Saturday, August 18, 2012

Theoretical and Practical

japa mala“Spiritual knowledge must be developed by a combination of theoretical and practical knowledge, and that is the guaranteed way for attainment of spiritual perfection.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.3.22 Purport)

To understand the highest truths of life presented in Vedanta philosophy, there must be both theoretical knowledge and the practical application of the learned principles. To accept the truths is one thing, but to actually realize them means altering your behavior. A doctor is known as such based on their ability to heal patients, not only from their ability to answer trivia questions relating to their field. Surely they must pass examinations to become licensed, but it is in the practical application of medicine that they receive their compensation. They are known as good or bad doctors based on the work they do, not just on the knowledge they have. In the same way, to make the best use of spiritual knowledge, there must be a combination of study and work. The expert spiritual master provides the guidance in both of these areas.

First the theoretical. “You are not your body.” What are you then? “You are spirit soul.” The soul is infinitesimally small. You could take the tip of the human hair and divide it into thousands of parts and you still wouldn’t reduce the size to match the soul’s. Despite its minute stature, the soul is capable of amazing things. For starters, it gives life to an otherwise lifeless body. We know that when a person dies their body that previously moved on its own ceases to function. All of the same parts are still there; it’s just that something is now missing. That something is the soul, which is thus the true source of identity.

This knowledge of the soul is very powerful. From it we learn that there are 8,400,000 different species. A species in this context is the combination of a small spirit soul and a collection of gross matter. As the combinations of matter are seemingly endless, you get so many different species. What makes the human species unique is its ability to ponder over the meaning of life, to learn the difference between matter and spirit.

“It is said that the soul is invisible, inconceivable, immutable, and unchangeable. Knowing this, you should not grieve for the body.”  (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.25)

“The soul is immutable. It is indestructible. You can’t see it, so how are you going to destroy it? You can try to harm the individual’s body, but at worse the soul will travel to another body after death. Never at any time does the identity of the individual cease to be. There is only sadness upon death due to attachment others have formed to the temporary form that was covering the individual’s real identity. The soul will inevitably travel on, and where it goes only the higher authorities managing the law of karma know.”

This information, which is presented in the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, should make life a little easier to manage. Just as the ripened fruit has no other fear than falling, the mature human being has no other fear than death. If you know that the soul is eternal, you can remove your fears over the future, over what will happen after you leave your body. Indeed, death is the most puzzling time for those who are unaware of these highest truths of life. If you know the soul you know a lot.

Okay, so what if we accept this information and then don’t change the way we live? A person who easily laments is known as a shudra in Sanskrit. A shudra is considered lower on the rung of societal divisions because through their lamentation they have a more difficult time reaching true enlightenment. And that enlightenment is necessary to stop the travels of the spirit soul through the different bodies. The God conscious soul, who knows that there is a superior spiritual force, does not have to endure karma anymore.

The person who is aware of the truths of the spirit soul and acts upon them is known as a brahmana, or one who is Brahman realized. Brahman is the fancier term for spirit, and it also references the sum collection of individual spiritual entities. A brahmana follows specific behavior to stay Brahman realized. They read the Vedas, teach Vedic wisdom to others, perform sacrifices, teach others how to perform sacrifices, and accept charity from others. The charity is required because the brahmanas typically don’t earn a living through work. They spend their days in contemplation of the Absolute, and as this is a full-time job, they take help from others in maintaining their livelihoods.

Better than the brahminical principles are the devotional principles. In this age especially, following the life of a brahmana from the time of birth all the way up until death is very difficult. Therefore the saints now try to imbibe the devotional spirit in as many people as possible, making devoted souls out of those who would otherwise be classified as easy lamenters. The devotional principles are similar to the brahminical ones, except the focus is on direct devotion to God. Learn the properties of spirit while simultaneously worshiping the Supreme Lord in His personal form. Those features are full of sweetness, and they represent the next step beyond Brahman understanding.

Worshiping Radha and KrishnaThe present age is known as Kali, or the time period of rampant quarrel and hypocrisy. Therefore the gradual progression through the societal divisions and the training starting from brahmacharya are not as likely to occur. Better it is to just regularly chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, in a humble attitude and let everything flow from there. The spiritual master following the principles of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, knows all the truths of Vedanta philosophy, and they can teach them to their students. At the same time, they will institute guidelines to enable the practical realization of these facts.

Deity worship is one of the common practical implementations of devotional principles. Worship a carved statue or picture representation of God. Offer your heartfelt obeisances, bring food preparations, offer flowers, and always chant the holy names. Do this in the morning and evening, and enhance the process by including your friends and family. The spiritual master recommends these practices so that the position as spirit soul can be truly known. The spirit soul is subordinate to the Supreme Soul, and through devotional service that position is better understood. And only in the state of humility is there true happiness, as full surrender to God is the constitutional position. Through theoretical and practical knowledge the constitutional position can be reawakened and remain in a secure state.

In Closing:

Accepting high theory I’m fine,

And I’ll continue on present line.


Spirit soul is identity I understand,

Karma to decide where I will land.


But for meaning to principles to accept,

Towards better path must direct.


Spiritual master this path shows,

Theoretical and practical he knows.


Worship the deity day and night,

In practice reveal transcendental light.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Sonic Healing

Krishna speaking to Arjuna“Spiritual understanding is nothing like an electrical charge from the master to the disciple, as foolishly claimed by some propaganda-mongers. Everything is full of sense and logic, and the exchange of views between the master and disciple is possible only when the reception is submissive and real.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.3.20 Purport)

A person who previously had no educational background in spirituality, who was accustomed to consuming adult beverages on a regular basis, eating animal flesh, and gambling for fun, all of a sudden turns into a spiritual leader, an emblem of devotion to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. It is known to all that the transformation took place through contact with another spiritual leader, who was kind enough to guide the misguided soul along the proper path. In this way the relationship between the guru and disciple is noteworthy, one deserving of further analysis.

In the cursory review, perhaps it looks like the guru has a magical spark that he can pass on to others through contact. You know, sort of like a power of healing type thing. In the 1980s American film, Fletch Lives, there is a scene where a television evangelist picks out “sinners” from the audience members, guesses their transgressions,and then absolves them by placing his hand on their head. To the audience members, it looks like there is a magical healing power in the minister, but behind the scenes he is fed the information through an earpiece. The members of the audience filled out their information prior to entering, so the special “sinners” were strategically selected and not just randomly healed. Moreover, nothing about the contact with the minister’s hand could do anything to stop the negative reaction from coming, sort of like how if we let go of an object from our hand, it will fall to the ground no matter what anyone says.

The real forgiveness takes effect in the future deeds, wherein the healed party no longer participates in dangerous activity. In the Vedic tradition, the spiritual master has the ability to guide the disciple along this proper path and thus minimize the sinful reactions due them. If you live off of violence to other animals, you are sure to suffer the same fate in the future. If you have lied previously, others will lie to you in the future. If you cheated others, they will cheat you going forward, and so on. To be forgiven means to have the negative reactions removed, and in each spiritual tradition there are certain rituals and penances a person can adopt to try to minimize the damage.

But better than just wiping the slate clean is changing your behavior going forward. This way you’ll avoid doing the wrong things again and filling up your slate with negative reactions. The transformation in behavior cannot take place through any magical touch. The spiritual master’s hand is not like an eraser that can wipe things away. He also does not carry an electrical charge that changes the physiology of the affected party.

What, then, is the secret to the transformation? What makes a person go from constantly lamenting over temporary misfortunes to suddenly being so invigorated with the desire to serve the Supreme Lord that they become aloof to both happiness and sadness? The power is in submissive hearing. Hearing alone won’t do the trick, for if you are in a challenging spirit, how will you soak in the information? Imagine if you had the challenging attitude while learning to read and write in elementary school. Where would that have gotten you?

To be inquisitive is surely beneficial when learning high topics, especially when there are so many different spiritual leaders who claim that their path is the right one. Yet just because there is submission doesn’t mean that logic is absent. The teacher and student must both be qualified. The teacher must have the perfect information, knowledge he is willing to share only with those who will know how to respect it. The student must be submissive and inquisitive at the same time. If he listens properly, he will ask the right questions in response to the instruction.

“Arjuna said: I have heard Your instruction on confidential spiritual matters which You have so kindly delivered unto me, and my illusion is now dispelled.”  (Bhagavad-gita, 11.1)

Krishna and ArjunaThe ideal example of the teacher-student relationship can be found in the Bhagavad-gita, one of the most famous scriptures in the world. In this work Krishna is the teacher and Arjuna the student. Ironically, prior to the events in question, Krishna and Arjuna were friends and cousins. Arjuna was a famous warrior and on this particular day Krishna volunteered to be his charioteer. But this was not like a golfer getting advice from the caddy. The caddy offers input, but the golfer is always deemed to be in the superior position. For Arjuna to get the right information, he had to assume a subservient role.

That change wasn’t that difficult to accept considering that Krishna is the Supreme Lord. This and many other facts were revealed to Arjuna, who absorbed the information with the proper attitude. At the beginning of the Gita, Arjuna was hesitant to fight in a religious war due to the casualties he might inflict to the other side. This kind-heartedness was rooted in ignorance, and fortunately Krishna was there to set him straight. At the end of the instruction, the illusion was gone, and it had nothing to do with a touch provided by Krishna.

As God Himself, Krishna did show the universal manifestation to Arjuna. For Arjuna to see it, he required special eyes, which Krishna kindly provided. Nevertheless, it was not the vision which changed Arjuna’s perspective; it was his submissive hearing of the highest truths of Vedanta philosophy coupled with a firm confidence in the fact that Krishna was his and everyone else’s well-wisher. Through this type of hearing, along with insightful questions, Arjuna arrived at the proper conclusion, that life is meant to be devoted to service to God. Depending on the time, circumstance, and individual, that service can manifest in different ways, but the common factor is the link in consciousness to the Supreme Lord. The spiritual master holds that link with him at all times, and when he meets a qualified disciple, he kindly teaches them how to create and maintain the same link.

In Closing:

Guru can make disciple change much,

But shift not due to electrical touch.


Saves the disciple from path tragic,

Yet the power not anything of magic.


Secret is in the student’s propensity to hear,

To listen to guru who in divine surrender lives without fear.


Krishna and Arjuna friends in the past,

But now ignorance consuming Arjuna fast.


Teacher and student then became the roles,

Highest knowledge Krishna to Arjuna told.


Transfer successful because of combination,

Hearing Krishna’s words gave path to salvation.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Virtual Reality

Lord Krishna“My dear Lord, this whole cosmic manifestation is just like a flashing dream, and its temporary existence simply disturbs the mind. As a result, we are full of anxiety in this existence; to live within this material world means simply to suffer and to be full of all miseries. And yet this temporary existence of the material world appears to be pleasing and dear on account of its having evolved from Your body, which is eternal and full of bliss and knowledge.” (Lord Brahma speaking to Lord Krishna, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 14)

Illusion is one of the common themes in Vedic literature. The world we live in is likened to a dream, a temporary state that is mistaken to be permanent. Pain, misery, and elation arise during the state of slumber, only to disappear later on. If at any time we remember that we are not actually in the dream, that our true self is with the body lying asleep, the proper intelligence can be invoked to save the day. In the same vein, one who knows that everything in this world is temporary will be better suited to deal with the day-to-day issues that arise. More importantly, they can learn that even the pleasurable aspects of this world exist for a reason: they emanate from the original creator.

To see how the illusion operates, just think of the issues that bother you at present. Are you worried about school? What about your job? Perhaps you’re sick and wondering when you’ll get better? Or in the worst case, you are suffering acute emotional distress due to the loss of either a relationship or the association of another person. Surely these seem like legitimate issues to lament over right now, but in all likelihood you have worried over similar things in the past. Those issues somehow resolved themselves. Even in instances of failure, you made it through. You’re still alive today to relive those past moments. The worst incidents like tragedies relating to friends and family members also didn’t bring you down; you kept going.

The same issues are faced by others today, were faced by members of generations past, and will occur for people yet to be born. You yourself will undergo more hardships in the future relating to issues yet to sprout, so where is the cause for excessive lamentation today? Only through illusion, one that is very difficult to break free from, do you worry so much that you think of taking drastic measures to change things.

Since both pain and pleasure arrive in due course without invitation, the highest philosophy known as Vedanta does not pay much attention to them. The entire material existence is likened to a dream, something that is unreal. The manifestations come and go, but the emotional effect on the individual is certainly real. We may watch a movie or a television show and know that it’s a scripted performance, but the experience of being immersed in the action is definitely genuine. The tears we cry at the end are not fake.

The reality of the experience relates to our identity as spirit soul. And on the larger scale, the truth to the dream, the cause for the distinction between material and spiritual, is the Supreme Soul. There is an inherent link between the two. The individual is part and parcel of the Supreme, and in an ideal state the individual offers loving service to the Supreme. The material aspect is introduced when the constitutional state is forgotten. In that diseased condition, the false reality is served instead of the person responsible for its creation. The illusion continues for as long as the individual desires it. Think of it like sitting in a virtual reality chair and not wanting to get up. For the material existence, instead of putting on strange glasses, you get bodies that constantly change. Karma determines your future fortunes and misfortunes, and at the end of each game you get a new body for the next experience.

Because of the nature of the creator there must be some pleasure in the dreamland. In the Vedas He is referred to by more specific names than just God. The term “God” can be tossed around and exploited based on personal whim. Some will say that God is the person who favors them in their desires for temporary gain in the dreamland, while others will say that God punishes those who don’t submit to His will. In reality, the punishment and reward exist already, as the animals have no conception of spirit and matter and they too experience the dreamland.

Balarama and KrishnaThe abstract God has a personality and features. He is blissful, knowledgeable and eternal. His form is thus described as sach-chid-ananda. Since He is all-attractive, He can be addressed as Krishna. The all-attractive vision is gifted the eyes of the fortunate souls chosen to participate in the divine pastimes.  Krishna descends to Vrindavana during the Dvapara Yuga and delights the kind-hearted residents. The saints note down His activities and present them in poetry form. The resulting sacred works are then passed down to future generations, to be heard and learned from.

And what is the message to take away? It would make sense that a component of the ultimate solution is to break free from the virtual reality. Escape the dream, or at least know that your experience is only temporary. Coupled with that realization is knowledge that there is a true reality that comes with the association of the Supreme Person. Krishna uses His maya, or energy, to make this dreamland, so He can eliminate its influence as well. More importantly, we can use the objects from the dream to our advantage. The ears attached to the body can hear about Krishna, the tongue can chant Krishna’s names, the legs can travel to holy places, the eyes can gaze upon the deity, and the arms can clap along to the singing of songs glorifying Krishna.

There are endless possibilities for material enjoyment in the dreamland, and there are as many outlets for devotional service, or bhakti-yoga. In this highest discipline the temporary pleasure turns into ananda, or bliss. Instead of disturbing the mind, the various aspects to the material creation help to fuel the enthusiasm to please Krishna, who always reciprocates the devotee’s offerings. Sometimes He’ll remove obstacles that weren’t foreseen, keeping the devoted soul under His wing, protecting them like a pet child. The outlook of the individual then changes as well, as the eyes are said to be anointed with the salve of devotional love. Sort of like putting on rose colored glasses, seeing with the Krishna vision enables one to use everything around them properly and thus remain immune to the effects of the dreamland. While the manifestations may be temporary, the progress towards Krishna is permanent, and in the end there is a life full of devotion that never ceases to bring new opportunities for pleasure.

In Closing:

Though temporary real everything seems,

Never would think it all to be a dream.


But just as when you finally awake,

The past nightmare’s scenes to forsake.


When death its time announces,

Living being body and possessions renounces.


There is a controller to this dreamland,

That is made by maya of Shri Krishna’s hand.


Use items from dream for consciousness to grow,

In Krishna-bhakti life of misery forego.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Proper Use

Krishna's lotus feet“The expert electrician can utilize the electrical energy for both heating and cooling by adjustment only. Similarly, the external energy, which now bewilders the living being into continuation of birth and death, is turned into internal potency by the will of the Lord to lead the living being to eternal life.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.3.34 Purport)

The objects of the material world have an ideal use. In the absence of the knowledge of that use, man will either indulge in activities that are not worthwhile or shun the material elements altogether. The requisite understanding is known to the Vaishnava saint, who gathered the information from their own teacher. Descending up the chain we eventually reach the origin of both matter and spirit, who predicted both the proper use and the misuse of His material nature. Since it was the desire of His numerous children to forget Him, He sanctioned the potential misuse. But when things are turned around in the right direction, the divine remembrance can be rekindled, and a return trip to the spiritual land can be booked.

To understand the difference, let’s look at the laptop computer. It has an operating system, a keyboard and a mouse for input, and a monitor to display information. The laptop is quite a powerful machine. You can use it to write books, read books, chat with friends over the internet, watch videos, make videos, do accounting tasks for a corporation, view pictures, edit pictures, and even draw pictures. The possibilities are endless through the use of this simple, yet powerful device. In return for its capabilities, the laptop requires a power supply. For the power there must also be a corresponding weight to the device. The machine will get warm through use and may take up some space wherever it is placed.

What if we only looked at the negatives and completely ignored the positives? “This machine stinks. It’s big and heavy. It takes up too much space and it requires all this power. I want to get rid of it already. Life would be so much simpler without it. I don’t see the need for holding on to it.” Or what if someone took the positives to the extreme? What if they used the device to look up pornographic videos all day or chat with strangers that would lead them to trouble? What if they avoided their important obligations and instead remained addicted to the features of personal enjoyment the laptop had to offer?

In both cases the ideal use is missed, and the laptop itself is not to blame. The machine can suit a legitimate purpose for each individual. The machine is but one aspect to a very large material creation that has similar dual-sidedness. The knife is sharp enough to cut vegetables but it can also be used as a weapon to attack innocent people. Electricity gives us light during the dark night, but it can also hurt a person who touches it with their hand. The food that we eat gives us energy, but it also can cause disease. In this way everything we see can serve different purposes depending on the use.

But how to make light of everything? How do we decipher the proper utilization for the many objects we see? After all, not all aspects of life have an accompanying instruction manual. To find the answers one requires the true path in life, the highest aim. The Vedas declare this to be God consciousness, wherein the thoughts of the mind focus only on the Supreme Lord and how to please Him. Naturally, for that desire to be aroused, one should know what the Supreme Lord looks like, what makes Him happy, and how to connect with Him.

Lord KrishnaThough He is ananta-rupam, or with unlimited forms, there is an original, and it is considered all-attractive; hence it is addressed as Krishna. This form also brings transcendental pleasure to those who connect with it; hence it can also be called Rama. The original is the source, and that which emanates from Him is the energy. Thus the call to the Supreme Lord and His energy is a great way to foster God consciousness. Fortunately the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, takes care of this. This mantra can be chanted by any person, at any time, and for however long they desire. Accompany the chanting with some hand cymbals and drums and you have a musical group. The ensemble could continue in a call-and-response format for hours, with the ears not tiring of the transcendental sounds.

Chanting is part of the overall discipline of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Service to the divine can follow chanting, hearing, remembering, worshiping, and a host of other outlets. The key is in the qualities of the object of service. As He is the origin of the material nature, whatever we see around us can be used for His pleasure. The proper use becomes easy to decipher once the objective is pure. For instance, the laptop can be used to continue in service. Perhaps pictures can be seen of Krishna, or words praising Him can be authored. One can connect with fellow devotees through the internet and spread the gospel of devotional service to a wide audience without much effort. The kitchen utensils can be used to prepare foodstuff to first be offered to Krishna. The remnants, known as prasadam, can then be distributed to others, allowing for a spiritual infusion to take place through eating. While walking one can chant the maha-mantra to themselves and thus purify the time of exercise.

The possibilities for divine action are endless, as the breadth and scope of the material nature is too large for us to fathom. And just think, the material nature is only but a fraction of the entire space that is infinite. Therefore God can be worshiped in any circumstance, and at any time, and within any life - past, present, or future. Knowing how to use the elements around us, the connection to the divine never has to break.

In Closing:

Kitchen knife in my hand to take,

Use as weapon or food to make?


Laptop given to me as a gift,

For knowledge or through garbage to sift?


Every item thus has a proper use,

To discard everything as bad a weak excuse.


From connection to the divine know,

How to use everything properly so.


Chant the holy names to be spiritually infused,

Thinking of God faculties of mind well used.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Beautifying Ornaments

Sita Devi“Whatever ornaments Rama previously spoke of Hanuman saw on Vaidehi’s body, beautifying her limbs.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 15.41)

vaidehyā yāni ca angeṣu tadā rāmo anvakīrtayat |
tāni ābharaṇa jālāni gātra śobhīni alakṣayat ||

The innocent princess of Videha did not deserve her present condition. After all, what woman is actually worthy of staying prisoner in an enemy territory, where a vile creature accustomed to eating human flesh tries to force you to become his wife? No woman deserves this, especially not one so kind to the world as Sita. She is the goddess of fortune, the administrator of the measureless riches belonging to her husband, Narayana, the source of all men. The origin of matter and spirit is one way to describe God, and since He is the original owner, no one can lay full claim to any property. Everything originally belongs to Him, and through the kindness of His wife Lakshmi segments of that property are temporarily apportioned accordingly.

Is there a pecking order, a chain of hierarchy one must ascend to be graced with wealth? There is actually plenty available already, and the wealth doesn’t have to relate to large collections. For instance, to a person insistent on a simple lifestyle, just having a roof over the head is wealth enough, whereas to the business mogul looking to stay on top of their field, owning only one home with many rooms is a kind of poverty. Everything is relative, as duality pervades the world we inhabit. The mind is also forgetful, so just because we receive one reward today doesn’t mean that our desires will cease. More desires will arise, and if they are not satisfied, the result is unhappiness.

The idea is that you are given whatever you need to get your work done. For instance, the trees can’t move around because of the body type they accept at the time of birth. They need sunlight and water, and that’s pretty much it. They are provided these by the higher authorities, the controllers of nature. Human beings think they require more than basic necessities only due to ignorance, but nevertheless they are given sufficient materials to continue their play. It is the nature of the play that determines the type of rewards sought and whether or not they are worthwhile in the long run.

The gift grantor is not to blame for the resultant effects. A family member may lend us money to help us get through a tough financial stretch, but if we use that money to go on a weekend vacation trip to Las Vegas to gamble and drink alcohol, the blame lies with us. The family member had the best of intentions; they truly wanted to help us. In innocence they were kind enough to give us a gift. We made the wrong choice with the materials gifted to us, and thus the end result was not positive.

We can take the same concept and apply it to every situation to see the two-sidedness of the fortune bestowed by Goddess Lakshmi. She is always innocent, regardless of the choice made by the recipient. She has no attachment to this immense fortune because her wealth is the love she holds for her husband. No material opulence can sway her in the other direction. In fact, she can live in total renunciation provided she can continue to think of her husband. His features are splendid, and they are unlimited. His ability to create is unimaginable, as is His ability to destroy. His beauty is a reservoir of pleasure for the eyes, and His kindness will melt any heart. And yet Sita’s innocence is even greater, as she is devoted to Him in full sincerity.

The evil king of Lanka tried to take away that innocence, to change Sita into something she could never be. He would rue the day, however, as someone who knows how to properly use the gifts of the goddess of fortune came to the scene and spotted her at a time when it would be otherwise difficult to make her out. She was not in the company of her husband Rama while trapped in Lanka. Sita is Lakshmi’s incarnation and Rama is Narayana’s. That the Supreme Lord and His consort could descend to earth to grace the eyes of the devotees with their divine vision shouldn’t be too surprising. If you create the playing field you are more than open to tread its ground. You make the rules after all, so nothing can direct your conduct. Lakshmi and Narayana can go wherever they please.

And so also the actions of the vile creatures cannot change Sita and Rama’s inherent natures. Rama is always in the dominant position and His devotees are always in the mood of service. Ravana ignored God’s influence, thinking that with his own strength acquired through austerity he could impress the most beautiful woman in the world. But Sita was impressed only by her husband, who was renounced enough to give up the throne of Ayodhya to uphold the promise of His pious father. Ravana, on the other hand, tried to take away a married woman without fighting for her hand.

The situation for Hanuman in Lanka was very difficult, as he could see Sita from afar and not discern her with confidence. This was because Sita was in a distressed condition, having gone thin from fasting. She was sighing heavily in despair, and her clothes were sullied by the earth she was sitting on. Nevertheless, from the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, we see that Hanuman noticed some ornaments on Sita that Rama had previously explained. That he remembered all of these details in such a troubling time is quite remarkable.

In modern reality television shows, there are sometimes contests that relate to a similar exercise. Teams compete in an obstacle course that can have several checkpoints. At some checkpoints, there is a game to complete before moving on to the rest of the race. One of the games involves memory, where the team sees a completed picture, puzzle, or arrangement of objects. They must memorize where the various pieces go, and then move to another area to recreate the scene. The same pieces are there in this second scene, but they are oriented differently. Hence it’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle but with larger objects, using your memory as the reference point for completion.

Shri HanumanHanuman had a similar task to complete, except it wasn’t a game and he wasn’t given a valid picture to use as a reference point. Instead, he only had the information he heard from Rama. Yet this actually proves a much larger point. In the Vedic tradition more stress is placed on hearing than seeing. If you just hear someone talking about God and how to implement devotion to Him, that can have a lasting effect. If you just see God for a few seconds, that may not impact you as much, as vision is more susceptible to illusion. Sight appeals to emotion, whereas sound can tackle the intellect. Thus it is not surprising that one of the primary tools of the charlatans who pose to be God is a visual display of mystic ability. Light your hair on fire, float in the air, or disappear from a room and suddenly other people will think that you are God.

But hearing is more important. If you just hear the famous Bhagavad-gita spoken by Lord Krishna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, you can get complete information on life. The sudden passing of a loved one, especially if they are young and have children of their own, is devastating to the affected friends and family. There is no way to explain such a tragic loss without consulting the words of God. In the Bhagavad-gita, issues like these are addressed right at the outset by the ultimate teacher, Shri Krishna, who is the very same Narayana. The hesitant warrior Arjuna was afraid to kill his friends and family fighting for the opposing side, and to dispel his doubts Krishna did not resort to vision. Instead, He taught through sound, providing instructions that Arjuna could use to follow the righteous path.

In a similar manner, Hanuman was painted a mental picture based on Rama’s words, and he would rely on that to make the proper pattern recognition. He too had some doubts in Lanka, especially over whether or not to continue. He had searched very long without finding Sita, so he started to wonder if he’d ever find Rama’s beloved. He continued on anyway, as the reward of pleasing God far outweighs whatever relief quitting brings. To taste the sweetness of devotional service is the reason for our existence, and Hanuman shows that through proper hearing the mind stays sharp and can recognize the divine presence even in situations that are not conducive to it. Rama’s instructions represent Him and so do His names, so by chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, we can regularly hear God and follow the proper path with confidence.

In Closing:

To mortals higher authorities gifts give,

Specific to circumstance so they can live.


Trees and plants sunlight they need,

And also on water they feed.


Human beings think they always need more,

Thus accept difficult and strenuous chores.


All depends on what with gifts you make,

Ravana thought another’s wife he could take.


Hanuman used nature’s gifts for divine service,

Able to please Rama even when of failure nervous.


The right ornaments on woman in distance found,

Knew that Sita was there sitting on the ground.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Telltale Signs

Sita Devi“After seeing that wide-eyed, irreproachable daughter of the king, he understood her to be Sita based on the various indications.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 15.40)

tām samīkṣya viśāla akṣīm rāja putrīm aninditām |
tarkayām āsa sītā iti kāraṇaiḥ upapādayan ||

In the distance Hanuman saw a beautiful woman of wonderful qualities that appeared to be masked by outside factors. Many comparisons were thus made to try to describe what Hanuman saw. The vision was like a single flame of a fire covered by smoke. She looked like the full moon covered by black clouds. It was like a peerless reputation ruined by a false scandal. He could make her out with difficulty like a scriptural verse that had undergone a change of meaning due to a lack of culture. In these ways Hanuman extracted the nectar from the situation, finding the good and discarding the bad.

In the absence of purification the tendency is to do just the opposite; take the bad and ignore the good. How else would intoxication be rampant in a society where so many wonderful beverages are already available? The mangoes provided by nature make a wonderful pulp that can turn into drinks like mango juice and lassi. The same goes for other fruits as well. The resulting beverages are intoxicating in their own right, except they don’t cause a blurring of the consciousness, wherein you see things to be what they are not. They don’t cause you to drive erratically or urinate without control. They don’t make you do things that you regret, nor do they damage your liver. Taken in moderation and in the proper mindset these beverages, which are relatively inexpensive, are far more delightful than intoxicants.

Yet the more common drinks are beer and other kinds of liquor. Wine is popular too. The true nectar is ignored in place of subpar beverages. Of course the deluded mind thinks otherwise. The thought is that somehow the intoxication from alcohol consumption will lead to a better condition, though last weekend’s binge proved otherwise. Every time there are negative effects and the same behavior repeated, the expectation is for a different outcome. This is like placing your hand in a fire, getting burned, swearing to never do it again, and then doing it again.

The beautiful parks and scenery provided by nature uplift the human spirit, but in ignorance the tendency is to sit inside in front of the television watching scripted performances or playing video games. The basic walk through the park is not difficult; it doesn’t require much effort, but there is the saying, “a body at rest stays at rest.” Therefore it is difficult to break out of a pattern of lethargy when the path of least resistance is the easier choice.

More importantly, instead of stories about betrayal, deceit, victory, triumph and romance pertaining to ordinary living entities, there is a wealth of knowledge available in the Vedic literatures. These texts are full of philosophy, history, poetry, and descriptions of the Supreme Absolute Truth. He is the true nectar in this world and His presence exists within every single creature. The fact that we can contemplate on a Truth at all is evidence enough of His existence. He is the existence of existences, the taste of water, the sound in ether, the ability in man, and the original life of everything.

“O son of Kunti [Arjuna], I am the taste of water, the light of the sun and the moon, the syllable om in the Vedic mantras; I am the sound in ether and ability in man.”  (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.8)

Understanding Him requires culture, which is created through education. With that education gradually the tendency shifts from accepting the garbage and ignoring the nectar to the reverse. Evidence of the cultured mindset was seen with Shri Hanuman in Lanka, though he never required an explicit shift. He had a natural affection for the Supreme Lord, whom he met personally in the forest of Kishkindha. Hanuman didn’t need to study the Vedas, read the Upanishads, or ponder sankhya philosophy. He was already a learned scholar and an adept mystic, but these traits were just supplements to his devotion to God. He relied most on this devotion, and it proved to benefit him immensely.

Shri HanumanSent to look for Rama’s wife Sita, Hanuman entered Lanka, the enemy territory ruled over by the evil king Ravana. Rama was an incarnation of God. Hanuman met Him and His brother Lakshmana near Mount Rishyamukha and then brokered an alliance between the brothers and the Vanara-king Sugriva. Hanuman was Sugriva’s chief minister, so it was natural for him to become Rama’s servant as well. Just as when two businesses merge the employees all work for the new conglomerate, though Hanuman was technically Sugriva’s minister, he also worked for Rama now. This was just fine by him. In fact, this role pleased him more than any previous one.

Just because it pleased him didn’t mean that the work was easy. On the contrary, it was tremendously taxing. He had to use every resource available to him just to make it to Lanka. Then there was the mental hurdle of dealing with the shrinking window of time allotted for success. In professional sports, it is seen that the athletes have around the same level of ability. For instance, if you watch professional tennis players practice, you likely couldn’t tell the difference between the player ranked one thousand and the player ranked number one.

Yet their rankings are so far apart for a reason. When it comes time to perform, the physical ability takes a backseat to the mental fortitude. It is the mind which tells the body when and how to invoke those abilities. The higher ranked player knows how to tap into his abilities without fear, while the lower ranked player gets bogged down by the pressure, crippled with the fear of failure, or in some cases the fear of winning. The same holds true in other sports, as in American football many quarterbacks have terrific arm-strength and accuracy in practice but during the games they have trouble completing a single pass.

Hanuman’s mental toughness equaled his physical ability, and so he was able to continue on with his mission. He finally made it into a grove of Ashoka trees situated next to the head palace in Lanka. Ravana took Sita back to his kingdom through a ruse and tried to win her over as his wife. She wasn’t having any of it, so she was now in this garden left to wait for an uncertain future. Hanuman had heard of her sparkling attributes, but upon seeing this woman from a distance, it was difficult to believe that she could be Sita. It looked like there was gold there, but it was covered up by so many other things. Nevertheless, if we are to hit a goldmine, the surrounding dirt has no bearing on the gold itself. In the same way, the female Rakshasas harassing Sita, the dirt upon her once beautiful dress, the lack of ornaments on her body, and her state of emaciation could not strip away her divine nature.

“Thereupon taking the ring and placing it on his head, with folded hands, that foremost and best of monkeys, praised Rama's lotus feet and then departed.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 44.15)

It would have been very easy for Hanuman to look past Sita and continue his search elsewhere. But he is not known to take the easy route. As a pure-hearted devotee, he notices the divine influence wherever he goes. He pays homage to the celestials in charge of the various departments of the material creation. Prior to leaving for his search, Hanuman accepted Rama’s sacred ring and then bowed his head before the Lord. Even before entering the Ashoka grove, he prayed to Sita, Rama and Lakshmana to grant him success. Though he was in the process of acquiring a stature greater than God’s, Hanuman never thought himself to be better than anyone else. He was just doing his job, and it was for the purpose of pleasing others, not himself.

He acquired that higher status due to Rama’s grace. As God, Rama could have found Sita Himself, but then that would have robbed the world of the sterling example of Shri Hanuman, who can never be remembered enough. The many verses in the Sundara-kand of Valmiki’s Ramayana provide so many excuses to think about Hanuman. Every day there is a new opportunity to remember him and rely on his example to find the highest bliss in life. The true nectar in this world is the presence of the Supreme Lord and it can be tasted very easily by chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

In Closing:

That woman who previously was by husband’s side,

Now spotted  in the Ashoka grove with her wide eyes.


Sterling in character, Sita was beyond reproach,

Towards her now Rama’s servant ready to approach.


As such sincere devotion to God he gives,

In highest culture Shri Hanuman lives.


Due to that mindset,

Vision of Sita to get.


The divine features her presence did indicate,

Remember Hanuman always and ignorance eradicate.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Life of a Text

Hanuman reading“As Sita was not decorated, with difficulty Hanuman could recognize her, like understanding a text which has gotten a different meaning due to a lack of purity.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 15.39)

duhkhena bubudhe sītām hanumān analamkṛtām |
samskāreṇa yathā hīnām vācam artha antaram gatām ||

To safeguard from future cheating, the authors of important texts carefully craft their words. “Leave no room for ambiguity, for though people today might know what you mean, in one hundred year’s time the circumstances will be different. New issues will exist and a different worldview will be applied to the words you create today. Your words won’t be any different, but the meanings might be twisted, bent and shaped to fulfill the desired aim of the reader.” Therefore with important texts there is an accompanying culture, which is a requirement for understanding the original meanings. The text itself doesn’t lose its value, and one who knows how to properly interpret the words can understand this fact.

The importance of culture is especially prominent in the Vedic tradition. The original scriptural works coming from God were not disclosed to just any people. Think of the valuable vase you might have in your home. It’s an antique. You paid a hefty price for it, as it is a rare item not found anywhere else in the world. Perhaps it belonged to a famous dynasty from centuries past or it was made by a famous sculptor. Now it rests in your home, to be gazed upon, to be marveled at by guests and residents alike.

Yet the young child doesn’t know any of this. They don’t know what the word ancient even means. Therefore the vase won’t be that important to them. Trying to explain its importance won’t help either. Instead, you just make the vase off-limits to them. “Don’t touch”, is the primary rule. As long as they stay away, everything will be fine. When they are mature enough to understand what it is, they can appreciate its value and know that it is fragile and not something to be considered a toy.

Similarly, the ancient texts of India which contain profound truths of life such as reincarnation, the imperishability of the soul, the individual’s relationship to the Supreme Lord, the futility of material acquisition, the three modes of material nature, the expiration of both pious credits and sinful demerits, and so on can’t be understood by just any person. One who is swooning in the whirlpool of material suffering that is fed by activities like gambling, intoxication, illicit sex and meat eating doesn’t have the peaceful disposition required to understand complex philosophical points. To them the sacred texts will be mistaken for sectarian restrictions, dogmatic principles that apply only to certain people. When they hear of the events described in these texts, which are historical occurrences that describe the divine nonetheless, they will take the works to be mythology. “Oh okay, people back then didn’t understand how everything worked, so they just guessed on the tough questions. There was a “god” assigned to important positions, like the sun, the moon and the wind, and thus a personality became responsible for various results visible on earth.”

With culture, however, the texts in ancient times could be understood. And that cultural training would begin from childhood for the student. The texts were composed in the Sanskrit language, which is the oldest language and considered the most difficult to understand. To this day students undergo at least fourteen years of training in Sanskrit just to be able to understand it. The script for the language is called Devanagari, which translates to “city of the gods”. In the heavenly realm everyone speaks this language, and so it is not meant for mere mortals.

As is bound to happen, with the passage of time original texts can be misinterpreted, as the culture gradually erodes. The texts can still be consulted because they were previously printed to ease the burden on memory. Originally the works were committed to memory; they didn’t need to be written down. But as the verses themselves describe, with the passage of time man’s deference to dharma, or duty, diminishes. When dharma stands on just one leg instead of four, the majority of the population considers the original spotless verses to be irrelevant, ancient relics more than anything else.

Yet there is a singular foundation that supports the culture necessary to understand the true meanings to these verses. And that foundation is not based on education, ancestry, skin color, or even species. As every living being is a spirit soul at the core, every individual has this foundation within them, but due to the influence of the matter that surrounds them they have difficulty making use of it. We see varieties in behavior only because of the differences in material coverings. A person is considered high class when the matter they assume at the time of birth has the least inhibiting influence on this wonderful foundation. On the other hand, when the matter has the most inhibiting influence, the birth is considered sinful, or non-auspicious.

Birth in a monkey’s body is not very helpful spiritually. The monkey’s tendencies are to steal from others, have sexual relations with anyone, and get intoxicated off of honey. With these tendencies, how can there be any room for culture? Where will the sobriety come from that is needed to understand the highest truths of life? Yet the foundation can still rise to prominence despite otherwise inauspicious conditions. The divine figures who love the Supreme Lord so much can carry out their service even while in the body of a monkey.

Shri HanumanThis is the case with Shri Hanuman. He was once sent to Lanka to find the wife of Lord Rama, the prince of Ayodhya. Her name was Sita and she had been taken away from Rama’s side one time by the evil king of Lanka, Ravana. We should note that these events took place in the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation. By our estimation, the Treta Yuga was an ancient time period, but at the time the earth had still been around for thousands of years. Therefore the original Veda was still known, and even back then it was possible for verses from sacred texts to be misinterpreted.

This fact is referenced in the above quoted verse from the Ramayana. Hanuman only knew of Sita through what he had heard. He hadn’t seen her for himself, but that didn’t mean she didn’t exist. Knowledge that is heard can be perfect when the source providing it is flawless. As Rama is an incarnation of God, the information He passes on to others is free of defects. But when Hanuman finally spotted Sita in Lanka, it was difficult to make her out. She was in a distressed condition and worn thin from fasting. She had been crying and sighing very heavily, and her dress was now covered with dirt. She was not wearing the beautiful ornaments which princesses are known to put on.

Yet beyond the external conditions, through the thick cloud of inauspicious smoke that enveloped her, Hanuman could see brilliance. He could see unmatched beauty and a divine presence, though the indication was quite faint. Hence the comparison to a verse that has undergone a change of meaning due to a lack of culture is quite appropriate. The verse itself is fine, as the original writer knew what they were talking about. But the words can be changed to a different meaning when there is a lack of culture. As it applies to this situation, someone else who didn’t have the foundational attribute active within them at the time would not have recognized Sita. They would have considered her to only be a distressed woman surrounded by vile female ogres ordered to harass her.

Remarkably, Shri Rama knew that Hanuman had the necessary purification. It wasn’t expected from a monkey, but Hanuman is no ordinary living entity. His guiding principle is devotion to God, which is the requisite foundation mentioned previously. Through scholarship one can understand Sanskrit, but still the many pearls of wisdom in the Vedas have a thread that keeps them together. That thread is the Supreme Lord, and so one who knows of the thread can understand how the many truths go together. Devotion is what brings knowledge of that connecting thread, and in Hanuman devotion existed at the highest levels. He was thus able to recognize Sita and continue on in his mission, eventually finding success.

“O conquerer of wealth [Arjuna], there is no Truth superior to Me. Everything rests upon Me, as pearls are strung on a thread.”  (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.7)

The saints are so kind that they know the original scriptural verses will be difficult to understand for even the innocent population which is eager to practice devotional service. Thus they translate the sacred works into the language of the time and add their own commentaries to prevent misinterpretation. In addition, they compose songs and poems that help to support the necessary culture. In the present age of Kali the dichotomies between the varying circumstances of birth have been blurred, as any birth today is considered inauspicious. The requirements for transcendental realization have been lessened at the same time, however, and so just through constant association of the holy name, which can come from regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, one can be prepared to understand the highest truths of life. The devoted Hanuman could spot out the peerless Sita, and so the devoted souls of today can understand that Hanuman is a real-life figure who can give blessings to make this human birth fruitful.

In Closing:

In Kali’s age the type of birth is no matter,

With societal and class distinctions don’t bother.


Cultured life relies on a singular foundation,

High knowledge incomplete without divine devotion.


This foundation in Shri Hanuman existed,

Though a monkey in God’s mission he persisted.


Like a text that has undergone a change in meaning,

This divine princess like a distraught woman seeming.


Because of devotion Sita’s presence he could make out,

Use Hanuman’s existence for God’s power never to doubt.