Saturday, September 1, 2012

Purification of Riches

Radha and Krishna with cows“In the material world we possess riches and wealth in many ways, but sometimes not in very honest and pious ways, because that is the nature of accumulating wealth. According to Vedic injunction, therefore, such wealth should be purified by giving cows and gold in charity to the brahmanas.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 5)

The modern day concept of “social justice” is a byproduct of the industrial revolution and more specifically the rapid rise in wealth due to new outlets for commerce. In times past wealth would be determined strictly off the amount of land owned. In eras prior to that, during Vedic civilization, wealth was based on the number of cows owned, as through a few cows and a small plot of land, the basic economic needs would be satisfied. But now wealth is based on net worth in terms of dollars, and the potential for earning dollars is unlimited. Though it seems the situation would lend itself to less competition and worry, the actual situation is just the opposite. More envy exists, as one person is not satisfied with their own plot in life due only to the fact that others are deemed to have more. Hence the birth of the popular movements to redistribute wealth, to “even out the score” so to speak. Thankfully we can revisit an ancient time to see how even with economic abundance one can purify their existence and live peacefully with their fellow man.

On the surface there should be no reason for envy, especially in economically enriched nations like the United States. Even the average poverty stricken person in such countries has basic amenities like food, clothing and shelter. The food doesn’t have to be begged for; it comes in the form of an ATM style card that can be swiped at supermarkets. The average person in poverty owns at least one car, a television set, and also an air conditioner. Compare this to the life of poverty voluntarily adopted by the gosvamis of Vrindavana, and you’ll have a more accurate understanding of what it means to be poor. These famous transcendentalists renounced worldly life to dedicate all of their time to spreading the glories of bhakti-yoga to the masses. They lived on practically nothing for food, slept under trees, and had to beg for whatever they got. And they did all of this on purpose, as renunciation is considered beneficial if you want to focus on worshiping God.

The envy sets in when you see one person flying around in corporate jets and eating at expensive restaurants. While all of this is happening, others are struggling just to meet the monthly bills. They are sometimes working two jobs to support their children. It doesn’t seem fair. Of course what is missed in this cursory review is the hard work it takes to get to a specific position and how choices make a difference in outcomes. In illusion the means of redress immediately proposed is to level the playing field. Equalize the outcomes instead of the opportunity. Sort of like taking away points from a basketball team that is running up the score, the idea is to give others a chance by taking money from the very wealthy and redistributing it.

While the idea may seem nice, it does little to solve the problem. For starters, there isn’t enough money to take, as to ensure that everyone has the same income means to take a large portion from the producers. And of course this can only be done once, as the producers will no longer have an incentive to work hard and create if all of their wealth is confiscated. At the same time, the receivers reach a higher position without having worked for it, so they will not have learned anything from the experience. It’s similar to the concept of spoiling your children. If they are handed everything throughout life, they will not know how to earn a living when they grow up. The parents won’t be around forever, so the adults that were formerly children must eventually learn to cope in the real world.

Under Vedic philosophy, it is understood that all material results arrive through karma, which can be translated to mean “fruitive work”. The translation is derived from the most basic act of planting a seed and waiting for the fruit. There is work in such a process, and the fruit at the end is the reward. In the meantime, so many thorns may appear on the plant, and during the harvest time the thorns may tear into your sides and cause you to bleed. Nevertheless, you are intent on reaping the rewards, so you will take the bad with the good.

For those who are economically wealthy, hard work was likely applied to reach the position, but at the same time they could have failed. Many people play the stock market but not everyone hits it big. Lots of companies are started, but not every one goes public and makes billions of dollars. The distribution of rewards is ultimately managed by the higher authorities, who take into account every action, not just those we can remember. For instance, if we work hard to start up a business, we may think that we are worthy of success, but we may have forgotten sinful deeds committed earlier on in life. Maybe in a previous life we did something bad, and so that consequence is due to arrive at some point in the future.

Also, to earn money requires expertise in business, which sometimes relies on dishonesty. The business owner will rarely say that he is doing well enough so that everyone in the firm deserves a raise. Never will he openly admit that he is making so much money off of selling a product. On the contrary, he will say that he is hardly making any profit and that the budget is very tight. This is the nature of competition in business, as to succeed one has to be very keen, revealing little about their operation, lest someone come in and try to capitalize on their formula.

Though in the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, this sort of lying is sanctioned for the businessman, lying itself is still considered sinful. In addition, earning a lot of money is not the primary aim of life, as one who is focused on material wealth has not purified their consciousness to the right level. The aim of the human form of life is to reach the highest state of maturity with regards to consciousness, as the benefit to an existence is to taste the sweet fruit of the association of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

In this light there are many ways to purify one’s existence, as with any condition where full God consciousness is lacking there is a need for purification. For the person with tremendous riches, the easiest method of purification is charity. In the Bhagavad-gita, we are told of the different types of charity. It is not that one should distribute their wealth to just any person at any time. The recipient must be worthy and the mindset of the donor must also be proper. He must not expect anything in return, and the recipient should not use that gift for purposes other than serving God.

“That gift which is given out of duty, at the proper time and place, to a worthy person, and without expectation of return, is considered to be charity in the mode of goodness.”  (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 17.20)

The brahmana lives in the mode of goodness, which is the highest of the three modes of material nature. Every human being should strive to reach this mode, but by default most are in the mode of passion. It is only under the influence of passion that one can work so hard to achieve riches that don’t provide lasting happiness. The cycle of work and reward can be likened to pushing a heavy rock up a hill, only to have it fall back down soon after. You feel great once you get the rock all the way up, but eventually you’ll have to repeat the process.

cows in VrindavanaThe brahmana’s duty is to study the Vedas, teach Vedic wisdom to others, perform sacrifices, teach others how to perform sacrifices, and accept charity. The brahmanas are the equivalent of the priestly class or the intelligentsia, so they likely don’t have time to earn a living. This is okay as long as there are others to give in charity. Gold and cows are wonderful commodities that can allow the brahmanas to survive without turning towards fruitive activity.

A long time ago, a king of a small farm community celebrated the birth of a new son by giving away gold and cows to the brahmanas. This was no ordinary son, of course, but the behavior of the father set the right example. Nanda Maharaja, the foster father of Shri Krishna, the very same person the rest of the world refers to as God, was so elated to receive his new bundle of joy that he made sure to follow protocol. He had so many cows in his possession, and rather than hoard them he gave them away generously. In the same fashion, the religious holidays in Vedic culture, especially those that relate to the appearances of the Supreme Lord, are celebrated with donations in charity to worthwhile causes, such as those which aim to spread the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, to the society at large.

In Closing:

On fruitive activity alone I can’t rely,

My existence I certainly must purify.


I worked hard to get to where I’m at,

But forever I can’t keep everything intact.


Charity is the way to really know,

That beyond material success I must go.


With birth of darling Krishna king so elated.

With charity of gold and cows occasion celebrated,


Give to a cause which by devotion is led,

Such as to society holy names to spread.

Friday, August 31, 2012


Shrimati Radharani“In Vrindavana all the pure devotees pray for the mercy of Shrimati Radharani, the pleasure potency of Lord Krishna. Shrimati Radharani is a tenderhearted feminine counterpart of the supreme whole, resembling the perfectional stage of the worldly feminine nature. Therefore, the mercy of Radharani is available very readily to the sincere devotees, and once She recommends such a devotee to Lord Krishna, the Lord at once accepts the devotee's admittance into His association.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.3.23 Purport)

The feminine nature is such that there is more mercy offered in situations where it is otherwise unwarranted. For instance, once a fighter named Ashvatthama committed the heinous act of killing members of an opposing army while they were sleeping. A fighter is supposed to enter combat nobly, wherein the opposing side is ready to take up arms. Killing someone in their sleep is the height of cowardice, and such a culprit is certainly worthy of punishment. Yet Draupadi, the wife of the leading fighters for the opposing side, was merciful on Ashvatthama after he was later captured. Such tenderheartedness was misplaced and it led to the culprit firing a devastating weapon after he was let free.

“Ashvatthama was condemned by the Lord Himself, and he was treated by Arjuna just like a culprit, not like the son of a brahmana or teacher. But when he was brought before Shrimati Draupadi, she, although begrieved for the murder of her sons, and although the murderer was present before her, could not withdraw the due respect generally offered to a brahmana or to the son of a brahmana. This is due to her mild nature as a woman.”  (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.7.42 Purport)

The feminine nature nevertheless comes from the supreme whole, who is more commonly known as God. The perfection of that nature is Shrimati Radharani, and her consort is the supreme whole, Lord Krishna. The spirit soul is inherently tied to Krishna, and so devotion to Him is the pinnacle of service, which every person is carrying out to some degree or another. One person serves the material energy through acquisition and enjoyment, another serves the mind, another the process of mysticism, and so on. Service is the soul’s dharma, or essential characteristic, so no person can live without it.

Service to the complete whole benefits all of the different parts. It’s sort of like giving food to the stomach so that the rest of the body can eat. The method of transport for nutrients within the body begins at the stomach. Individually feeding the hands, legs, ears, etc. won’t do anything. You can exercise your hands, decorate them nicely, take care of them on a daily basis, but unless you feed the stomach they will be completely useless.

In a similar manner, to feel the height of ananda, or bliss, to reach the true potential an existence has to offer, one must offer service to God. The generic term of “God” leaves room for misinterpretation and malfeasance, wherein certain parties claim that their supported project, which is for their own benefit, is the way to serve God. The worst of the cheaters insist on receiving money in exchange for granting a better place in the afterlife. As a song once said, “Send me money, send me green, heaven you will meet, make a contribution and you’ll get the better seat,” such cheating doesn’t pass the “smell test”, and who is to say who should receive money and who shouldn’t?

Rather, the genuineness of service is tested in the immediate benefit, as well as the long term. The qualities of austerity, cleanliness, mercy and truthfulness come from following bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. In this discipline the primary desire is to be able to continue service, to be able to think of God. Who among us hasn’t prayed to God for something? Perhaps a family member was sick or we really needed to succeed in a specific venture, so we made the appeal to the man upstairs. At the same time, we might have also prayed to continue our faith. “Let not my faith in you be damaged by the outcome.”

Bhakti-yoga is the full extension of the latter sentiment. Devotional service asks God every day to allow us to continue to have faith in Him. And that faith serves a purpose: to believe firmly that connection to Him in consciousness is the highest engagement for man. In the modern age that connection takes place through recitation of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

This mantra descends from the Vedic tradition, which is often misidentified as Hinduism, but this doesn’t mean that the words within it have a narrow applicability. Rather, the Sanskrit words are just a way to address God and His energy. It is said that God is the energetic and that His expansions represent His energy. We are part of that energy, so in the ideal state we serve the energetic. The word “Krishna” says that the supreme whole is all-attractive, and “Rama” says that He is the giver of transcendental pleasure, happiness which transcends the bounds of time, space, body, mind, etc.

Shrimati Radharani“Hare” addresses the aforementioned Shrimati Radharani, who represents the ideal state of the feminine nature. This trait in her gives the highest pleasure to Krishna, which means that every expansion of His energy is meant to act in this subservient, yet inspired way. To be subordinate means to follow the dictates of the superior, but at the same time it doesn’t mean that you should give in to everything and remain immobile. Shrimati Radharani loves Krishna so much that there is nothing He can do to stop her service. He can try to dissuade her with lessons on mundane morality and virtue, but she doesn’t listen to Him. Instead, she only looks for ways to associate with Him and please Him through her feminine ways.

The tenderhearted Shrimati Radharani is so kind that she recommends devotees to Krishna as well; she is not selfish. She knows that every other person will be happy associating with her beloved. It is for this reason that in Vrindavana, Krishna’s holy land, devotees offer more praise to Radha than to Krishna. She is the emblem of devotional service, and because of her qualities she is deserving of honor on a daily basis. As an added bonus, she is easily pleased with this devotion and passes on the news to her beloved.

And with that recommendation, Krishna’s favor is earned. He loves Radha so much, so if someone loves her without motive, He is surely won over. And to gain the favor of the Supreme Lord means having the best person looking out for you. And who wouldn’t want to have that? It is a dangerous world out there. Death may approach at any turn. When our time is up, we don’t know for sure where we will end up next. But if we regularly offer our praise to Krishna’s beloved, and if we follow the same tenderheartedness in our devotional service and in our spreading of the glories of the holy name, there is no doubt that the supreme whole will carefully guide us back to His spiritual kingdom.

In Closing:

Worship Radharani let me start,

She of beauty and tender heart.


To please Shri Krishna she lives,

Highest pleasure to God she gives.


Your obeisances to her immediately send,

Devotees to her beloved she recommends.


From Hare Krishna always chanting,

Her husband fruit of yoga granting.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Egg On Their Faces

Rama lifting the bow“It’s assured that when Rama gets up, He will break the bow. Embarrassed by that, all the assembled kings will leave here with their noses broken.” (Janaki Mangala, 61)

avasi rāma ke uṭhata sarāsana ṭūṭihi |
gavanahiṃ rājasamāja nāka asa phūṭihiṃ ||

“Egg on your face; tail between your legs, sheepish feeling”, these are some of the expressions used to describe embarrassment. The specific terms are referenced in the hopes of more accurately quantifying the emotion. If we just say that we’re embarrassed, the statement doesn’t say much. We could feel shame over having forgotten an appointment or having used the wrong translated word in a foreign country. These are simple mistakes that you shouldn’t really feel bad about. The aforementioned expressions are used when the pride of the individual has been humbled, when they thought they were better than they were. A Hindi equivalent of the same emotion is invoked in the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, and it was an appropriate way to describe how the assembled kings would feel.

You get egg on your face when you’re sure about something happening and then it doesn’t pan out. Say, for instance, that you predicted a specific outcome to an upcoming election. Beyond just speculating on how the votes would align, you went on television on a daily basis and argued against the competing viewpoints, calling them silly. You pointed to your own polling research and knowledge of election trends to emphatically support your contention.

On election day, however, the votes go just the opposite way. If you had just made a guess as to how the election would pan out, you might not feel so embarrassed now. People make incorrect predictions all the time. If this weren’t the case, the bookmakers in Las Vegas would have been out of money a long time ago. Indeed, the point spreads for professional sporting events are determined by finding a number where the person taking the bets will have an equal distribution of people wagering. The aim is to have just as many people betting on one outcome as there are on the other side. This way, the house will not run out of money if a specific outcome occurs.

The person who invested so much in the wrong outcome to the election feels like they have egg on their face, that they have a food substance smearing their otherwise beautiful countenance. A noted political strategist actually went on a nationally syndicated Sunday morning talk show several years back and broke a raw egg on his face after he was incorrect about a particular outcome. His wife, who happened to be a guest on the show with him, couldn’t believe what he was doing, but the act was done to make a point, to show that he knew he had made a gross miscalculation of the sentiment of the voting public.

In Tirahuta many thousands of years ago, there was a huge throng of warriors full of pride. They couldn’t be blamed, for if you are in charge of a government and not confident of your ability to protect the innocent, how will you do your job well? If you have confidence in the task ahead of you, it will be a lot easier to work. If you’re constantly doubting yourself, at the first sign of trouble your resolve will crack.

The kings were assembled on this day to try to lift an extremely heavy bow which originally belonged to Lord Shiva, the deity in charge of the mode of ignorance. The ghosts, goblins and those into black magic have a deity they can worship. The Vedic tradition provides every type of person with a system of religion, a way to curb harmful behavior in the hopes of purifying consciousness. Restraint is a negation on an active tendency, but it has the underlying purpose of shaping behavior for the better. As eating animal flesh that is the result of unnecessary violence is a tendency that should be curbed, for those who are addicted to such behavior there are worshipable deities to whom they can offer obeisances. Through this method, a gradual purification can occur.

Lord Shiva is devoted to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, but he still takes care of other functions. He is the worshipable figure of the human beings mired in the mode of ignorance, which is noted by any activity bereft of both knowledge and passion. The mode of ignorance brings you down to the hellish planets and to the lower species, both of which are destinations the sober and rationally thinking adult would want to avoid. Since only someone who doesn’t know any better would purposefully take steps that lead towards the wrong direction, the behavior in that category is described by terms such as ignorance and darkness.

On this occasion, Mahadeva’s bow was to play a pivotal role in an event of pure goodness. The Supreme Lord had descended to earth to enact wonderful pastimes, one of which was about to take place. King Janaka had gathered famous princes from around the world together to take part in this contest. It wasn’t known who, if anyone, was going to lift the bow. The princes understandably felt good about their chances, for they had proven their strength by administering their own governments.

There was one slight problem, though. A handsome young prince and His younger brother arrived on the scene with a renounced brahmana. The brahmana had a beard and had not come to participate in the contest. He was accompanied by the two brothers, who had protected him from attacking night-rangers in the forest. Those ghoulish creatures were steeped in the mode of ignorance, so they thought they could continue attacking the innocent sages and get away with it. Shri Rama and Lakshmana, the brothers in question, showed them the error of their ways.

Following the sage Vishvamitra, the brothers made it to Tirahuta, where they were received very well by King Janaka. He seated them in nice thrones, which gave everyone a chance to see them. You couldn’t glance at Rama and Lakshmana and miss their transcendental features. They both sparkled, and the attention shifted especially towards Rama because He was older. He would be the one to try to lift the bow. The prize was the hand in marriage of the king’s daughter. Neither one of the brothers was married yet, so it would have to be Rama to go first.

In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, we see some advice given to the assembled kings. It is said that Rama is sure to break the bow when He gets up from the throne. It should be noted that the contest did not stipulate that one break the bow after lifting it. Up until this time, so many princes had approached the sacrificial arena, tried to lift the bow, and then sat back down after having failed. There was no guarantee that anyone was going to lift it.

Rama lifting Shiva's bowIn this instance Rama’s strength is deduced from His other transcendental features. As when there is smoke there is fire, when there is beauty, fame and a pious nature, there is likely strength as well. Rama appeared to have delicate features, but it was known that He and His younger brother had just defeated so many of the fiercest creatures on earth. Though they were youthful in appearance they didn’t lack anything in skill. Therefore it was assumed that they would have immense strength as well.

It is surmised here that when Rama will break the bow, the kings will have their noses broken. This references the pride of the kings, as through the symbolically broken nose they will have to go home in shame. For a fighter beaming with hubris, to be bested by a youth is shameful. This was a contest after all, and for a youth who was travelling through the forest to lift and break the bow would be quite amazing.

If Rama is the Supreme Lord, why would He symbolically break other people’s noses? Actually, to be humbled by Rama is a tremendous blessing. The phrase, “If you can’t beat em, join em”, has some relevance here. God can never be beaten. You can try to ignore His existence and chart out your own territory through applying techniques you had to acquire through your many days in the present life, but nothing is stable. The more powerful forces of nature will check you in the end, despite your best attempts.

The Supreme Lord is more powerful than that nature, so He can never be defeated. For this reason one of His many names in the Vedas is Ajita, which means one who is unconquerable. Rama would not fail on this occasion, as He would fulfill the destiny He previously created. He would lift Lord Shiva’s bow and win the contest, marrying Sita Devi. That divine couple is the savior of the surrendered souls, who in humility bask in their brilliance and celebrate their triumphs.

In Closing:

When your pride with shame displaced,

Like having raw egg on your face.


The bow contest kings’ pride to take,

In embarrassment their noses to break.


Shiva’s bow in Rama’s hands to shatter,

This to finally settle the contest matter.


To be embarrassed by God is good,

Individual’s subordinate position understood.


Join God, giving up your opposing voice,

Be His devotee and over His triumphs rejoice.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Empty Can Rattles The Most

Lord Rama holding His bow“You can’t even look at Rama’s body. Your cheeks are just making sounds. You were already embarrassed by the strength from the creator. Now be wise and don’t further embarrass yourself.” (Janaki Mangala, 60)

citai na sakahu rāma tana gāla bajāvahū |
bidhi basa balau lajāna sumati na lajāvahu ||

Aside from the issue of politeness, it is not considered wise to brag, to be overly vocal about your abilities, because it really serves no purpose. If you can back up what you’re saying, if your boasting legitimately speaks to your strengths, you should prove yourself in the subsequent exercise. What good does your boasting do? If I am a carpenter capable of cutting wood to match the specifications of the job in question, whether or not I talk a lot beforehand makes no difference in the final outcome. It is said in many places in the Vedic literatures that a true hero doesn’t speak much; he lets his work do the talking.

“My dear King Jarasandha, those who are heroes do not talk much. Rather, they show their prowess. Because you are talking much, it appears that you are assured of your death in this battle.” (Lord Krishna, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 49)

There is also the issue of failure, which is more often the cause for the bragging. The person fond of boasting speaks so much because they are unsure of their ability. In talking, they hope to put down the opposition, to instill some fear in them. If the person were actually confident of their abilities, they would have no need to talk much. Therefore in either circumstance, avoiding bragging is a good idea. For many kings assembled in Janakpur a long time ago, the recommendation to remain free from bragging was made because of the imminent defeat to arrive from the strong hand of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who was on the scene as the innocent, yet beautiful youth of the Raghu dynasty, the eldest son of Maharaja Dasharatha. Known by the name of Rama, the delight of mother Kausalya was seated in the assembly alongside His younger brother Lakshmana and the exalted sage Vishvamitra.

There was talk amongst the assembled princes because no one could keep their eyes off of Rama and Lakshmana. The brothers were just that beautiful. They had such delicate features that people couldn’t imagine how they were sons of a powerful and capable fighter like Dasharatha. In those times the people most capable of defending the innocent took charge of the government. This fact reveals the primary aim of government. There will always be aggressors in society, regardless of the time period. The strong shouldn’t be able to dominate the weak just because of their superiority in strength. A person has a right to the property that they lawfully acquire, and the innocent should not be harassed without cause. Therefore the government’s primary duty is to provide protection against the aggressors, not to be the aggressors themselves.

Though Rama and Lakshmana were still too young to take an active role in the administration, they nevertheless proved their ability to defend the innocent. They were with Vishvamitra because of the attacks he and the other sages in the forest of Dandaka constantly faced from the evil night-rangers, who were known as the Rakshasa species based on their hideous features. The night-rangers would change their shapes at will and attack during the dark hours when it was difficult to see. They had only one thing in mind: eliminate the influence of the pious. The end justified the means, so they didn’t care what codes of conduct they violated along the way.

Rama, for His part, was always attentive to pious principles. He and Lakshmana went to the forest because Vishvamitra asked them to. They got the permission of their parents first, and they never hesitated in performing their duty. Sometimes the attention to piety gives rise to doubt. How do we know what the right decision is in a particular area? For Rama, the first dilemma came from the attacking night-ranger named Tataka. She was a female, and kshatriya warriors never battled against females. Vishvamitra repeatedly instructed Rama to not pay attention to the gender, as Tataka had no concern for fighting fairly. Despite this fact, it wasn’t until Vishvamitra urged Rama strongly that the Lord did away with the fiendish creature.

Now He and His brother were in Janakpur with Vishvamitra, quickly made welcomed guests by the host of the occasion, King Janaka. This ceremony was to be more peaceful; no conflict was foreseen. Kings from around the world were invited to come to try to lift Lord Shiva’s bow. First come, first serve. Whoever could lift the bow first would win. Ah, but this was not an easy contest. The many kings who stepped up to the sacrificial arena already had to walk back to their seats with their heads hanging down. The bow bested them. This meant that the creator, Lord Brahma, had not given them bodies suitable for lifting this heavy bow.

In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, we see some advice given to the haughty kings. They are told to basically keep their mouths shut in relation to Rama. They are not qualified to even look at the handsome youth, as His beauty defeats the pride of millions of cupids. The expression relating to moving one’s cheeks references bragging. This is the equivalent of saying that someone is “blowing smoke”, “flapping their gums”, or “running their mouth.” The kings bragging about their own prowess was a wasted effort. Their cheeks were moving, but nothing worthwhile was coming out of their mouths.

The kings were already embarrassed by the bow, so talking further of their own prowess only embarrassed them more. When humbled in such a way, it is best to remain silent and not further degrade oneself. In this case the advice was also valid because Rama would step into the arena and lift the bow without a problem. He was destined to marry Janaka’s daughter Sita, for she is the goddess of fortune. The pair can never be apart, even when it appears to the eyes that they are not together. Sita can never marry anyone else.

Sita and RamaThe humbling of the kings was beneficial for them, as it is symbolic of what is needed for every spirit soul who lands in the material world. The root cause for the growth of the tree of material existence is the flawed notion that the individual can imitate God and perhaps surpass Him in ability. Only through illusion can one think that they are so great that they brag about their abilities. Even if one is at the top of their field, at some point in their life they required diapers and the help of adults. Skill is given by the creator through the body type awarded at the time of birth, but the exercise of that ability is not perfect. As we cannot see in the dark, we are limited in our sight. We cannot see through walls either, so in this way the material nature has dominance over our abilities.

To be humbled directly by the Supreme Lord is a tremendous boon, because it is better to appreciate His abilities instead of someone else’s or our own. If we remember Rama lifting and breaking the immensely heavy bow originally belonging to Lord Shiva, we will remember that He is the person most worthy of honor. He is the richest, wisest, most beautiful, most renounced, and most famous. In the kingdom of Janakpur that famous day, He showed that He is also the strongest.

The person possessing these features simultaneously becomes worthy of the name Bhagavan. His strength is not displayed only in contests. The strongest person can also provide the best protection, something needed by every person who is constantly tossed by the raging waters of the ocean of material existence. Rama’s strength is available to the surrendered souls when they regularly chant His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Shri Rama, Raghuvira, is the hero of the Raghu dynasty, and though He is quiet, He is the strongest person. He defends the innocent who try to connect with Him, and through His institution of bhakti-yoga, which is non-different from Him, His protection is available to all.

In Closing:

For hand of Sita many assembled princes contested,

But by weight of Shiva’s bow all were bested.


To boast of prowess then just gums to flap,

And fall further into embarrassment’s trap.


Kings from bow had their confidence shook,

Now at Rama were not worthy even to look.


Dasharatha’s eldest son both strong and silent,

To fulfill destiny to Janakpur He went.


To His devotees He offers His strength,

So to chant His names go to any length.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Where There is Smoke

Lord Rama's lotus feet“The pure and gentlemanly kings are saying, ‘For me, I understand that wherever there is splendor, fame and beauty, the strength will be there as well.’” (Janaki Mangala, 59)

suci sujāna nṛpa kahahiṃ hamahiṃ asa sūjhaī |
teja pratāpa rūpa jaham̐ taham̐ bala būjhahin ||

The champions of the ancient art of bhakti-yoga say that through a single sound vibration one can get in touch with the Divine. More than just an abstract concept of a heavenly figure who has the power to give or take away rewards, this entity is a personality, where the names used to address Him call Him to the scene. And this personality possesses transcendental features which are purna, or complete, in their goodness. He is not lacking anything, a fact validated by the ability of His name to bring His aura.

The famous phrase, “where there is smoke, there is fire”, says that if there are the trace attributes of a specific thing, it is likely that the specific thing is present as well. The smoke is the aftereffect of the burning fire. If you see smoke, then it must have an initial cause. That cause will be the burning of something, and in order to burn you must have fire. Therefore, simply from the result of visible smoke you can deduce that there is a fire somewhere nearby.

In a similar manner, by seeing the results of chanting the holy names, especially the names sequenced in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, you can assume the presence of the divine personality. By chanting in the proper mood, with firm faith, attention and dedication, so many beneficial attributes are acquired. We’ll start with the foremost among them, which is the continued loving dedication that lacks both motivation and interruption. This looks like a paradoxical combination, as how can you have dedication without some sort of motivation? What will get you over the hump, pull you across the finish line, if a motivating force is lacking?

Interruption is equally as important, for the unending commitment alone depresses enthusiasm in an endeavor. If I assign a task to someone, they might ask me how long it should take. If I respond with, “Oh, it’ll go on forever. You’ll never finish that job,” will the worker want to accept the job? Who would want to take on a task that never finishes? Yet this is precisely what reveals the glory of bhakti-yoga, showing how it can break all combinations previously thought to be paradoxical.

The symptom of the pure devotee is the relentless attention to chanting and overall worship. They chant the holy names in a regimented fashion, preferably saying the specific mantra relating to God at least sixteen rounds a day on a set of japa beads. But there is also spontaneous devotion, where signs of transcendental love manifest at the mere mention of the beloved’s name. The holy name brings to mind the transcendental features of the person being addressed. His sweet form, His cherished pastimes, and His vital instructions are all contained within His name.

As an added bonus that is almost considered negligible, the devotee also avoids sinful behaviors like meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. One may argue that it is nearly impossible to avoid these staples of  modern material life, but the benefit of avoiding them can’t be discounted. A person who can avoid sinful life is always in a superior position, for they steer clear of the deepest pitfalls that prevent happiness.

So we have no sinful life coupled with a dedication to chanting, dancing, hearing, remembering, and worshiping in devotion. This combination cannot be found through any other endeavor. Mental speculation, fruitive activity, and mystic yoga cannot give the same benefit to the participants, as there is always a point of maturation. In fruitive activity, the reward doesn’t provide lasting happiness, so pretty soon you’re left searching for another endeavor. In mental speculation, the endpoint is void, where activity ceases. This goes against the natural inclination of spirit, for the soul is a vibrant force with a desire for activity. Mysticism provides a perfection of some sort, an ability that can be used but which doesn’t necessarily bring the yogi to a better end.

As where there is smoke there is fire, where there are the amazing benefits of bhakti through the innocent chanting, there must be a higher power responsible for the outcome. Just chanting any word or series of words will not do the trick. The power in the holy name is its equivalence to the supreme person it addresses. In this sense the results reveal and validate the superior standing of the Supreme Lord, whose features are so nicely described in the Vedas.

Lord RamaThat same Supreme Personality appeared on this earth many thousands of years ago to enact wonderful pastimes. One famous incident occurred in the kingdom of Tirahuta, which was ruled over by Maharaja Janaka. The king had an unmarried daughter who would be given away to whichever prince could lift the extremely heavy bow belonging to Lord Shiva. God in His avatara of Lord Rama appeared on the scene with His younger brother Lakshmana and the sage Vishvamitra. They supposedly were there just to watch, but as Vishvamitra, a brahmana, was well-respected, so too were his two disciples.

Rama and Lakshmana were of a young age, but they stood out. Their beauty was amazing. The attention focused more on Rama because He was the elder brother, so He was eligible for participating in the contest. In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, we get an idea of what some of the attendees were thinking when they saw Rama. In this particular statement, we see how someone can notice God’s complete feature-set simply by noticing other divine features.

In the Vedas the Supreme Lord is addressed as Bhagavan, which is a word that indicates that He possesses all opulences to the fullest degree and at the same time. From the visual, the other princes in Tirahuta could tell that Rama was the most beautiful. They also saw that he had splendor, or tejas. Fame belonged to Rama as well because of the family He belonged to and His having protected Vishvamitra from powerful attacking Rakshasas in the forest.

The princes making these remarks are described as pure and virtuous. This means that their assessments were not clouded by jealousy, rivalry, or the desire for personal gain. Bias is only natural when we are competing with our fellow man for opulence, but in this case the pious princes were not partial in their assessments. They accurately noted that since Rama had the three aforementioned features, He would likely have strength as well. They were correct, as Rama would indeed lift the bow and win Sita’s hand in marriage.

That same strength, beauty, fame and splendor are packed into the holy name cherished by the kind-hearted souls like Goswami Tulsidas, Shri Hanuman, and Rama’s wife Sita Devi. They know that where there is supreme auspiciousness due to chanting, the presence of the Supreme Personality must be there as well. Knowing this, the wise and virtuous souls, irrespective of their occupational duty or societal standing, make the chanting of the holy name their primary occupation in life.

In Closing:

Along with citizens, pious princes there too,

From looking at Rama one thing they knew.


When beauty, splendor and fame are there,

Strength to exist too, of this they were aware.


That Rama would lift the bow this meant,

In vain to Tirahuta so many princes went.


Use same principle for God to understand,

With holy name the Supreme Lord’s presence land.


When wonderful attributes from divine chanting come,

Know that the Supreme Lord and His name are one.

Monday, August 27, 2012


Sita and Rama“One person says: ‘It will be good if Janaka breaks his oath to allow Sita and Rama to get married.’” (Janaki Mangala, 58)

kahahiṃ eka bhali bāta byāhu bhala hoihiṃ |
bara dulahini lagi janaka apanapana khoihi ||

It’s not good to break your promise, for otherwise people will not trust you. The next time you make a vow, no one will take you seriously. If you’re in a position of authority and people don’t assign any value to your word, how can you effectively wield that authority? If a police officer is laughed at for his inability to apprehend suspects, will the innocent people feel safe? What then will be the difference between a police officer and an ordinary citizen? The ordinary citizen would be in a better position because they at least don’t pretend to be capable of defending the innocent. Yet sometimes it is considered good to break a vow, especially if the desired end is beneficial. This was the sentiment of a group of observers at a famous wedding ceremony a long time ago.

If I vow to only eat certain foods in order to lose weight, breaking that vow will not be good. The vow was taken with a specific purpose in mind, that of losing weight. If there is no will power, no ability to control oneself through a difficult time, how can the proper end be reached? Ah, but herein lies the key point. That proper end is what determines whether or not a particular action should be taken. If breaking my vow will help me to lose weight, then perhaps it isn’t so bad.

As another way to think of the same principle, imagine driving along the street and then encountering a red light. The red light says that you must stop. In this particular instance, however, stopping is not an option due to the traffic situation that is ahead of you. If you go through the light, you are not only risking a collision with oncoming cars, but you are also breaking the law. But in some cases, it is better to go through the red light in order to avoid a dangerous situation. The stipulation to stop at the red light exists for the same purpose that is furthered by the special circumstance.

For a king a long time ago, a vow was taken in order to find the perfect match for his daughter. The king wanted a strong and courageous prince to take care of his daughter, who had delicate features and a level of virtue never before seen to the world at the time. Neither has that level of virtue been seen in a woman since. It can only exist in the eternal consort of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Not surprisingly, the actions of Janaka were the will of Providence meant to join the devoted pair, Sita and Rama, together for the eyes to delight in.

Janaka made a vow relating to an extremely heavy bow he possessed that originally belonged to Lord Shiva. “Lift the bow and I will give away my cherished daughter Sita to you in marriage.” This was a pretty safe vow, for if no one could lift the bow, Janaka would be let off from blame. It wouldn’t be his fault that no one in the world was worthy of his daughter’s hand in marriage. If someone could lift the bow, then obviously that person was exceptionally strong and would therefore provide good protection to the beloved Sita.

Shri Ramachandra’s appearance in Tirahuta threw a wrench into the equation. Neither Janaka nor anyone else in the close inner circle knew that someone like Rama existed. They also didn’t think that someone like Rama would be unmarried and eligible for accepting a new wife. Had they known these things prior there would have been no reason to proclaim the vow. If you’re a manager of a business team and you know someone who is perfect to fill an open position, what need is there to put out an ad for the job? Why go through a detailed hiring process, where you interview candidate after candidate, if you already know of someone who is perfect for the job and eligible to be hired?

Lord RamaLord Rama was so beautiful that people seeing Him for the first time couldn’t believe it. His younger brother Lakshmana was equally as beautiful, and they both arrived in the city with Vishvamitra Muni. If as a man you tell a woman that you devote time to reading to the blind, feeding the poor, taking care of abandoned puppies, or some other good work, you are sure to get a positive response. It is thought that the typical adult-aged male enjoys drinking, partying, chasing after women, sports, video games and a host of other activities relating to personal sense gratification.

In ancient times, the kings enjoyed themselves quite well, as to the victor went the spoils. Yet this youth with a bluish complexion appeared on the scene without fanfare, and He wasn’t roaming the forests out of His desire for fun or the need to practice His marksmanship with the bow and arrow. No, He was there to protect Vishvamitra, an innocent priest-like person, from the wicked attacks of terrorist-like night-rangers.

Add to the fact that Rama and Lakshmana were descendants in the famous Ikshvaku family and you get an idea of why there were new grumblings questioning the king’s decision. The elder Rama was perfect for Sita. There was no flaw in Him. Looking at Him was enough to tell that He was someone special, but His character and dedication to fighting against the most powerful enemies sealed the deal.

In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, we get a sample of the statements of the people watching the contest. One group decided that it would be okay if the king broke his vow. No harm would be done, for the decision would allow Rama and Sita to be married, which is what everyone wanted anyway. Actually, the oath was taken for the purpose of finding for Sita a good husband, especially one who was fit to protect. Vishvamitra’s faith in Rama was the only testimonial needed to vouch for the delight of the Raghu dynasty’s ability to defend the innocent.

In the end, Janaka didn’t break his vow. He wouldn’t need to, as Rama would lift and break Shiva’s bow. The people got what they wanted, a marriage which didn’t relate to them personally. Just the sight of the perfect match joining in holy matrimony was enough to please the devoted souls watching the proceedings. That same vision can be created within the mind by regularly chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” A vow to chant these names every day with full faith, attention and reliance brings the cherished benefit of the divine consciousness.

In Closing:

Lose weight, I must right now,

To eat properly is my vow.


On time and with control I will eat,

The objective of healthiness I hope to meet.


But sometimes the rules okay to break,

Assessment with ultimate objective must make.


The king of Videha some started to denounce,

For Rama to marry Sita vow king should renounce.


In the end no need for king’s word to forsake,

Shri Rama in His hand Shiva’s bow to take.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Broken Promise

Rama and Sita“Looking at Rama all the princes became disappointed. ‘Abandoning his vow, Janaka will give Sita to the dark-complexioned youth for marriage.” (Janaki Mangala, 57)

bheṃ nirāsa saba bhūpa bilokata rāmahiṃ |
pana parihari siya deba janaka barū syāmahiṃ ||

There was no way Janaka was going to break his vow. If he had been inclined to go that route, he wouldn’t have arranged for the marriage ceremony in the first place. It was his commitment to dharma that brought all the princes from around the world to his kingdom for that special day, the event of events. Whoever could lift Lord Shiva’s bow would win Sita’s hand in marriage. This was the promise made by the king, and because of his truthfulness and the divine qualities of his daughter, the assembled princes from around the world were eager to participate in the contest and hopeful of emerging victorious.

Ah, but there was a newly introduced wildcard. This handsome youth with a dark-blue complexion arrived on the scene with His equally as beautiful younger brother and the venerable rishi Vishvamitra. You couldn’t have created a better contrast if you painted the picture yourself. On the one side you had a line of arriving guests that looked like a conveyor belt. The princes didn’t come alone. They had their royal entourages with them, which included priests and paraphernalia required for travel.

“Gather all essentials and pack them in securely so that we’ll have whatever we need for the journey and the hopeful extended stay in Janaka’s kingdom.” The princes leaving home were on their way to a tournament-style venue. If you’re a sports competitor participating in a tournament, the goal is to make it to the final rounds. This means that the longer you stay at the tournament site as a participant, the more successful you are.

There were no extended rounds at this contest. It was one and done. You had one shot at victory, and if you didn’t win, you’d have to sit down and watch others make the same attempt. If you should happen to emerge victorious, you would get to marry the goddess of fortune in a grand ceremony. The wedding would likely take several days and you’d get to return home with the beloved princess and her maidservants. In this way there was a lot riding on the outcome of the event. The participants hoped to have an extended party, and the people back home wished for a triumphant and jubilant return.

Lord Rama, on the other hand, arrived at the event without much fanfare. He hadn’t gone there to specifically participate in the contest. He and His younger brother Lakshmana had other pressing matters which warranted attention. The lives of the innocent sages residing in the forests were at stake, as they were troubled by the attacks of the fiendish night-rangers, who changed their shapes at will and paid no regard to innocent life. A priest is not bothering anyone if he lives by himself away from society. What need then did Maricha and his band of Rakshasas have to harass saintly ascetics?

Never mind their motives, for one can spend their entire life studying the behavior of miscreants and not get anywhere. The more important issue was to provide protection. For this King Dasharatha’s eldest son was called to the scene. Though He was a youth with delicate features, there was not a single hole in His defensive capabilities. With His bow and arrow He could defeat an unlimited number of attackers. Add to the mix Lakshmana, who is equally as capable in fighting, and you get an impenetrable wall of protection.

After defending the sages in the forest, the unselfish brothers made it to Janakpur at the direction of Vishvamitra, who was welcomed kindly by King Janaka. The trio were given thrones to sit on to watch the festivities. Though they didn’t arrive in large caravans, the two brothers drew attention from the onlookers. Rama was especially noteworthy because He was the elder brother, which meant that He was eligible to participate in the contest. Lakshmana was younger and since Rama wasn’t yet married it would have been a sin for him to marry.

King Janaka initially didn’t want to marry off his daughter. He found her through divine intervention, in a field of all places. She was a baby at the time, and since he was childless she was a true blessing in his life. He loved her so much that he didn’t want to give her away to just any man when the time was right. But he knew that if he kept his daughter unmarried, he would invite ridicule from relatives and the citizens of the state.

As a suitable compromise, Janaka decided on the bow-lifting contest. He vowed to give Sita away to whoever could first lift the extremely heavy bow belonging to Lord Shiva. This vow combined with Janaka’s respected standing in the world brought the many princes to his city. Though they were very powerful, they could not lift the bow. One by one they approached the sacrificial arena, made their attempt, and then paid respect to the bow as they left.

Now seeing Rama sitting there in all His beauty, the princes started to wonder if Janaka would break his vow. “We can’t compete with this dark-complexioned youth of divine features. He is so enchanting that He defeats the pride of millions of cupids. Why is Janaka even going to waste time with the contest? This youth is obviously the perfect match for Sita, so we don’t stand a chance.”

Lord RamaThough they were rooted in defeatism, these kind sentiments served to praise Rama even more. It is one thing for devoted souls to offer praise, but these were competitors, people trying to win the contest before Rama could. The Supreme Lord’s competitors can’t help but acknowledge and praise His qualities. Previously, when the wicked night-ranger Maricha had attacked Vishvamitra, Shri Rama, without blinking an eye, without breaking a sweat, calmly strung His bow and shot an arrow that struck Maricha so hard that it flung him over eight hundred miles away. Maricha never forgot that incident, and he knew that he only remained alive because of Rama’s mercy.

Now the contestants were watching Rama and they felt defeated already. The beauty of the Supreme Lord was so magnificent that they irrationally thought that Janaka would break his vow. Indeed, many of the town’s women had hoped that Janaka would break his promise, for what if Rama couldn’t lift the bow? In that case the king’s vow would serve to prevent the match made in heaven. That wouldn’t be good.

But things were arranged in this way for a reason. The fear of the competing princes should have been rooted in Rama’s strength, which was seemingly overshadowed by His delightful, youthful appearance. Contradictory attributes exist in the Supreme Lord, and this fact is very hard to understand for the mind conditioned by the bounds of dry logic. Rama is both formless and with form. His formless feature lacks His personal presence, whereas His spiritual form brings sweetness in association. The sweetness of that form was so strong that Rama defeated the pride of the princes participating in the contest.

Rama’s spiritual features can carry out any function. His delicate hands can lift a bow as heavy as iron. His sweet smile can instill both delight and fear. But best of all, the sound of His holy name can deliver the fallen souls drowning in an ocean of material suffering, where there is constant competition and uncertainty over the future. The holy names of, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, bring the delight of the Raghu dynasty to the mind’s vision. There was no reason to fear Janaka breaking his promise, for Sita and Rama were destined to be with one another. Shri Rama would win the contest, playing within the rules, and thus prove to the world that He is worthy of the affection of the goddess of fortune.

In Closing:

“Wedding of Sita and Rama king will make,

And with that his promise he’ll break.”


Confidence of princes Rama’s beauty shook,

Afraid of Janaka’s vow breaking after just one look.


Forms of the Supreme Lord there are more than one,

Within any of them anything can be done.


In a youth heavy bow He can lift,

To eyes of devotees His victory a gift.


No fear, Janaka’s promise to stay true,

That it wasn’t their day the princes already knew.