Saturday, August 4, 2012

Forgetfulness With a Purpose

Yashoda with Krishna“Although mother Yashoda understood the whole philosophy of life, at the next moment she was overwhelmed by affection for her son by the influence of yogamaya. Unless she took care of her son Krishna, she thought, how could He be protected? She could not think otherwise, and thus she forgot all her philosophical speculations.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.8.43 Purport)

Mother Yashoda saw the universal form inside the mouth of her son. Such a vision is sought out by the neophyte transcendentalist, who is desirous of having God appear before them in an instant. The macrocosmic form does exist, though it is impossible to conceptualize, sort of like looking at the world’s largest number in a numeral representation. There are no commas in this number either, so just to properly speak out the value is nearly impossible. In the same way, to see the universal form is not possible with materially conditioned eyes, which require external aid in the form of sunlight just to be able to see the immediate vicinity. Mother Yashoda was granted the benediction of this wonderful vision, but right afterwards the effect of yogamaya returned, and she went back to having maternal affection for her son.

Why the return? If we’re interested in seeing God, why would we want to return to ignorance after the divine vision was granted to us? Yashoda’s reaction to the vision was noteworthy, and so it was recorded in the sacred Shrimad Bhagavatam, a classic Vedic text that uniquely presents the discipline of bhagavata-dharma, or devotional service. Dharma can be likened to religiosity or religion, but in the actual definition the term means an essential characteristic. For the spirit soul, the essence of identity, the underlying characteristics never change. There is bliss and knowledge coupled with eternality.

Dharma gets equated with religion and religiosity because though the underlying features are present eternally, they can sometimes fall into a dormant state. One way to understand this is to look to the example of the rich person who suddenly forgets they are wealthy. If you have millions of dollars in the bank, why should you fret over meeting the monthly bills? Why should you slave over a nine-to-five job when you have enough money to last you many lifetimes? If someone were to act off of this forgetfulness, they would be considered unwise. To bring the knowledge of that wealth back to memory, education is required. Hence the system of education can be thought of as a dharma, a way to bring back the original position.

Of course the bank balance is only temporary, as are many other conditions that we base identity on. The qualities of bliss and knowledge for the spirit soul are permanent, so as soon as remembrance of those qualities is awakened, there is everlasting happiness. Hence real dharma is not sectarian nor is it applicable to only a few. There are high and low births based on the conditions one receives upon first emerging from the womb, but these are like the different starting positions in a race. The person at the pole has the head start, and thus a better chance at winning the race, but the position alone doesn’t guarantee victory. The person all the way in the back still has an opportunity to win.

With dharma, every person can become a winner. A birth in a cultured family or one that is spiritually conscious is like the pole position, while birth in a family of drunkards and sense gratifiers is like starting in the back. Nevertheless, the original dharma is the same, and so the eternal occupation of the soul is known as sanatana-dharma. It has no beginning and no end and it is applicable to every single person. The steps required for realizing one’s constitutional position may be broken down into categories and stages, tailored to account for time and circumstance, but the end-goal is still the same.

When Yashoda saw the vision of the universal form within the mouth of her young child, she immediately felt humbled. Prior to this, she had an attachment to her family members and possessions. She thought that the land she stood on was hers and that the cows on that land belonged to her family. But seeing the entire creation, with its many planets and presiding deities, she could understand that the living beings represent but only a tiny fragment of the giant whole. In the grand scheme they are rather insignificant, and they have very little control over the outcomes to events. In this state of humility, she simply prayed to the Supreme Lord, asking for His favor and kindness. She acquired a sense of detachment, knowing that to worry over trivial issues on a day-to-day basis is not worthwhile, as nothing can be done without the divine master’s sanction.

But then in an instant, that same boy who magically created the sparkling vision within His mouth took the veil of yogamaya and covered his mother’s consciousness with it. Isn’t this a bad thing? Why take her away from her true dharma? She had reached the position of enlightenment just through appreciating a vision. So many are seeking out that vision, as in the initial stage of spiritual realization the tendency is to ask to see God. “Where are You? If You really exist, You’d show Yourself to me.” Unknown to the seeker is that God is all around, and that the very concept of seeing is evidence of His existence. The universal form, which is likened to an impersonal manifestation, is very easily brought to the scene by the Supreme Lord, but seeing God is not the end. Nor is the Supreme Lord some cheap sideshow that appears just to dazzle people for a few brief moments.

Yashoda’s return to motherly affection revealed that she was above the basic appreciation of God through an awe-inspiring vision. The soul is blissful, knowledgeable and eternal, and with those features it takes to service. The soul is happiest when it is serving. This fact cannot be denied, as all throughout society, stretching beyond national and sectarian boundaries, there is the tendency towards service. The mother serves the child, the wife the husband, the student the teacher, the community leader the constituent, the voluntary soldier the nation, and so on. The wealthiest individuals take to service when they don’t know what to do with their money, as personal enjoyment alone doesn’t bring much happiness.

Yashoda returned to serving her son, and normally this mindset is below reverential worship of God’s cosmic manifestation. But in this instance her son was the very same God, the original form of Him no less. Thus to have affection for Him is the highest kind of service. Yogamaya was brought to the scene because Yashoda would enjoy serving God more in motherly affection than in veneration. This is true of all living entities as well, as the devotional attitude of shanta-rasa, or worship in neutrality, is not as pleasurable as other rasas, or transcendental mellows.

Krishna and YashodaYashoda and her husband Nanda were immersed in vatsalya-rasa, devotional service in the attitude of parental affection. They wanted to protect Krishna, though He was already protecting them and their entire community. They wanted to feed Krishna sumptuous delights, though He never gets hungry. They put valuable ornaments on His body to enhance His beauty, though He is already the most beautiful person in the world. They let Him play with His friends in the Vrindavana forest, though Krishna is self-satisfied. He doesn’t require anyone else’s association to feel pleasure.

Despite His satisfaction in independence, Krishna can still make room for more pleasure. He thus accepts Yashoda’s offerings with great delight. He enjoys so much the company of His closest associates that He will do anything to make them happy. He is the soul of all creatures, the original spiritual storehouse, so He is well acquainted with the dharma of the individual. Yashoda was correct in noting that without the Supreme Lord’s sanction nothing can take place. This holds true in religious pursuits as well. We may sit in meditation, follow strict austerity, perform every recommended ritual, and avoid every behavior tagged as sinful but still not end up successful. This is because the ultimate arbiter is Krishna, who looks for only one thing in the practicing individual: sincerity. When there is sincerity in the desire to be with God, to please Him, and to never leave His company, Krishna takes His energies and lets them work their magic. They worked on Yashoda, and she was never happier.

In Closing:

Follow austerity, meditation and penance bitter,

But for success know that Krishna ultimate arbiter.


When in desire to love Him you are sincere,

His yogamaya potency He will personally steer.


This was seen in mother Yashoda’s case,

Who saw universal manifestation in tiniest space.


From it immediately for God she had appreciation,

But then returned to her motherly affection.


That this love is superior Shri Krishna knows,

Thus to help such devotees He always goes.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Letting Go

Yashoda with Krishna“For the moment, she was rather disappointed, thinking, ‘My endeavors to protect my son by charity and other auspicious activities are useless. The Supreme Lord has given me many things, but unless He takes charge of everything, there is no assurance of protection. I must therefore ultimately seek shelter of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.’” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.8.42 Purport)

So easy it is to forget that we are not in control of very much. So little is within our grasp, through both the mind and the influence we exert on external objects, that it is futile to get too bogged down with the prospect of success or failure. There is the pursuit of success, the hope that whatever effort we put in will bear fruit eventually. Then there is the corresponding fear of failure, the worry that no matter how hard we try, in the end we might not get what we want. In turn, we don’t know how we will handle that situation. For a loving mother a long time ago, a wonderful vision for a moment put everything into the right perspective, and as a result she devoted herself more to the origin of matter and spirit.

This sort of humbling is good for everyone. If you mentally lock yourself into a task, you may forget that there are more important things in life, and that no matter how hard you try, later on what you thought was important really wasn’t. Say, for instance, that you’re working on the design of a web page. There are endless configurations available to you. You can place the menu at the top of the page or you can place it on one of the sides, using a vertical alignment. Then you could also go without a menu at all. There are the images to worry about, what kind of artwork you will have. The artwork then drives the color scheme and what fonts are used. Change one of these variables and everything else has to be altered to match.

Every time you change one little thing, you might look to see how the object of focus has been fixed, but then the larger picture of the site needs to be reviewed also. Each change has an impact on the complete whole in addition to the localized area. Should you dedicate enough time and effort to this project you can easily go crazy. “I don’t know what to do anymore. I wish I didn’t have to do this. Why am I losing my mind?” What’s interesting is that you can work on this for so long, come up with a finished product, and later on look at it and hate it. Meanwhile, a design you came up with at the beginning may have been the better choice. If you had less options and less time, you could have avoided driving yourself crazy with doubt. The burden on the mind could have been reduced.

For mother Yashoda, her primary responsibility was the protection of her beloved child Krishna. Think of the love offered by the mother to her firstborn. She goes through the pain of labor, so she knows the difficulty involved with bringing a new person into this world. At the same time, that effort makes her more attached to the child, as its wellbeing consumes her thoughts throughout the day. With Krishna, Yashoda was blessed with an enchantingly beautiful young boy, who captivated the hearts and minds of all the residents of the small farm community of Vrindavana.

Krishna’s activities didn’t lessen the anxiety of the caring mother. For some reason, He kept finding danger, extraordinary danger at that. His travels to prohibited areas was only one part of the problem; there were also vile creatures coming to Vrindavana to try to kill Him. One witch assumed the false guise of a beautiful woman and tried to poison Krishna by feeding Him from her breast. Another fiend created a whirlwind and took young Krishna up into the sky. Then another time the cart that Krishna was in fell to the ground. Yet the boy somehow survived these calamities, while the fiends did not. There was something special about this boy, just as the family priest Gargamuni had noted soon after the child was born.

Besides the safety of her child, Yashoda worried whether or not He was satisfied with her offerings of love. Yashoda heard complaints from the neighbors that her child was going into their homes and stealing their butter. What was wrong with the butter at home? Was Krishna starving that He had to resort to stealing? Mother Yashoda then took special care to churn butter from the milk of her husband Nanda’s best cows. Nanda Maharaja, the king of this small town, had many cows in his possession, as the community survived on cow protection and farming.

Krishna and YashodaYashoda’s concerns increased one day when Krishna’s friends approached her to complain that He had eaten dirt. Krishna’s elder brother Balarama was among the boys leveling the accusation, so the sweet mother had to take the incident seriously. Dirt can be used for many things, but food is not one of them. If Krishna had eaten dirt, He had to be informed to not do it again. Of course the naughty child denied the accusation, inviting His mother to look into His mouth if she didn’t believe Him.

Yashoda peeked into the child’s tiny mouth, and what she saw was a vision of the entire creation. All of the planets, stars, bodies of water, exalted living beings - pretty much anything you can think of was in that vision of the universal form. Just as looking into the night sky can remind us of how insignificant we really are, that manifestation of the entire cosmos humbled Yashoda immediately. She thought of God and how He is ultimately responsible for everything. She was worrying over her child, the cows, and her husband, but these all came to her through the influence of the highest authority, the Supreme Lord. She had no say in the events that led to those attachments, so why should she be overburdened by responsibilities pertaining to them? Why should she be falsely proud of her possessions when she or any other living entity doesn’t own anything?

Rather than just throw caution to the wind and follow the dictates of the senses, Yashoda went in the right direction and simply surrendered to God. He is the universal form. Indeed, that is just one way to conceptualize Him, though He is much more than the total aggregate of matter and spirit. He is the divine coordinator, and the subordinate living entities are meant to derive pleasure through His company. If there is any cause for anxiety in this world it is the separation from God in terms of consciousness. Yashoda didn’t need this lesson because her son was God Himself, the original Personality of Godhead descended to earth to delight the residents of Vrajabhumi. Yet her realization is nonetheless spot on, and her subsequent attitude showed the proper humility and grace.

Yashoda correctly noted that no matter what measures of protection we employ, if the divine master doesn’t give sanction, nothing can take place. It is said that if Krishna wants someone to die, nothing can be done to protect them, and if Krishna wants someone to live, nothing can be done to kill them. King Kamsa was destined to die due to Krishna’s will. The evil king tried to escape death by killing the first seven children of his sister Devaki, but Krishna arrived anyway to end his life. In the case of Prahlada Maharaja, the powerful father Hiranyakashipu attempted in so many ways to end the five-year old boy’s life, but since Krishna was there to protect him, nothing could kill Prahlada.

This begs the question of how to influence Krishna’s decision to either protect or kill. Not surprisingly, the answer is love. In the case of Kamsa, it was love for Devaki and her husband Vasudeva that made Krishna decide to rid the world of him. It was love for Prahlada that caught Krishna’s attention and resulted in unflinching protection. No one can love Krishna more than Yashoda, so her attempts to protect her son would always be successful. The countless many other living entities in this world may not be so fortunate to have Krishna as an adorable son, but the attitude can be adopted all the same. Know that if the desire is to connect with the Lord through chanting His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the delight of mother Yashoda will guarantee that the connection takes place, both in the present life and future ones. Correspondingly, any outside attempt made to thwart that dedicated devotional practice will ultimately fail due to the will of the supreme protector.

The humbling from the vision of the universal form helped to show Yashoda’s real attitude and her high level of intelligence with respect to how the universe works. Only a fool would think that they can control everything. Man cannot even get a grasp on the weather, what to speak of the influence of other living entities who operate off of intelligence and desires that sprout anew at every second. Know that Krishna is in control one way or another, and through the proper mood of surrender, the fever of material existence that has trapped us can be cured, paving the way towards dedication in the constitutional engagement of devotional service.

In Closing:

“Daily responsibilities been taxing my mind,

Relief from fear and worry I cannot find.


But now just from one vision seeing,

I understand the role of highest being.


Of the outcomes to action He is in charge,

I should as loving mother my duties discharge.


He will certainly take care of the rest,

As at protecting devotees He is the best.”


From vision created by Krishna she let go,

Trust in God made her love for son only grow.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Not The Easy Way Out

Krishna with mother Yashoda“When the immediate cause cannot be ascertained, let us simply offer our obeisances at the lotus feet of the Lord. Mother Yashoda concluded that the wonderful things she saw within the mouth of her child were due to Him, although she could not clearly ascertain the cause.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.8.41 Purport)

“Oh sure, you encounter a stumbling block and you reach for your trusted excuse of the divine influence. ‘God must be responsible, for I can’t explain how such things are occurring.’ But this is how man thought long before it was learned what the sun was, what the patterns of weather were, and what influence the material elements had on the creatures living on the earth. In addition, the thunder and lightning were previously thought to be the wrath of God, the sign of doomsday destruction coming from above. But we now know that thunder and lightning can be predicted using satellite imagery. Also, there are chemical components to these aspects of nature, showing that the ‘God’ excuse can’t answer everything.”

This line of reasoning seems plausible enough. The assumption is that the concepts of a God and all of His accompanying features were only created through ignorance.

“People living in the sticks weren’t educated enough to go beyond what they saw in front of them; thus they concluded that a higher authority was in charge. How else to explain birth and death and the wondrous nature around us? If only they were educated they could have learned about material science and how man keeps discovering new things that take away God’s influence.”

But what has science really uncovered? In a remote village somewhere in the world a person believes that the sun is controlled by a presiding deity, an entity with a larger scope of power than the individual. Material science, on the other hand, has gotten closer to the sun by taking pictures from outer space. We can guess the sun’s temperature and the influence it has on others. But how about beyond that? Where did the sun come from? How does it continue to operate on its own, without requiring an external source of fuel? Moreover, how does it stay in place, without dropping to the infinite bottom? When will the sun burn out, and is that even possible? How come we can’t create our own miniature version of the sun? We have lights and heating appliances, but they require external sources of energy, which if you ascend the chain of causation high enough, you’ll see that the dependency is on the sun anyway.

With the mother of a charming boy a long time ago, there was a vision granted that couldn’t be explained. Indeed, that vision was of everything. Picture all the stuff in the universe crammed into one image. Such a vision had both the detailed and the abstract. There were higher living entities seen as well as the cosmic space itself. And of all places, the mother saw this image in her young son’s mouth. He had been accused of eating dirt by His friends, and to prove that He wasn’t lying, He asked the mother, Yashoda, to check His mouth.

Of course, this was the darling of the town’s plan all along. Why speculate on what’s out there when you can see it for yourself? By seeing this vision, the mother wouldn’t think that chemicals and elements were responsible for everything. She saw something that no modern machine can mimic, and so she had the most valuable scientific data. In the realm of material science, the more new information that is uncovered, the more the influence of God is removed. That is the hope anyway, but in reality such discoveries only further solidify the Supreme Lord’s position as the most amazing person having the most creative mind. His creative abilities are staggering to the point that man has yet to scratch the surface of the complexities and intricacies of this creation.

"Day after day countless living entities in this world go to the kingdom of death. Still, those who remain aspire for a permanent situation here. What could be more amazing than this?" (Maharaja Yudhishthira speaking to Yamaraja, Mahabharata, Vana-parva, 313.116)

Likely God’s most amazing influence is the effect He has on man relating to death. Man has seen every past generation die eventually. Everyone who lived in the past had to suffer death. Sometimes we see this happen with our own eyes, and not just to the elderly. A young child can be killed within the womb, not making it to the eyes of the world. And yet with the preponderance of available visual evidence, man still somehow thinks that he won’t die. He may acknowledge impending death, but he acts in such a way that you wouldn’t know that he was aware of his mortality.

Krishna with mother YashodaMother Yashoda saw this wonderful vision in her son’s mouth and then didn’t try to explain it with mental speculation. She just surrendered to God more fully, acknowledging His brilliance. Who can be greater than the person who can create the most complex image in the world? Who can explain the regular patterns to the collision of elements that appear to be moving randomly? The living beings are autonomous in their decision-making, so they can choose to behave however they wish. And yet higher forces of nature like the sun, which would be assumed to have the same autonomy, operate in patterns that can be predicted. Even the human being’s behavior can sometimes be guessed, for there are patterns to the journey through life.

The easy way out of the maze of doubt is to continue to deny God’s existence and rely on blunt sense perception to explain everything. This path is flawed because based only on the authority of others we know of so many experiences. We have not consciously experienced death yet, but we know that it will happen. We have not seen the universal manifestation, but we know that it exists in both theory and reality. The sum collection of all the elements of all the worlds does exist, though we have no way of seeing it. In a similar manner, the Supreme Lord is a factual person, whose influence is felt through every aspect of life. Though we don’t have the ability to fully understand Him, when there is a sincere desire to connect with Him in a mood of surrender, just enough information is revealed.

This was the case with Yashoda, who got to love God through her son. Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and that vision shown to Yashoda belongs exclusively to Him, as He is the original proprietor of everything. The route of explaining everything in life through its relation to Krishna is more difficult because it requires a check to the ego, which makes the individual falsely think that they are the sole enjoyer in this world. But when the burden of responsibility for the workings of nature is shifted to Krishna, the mind can live in peace, and who wouldn’t want peace? Everyone is searching after the absence of distress, but with each new discovery aimed at eliminating God’s influence from society, man gets further and further away from the cherished condition. Learn from Vraja’s queen that there is happiness in life and it can be found in full surrender to the divine.

In Closing:

The sun, moon, weather, loss and gain,

How all of these things I can explain?


Times past lacked scientific knowledge definitive,

Thus automatic turn to God tool of the primitive.


Scientific research new profound truths to uncover,

Eliminate heralded God with each thing discovered.


Oh but you still can’t explain something like the sun,

We have artificial light and heat, but still like it there is none.


Yashoda tried not to explain the cosmos infinite,

Of God’s supremacy over all she was definite.


Follow her model and love for her son hold,

From Krishna truth of countless mysteries be told.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Sympathy Getter

Shrila Nityananda Prabhu“Lord Jesus Christ, Thakura Haridasa, Lord Nityananda Prabhu, and many such sages risked their life to propagate the message of Godhead. Self-realized saints and sages take such risks for the spiritual enlightenment of the people in general.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Light of the Bhagavata, 17)

It’s human nature to be a little envious of someone who is doing well. Without a firm dedication to practices that allow one to see things properly, wherein all life forces are known to belong to the singular energy known as Brahman, differences in social status, income, and occupation give rise to feelings of insecurity. On the flip side, there is happiness when something bad should happen to the parties that are envied, for by them getting knocked down a peg or two you don’t feel as far away from them. Despite the fact that this tendency is not rooted in intelligence, it can be used to fulfill a higher purpose, as the humble saints of the world evoke sympathy through their external conditions.

What do we mean by this? The transcendentalist of the highest state in the Vedic tradition is known as a sannyasi. They are in the last of the four stages of life. Maturity is not measured by earning a college education or getting married and having children. It is determined by the state of consciousness, how well it can see things. In the immature state, the external force known as maya has a crippling influence on the psyche. Maya is that which is not, and through its illusion man becomes afraid of things that he shouldn’t. He develops attachment to objects that are not real. For instance, attachment develops to the temporary manifestation of another living entity, and when that entity departs, there is sadness. Yet the form remains in sight, though the individual is considered no longer present. Thus the entire time there was never really a proper identification of the individual; they were not seen for who they were.

To reach the proper intelligence, consciousness should be developed in a systematic way. Man travels through four ashramas, or spiritual stages, in life. At the beginning, he is a student, then he is married, then he retires, and finally he renounces all ties to family and home. This last stage is quite difficult to live in, as there must be full confidence that the Supreme Lord will take care of all necessities, that living without the family will be okay. The tie that holds the four stages together is the end-goal of being God conscious at the time of death. Taken in this light the sannyasa order makes total sense. Just when you are about to die, when you have already lived more years than you will going forward, focus on God constantly, not just for a few hours a day.

Another benefit of sannyasa is the ability to teach Vedic wisdom to others. “You are not your body. Karma manages the outcomes to action. With every action you acquire a merit or demerit that will arrive in the future. With piety, you rise to the heavenly planets, with passion you remain in a neutral state, and with ignorance you fall to a lower condition. Instead of playing with these modes of nature, just be fully God conscious and attain liberation at the time of death. Put an end to reincarnation in this very birth, which is considered auspicious because you are a human being capable of acquiring the highest intelligence.”

These are the primary teachings of the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, and they can be studied for an entire lifetime through regulative practice and consultation of sacred texts like the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam. The practical implementation in the modern age goes through the channels of hearing and chanting. Chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and steer clear of the dangerous behaviors of meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. You get to hear God when you chant the holy names, and by avoiding sinful behavior you keep the consciousness clear.

These teachings are well and good, but if they come to us from someone who is wealthy or very well off in life, the jealousy aspect might get in the way of understanding and believing in the principles. “Sure, it’s easy for them to say to be detached from material nature, but what worries do they have? They’re living it up in their comfortable home with wife and children. That means that I should do the same thing and then take up devotional service, or bhakti-yoga.”

As the aim is to be God conscious, there is no specific condition that is a requirement for meeting the proper end. You can be married, unmarried, living at home, or living in a temple and still be either materially attached or fully aware of the Supreme Lord. The four ashramas exist to help speed up the process, to increase the chances for enlightenment. In every endeavor there are optimal conditions, states that are conducive to reaching the proper end. Spiritual life is no different in this regard, but at the same time devotion to God cannot be checked by any external condition.

Lord Chaitanya and Nityananda PrabhuWhen the preacher is in difficult circumstances their message carries more weight. That’s why some of the most famous saints in history have lived on practically nothing. Lord Chaitanya, an incarnation of God who preached the mission of bhakti-yoga in India some five hundred years ago, was a householder in His earlier years. His knowledge of shastra was impeccable and He could defeat anyone in an argument by showing that devotion to Krishna, or God, was the highest discipline anyone could practice. Nevertheless, He still took to the sannyasa order, as this prevented others from criticizing Him. He shaved off His long, beautiful hair, left His mother and wife at home, and travelled around the country on foot like a homeless man, not staying anywhere for too long. He gave up everything for the cause, and as a result His message was propagated more quickly.

Notable figures who have followed in His line have similarly given up everything to preach Krishna consciousness. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is famous today for having spread the Hare Krishna movement worldwide, but in the beginning he was in a very small apartment in New York City, with barely any students. Some people would visit every now and then and take part in chanting sessions. The swami didn’t have a large bank balance to rely on, nor was he working at a job all day. He simply tried in all sincerity to preach Krishna consciousness, and when others saw his genuineness and how he was truly renounced, they took note of his message and decided to help him.

Of course there is no reason to feel sorry for such saints, but the pity is nevertheless helpful. If you look at someone as being in a distressful condition, when they request something of you, you might agree out of pity alone. “Oh, look at this person. They’re asking me very nicely to chant the holy names. They don’t have much and they seem to be getting along just fine with this chanting, so maybe I will give it a shot.” And this is the true purpose to the renounced order: full surrender to the Divine. This is known as sharanagati, and it is beneficial in all regards.

We think that we can’t fully surrender because so many other obligations won’t be met, that people we’re attached to will suffer, but in reality the sole reliance upon God fulfills all obligations. The devoted soul benefits by staying in contact with the glorious features of Krishna, who as the Supreme Personality of Godhead holds the attributes of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, knowledge and renunciation to the highest degree. In the state of yoga, which is connection to the divine consciousness, the mind stays happy and eager at the same time to continue in service.

That positive outlook is then infectious, as the devoted soul shows that loving God is not just a theory; it is something that can really happen. And that love can spread to others simply through an outward example. Thankfully for us the saints have shown the way by making devotional service their fulltime engagement. They are true heroes because for the good of others they absorb the scrutiny that comes with prominence in spiritual life. Any sympathy we feel for their condition leads to our benefit, quickly turning our ignorance into knowledge.

In Closing:

This holy man is living very poor,

Of basic needs he’s not assured.


But with confidence on God He does rely,

Thinks of Him who lives in spiritual sky.


Tells me that I can feel the same thing,

Can find happiness without giving up everything.


Maybe his message is then for real,

Pleasure in this life I can actually feel.


He seems to practice what he preaches,

So I will chant holy names as he beseeches.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Beloved of the Whole World

Sita Devi“Sita had eyes like lotus petals and beauty like that of Rati, the consort of Cupid. She was beloved of the whole world like the radiance of the full moon.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 15.30)

sītām padma palāśa akṣīm manmathasya ratim yathā |
iṣṭām sarvasya jagataḥ pūrṇa candra prabhām iva ||

Here we get some more descriptions of Shri Rama’s wife as she appeared to Shri Hanuman while he was perched on a tree branch in the Ashoka garden. It is nice to say that someone is beautiful, but then such an adjective is thrown around frequently. Better when there are reference points that can more accurately portray that vision, something to quantify the beauty. And that beauty existed in so many ways, in so many different areas. It is breathtaking to both behold and speak about, and thus the Ramayana’s Sundara-kanda, its book of beauty, is filled with both heroic movements and beautiful living entities, who are beloved of all.

It is said that Sita’s eyes were like lotus petals. This means that her eyes were wonderful to look at, as who doesn’t like lotus petals? The lotus is a beautiful flower and its petals are what constitute its form. When the eyes are shaped in such a way, they remind one of the beautiful flower, and someone looking at those eyes can’t get enough of the visual nectar. Flowers are also a symbol of peace, a way to lessen the tension of a situation. They are also a symbol of life and a way to greet people. They speak to the Supreme Controller’s unimaginable imagination. Only He could think of something so beautiful. Artistic creations of the human mind are but a small indication of the true abilities of the original person. Indeed, all art that is created by man uses aspects of the Supreme Lord’s creation, so it is He who deserves the original credit for anything brilliant.

It is said that Sita looked like Rati, the consort of Kamadeva. There is a cupid in the Vedic tradition too, but he is not a character of mythology. He is the deity in charge of kama, which can mean desire or lust. If you’re struck by the arrow of lust, it will be difficult to resist its influence. The arrow will lead you towards satisfying the specific desire, which may or may not be to your benefit. Kamadeva, with his ability to instill lust in others, is very beautiful, and so he attracts the most beautiful females as well. Rati, his consort, is thus very beautiful, and just as cupid is used as a reference point for beauty in males, so Rati is invoked when describing a beautiful female.

Just as Sita is compared to Rati, her husband Rama is often compared to Kamadeva, except it is said that Rama is more beautiful that millions of cupids combined. As Kamadeva is capable of inciting lusty desires in others through his arrows, it is said that Rama can enchant even cupid. Rama is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and in His original form of Krishna He is often addressed as Madana-mohana, which means one who can bring an enchanting spell over the god of love. Krishna’s eternal consort is Shrimati Radharani, who is the same Sita, and she is often addressed as Madana-mohana-mohini. This means that she enchants the enchanter of cupid, such is her beauty.

It is said that Sita was dear to the whole world, like the radiance of the full moon. This is a wonderful comparison to make, and it also begs a few questions about the situation at hand. Hanuman was in this Ashoka grove to find Sita, who was separated from her husband Rama at the time. Sita, though dear to the whole world, found herself in a lot of trouble. Ravana, the evil king of Lanka, forcibly took her back to his home without having the courage to fight for her hand. Rather than challenge Rama to a fight, Ravana created a ruse where he could take Sita away in secret.

That woman who was dear to the world now remained in the Ashoka grove awaiting an uncertain future. She wasn’t alone either. There was a band of female ogres surrounding her. They were ordered by Ravana to harass her day and night. What did she do to deserve this? Just because she was beautiful she had to suffer so much. She was adored by all the creation, and one person in particular couldn’t stand that. He tried to have her for himself, though that wasn’t possible.

Ravana’s act was akin to trying to capture and keep the light of the full moon all for oneself. The moon gives a soothing light to the entire population that can see it. This benevolence is free of favoritism. Only the miser, or the fool for that matter, would be unhappy with this. Only the lowest among men would try to keep that light for themselves and deprive everyone else of it. A notable lesson can be taken away from Ravana’s move. The moonlight and other aspects of this world meant for everyone’s benefit have a proper utility. Sita was beneficial to the entire world but this didn’t mean that everyone would get to enjoy her as a wife. This was reserved for her husband, Lord Rama, the origin of matter and spirit. Her benevolence for the rest of the world came in the form of her association and her vision. Hanuman saw the beautiful Sita also, but he had no desire to take her from Rama. On the contrary, he risked his life to try to reunite the endearing princess with her husband.

The saintly qualities lead to prosperity and the demonic tendencies to doom. Sita was like the light of the full moon because she is the goddess of fortune, Lakshmi Devi. She distributes good fortune to those who are deserving of it. Of course, there is a corresponding end to the bargain. The recipient must utilize that fortune properly, lest they find themselves in even worse off circumstances, like Ravana. His misuse of Lakshmi sealed his eventual demise. On the other hand, the fortune of seeing Sita that Hanuman received, though she was in a depressed condition, led to eternal glory. And who wouldn’t want that? We feel proud when others praise us for our actions, but imagine being honored and worshiped for millions of years into the future for your bravery, kindness, perseverance, and dedication to the highest cause: devotional service.

HanumanRavana and the rest of the Rakshasas in Lanka had the same opportunity. It’s not like they were shut out from this highest engagement. The light of the full moon was available for their comfort as well, but rather than accept that generosity, they tried to steal the energy for themselves. When that couldn’t happen, they threatened to destroy the moonlike princess. But know that Rama’s dearly beloved can never be destroyed, and rather than do all the work Himself, Rama enlists able-bodied and enthusiastic servants to carry out different aspects of her protection. They feel the pleasure of devotional service in the process, and they achieve a high status in the end.

Know that both the source and the recipient can be dear to the whole world. Sita is like the light of the full moon because she distributes her radiance across all spectra, and similarly her devotees like Hanuman sing her glories and the glories of her husband to whoever is willing to listen. There is no distinction made between caste, country of origin, or level of intelligence. Hanuman was in a monkey form after all, so how can anyone say that bhakti-yoga is reserved for only a certain class of men? Let that radiance emanating from Rama’s beloved illuminate both your inside and out by regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and remembering the courageous Shri Hanuman.

In Closing:

Seeing her repeatedly giving out sighs,

That beautiful woman of lotus-like eyes.


Just like the moon with its soothing light,

Sita beloved to all just from her sight.


In beauty she looked like cupid’s wife,

Devotion to Supreme Lord Rama her life.


Ravana for himself that woman tried to keep,

But Hanuman to reach Lanka after massive leap.


Fortune to all Sita’s light intended to bring,

But miserliness to spell doom for Lanka’s king.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Short on Specifics

Chanting the holy name“For spiritual progress in this age of Kali, there is no alternative, no alternative, no alternative to the holy name, the holy name, the holy name of the Lord.” (Brihan-naradiya Purana)

“Just tell me what to do. I’m in great despair at the moment; I feel like I’m sinking. I’m going down fast and I don’t know how to get up. Give me something that I can hold on to, some sign of an eventual rescue. Not just philosophy mumbo jumbo either; some tangible exercises, something I can use right now.”

Instances like these highlight the need for a guru, or spiritual master. They also reinforce the fact that there cannot be a singular method that is implemented universally. The properties of the creation and its origin support the same conclusion. If someone creates everything, then how can any aspect of it be off-limits for use in finding the highest pleasure? Therefore when you read Vedic texts, there aren’t many specific recommendations; just guiding principles. If there are specific practices mentioned for people in the various walks of life, they are presented so that the respective people can eventually reach the platform of consciousness where the entire creation turns into their canvas, where they can apply gentle strokes to paint a picture that depicts their unbreakable connection to the divine.

“There is no possibility of one's becoming a yogi, O Arjuna, if one eats too much, or eats too little, sleeps too much or does not sleep enough.”  (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.16)

As an example of a guiding principle lacking specifics, in the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna says that a yogi neither eats too much nor eats too little. A yogi also doesn’t oversleep or sleep too little. A yogi is a transcendentalist, distinguished from a non-transcendentalist, who can be likened to a gross materialist. A materialist works solely off of their personal vision, and the immediate one at that. The subtle changes that turn more stark in between larger gaps in time go unnoticed, and instant gratification is the steadily sought after goal. The yogi goes beyond this, seeking higher truths and also a higher taste. They transcend the effects of the material senses, learning to separate spirit from matter.

This is a rather difficult accomplishment when there is so much association with matter already. The association is so commonplace that attachments form. We think that we can’t survive without a certain food or drink, when in reality we most certainly can. To help in achieving their goals, the yogi follows certain regulations, with the primary among them relating to eating and sleeping. If you eat too much, you will get tired and you will also be more prone to sex life, which is a “no no”. Sex exists for a reason; for procreation. Otherwise it just leads to more pain. Sex life devoid of religious principles is also based solely on the illusion that the body is the identifying agent, a mindset the yogi wants to eliminate.

Sleeping too much leads to a greater attachment to the body. Yet both sleep and food are required, so it is not that they should be eliminated altogether. Krishna is another name for God, and as a word it means all-attractive. God gave us food and sleep after all, so they can’t be all bad or all good. The advice for the yogi is likely the same advice we’ve heard from our elders growing up. “Don’t spend too much time playing video games. Don’t eat too much. Don’t worry about the same thing all the time; branch out a little. Keep everything in moderation.”

Notice, however, that Krishna doesn’t say “eat bananas” or “eat blueberries”. He also doesn’t say “sleep eight hours” or “sleep just two hours.” Generally, there is nothing wrong with bananas or blueberries, and sleeping six hours is likely sufficient for most of us, but the specifics are left out because no single practice eliminates one from candidacy for devotional service, which is also known as bhakti-yoga. By the same token, no single behavior automatically makes one a perfect yogi in devotion. Rather, it is the consciousness which determines the connection to the divine. And the principles are set in place to help us shape the proper consciousness.

“Okay, so these principles are nice, but what if I need more specifics? What if I can’t figure out everything on my own?”

This is where the help of the saints is required. They tailor the recommendations to the time and circumstance. Sometimes the immediate purpose isn’t even to bring about full God consciousness in devotion, as the people might be too mired in sinful behavior. For instance, during Lord Buddha’s time, the brahmana community was using the Vedas as an excuse to kill animals and eat their flesh. Thus the pressing need was to stop this animal killing, for as long as the mind is attached to unnecessary violence, there is no question of progressing in consciousness. Lord Buddha’s primary teaching was nonviolence, which is actually just a smaller issue that doesn’t fully address the needs of the soul.

In more recent times, Krishna Himself came to deliver the much needed message with specifics. As Lord Chaitanya, God gave the recommendation that everyone simply chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. “Make this your meditation. The name of God is not different from Him, and so through transcendental chanting one meditates on God, connecting with Him directly.” The validity of the recommendation is supported by the countless devotees who were first introduced to bhakti-yoga through only chanting, not knowing anything of the higher truths presented in the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam, which are the primary bhakti-shastras, or scriptures.

“But what if we don’t chant? Isn’t chanting a specific recommendation that ignores the nuance and variety of the world around us?”

The effect of chanting is hearing, and in hearing there are no specifics. For instance, Krishna and Rama are just different names for God. One can also hear names like Narasimha, Vishnu, Jagannatha, Janardana, Keshava, Achyuta, Madhava, and so many more listed in the Vedic texts. Each of these names has a specific meaning, and even the word “God” is a sort of name, though it is more of an abstract concept in its present use. Krishna and Rama are considered more complete names because they reference distinct personalities, as God has many different expansions. Lord Buddha is also an incarnation of Krishna, and in each personality there is a purpose to fulfill. Krishna is the reservoir of pleasure; He is all-attractive and so worship of Him satisfies the desire for attractiveness in all of us.

Lord KrishnaThough the exalted teachers following in Lord Chaitanya’s line established the baseline of chanting the maha-mantra for sixteen rounds a day on a set of japa beads, there are no hard and fast rules for chanting. This should make sense, because God is everywhere. How can we say that He only lives in the temple or that He is only the property of those born in a specific country? Matter and spirit are of the same quality everywhere. In some places the proportion of the material elements may be different, but the underlying spiritual force is always of the same quality. The dharma of the individual soul is to serve God, and since each individual soul is identical in quality, it is every person’s inherent occupational duty to take up bhakti-yoga. Bhakti finds all the missing pieces in life; it plugs all the holes in philosophy and sentiment. Nationalism, patriotism, communism, capitalism, environmentalism, and all the other “isms” lack the required component of service to the divine. Even in many spiritual circles the aim is missed. God is declared to be impersonal, or worse, it is said that everyone is God. Then service to man becomes the motto, except that no one knows how to properly serve their fellow man. A thief’s service in this case is on par with the welfare worker’s.

“One who is not envious but who is a kind friend to all living entities, who does not think himself a proprietor, who is free from false ego and equal both in happiness and distress, who is always satisfied and engaged in devotional service with determination and whose mind and intelligence are in agreement with Me-he is very dear to Me.”  (Lord Krishna, Bg. 12.13-14)

Practicing bhakti-yoga is the highest service to man because a Krishna conscious soul is a friend to all. This is confirmed in the Bhagavad-gita by the Lord Himself. And who doesn’t like having friends? The best friend is the one who is there for you when times are tough, when you really need help. As the root cause of our struggles is the forgetfulness of God, the Krishna conscious soul turns out to be the best friend, as through the sounds vibrating from their lips, the path to the spiritual kingdom enters minds and changes consciousness for the better.

In Closing:

Specifics in worship please tell me,

Through delusion properly I cannot see.


Principles of philosophy very nice in theory,

But they don’t answer many a present day query.


To stay along proper path I need guidance,

Been scorned too much by mind’s reliance.


Shastras the specifics certainly do lack,

So spiritual master there to lay right track.


In this age always chant so that you can hear,

Let sounds of the holy name remove your fear.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Is This A Dream

Yashoda with Krishna“When mother Yashoda saw this wonderful manifestation within the mouth of her child, she began to argue within herself about whether it was a dream.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.8.40 Purport)

Mother Yashoda saw something unbelievable within the mouth of her son. The entire cosmic manifestation, which represents the largest abstraction that the human mind can conceive, along with nuance and detail to the point of seeing her own self in Vrindavana, appeared within that small boy’s mouth. This was a routine check to see if He had eaten dirt, a way to prevent the child from harming Himself going forward. Yet what resulted was a splendid vision that left the mother baffled. In such a state she began to argue with herself.

Perhaps it was a dream or some illusion created by a mystic ability in her son. The family priest, Gargamuni, had hinted at Yashoda’s son having transcendental qualities when he first saw the child after birth. Typically the priest is called in to predict the child’s future based on the astrological signs at the time of birth. This is a way for the parents to know what kind of nature their child will have, and it gives them added impetus to provide protection. Gargamuni surprised the parents when he informed them that devotion to this child would lead to all felicity and that He possessed all the divine qualities belonging to Lord Vishnu.

“Your child is so powerful that anyone who will become a devotee of your boy will never be troubled by enemies. Just as demigods are always protected by Lord Vishnu, so the devotees of your child will always be protected by Narayana, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This child will grow in power, beauty, opulence — in everything — on the level of Narayana, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Therefore I would advise that you protect Him very carefully so that He may grow without disturbance.”  (Gargamuni, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 8 )

Vishnu is the name of the Supreme Lord in the Vedic tradition. It is one of many names, and it also addresses the Personality of Godhead in His four-armed form. There are actually several different Vishnus which have their own functions they provide, but in general the call to Vishnu is a call to God, but with some of the abstraction removed. If you know what God looks like, what His tendencies are, and what pleases Him, your worship will be more worthwhile. In the absence of such knowledge, you can erroneously create your own character for God, and thus make Him capable of anything. You can even convince yourself that your sinful way of life is sanctioned by God, for you have created His attributes within your mind that is attached to material sense gratification.

Vishnu is not like this, as His features are defined in the Vedic texts. He is all-bliss, all-knowledge, and ever-existing. These properties are passed down to His innumerable sons and daughters known as the individual souls, except the features exist to a lesser degree in them. The individual spirit soul is full of bliss, knowledge and eternality but it also has the ability to become deluded by maya, or the material energy. Hence the aim of the human birth, which is considered the most auspicious due to the increased potential for intelligence acquisition, is to reassume the constitutional position, to shed the illusion borne of attachment to the temporary manifestations and dissolutions of matter.

Vishnu is pleased by only one thing: devotion. All other aspects of religious practice are merely tools to reach the ideal aim of loving devotion to God, where the worship takes place without motivation and without interruption. Every ritual and sacrifice that promises some type of temporary reward, such as good fortune, a happy home, a blissful marriage, etc., is meant to purify consciousness to the point that God is realized at every moment, not just once a week or when in distress.

In the height of devotional consciousness, the desire for association with Vishnu is so strong that He will appear in front of the devotee in a way that increases their bliss even more. As Krishna, Vishnu appeared in His charming, original self. Shyamasundara is blackish in complexion and unbelievably beautiful. This beauty stays with Him throughout the different outward changes He displays. This means that Krishna is just as beautiful as a child as He is as an adult. Yet for the mother, her love flows best when her son is in the childhood form. Indeed, even when the child should grow up into an adult, she keeps the vision of the helpless, innocent child within her mind. This is how she continues to offer her love throughout the child’s life.

Krishna with YashodaIn Vrindavana, mother Yashoda got to worship Vishnu by loving Him as Krishna, who appeared as her son. For motherly love to flow, there must be action to take, service to offer. Krishna is self-sufficient, so He doesn’t require anyone’s help. Yet He creates situations where others can offer service because that is what they desire. In any walk of life, no matter how successful or impoverished a person is, there is plenty of time to offer service. There is plenty of time to engage in such service, even though one may not know it. The sybaritic pursuits are all indicative of this fact. If time were short, there would never be games played, vacation destinations visited, or restaurants patronized.

Serving Krishna represents the best use of time. The young child of Nanda and Yashoda delighted all the residents of Vrindavana with His childish play. One time, Krishna’s friends and brother complained to Yashoda that He had eaten dirt. This was, of course, an excuse to bring Yashoda further closer to God, though she wasn’t far away to begin with. Once you reach your destination in a race, you have nowhere else to go. You can’t advance any further. In devotional life, such stringent rules don’t exist. Despite being directly in the company of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, you can still move forward and increase your devotional ecstasy, as the reservoir of transcendental pleasure within can never be filled.

Krishna claimed that His friends were lying and that He hadn’t eaten dirt. He told the mother to check His mouth if she didn’t believe Him. Krishna was known for stealing butter from the neighbors, so it wasn’t like He always told the truth. “Better to ere on the side of caution”, the mother thought. She opened Krishna’s mouth, and what she saw inside was much more than dirt. Dirt is but earth, a material element found in abundance in the phenomenal world. Inside Krishna’s mouth she saw the sum collection of earth, along with everything else. No one would believe what she saw in that amazing vision; even she was baffled by it.

Actually, that vision already exists, though we don’t have the eyes to see it. Only the Supreme Lord can grant the benediction of that vision, but it still exists anyway. We know that there is a set number of trees around the world, though we can’t put every tree into one specific picture. Along the same lines, think of everything that there is. The pictures of earth from outer space are one way to think of this vision, for everything on the earth is included in that picture. Yet there is still an obscurity in vision, as nuance and detail are lost in a tradeoff for an extended scope of visual output.

In the vision that Yashoda saw, there were both the macro and the micro. She saw the principle deities in charge of the creation, the many gods handling the affairs of the material world. She saw the changing of bodies and the three modes of material nature. She saw all the planets and also herself within Vrindavana. The vision was downright amazing, something she couldn’t believe. No one would have believed her if she told anyone else, so she was a little baffled as to what to do.

In the end, the good mother was humbled by the vision. It made her more appreciative of God. She simply surrendered unto Him, still not knowing that her little boy was that very same Supreme Lord. In the course of our wanderings, it is very easy to think that the world revolves around us, but we in fact know that we are but one small living entity amidst countless other creatures who pursue the same goal of happiness. Within that universal manifestation, mother Yashoda could see how amazing the entire creation was and how powerless the living entities really are. Thus her appreciation for God increased so much more, all due to the coordination of her son.

Yashoda didn’t require that vision since she already loved her son very much, but from that incident we can be reminded of the real purpose of life, how worshiping God is our real business. Our influence is quite limited, no matter how great we may think we are. The higher forces are many, and they operate on us at every second. The Supreme Controller directs these dealings, and so if one is desirous of connecting with Him and feeling the bliss of His association, He can surely make that desire a reality, for the power all belongs to Him.

In Closing:

In that universal form everything to see,

Every planet, living being and tree.


Krishna this amazing vision brought,

That this maybe wasn’t real Yashoda thought.


Pretense was the accusation of eating dirt,

Mother’s attention to make sure He wouldn’t get hurt.


The devotee Krishna closer to Him brings,

So that of His glories they will always sing.


Vision so unique that Yashoda thought it was a dream,

Returned to loving her son, who with beauty beamed.