Saturday, September 29, 2012

Have You No Shame

Lord Rama“Those sweet forms melt your heart and steal your mind, so why don’t you respect it? Without accomplishing your work you come to this royal assembly, and renouncing shame you seek to ruin yourself.” (Janaki Mangala, Chand 8.1)

manasija manohara madhura mūrati kasa na sādara jovahū |
binu kāja rāja samāja mahum̐ taji lāja āpu bigovahū ||

The picture is so sweet. Two young boys taken care of by a much older muni, all while watching a ceremony to be remembered for thousands of years into the future. The observers at the time didn’t know it, but history was about to be made. The precious daughter of King Janaka was to be given away to the strongest prince in the assembly, for immense strength was required to lift up the heavy bow belonging to Lord Shiva. King Janaka had stipulated the rules of the contest, vowing to bequeath his daughter to whoever could lift this bow first. The youthful delights seated on opposite ends of the sun-like Vishvamitra were ready to join this family shortly, with the elder Rama eligible to participate in and win the contest.

This presented an issue for the other contestants. Rama and Lakshmana were no doubt beautiful. In fact, you couldn’t find a flaw in them. This was the assessment made from the initial glance. We can’t really tell much about a person’s character by looks alone, but we can get an idea of whether or not they are favored by the creator. Nothing happens on its own. Every reaction is the result of a past action. The pistons in the car start firing at the turn of the key by the operator of the vehicle. That engine cannot roar unless there is gasoline in the tank, which requires human effort for transport.

The womb gives shelter to the embryo which eventually matures to the point that it exits into the world. That embryo could not exist without the combined action of the mother and father. Therefore nothing happens on its own, including the workings of nature. There is intelligence behind results, though we may not always see or know who that intelligent force is. The animals also don’t act randomly, as they scour the land for food based on personal desire. They may look like they are running around for no reason, but they have a purpose to their actions. Though their intelligence isn’t nearly as sharp as the sober human being’s, there is nevertheless a specific impetus for action.

On this particular day, by noticing the beauty of the two boys escorting Vishvamitra one could tell that the creator was favorable to them. If we have natural beauty, good parentage, and strong intelligence, it is to be understood that these are the rewards of good deeds from a previous life. The spirit soul exists within all species and continues its existence after the present body is discarded. It also had a form in a different individual in a past life. The cycle continues on for as long as the desire to remain separated from the good graces of the spiritual land remains.

“Those who worship the demigods will take birth among the demigods; those who worship ghosts and spirits will take birth among such beings; those who worship ancestors go to the ancestors; and those who worship Me will live with Me.”  (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.25)

The same point is subtly addressed in the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala. Even with the rival kings Rama and Lakshmana’s beauty was noticed and appreciated. Rama is God, so wherever He goes He carries a glaring effulgence, a transcendental beauty that no one has ever seen before. Just the interaction, the personal presence, however, is not enough to effect change in others. It is what one does with that association that matters.

Think of being stranded in a desert without any water. It’s so hot that you can’t move anymore. You think that you won’t survive long enough to make it to an area where there is water. Now, let’s suppose that you come upon an oasis, a large supply of fresh, drinking water. The potential for the benefit exists with the water, but unless you actually drink it, you won’t be in a better situation. It’s sort of like looking for your car keys when you are holding them in your hand the entire time.

The admonition in the verse quoted above relates to making the best use of the divine vision standing in front of the kings. It’s understandable that the rivals would be proud of their entourage, good work, and kingdom. Indeed, the more opulent your kingdom is, the better it is believed to be. King Janaka was wealthy as well, though he was known more for his perfection in mysticism, his equal disposition. He had not a hint of sin in him, and his daughter followed in his footsteps. That is why there was so much attention paid to her svayamvara, or self-choice ceremony.

The pride that comes with working hard and securing valuable possessions should not prevent one from appreciating God, who is the source of everything. He is the original proprietor, so what we call our “possessions” are actually on loan from Him, meant to be used to help move our consciousness in the right direction. There is no easier way to purify consciousness than to direct it at the Supreme Lord standing in front of you. As if to make the emancipation of the soul easier, the exact form of Godhead on display for the people in Janakpur was one that best elicited spontaneous loving affection.

Rama and LakshmanaThe child is the essence of innocence, and though Rama wasn’t a baby, He wasn’t a fully grown adult at the time either. He and Lakshmana had delicate features, yet they were still strong enough to be sought out for protection by Vishvamitra, who lived in the forest at the time. The hearts were already melting in the rival kings, and the minds were stolen by the enchanting vision, so what need was there to disrespect Rama and Lakshmana?

Respect for the Supreme Lord is the precursor to spontaneous loving affection that never dies. Renouncing shame, the kings that didn’t respect Rama would have to honor His strength when He would later lift up the enormously heavy bow without a problem. That same bow that previously could not be moved by the proud kings was lifted, strung and broken in a blink of an eye by the jewel of the Raghu dynasty. The onlookers that respected the beautiful form, the murti of the Supreme Lord, got to bask in the sweetness of the vision and celebrate the marriage of the divine couple, Sita and Rama.

That same beauty can exist within the mind of the sincere worshiper. The respect for it can be shown by regularly chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. All the possessions and relationships we have will disappear at the time of death, so rather than squander the wonderful opportunity we have to stop rebirth, why not follow the divine path and show respect for the beloved protectors of the saints? Rama and Lakshmana look beautiful with Vishvamitra, and that vision can melt the hardest of hearts and slowly bring about a sober understanding of the temporary nature of this world and reveal who the original owner of all objects is.

In Closing:

Shame is sometimes good,

With humility God understood.


To Janaka’s kingdom came,

Royal families of worldwide fame.


But accomplish their work they would not,

Bested by bow, vision of Rama they got.


Respect that form, your chance don’t squander,

Else through reincarnation’s cycle you’ll wander.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Attention to Duty

Lord Rama's hand“Vishvamitra has his lotus-like hands affectionately over their hair, like red lotus flowers on baby cupid.” (Janaki Mangala, 64)

kākapaccha rivi parasata pāni sarojani |
lāla kamala janu lālata bāla manojani ||

To properly paint a picture with words, reference points are often used. They prove to be helpful, especially if the terms invoked are known to most people. In the Vedic tradition, the best picture of the Supreme Lord in all His beauty is painted through the many verses of poetry, both in the Sanskrit language and its derivatives. For issues of beauty, Kamadeva, the god of love, is often referenced, as his beauty is well-known. He is the equivalent of the commonly known cupid, so to help him instill lusty desires in others, he has lotus flowers around him. The arrows he shoots from his bow also have flowers on them, as the beautiful fragrance and sight of these natural wonders help to create an amorous mood. A long time ago, the transcendental affection shown by a spiritual master towards his child disciples could be better explained through a comparison to a young Kamadeva.

The scene in question was a grand sacrifice in the kingdom of Janakpur. A religious sacrifice is for the benefit of the Supreme Lord or one of His deputies. With a sacrifice you dedicate some time to an issue not relating to your personal interest. Even if you want to acquire something for your own comfort or you are establishing a rite of passage, the attention to religious life is there all the same, at least in the case of the pious. For instance, in the Vedic tradition the birth of a new child is celebrated with a sacrifice, for the desire of the parents is to bring auspiciousness to the occasion, to ensure that the child no longer has to suffer through birth and death.

Notice that the plea for auspiciousness does not have to relate to only personal wellbeing. The ability to have all of your amenities provided for in life does not represent the summit of existence. Rather, the advanced species that is the human being has a higher purpose to fulfill. They are the elder brother of the animal community, so they are to set a good example of tolerance, kindness, and dedication to piety. That piousness leads to a benefit for all, not just the person adherent to it. The benefit of following your occupational duty may not be readily known to someone who is sensually driven, but if we see some examples of different roles properly fulfilled, we can figure out the reason for the dedication and also the purpose behind the pleas for auspiciousness made by others.

A long time back, two sons of a famous king were on their way out into the wilderness for an indefinite period of time. They were quite young, and though they were young enough to still require adult supervision, their purpose in the forest was to defend against the attacks of the wickedest creatures on earth. The son of Gadhi, Vishvamitra Muni, had come to Ayodhya to request the protection of Shri Ramachandra, the delight of the Raghu dynasty and eldest son of King Dasharatha. After the king reluctantly agreed to allow Rama to leave, Lakshmana, the Lord’s younger brother, also accompanied the group.

“They pray to God to grant them blessings: ‘May You garner fame and return victorious. May You not lose a single hair while bathing.’” (Janaki Mangala, 29)

As they were leaving, the residents prayed for Rama and Lakshmana’s welfare. They did not want a single hair from their heads to fall while bathing, but they also wanted them to return successful in their duties. Children are the essence of innocence, and on this occasion, they left home because of the request of a respected sage. The citizens would have been excused for only thinking of the boys’ welfare, but they knew that to fulfill the higher purpose is more important.

The dedication to chivalry would create a peaceful condition in the forests for others who were carrying out their occupational duties. The brahmanas live by religious principles, and from their ability to worship God they can grant so many benedictions to the rest of society. If that dedication to piety is jeopardized by ill-motivated thieves and rogues, then the entire fabric of society crumbles.

Rama and Lakshmana successfully carried out their duties and then made it to Janakpur, where another highly pious person was carrying out his obligations. King Janaka was the host of a grand sacrifice to determine the husband for his beautiful daughter Sita. Marriage is also a religious tradition, meant to create a stable bond that can benefit both parties in terms of advancement in consciousness. The husband supported by a chaste wife can carry out his occupational duties as delineated by the Vedas and explained by the priestly class. The wife, at the same time, gets the protection she needs from her right-minded husband.

Oh, but if only finding the right boy for your daughter were easy. Janaka knew that his precious Sita deserved only the most righteous prince. Rama fit the position perfectly, as He had already protected Vishvamitra and the other munis in the forest from the worst attackers, so protecting Sita should not have been a problem for Him. Oh, and there was His beauty as well. Both Rama and Lakshmana seemed like creatures that didn’t belong on earth. It seemed like the creator took all of the beauty from his palette and placed it in their forms and then used whatever little beauty he had left over for the rest of the population.

Rama and LakshmanaThe sacrifice in Janaka’s kingdom involved a contest with a bow, which originally belonged to Lord Shiva. Whoever could lift the bow first would win the contest. Many princes had already tried, but they couldn’t even move it. As if on a conveyor belt, they each walked up to the bow, tried to lift it, and then offered respect to it after having failed.

Now these two handsome youths were on the scene with the sage Vishvamitra. Everyone was looking at them, for their beauty was indescribable. The affectionate sage at one point caressed their heads with his lotus-like hands. Goswami Tulsidas compares this to red lotus flowers touching baby Kamadeva, or cupid. Kamadeva is beautiful to start, but in a childlike form he is more endearing. The child is innocent, and when decorated with nice flowers the innocence is enhanced even further.

All of the related parties who followed their occupational duties would be rewarded through Rama. The pious king of Ayodhya allowed Rama and Lakshmana to leave at the insistence of the sage. Vishvamitra gave powerful mantras to the two boys after they defeated the wicked Tataka demon. And now King Janaka was going to be rewarded for holding a contest to determine the husband for his daughter.

Shri Rama, in a young form that surpassed the beauty of millions of cupids, lifted the bow easily and won Sita’s hand in marriage. The goddess of fortune herself then further decorated the beautiful youth with a bluish complexion by placing the flower garland of victory around His neck. And for all of time she stays by His side as His beautiful and devoted wife. The perfect devotee Lakshmana also remains with Rama, and their number one servant, Shri Hanuman, completes the picture. That beautiful group remains with the devotees who always think of them.

In Closing:

Vishvamitra to Ayodhya went,

His two sons then Dasharatha sent.


Sacrifices in forests ascetics did,

Rakshasas brothers then to rid.


Holding contest Janaka did his part,

Proved to be a decision very smart.


In love sage put hands on each head,

Like Kamadeva with flowers red.


To their dharma all parties thus true,

That Rama to win the wise knew.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


Rama and Lakshmana with Vishvamitra“The princes are on the two sides of the muni, like blue and yellow lotuses with the sun in between.” (Janaki Mangala, 63)

duhu disi rājakumāra birājata munibara |
nīla pīta pāthoja bīca janu dinakara ||

This is another reference to the sun made by Goswami Tulsidas to describe the son of Gadhi, Vishvamitra Muni. The spiritual master is the sun to brighten up the unfortunately dark consciousness of the conditioned living being. The source of the sun’s effulgence is unknown to the spiritually disinclined, but the brightness of the spiritual master shines from his belief in the Supreme Personality. More than just a faith directed towards a figure of a particular spiritual tradition, in full intelligence the guru serves the Supreme Being regularly, with every thought, word and deed. Because of this his life is a symbol of sacrifice.

In this particular instance, the two young disciples accompanying the sage were already all-knowing. They had no need to accept a spiritual master, and so they voluntarily assumed the role of disciples. They were quite young, so youthful that their guardians worried about their welfare in the forest, even while under the care of the expert teacher Vishvamitra. The boys were capable bow warriors, specifically requested to quell the threat of violence that had plagued the peaceful saints residing in the forest.

What was that threat exactly? On the one side you have peaceful saints and on the opposite end are the miscreants who are more than just averse to spiritual traditions and the principles followed in them. One person may be unaware of something foreign to them, but they won’t have the hubris to proclaim that they know what is going on. The miscreants, who are committed to their way of life, will go one step further and denounce the pious, proclaiming that they are a threat to society. Since they don’t follow an authorized system of maintenance themselves, these fools make up dharmas on a whim, and because of this they are capable of anything.

The miscreant class was concentrated on the island of Lanka during this particular time period. They had decided that it was pious behavior to attack the sages residing in the forest. Mind you, these ascetics had no possessions, just the bark for their clothes and the thatched huts for their residence. They had no money and they weren’t trying to get any. They wanted to live in peace, to stay detached from material affairs.

The night-rangers from Lanka decided to attack the saints in the dead of night, when it was hardest to be detected. They would also change their shapes at will, thereby first appearing innocent to a person who would otherwise suspect foul play. In the vulnerable state the sages were being attacked, killed, and then eaten by these vile creatures.

Vishvamitra went to Ayodhya to get the help of one particular fighter. King Dasharatha was the ruler of the town and thereby the leader of the army. The king received Vishvamitra well and promised to offer his personal protection, which would be accompanied by his massive army. But the son of Gadhi wanted only Dasharatha’s eldest son Rama, who was not yet twelve years of age. On to the forest went the jewel of the Raghu dynasty, taking His younger brother Lakshmana with Him.

“Travelling along the way with the rishi they are looking so beautiful. That beautiful image lives within Tulasi’s heart. When the trio was going, it looked like the sun travelling north, taking with it the spring season.” (Janaki Mangala, Chand 4.2)

In his Janaki Mangala Tulsidas compared the scene of the trio departing Ayodhya to the sun travelling in the north, taking the two months of the spring season with it. The sun was referred to as dina-natha, or the lord of the day. That Rama and Lakshmana would be compared to spring is not surprising, as they would bring renewed life to an area that had suffered a winter-like period due to the attacks of night-rangers headed by Maricha.

Lakshmana and Rama with VishvamitraRama and Lakshmana would do their part, and then later at the direction of Vishvamitra they would make it to Janakpur, where a svayamvara was being held for the king’s daughter, Sita Devi. King Janaka received the trio hospitably and gave them thrones to sit on. It was while they were seated that they looked like the sun rising with a blue lotus on one side and a yellow lotus on the other.

The sage and the boys weren’t purposefully placed in thrones for everyone to see, but their beauty was such that no one could fail to notice them. The residents were so enchanted by Rama and Lakshmana that they knew that the reason for their existence had been met that day. They worried over the outcome of the event, wanting Rama, the elder brother, to win the contest, which required lifting an enormously heavy bow. The winner would gain Sita’s hand in marriage and thus enter the family. Through their beautiful appearance, the two sons of Dasharatha had already entered the people’s hearts.

Aside from being the symbol of purity and beauty, the lotus flower is notable for its behavior with respect to the sun. As soon as the sun rises in the sky, the lotus flower sprouts open and shows off its beauty. When the sun sets later on, the same lotus closes back up, as if to shun the association of anything besides its precious sun. The comparison is appropriate for this situation because Rama and Lakshmana were so dedicated to Vishvamitra. One would never think that the boys were in the superior position, though they were the Supreme Lord and His number one servant respectively.

Rama was dark in complexion, so He was like the blue lotus. Lakshmana was golden colored, so He was like the yellow lotus. In this situation Vishvamitra was the maker of the day, the sun, because he brought the vision of the two flowers to the assembly. The boys acted at the direction of the sage, just as the lotus flowers are dependent on the sun for their movements.

Through His actions the Supreme Lord pays the highest honor to the spiritual master, who is His representative on earth. That maker of the day would ask Rama to participate in the contest, to curb the pride of the many princes who had gathered there on that day. The blue lotus would easily lift the bow and win Sita’s hand in marriage, automatically bringing huge smiles to the faces of the devoted onlookers, who were like lotuses to the sun of the sun-dynasty, Shri Rama.

In Closing:

Lotus opens up at sight of the sun,

And then closes when day is done.


The day the sun makes,

Its light earth’s creatures take.


Spiritual master the same,

Vedic wisdom from him gain.


As disciples Rama and Lakshmana took the role,

To Vishvamitra did as they were told.


Bringing them to Janakpur the day was made,

Vision of blue and yellow lotuses with people stayed.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Don’t Miss Your Chance

Lord Rama“Why don’t your eyes drink fully that pure, nectarean form? Get the most out of your human birth; why live like an animal?” (Janaki Mangala, 62)

kasa na piahu bhari locana rūpa sudhā rasu |
karahu kṛtāratha janma hohu kata nara pasu ||

The thrill of the moment makes us forget the fact that the predicament we are so worried over will likely arise once again in the future. The nervousness over the imminent aftermath is due solely to the fear over what will happen should the result not be in our favor. Because of this short-sightedness so much attention is repeatedly given to tasks that amount to nothing in the long run, while those things which are really important, which are right in front of us, are tossed aside as being insignificant. A long time back the stakes seemed a little higher, as the outcome would determine if a beautiful princess would be brought into the family, but again there was something more important worth noticing. That beautiful gem was so rare that it wasn’t guaranteed to come around again; so the observer was well-advised to really take note.

Think of the nervousness over taking an exam. Perhaps you have prepared well to take a road test to get your driver’s license in a particular state. You put in the time behind the wheel, got used to the turns and how to handle the brakes, and even mastered the art of parallel parking. Now comes the time for the test. You’re very nervous because you know that one slip up and you’ll fail. In this particular state, you don’t get to take the test every day, which means that failure to pass on this day means that you won’t get another chance for a few months.

Ah, but this is actually a benefit, a fact to take comfort in. You will get another chance! Though it may take a while, though it may be after several months, eventually you’ll again have the opportunity to try for the driver’s license. Nevertheless, because you’re not sure how you’ll handle failure, you get nervous both before and during the exam. You’re so worried about passing because you know that a license will open up a whole new world for you. You can drive to wherever you want without asking others for a ride. You can rent a car if you should have to travel somewhere, and you can maybe even purchase your own car and feel independent in that way.

In the game of life, these sorts of obstacles appear all the time. To be swayed by them is not very wise, for the rise of happiness and distress operates on a pattern similar to the onset of the winter and summer seasons. This notable truth is presented by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita as a way to get His cousin, Arjuna, who was hesitating to fight prior to a great battle, to understand how to remain steady in both happiness and distress.

“O son of Kunti, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.”  (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.14)

It is strange if you think about it. If the sun is not out on a particular day, you may feel sad, but you know that the clouds will part eventually. The sun was just out the day before, so why shouldn’t it return? Moreover, once it does come back, there may come a time when you want it to be blocked again, for it can give off scorching hot rays that cause discomfort. The reaction to the seasons is similar. If it’s really cold in the winter you long for the comforting heat of the summer, but in the summer the heat may get to you as well.

The person of steady mind is not distracted by these temporary ups and downs. Life is full of opportunities for sense gratification, so a loss on a particular day isn’t so important. The same goes for victory, for we know that winning a championship in a particular sport doesn’t insulate one from heartache and pain caused by failure in subsequent years. There is one aspect of life, however, that doesn’t always come around, and when it does you should make the most of the rare occurrence.

“In order to deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I advent Myself millennium after millennium.”  (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.8)

The Supreme Personality of Godhead pervades the entire space in His unmanifested, impersonal form. This means that wherever we are we can get a glimpse of God through His external energy, as within that external force is an internal energy that has a higher potency. The living beings are considered part of the marginal potency because they are by constitution the same as the internal energy but they can be deluded by the external energy. Sort of like choosing sides in a game, the individual spirit souls can pick which energy they want for association.

Lord RamaOn rare occasions, due to outside circumstances and also His own personal desire, the Supreme Lord descends to earth in a personal form, one that has features visually identifiable to even those who are otherwise enamored by the material nature. As Lord Rama, God took on the guise of a handsome, valiant and chivalrous warrior prince. He and His younger brother Lakshmana once made it to the town of Tirahuta, where a grand ceremony was taking place to determine the marriage for the daughter of King Janaka, Sita Devi.

Rama is known as Bhagavan because He is the most fortunate, and so anyone who has the opportunity to see His personal form is also very fortunate. At the gathering in Tirahuta, so many people from around the world got to see Rama, but there was a pretense. Famous families were in Janaka’s city to take part in a contest, to see who could first lift Lord Shiva’s amazingly heavy bow. Rama and Lakshmana actually arrived there as an afterthought, following the lead of the venerable Vishvamitra Muni.

King Janaka welcomed all of his guests very well, and his behavior was no different towards Vishvamitra and these two handsome youths, who were protecting the sages in the forests from the attacks of night-rangers. Janaka gave the trio thrones to sit on to watch the ceremony, which allowed the spectators to gaze upon the beautiful two sons of King Dasharatha of Ayodhya.

The observers noticed something special in both Rama and Lakshmana, and since Rama was older, they hoped that He would win the contest. He was eligible to marry Sita, but the rules stipulated that the groom must lift the bow. All sorts of emotions arose in the spectators, with some worrying whether Rama would win and others cursing the king for having taken such a vow. If that vow prevented Sita from marrying Rama, what good was it?

There were also the other princes on the scene, competitors to one another and to Rama, though the Lord was not worried in the least. He wasn’t even there to compete; He just followed whatever the spiritual master Vishvamitra said. Some competitors realized that since there was beauty, fame and splendor in Rama, there was surely strength as well. This was a wise assessment that would later prove to be accurate as well.

In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala of Goswami Tulsidas, the rival kings are advised to give up the competitive attitude of the animal species and instead drink up the beautiful nectar that was Rama’s form sitting so innocently for everyone to see. Animals compete with each other for food, sometimes fighting to the death. But the human being has a higher intelligence, and he can gather food without having to limit resources for anyone else. Moreover, victory and defeat arrive on their own, like the coming and going of the seasons. Why put so much emphasis on something that will occur again in the future? Why not take the opportunity to bask in the rare vision of the Supreme Lord standing before you?

The ability to have this vision and take advantage of it give the human being a leg up on the other species. Just as the opportunity to take pleasure in Rama’s personal presence shouldn’t be missed, so the wonderful chance to regularly recite His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, should not go to waste. Every person has a chance to recite this sacred formula, if not congregationally then at least to themselves. There is no cost in this most potent method of the discipline of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, and the benefits are long lasting. Through the holy names, the same nectarean vision of Shri Rama on the precipice of marrying Sita can arrive in the mind to give supreme comfort and pleasure.

In Closing:

Upon food’s sight,

Animals charge and fight.


Any better they don’t know,

Towards instant pleasure they go.


Human being can discriminate,

Can understand world’s cyclical fate.


Chance to see God is most rare,

So at His beautiful form stare.


Chance of human birth won’t always come,

So chant holy names and with misery be done.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Stop to Smell the Roses

Lord Rama“Why don’t your eyes drink fully that pure, nectarean form? Get the most out of your human birth; why live like an animal?” (Janaki Mangala, 62)

kasa na piahu bhari locana rūpa sudhā rasu |
karahu kṛtāratha janma hohu kata nara pasu ||

Your life is filled with pressure. The workplace environment is especially tough, for the boss constantly asks you for things. He’s not really sure what he wants every time, so when you do present the final work, he immediately makes corrections, points of fact that would have helped you more at the beginning. If you were given the proper instructions from the start, you could have done the job right the first time. Oh, and don’t think that your life at home is any picnic. One of the cars won’t start, or maybe someone else in the family has been in a minor car accident that requires attention. You haven’t cleaned your room in a long time and bills that need to be paid are mounting up. The front button just fell off from your favorite pair of pants, so you have to get that fixed. So many issues keep coming up that you don’t have any chance to breathe. But there are roses out there, pleasant things in life that can go unnoticed. A long time back, in a very tense situation the recommendation was made for the worried participants to break away from their concern to instead delight in the sweet vision of the jewel of the Raghu dynasty.

As the main character from the famous Ferris Buehler’s Day Off movie noted, life moves pretty fast; if you don’t take the time to stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it. In the same vein, if you don’t stop to smell the roses, you won’t get any delight from having them. It is easy to forget the finer things in life because of the constant worry over the future. Yet the human being has the ability to use discrimination in both thought and action. Therefore, from only a cursory review of past activities, it is seen that the little worries aren’t really necessary in the end. So you have a big deadline approaching at work? In the past you had deadlines and you either met them or didn’t. In the end, did it matter that much? Was the constant worrying a major factor in the outcome?

Let’s say that the worrying enabled you to complete the task successfully. In that sense the attention helped you to reach the desired end. But what did that end get you? On a more abstract level, what does victory in a competition bring? Are you the superior person of this world? Are you the best at everything? Even if you do excel in a particular field, where does it lead? The loser also eats, sleeps, mates and defends, so in that sense no one is really superior to anyone else. The animal lives the life dedicated to sense gratification without all the worry. They are more efficient machines in the game of sense gratification.

The animals also compete from time to time, with the victory often coming at the cost of the opponent’s life. Is this a behavior the rational thinking human being should aim to imitate? What good comes from the victory in competition, especially if there is ample food to eat in either case? The concerns over temporary achievements take primary focus in the less developed consciousness. The auspiciousness of the human birth comes from the ability to direct the essence of existence towards the root of existence. The Supreme Lord, the person most of the world refers to as God, is already superior, so why not bask in His glory instead of trying to mask it?

This was the precise issue raised many thousands of years ago. Kings from around the world had assembled in Janakpur to take part in a unique contest. A bow lay in the middle of a sacrificial arena, and it was to determine the husband for the daughter of King Janaka, who was the host of the ceremony. You may be tempted to think that the order of the participants would influence the outcome. For instance, in many of the reality television series that have contests, in each round it is usually a disadvantage to go first. The other contestants can see how the game is played by watching the first people to go, thereby gathering intelligence on what to do and what not to do. By the time the last team goes, there is familiarity with the game, which boosts performance.

With the contest in Janaka’s kingdom, the ordering really didn’t matter. This bow was so heavy that none of the kings could even move it. Oh sure they tried to, but one by one they were humbled by this divine weapon that initially belonged to Lord Shiva. Shri Rama, though not formally a participant in the contest, caught the eyes of the assembled people. He and His younger brother Lakshmana were there as guests of Janaka, as they had entered the city following the exalted Vishvamitra Muni.

In his Janaki Mangala, Goswami Tulsidas mentions some of the idle chatter that was going around while Rama and Lakshmana were seated on thrones watching the contest. Some of the people couldn’t believe how beautiful the two sons of King Dasharatha were. Others worried that Janaka had made a grave error in taking the oath to give Sita away to whoever would lift the bow. What if Rama failed? He then would automatically be disqualified from marrying Sita.

They wanted Rama to win because His features were stunningly beautiful, as was His character. His beauty would defeat the pride of millions of cupids, and His kindness was seen in His unflinching protection He and Lakshmana offered to Vishvamitra and the other sages who resided in the forest. The eyes of the onlookers became truly valuable upon seeing Rama. Previously, the eyes were used to look upon so many other things, but now they were really paying off. “It is worth it to have a vision in order to see the beautiful Rama and Lakshmana,” is what some onlookers thought.

Then there was the perspective of the competitors, the princes who had travelled from far and wide to attend the contest. Some of them noted that where there is beauty, fame and good family lineage, there is strength as well. This meant that it was inevitable that Rama would lift the bow. Since Rama was the elder brother, Lakshmana would not participate in the contest. None of Rama’s other features had any flaws in them, so naturally His strength would be flawless as well.

Ram_Darbar_L_5512The above referenced verse advises the competitors to give up their jealousy. Instead of fighting with God or worrying about losing the contest, let the eyes drink up fully the pure nectar that is Rama’s beautiful form. To relish such a vision is the true purpose of the human birth; otherwise one remains just like an animal. The comparison applies to all aspects of life, not just competition to earn the hand of a beautiful princess. The life of sense gratification is dull and full of misery. The ills of society are all rooted in forgetfulness of God, so the only solution is to turn the eyes towards the Supreme Personality of Godhead and look upon Him with love.

How do we do that when we don’t believe in God? What if we’re not sure of which religion to follow? Isn’t Shri Rama a personality of the Hindu faith? Actually, we can use the attributes described above as a litmus test. Obviously, if your mind is racing from the fever of material competition, you will have a difficult time appreciating God’s features, as was the case with some of the competitors at the contest. Yet, at the same time, enough interaction with pure goodness, exposure to transcendental beauty and sweetness, will bring about a lasting change. The results will be so beneficial that the doubts over the divine nature of the personality in question will vanish as well.

The starting and ending points are the same: the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Association with others who can never get enough of the sweet vision of Shri Rama or one of His other Vishnu forms, including the original personality of Lord Krishna Himself, is a tremendous boon, as such devotees make recommendations similar to the one noted above. Some of the onlookers on the scene in Janakpur were so devoted to Rama that they started to chide the king for his oath. Through their sentiments alone they showed others how to live and how to fulfill the primary mission in life.

In Closing:

How in this human form shall I live?

My sentiments to whom shall I give?


Of Supreme Lord we are meant to think,

His nectarean beauty the eyes to drink.


Of some onlookers in Janakpur this was the opinion,

Not happy with King Janaka’s oath decision.


A match for Sita Rama was ideal,

His lifting of bow destiny to seal.


Competition in maya’s fever now forget,

And in worshiping Supreme Lord your mind set.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Human Birth

Lord Rama“Why don’t your eyes drink fully that pure, nectarean form? Get the most out of your human birth; why live like an animal?” (Janaki Mangala, 62)

kasa na piahu bhari locana rūpa sudhā rasu |
karahu kṛtāratha janma hohu kata nara pasu ||

The human birth is the most auspicious because of the potential it carries for the purification of consciousness. There is no difference between souls. An animal’s soul and a human’s soul are the same, but differences arise in the type of body accepted. Indeed, even within the human form there are varieties to consider with respect to the output of energy. The body of a child is not nearly as capable as the body of an adult, yet we don’t consider the two body types to have different souls. For the human birth there is only one way to reach a successful end, to make the experience fruitful. The greatest welfare workers are those who know this hidden gem of knowledge and then kindly pass it on to as many people as possible.

That task isn’t always easy. One of the subtle elements of material nature is ego, which in its tainted form deludes the otherwise intelligent living being into thinking that they know everything. The property of “all-knowing” can only exist in someone who is all-pervading. Think of it in terms of a computer server. Only if you have a machine capable of holding every observation ever made by every person to have ever existed can you have a chance at perfect knowledge. The database doesn’t guarantee you the perfection in thought, however, for you still have to know how to look up information and properly make use of it. You need the ability to recognize patterns in experiences and then know how to implement the resulting mental conclusions to alter behavior for the better.

The human being cannot be all-knowing because he cannot remember what happened a day or two ago. A few hours ago is also a little fuzzy with respect to exact timings. How then can the human being think that they are supremely wise or not in need of instruction from others? The answer is that the ahankara, or false ego, takes over and uses pride as a way to block off the good counsel others offer.

The kind-hearted saints distribute the proper information regardless of the reception. Does it really matter what someone else thinks? If we know that we are correct, isn’t it our duty to instruct others on the proper way to act? Why should we pay so much concern to how others treat us, for unkindness and intolerance should have no bearing on our decision to speak the truth?

In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala we have an instance of where good instruction is offered with emphasis at a time when the only all-knowing being was within eyesight. The Supreme Personality of Godhead in the avatara of Lord Rama was on the precipice of a remarkable feat. The most famous and capable kings from around the world had gathered in Janakpur to take part in a contest that would determine the husband of Janaki, the daughter of King Janaka.

She was found as a child while in the ground that the king had planned on ploughing. Because of the strange circumstances of her birth, the girl was named Sita and raised by the king as his daughter. When the time came for her marriage, Janaka decided to hold a contest, where whoever could lift an enormously heavy bow originally coming from Lord Shiva would be declared the winner.

The princes called to Janakpur were eager to show their prowess and prove their worthiness to have such a beautiful and chaste woman for a wife. Yet they were humbled by the bow, unable to even move it. Then Rama, Lakshmana and Vishvamitra arrived on the scene. Rama and Lakshmana were brothers belonging to the Ikshvaku line led at the time by King Dasharatha of Ayodhya. Vishvamitra was a venerable rishi residing in the forests at the time. The two beautiful brothers were with him to protect him from the attacks of ogres.

Shri Rama’s form is described above as nectarean. If we should come upon nectar, something with a heavenly taste, it would make sense to taste it. The reference to the eyes points to the fact that the nectar from Rama in this instance came from His beautiful form. The eyes would do the drinking by looking upon Rama, getting their fill of the pure nectar. Shuddha refers to the Supreme Lord, who is above the modes of material nature. Everything about His personal self is pure, including His transcendental body.

It is also advised that one should drink this visual nectar as a means of getting the most out of the human birth. To understand and love God represents the purpose to an existence, and since the human being can take the steps to rationally understand this need, they have the most auspicious birth. The spirit soul in the human form has spent many lifetimes in previous wombs and lived the life of the animals, birds and beasts. Those lives revolve around eating, sleeping, mating and defending.

“The foolish cannot understand how a living entity can quit his body, nor can they understand what sort of body he enjoys under the spell of the modes of nature. But one whose eyes are trained in knowledge can see all this.”  (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.10)

The human being follows the behavior of the animals when there is no attention given to worshiping God. Instead of drinking nectar with the eyes, the mouth tastes the poison that brings intoxication. The flesh of the innocent animals killed to satisfy the taste buds only further binds one to the cycle of birth and death. The itches for sense gratification are regularly scratched through illicit sex and gambling, rounding out the life of sinful behavior.

The sin is designated as such because of the effect the behavior has on consciousness. As Rama is shudda, or pure, interaction with Him is by definition sinless. Through service to Him the human being can avoid wasting the precious human birth on activities already patronized during the many previous lives.

Lord RamaIt should be noted here that the recommendation for worshiping God relates to tasting nectar, not just to refraining from bad behavior. The call for worshiping God is not strictly tied to sitting quietly and forcing restraint on oneself. To truly transcend the animal instincts, the beautiful mental picture of Shri Rama innocently awaiting His turn in the contest comes to the rescue. Though He has the most to be proud of, Rama does not falsely inflate His ego. He is the most capable, so He doesn’t need the fanfare that the other kings require prior to their attempt. He and Lakshmana are in youthful figures who have just arrived from the forest, an austere setting. The wilderness is no place for a prince, something the infamous King Pratapabhanu once found out. He accidentally ventured out into the forest one time and had the misfortune of meeting one of his old rivals, who had since taken the false guise of an ascetic. The rival then tricked the king into insulting brahmanas, which in turn caused Pratapabhanu to be cursed to take birth as a ghoulish creature named Ravana in the next life. Dasharatha’s eldest son Rama would defeat that same Ravana later on.

The animal drinks up maya, or material nature, not knowing any better. The birth from the womb of the mother for the human being is like an animal birth, but with the entry into spiritual life under the guidance of the spiritual master, the second and more important birth takes place. That existence ideally culminates with the sweet vision of the Supreme Lord, a mental picture which can be created and maintained through the regular chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

In Closing:

Rather than in maya’s pool sink,

Nectarean beauty of Shri Rama drink.


Sins from many past births salvage,

Of this human birth take advantage.


Sacred contest in Janaka’s land,

In eyesight the future winner stands.


Invest your full faith and trust in Him,

And against enemies of life you will win.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Strongest Man

Krishna holding up Govardhana Hill“All glories to Kunja-vihari, who stopped His relatives from performing the famous sacrifice, who then took away Indra’s pride, and who in sport lifted Govardhana Hill to protect against the weapon of Indra.” (Shrila Rupa Gosvami, Shri Kunja-vihary-astakam, 3)

sarvataḥ prathita-kaulika-parva
dhvaḿsanena hṛta-vāsava-garvaḥ
goṣṭha-rakṣaṇa-kṛte giridhārī
līlayā jayati kuñja-vihārī

As strength is an opulence, to search for the strongest person in a respective field is quite natural. The title of “Strongest Man” carries prestige, as through strength one can protect others and even get what they want from weaker parties. The search for the strongest can continue all the way up until you reach one person, whose strength has never diminished and who never had to acquire it. Some five thousand years ago in Vrindavana He gave a glimpse of that strength while in the transcendental body of a small child.

We can take the Olympics as an example to see how strength is a desirable attribute. In the sport of swimming, the stronger competitors will have an easier time wading their way through the water. In an event like the freestyle race, the faster your arms can move, the more speed you will have. Your arms will be able to move faster if they can pull through the water with ease. The stronger you are in your arms, the easier time you will have pulling the water. Hence strength is a key component to victory. Strength is required in the legs as well, as the swimmer needs to kick the entire time throughout the race.

To the victor go the spoils, and in Olympic competition the sign of victory is the gold medal. The more gold medals you can rack up, the stronger you appear to be in the specific competition. The person with the most gold medals gets tagged as the greatest Olympian of all time. With that attribute, they garner much attention from the media, both sports and news. Interviews are conducted and research is done to see how they became so strong.

This reveals the inherent defect. Even if we found the strongest person in the world, it is to be understood that they had to acquire their strength, even if they were naturally gifted. Within the womb of their mother, they were not strong enough to hold their head up, so it was only through maturation, experience, and the help of others that they became the strongest. Moreover, what goes up must come down, so that strength will eventually diminish to the point that the body housing that strength will be discarded.

Stronger than the individual is the material nature, whose element of wind is so powerful that it can knock down gigantic buildings. The planets are very strong as well, and likely the strongest object we know of is the sun. Yet if you keep ascending the chain of strength, you eventually come to the original person. As He is unborn and undying, His strength has always existed, and it will continue to exist going forward.

As an indication of that strength, He lifted up a massive hill over His head one time without any effort. To lift a heavy object for a few seconds is certainly noteworthy, but this person held it up above His head for seven consecutive days using just His finger. That act had a context to it, and because of the divine nature of both the person involved and the events in question, it is still celebrated and remembered to this day.

Not surprisingly, the person we speak of is God. He is a person in the sense of how we define it. He is actually inconceivable, but since we learn of objects through reference points, He gives us names that help us to understand Him a little better. He is described as a person because we know what that is, though His personality is different from our conception of it. He gets happy and sad, but these emotions are transcendental in Him. They are not the same happiness and sadness that are opposed to one another. God’s happiness is just as good as His sadness, as neither one leads to degradation.

God is the strongest, and He showed that strength when He lifted Govardhana Hill as mere play. The leader of the heavenly realm, King Indra, was angry that the puja intended for his honor was skipped one year by the residents of Vrindavana. Indra is quite powerful himself. Even if you are skeptical of the statements of the Vedas that point to the existence of higher authorities in charge of the various material elements, there is no doubt that the rain and the weather in general are more powerful forces than us. At the very least there is an impersonal force that ensures that the rain arrives in a timely fashion, so honoring it is never a bad idea.

Residents of Vrindavana taking shelter under Govardhana HillThe residents of Vrindavana annually worshiped the person in charge of the rain, Indra, but one year they skipped it due to Krishna’s persuasion. Though only a child at the time, the young son of Nanda Maharaja convinced His father to skip the worship and instead honor Govardhana Hill. Indra’s pride would be curbed in the process, and the scriptures, which would pass on accounts of the event to future generations, would record yet another incident that proved who the strongest person is.

Indra retaliated for the transgression by causing a torrential flood to hit Vrindavana, and as the residents were in danger of being washed away, Krishna uprooted the just worshiped Govardhana Hill and held it above His head to act as an umbrella. The residents took shelter under Krishna’s hill, and pretty soon Indra realized he was defeated. The strongest person came to the rescue of His devotees, and thus they got to bask in that strength. Rather than just marvel in it, one can derive the sweetest benefit from the strength of the strongest person. The proof of both His existence and His strength is seen in the results that follow the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. It is upon the strength of the holy names that the saints like Shrila Rupa Gosvami rely, and they use those names to craft wonderful poetry that finds further ways to glorify and connect with Shri Krishna.

In Closing:

The strongest person to find,

To satisfy inquisitive mind.


In Olympics fastest racer is the best,

Strength proved by competition’s test.


But than Krishna none is more strong,

Proved in incident from time ago long.


Vrindavana worshiped Govardhana at His direction,

And then later underneath it took protection.


On to strength of Krishna’s name hold,

And in God’s existence be sold.