vanikā madhye yathā puṣpamayo giriḥ ||

When a boyfriend or husband has really goofed, the failsafe method for getting out of trouble is buying flowers for the significant other. “Suck up your pride and just ask for forgiveness. Forget if you think that you were right and that she was wrong. It doesn’t matter. Get some flowers and be done with the whole episode”. The more flowers you can give, the more sincere the apology looks, or in some cases, the more severe the transgression was. Of course, with buying more flowers there is an added cost, as the flower shops know that these issues aren’t exclusive to only a few couples. Flowers are needed all the time, as they are beautiful objects appearing naturally. Their smell and appearance combine to bring peace to an otherwise troublesome situation.

flowersIf one or two dozen roses can do the trick, bringing pleasantness to an otherwise tense situation, imagine then what an entire mountain full of flowers can do for a situation. Think of how beautiful that image would look and how you wouldn’t want to take your eyes off of it. This is exactly what Shri Hanuman appeared like in the midst of an Ashoka grove a long, long time back. Though at the time he wasn’t the size of a mountain, compared to the rest of the objects in this lovely park he was quite large. He was in the middle of a search for a missing princess, so it wasn’t his intention to look like a mountain of flowers, but based on the course of events that was the result.

Hanuman decided to enter this Ashoka grove because it was the one area in Lanka he had yet to search. Sita Devi was Lord Rama’s wife, and she went missing while the couple was in the forest of Dandaka. Hanuman lived in the nearby forest of Kishkindha, and through the command of Sugriva, the chief of that kingdom, Hanuman and his group went searching the entire earth for the daughter of King Janaka.

When Hanuman first leapt into the Ashoka grove, birds that had been sleeping were awakened. When they flew away, their wings clipped the branches of the trees, causing the blossoming flowers to fall onto Hanuman. This was a nice way for other living entities to pay homage to a courageous servant engaged in a difficult mission. It was previously learned that Sita was taken to Lanka through backhanded means by the city’s king, Ravana. Getting to that place was no easy task for Hanuman, but even in the initial part of his journey he was covered with flowers.

“Covered with various flowers, shoots and buds, that monkey, resembling a cloud, became beautiful to behold, looking like a mountain with fireflies.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 1.51)

Hanuman flying to LankaThe only viable path to Lanka was through the air, as the ocean surrounded the island. To enter the aerial path, Hanuman had to jump off of a mountain. As he was in a huge physical stature at the time, his thighs knocked down various trees. The speed of his thrust caused some of the trees to follow him into the air. The flowers on those trees then fell upon him, and Hanuman at that time looked like a huge land mass filled with flowers.

The flowers were not given to Hanuman by other living entities due to contrition. We may think that we are responsible for the results to action, but we really aren’t. There are rules in place governing behavior, and through violating those rules we can get punished in a certain way, but never do we control the rules. For instance, if we let go of an object from our hand, it will fall to the ground. We can predict the descent of the object based on our knowledge of gravity. But at the same time, we didn’t create gravity. We have no control over it, so it is really at gravity’s discretion whether or not to attract the object to the ground.

In Hanuman’s case, he was battling the elements as well as the paranoid keepers of Lanka. They were not to see him. If they spotted him, they would be alerted to the situation, understanding that someone was there on Rama’s behalf to get Sita back. Thus the residents of the heavenly realm - the saints, angels and other higher authorities who control things like the earth, water, fire and wind - could not openly disclose their approval of Hanuman’s brave efforts. They were surely rooting for him, as the sinful Ravana had made their lives difficult.

A referee is not partial in their oversight of a particular competition, but at the same time they have a natural preference for those who follow the rules. This only makes sense after all. If my job is to uphold the law and I see someone who has the same respect for that law, I will likely favor them, at least on a personal level. The judge in the courtroom would not be too fond of someone who keeps breaking the rules with respect to cross examination of witnesses and the like. Constant law-breaking makes the life of the governing authorities more difficult.

Ravana and his clan were quite sinful. In the Vedic tradition it is said that the higher authorities live off of the sacrifices of the saintly class. In a formal sacrifice, clarified butter is poured as an oblation into a fire. This is accompanied by sacred chants addressing the various demigods that are to enjoy the offerings. The celestials then each take their portion and in return give sufficient rain and provide overall auspicious conditions. Ravana and his group thought that they would cut off the demigods at the knees by attacking the peaceful ascetics who performed these sacrifices and thereby eliminate the oblations of clarified butter.

Only a fool would want to act in such a way, as the governing authorities are there for every person’s benefit. Rain is not partial. We may not like it when it rains on a particular day, but to someone else that natural gift of water is extremely helpful. The same applies for the scorching rays of the sun. There is duality built into every material condition, so to say that one thing is universally harmful or beneficial is not valid. The various elements of nature are neutrally disposed. If you abide by bona fide religious principles, you know how to make proper use of these natural gifts so that you can advance in consciousness, which is the real aim of the intelligent human being.

Lord RamaRavana and his group had killed many sages and then eaten their flesh. They thought they got away with those attacks because nothing had happened to them in the immediate aftermath. But Shri Rama reminded them that just as the trees bloom flowers at the proper season, the person who commits sinful acts reaps the ghastly reward for their actions at the proper time. Shri Rama would deliver that deserved reward first to the 14,000 Rakshasas sent to the Dandaka forest by Ravana. The most powerful fighters were defeated by Rama, who acted alone.

Ravana retaliated by taking Sita through a ruse, but again his punishment was to arrive at the appropriate time. Hanuman was in Lanka to give the first indication of that punishment’s arrival, sort of like how the dark clouds approach to warn of the coming rainstorm. The demigods were thus very pleased with Hanuman, and they were hoping for his success. In the process, Shri Hanuman remained beautiful, both inside and out. Internally he kept his thoughts fixed on the goddess of fortune, Sita Devi, whom he had yet to meet. Despite the fact that he had never seen her, he knew that she existed and that she was very beautiful.

HanumanAlong the same lines, just because we think that we haven’t seen God doesn’t mean that He doesn’t exist. The Ramayana gives us concrete evidence of the Supreme Lord’s existence, with comprehensive details about His closest associates provided as well. We get information of how exalted servants like Hanuman looked while conducting a search in an enemy territory. With the Vedas, there is no shortage of details to contemplate upon. The search for historical evidence in these cases is futile, as the recorded works of the Vedic scholars of the past are all we need to reference.

That beautiful Hanuman stood out in the Ashoka grove, covered with flowers because of his devotional purity. Whether he liked it or not, he was going to be honored. At the appropriate time and place, other living entities, using the elements managed by the higher authorities, would arrange for that honor to be bestowed. Based on what he would do next, Hanuman’s glory would only increase. As a bouquet of beautiful flowers can win over the hardest heart, know that the offerings to Hanuman never go in vain. Rama’s dearest servant would succeed in the end, and to this day he still takes pleasure in hearing about Sita and Rama. Whoever worships him is given the ability to follow the same mood of dedicated thought. The birds and the trees combined to offer flowers to the courageous Ramadutta in the Ashoka grove, and so they received tremendous spiritual merits as a result.

In Closing:

Perched in tree in Ashoka grove he stood out,

Hanuman, honor with flowers not to go without.


Vedas give us so many details upon which to contemplate,

Like of Hanuman, from thinking of God never he deviates.


Beauty and aroma of flowers make them symbol for peace,

Given to paramours so that from fighting couples can cease.


Imagine then what offerings to Hanuman can do,

Gives his blessings so that love God you can too.


Looked like mountain of flowers while on that branch,

To honor Ramadutta birds and trees not to miss the chance.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Symbol of Sacrifice

Shrila Prabhupada“For the devotees there is no need for performance of prescribed sacrifices because the very life of the devotee is a symbol of sacrifice.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.16.20 Purport)

In whatever system of spirituality you follow, there is some sort of prescribed sacrifice. Perhaps you have to attend a religious gathering once a week, abstain from specific behavior prior to the covenant of marriage, or hold some type of ritual on a regular basis. These are all done for purification purposes, which raises an interesting issue relating to the rest of the time spent on earth. There are accumulated negative reactions resulting from all types of behavior, so many that those behaviors which wash away the negative reactions get specially marked. They are known as sacrifices because of the stark difference in reaction. In one particular discipline, however, all work is a sacrifice, thus eliminating the need for the performance of the prescribed sacrifices.

What is the point to the rituals? Why should I have to sit in front of a fire and chant strange sounds? Why should I have to sit in a church and listen to someone go on and on? Why do I need to face a certain direction and pray a specific number of times each day? The aim of all these rituals and regulations is to change consciousness. The human being has the ability to shape its behavior, which in turn influences the mind. If you see something horrible and are negatively affected, the easiest way to fix the problem is to change what you see going forward.

As an example, if you watch television news quite frequently and are exposed to information about murders, rapes, robberies, and lying politicians, how will that not negatively affect your outlook on life? That negativity will then seep into your behavior, causing you to share an unpleasant demeanor with others. A way to solve this problem, of course, is to find specific positive activities throughout the day, i.e. counteract the effect of the negative with the positive.

fire sacrificeThe prescribed sacrifices can be thought of in this light. The pursuit for material perfection causes the accrual of so many sins, something which can go unnoticed. Lying is part of the business world, a way to gain a competitive advantage. Some lies are bigger than others, but at the end of the day you have to compete with your fellow man in the modern day industrial economy. Though lying comes with the territory of business, it goes against the general principles of piety, and because of this there are negative consequences that result. If you lie to someone else, you will have the same thing done to you in the future.

This only scratches the surface, as infidelity in relationships, excessive cheating in gambling and sports, killing innocent lives to satisfy the taste buds, and inebriation to cheat the senses result in so many other negative consequences. To counteract their cumulative effect, the shastras, or religious scriptures, recommend sacrifices, which also help to provide insulation from future negative reactions. You can take a specific medicine to avoid feeling discomfort prior to eating something that will likely bring you pain. In a similar manner, you can follow prescribed regulations to help pave the way towards future prosperity.

But the underlying aim is to change consciousness, to shift your thoughts towards purity. He who is full of knowledge, bliss and eternality will spread some of His qualities with His adherents. To become an adherent to such a personality is a difficult thing, as the glue that holds the fragile material existence together is the desire to become the wisest, strongest, wealthiest, most famous, most beautiful and most renounced. You will see people trying to excel in every one of these areas, but none of them can become perfect. Only Bhagavan possesses these opulences in full and at the same time. He never exhausts of these attributes either, so His position as the Supreme Personality of Godhead never changes.

Lord Krishna - BhagavanIf He already holds this title, what is the point in competing with Him or trying to imitate Him? Instead, service to Him will prove to be beneficial in all circumstances. The purpose of sitting in front of a fire sacrifice is to change consciousness to the point that you’ll eventually realize Bhagavan’s position and take up service to Him. The process occurs gradually, even progressing through many successive lifetimes. Perhaps while you’re observing a specific ceremony you’ll remember that higher powers, and not man alone, are responsible for the results of action. Then perhaps you’ll get more curious about who those higher powers are and from where they get their strength. With a mind more clearly focused on spiritual matters, you’ll have a better chance of avoiding sin and following the righteous path, which leads to the highest knowledge.

Those on the summit of spiritual practice take up direct service to Bhagavan, which is the more applicable name for the entity most of the world refers to as God. Since that service is so sublime, the requirement for prescribed sacrifices is eliminated. And why shouldn’t it be? The very life of a devotee is a sacrifice. Their only desire is to serve Bhagavan, to make Him happy. Though the Lord is complete in Himself, He still derives extra pleasure from the company of people who love Him. This shouldn’t be a foreign concept, as we too enjoy the company of people who have our interests at heart and who love us unconditionally. You ever wonder how you can love your parents so much, despite the fact that you may be closer with some of your friends? The good parents will love you no matter what, and that kind of love cannot be found anywhere else.

There are many examples, both past and present, to show why devotees don’t need to adhere to prescribed sacrifices. From the past, there was Prahlada Maharaja, who as a five-year old boy surrendered completely to Vishnu, which is another name for Bhagavan. Prahlada was too young to hold formal observances on his own, but while in the womb he heard about the glories of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, and its nine primary implementations [hearing, chanting, remembering, worshiping, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, offering prayers, carrying out the orders of the Lord, becoming friends with Him, surrendering everything to Him]. Among these, hearing and chanting are foremost, as they are the easiest to adopt and the most effective in terms of altering consciousness.

Narasimhadeva and PrahladaPrahlada worshiped Vishnu by chanting and remembering, and in his spare time he would also preach to his young classmates about the meaning of life and how one should focus only on Vishnu-worship and let the rest of the pieces fall into place. Strange it was for this information to be coming from a young child who also was the son of a very powerful king. If anything, Prahlada should have been focused on the keys to administrative success, such as how to use different methods to win over an enemy.

But Prahlada had no concern for this; he only wanted to worship Vishnu. And based on what would happen later, we see that his worship was all that he needed. The holy name is what Prahlada held on to, chanting it as his only prescribed regulation, though there was no formal time allotted for it, nor was there a specific personal benefit the boy was seeking. Instead, just the pleasure of Vishnu, in signaling to Him awareness of His glorious attributes and depending exclusively on Him for protection, is what Prahlada sought through chanting. That dedication saved him from the many attacks of his father, who as an atheist didn’t want the boy to live any longer. The father couldn’t stand the devotion in his son, but Vishnu saved the boy during each attack, showing that specific sacrifice wasn’t required for a surrendered soul like Prahlada.

In more recent times, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada showed how a life can be sacrificed for the Supreme Lord. At an old age, Shrila Prabhupada left the comfortable and auspicious surroundings of Vrindavana for the fast-paced city-life of New York. His mission was to spread the glories of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, to all of the world, as was desired by his spiritual master and Lord Chaitanya previous to him.

Shrila PrabhupadaAs an ideal sannyasi, Shrila Prabhupada sacrificed body, mind and speech for Bhagavan. Hence there was no need for specific sacrifices to be adhered to, though the swami regularly chanted the maha-mantra and set an ideal example for his disciples to follow. His road to success was by no means easy, but the dedication to bhakti and the order of his spiritual master ensured that his life was both sinless and fruitful in terms of the purification of consciousness. That radiant devotional attitude spread to so many across the world, and it lives on to this day through his recorded lectures and published works.

No one sacrifices more than the surrendered soul, who lives like a sannyasi irrespective of their specific outward dress. The true renunciate finds whatever way they can to think of the Supreme Lord and spread His glories to others, either through specific preaching or setting an ideal example of behavior for others to follow. In this way the devotee is the symbol of sacrifice, and their presence provides the light of escape from the dark tunnel of nescience.

In Closing:

Around a raging fire chanting words you sit,

Or to a house of worship regularly you visit.


These procedures and others scriptures recommend,

So that to state of purity consciousness to send.


But for devotee in mechanical processes no need to indulge,

Through pure devotion, Supreme Master wisdom to divulge.


In physical stature, Prahlada to his father like a thimble,

Yet was unbreakable, of sacrifice he was a symbol.


Prabhupada also, to Krishna and guru his life did devote,

His message to drowning soul a life-rescuing boat.


Rituals okay, but why not worship Krishna direct?

In this way with all your time consciousness perfect.