Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Best Fortune

Rupa Gosvami“He who reads this beautiful ashtakam of the sweet pastimes of Kunja-vihari receives the best fortune of attachment to the worship of the lotus feet of the Lord.” (Shrila Rupa Gosvami, Shri Kunja-vihary-astakam, 9)

aṣṭakaḿ madhura-kuñja-vihāri
krīḍayā paṭhati yaḥ kila hāri
sa prayāti vilasat-para-bhāgaḿ
tasya pāda-kamalārcana-rāgam

What is the best fortune? If there is one thing you could be guaranteed of having, what would it be? Would it be endless wealth? A loving family? A lofty position of prominence that garnered attention from the adoring public? According to the wise Vedic seers, the greatest fortune is loving devotion to the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The reason: His attractiveness, which includes His sweet pastimes, which are described by the parrot-like saints like Shrila Rupa Gosvami.

Let’s take a look at some other fortunes first. The government typically looks to distribute fortunes to those who are lacking them. “Help the poor. It is not fair that there are so many millionaires and so many people struggling. In a fair world, the rich would pay more in taxes so that the downtrodden could benefit. Aiding the struggling, poverty stricken person will help to better their condition and make for a more peaceful and just society.” This is the common sentiment from politicians since time immemorial, spanning all political parties and nations.

Yet what does following through on this actually do? A person has to work to maintain the living they have. To say that you will make things fair in this sense is to say that one person’s work will be partially used to sustain another person’s lifestyle. Instead of a person working to maintain themselves, someone else will work for them. And that someone else has no say in the matter. Just because of the relative concept of fairness, they are forced to go to work to give some of the fruits to someone else.

The recipient doesn’t receive any tangible benefit, either, for if you really wanted to help a destitute person you would bring them into your home, feed them, and then help them get back on their feet. Another way to fix the problem would be to give the struggling person a job. This way the poor could help themselves. This is not something the government is capable of doing on a massive scale, but in this pretend scenario we can say that a job will be more helpful than a handout. More helpful than a job is a plot of land, where someone can work to grow their own food. This was man’s business for the majority of the creation, up until the emergence of the industrial revolution.

“Pious acts are prescribed in the supplementary Vedas (smritis), which specifically mention digging tanks and wells for the water supply of the people in general. To plant trees on the public roads, to construct public temples and places of worship of God, to establish places of charity where the poor destitutes can be provided with foodstuff, and similar activities are called purta.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.8.21)

In ancient times the public works projects consisted of digging tanks and building wells. This way you wouldn’t have to hand out anything really. Instead of giving someone provisions, you create something that will automatically provide for them. If you install a well, the people of the community can use it to get water day after day. The rain will provide for them, which it already does for everyone else.

In whichever time period, the destitute person gets a handout, a job, a plot of land, or a well and suddenly they go from being unfortunate to fortunate. Yet the saints of the Vedic tradition, who follow jnana and vairagya, knowledge and renunciation, take something else to be the greatest fortune. They know the temporary nature of the universe and its creatures. Our ancestors have passed on and so will we. The body we own today is destined to be cremated or buried; it will not remain forever. The senses that belong to that body are also slated for destruction. In the short-term those senses are never satisfied. You eat a pizza pie today and you’ll want another one tomorrow. You have one beer at the bar with your friends and pretty soon you want one more. You win a bet and you decide to try to parlay the winnings on another bet. You meet one girl of your dreams today, and tomorrow you’re chasing after the next beautiful woman.

The spirit soul is the essence of identity, and it has an active propensity. Naturally, the greatest fortune would be the opportunity to use that active aspect for the right purposes. Think of it like getting a video game system where you can play all the time, never get tired, never get overly frustrated, and always feel like you’re doing the best job for society. It’s hard to imagine having that at the personal level, but through the gift of devotional service this scenario of contradictory conditions is certainly possible.

Shrila Rupa Gosvami is himself an example of this. Yoga is popular today as an exercise system, but its origin is in spirituality. The connection of two souls is what yoga really means, and the two souls aren’t equal. One needs the connection and the other does not. It’s like the difference between the appliance and the electrical socket. The socket is always there with its energy, and the appliance is what needs the electricity. The individual soul is what needs the connection, and the Supreme Soul is there waiting to be connected to.

Radha and KrishnaRupa Gosvami is one of the famous teachers of bhakti-yoga in the modern age. He took to writing, preaching and worshiping at the direct instruction of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the person who made prominent the style of bhakti-yoga dedicated to Lord Krishna and Shrimati Radharani. Bhakti-yoga is nonsectarian; it is the soul’s constitutional occupation. Saints like Madhva and Ramanuja revived the bhakti tradition in India prior to Mahaprabhu’s arrival, and then Mahaprabhu completed the job by specifically making prominent the transcendental mellow of sweetness in devotion.

That sweetness at the highest level is seen in the dealings between Radha and Krishna, or the energy of God and God Himself. To reach that topmost level of devotion is the ideal goal, and the beginning steps in climbing the ladder of progression flow through devotion to the lotus feet of Krishna. As it leads to the ideal end, devotion itself is the greatest opulence, and in the above referenced verse from the Shri Kunja-vihary-astakam we learn one way to receive that opulence.

Radha and KrishnaAs a saint engaged in devotional service twenty-four hours a day, a person who already possessed that greatest opulence, Rupa Gosvami composed songs in praise of Krishna, with one of them relating to His playful sports in the Vrindavana forest. That play is madhurya, or sweet, and the sweetness descends to the recipient through hearing. Just hearing those pastimes in a humble attitude, without envy, is enough to get the great gift of devotion to Krishna.

That devotion brings an endless engagement. One can worship even while sleeping, so there is no question of boredom. Devotion to Krishna’s lotus feet soon becomes the primary engagement, and so the devotee juggles their responsibilities in accordance with that engagement. Keeping the ultimate goal in mind, they automatically learn how to manage the rest of their life. They are only after tasting the sweetness of Krishna’s association. And the greatest tool they have in their arsenal to protect against the attacking forces of the temporary material nature is the sound vibration of Krishna’s holy name, which can be constantly produced through chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

In Closing:

Provisions to the poor you’ll give,

So that in starvation won’t have to live.


Better if how to work they can know,

Through effort their own fruits to grow.


But the effect on the soul is the real test,

Thus Vaishnava considers another gift the best.


Fortune is devotion to Shri Krishna’s lotus feet,

Gives birth to unending nectar so sweet.


Rupa Gosvami’s words hear and learn,

And Radha and Krishna’s mercy earn.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Without Envy

Radha and Krishna“All glories to Kunja-vihari, who makes all the gopis cast aside their household duties with the playful dancing of the corner of His eyes, and who is the lover of Vrishabhanu’s daughter, who is intoxicated with love for Him.” (Shrila Rupa Gosvami, Shri Kunja-vihary-astakam, 8)

nāgaro jayati kuñja-vihārī

Religious life is equated with restraint, and rightfully so. Through proper restraint of the sense organs, which is the restrictive aspect, coupled with regular attention in hearing the glories of the Supreme Lord, which is the positive aspect, you get everything that you could ever want, sometimes even that which you did not know of. The greatest gift of all is devotion to the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord, who is the lover of Shrimati Radharani. She is intoxicated with love for Him, and for this reason Krishna holds her so dear.

In proper spiritual life, the goal is to change your ultimate objective. You are given eyes, ears, hands, legs, a face, and reproductive organs to connect with the outside world. In this connection there is enjoyment, so why would you want to limit yourself? Ah, but you already know that too much eating isn’t good for you. Listening to loud music for too long damages your ears. Staring at the bright television screen for too long blurs your vision.

And of course if you engage in illicit sexual affairs, you’ll run into all sorts of trouble. Looking at statistics in America, it is seen that illicit sex is the primary contributing factor to poverty. Those who graduate high school, get married and stay married, and wait until they are married to have children virtually eliminate their chances of living in poverty. To stay in school means to stay focused, and illicit sex is the greatest distraction. Illicit sex is what breaks relationships, and so to avoid it means to stay faithful to your spouse. Sex life exists for a reason. To use it to propagate children in a family atmosphere, where they are loved and nurtured, does not bring sin.

“I am the strength of the strong, devoid of passion and desire. I am sex life which is not contrary to religious principles, O Lord of the Bharatas [Arjuna].” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.11)

Lord KrishnaYoga is the connection of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul, and for that connection to occur, the mind must be focused. To keep the mind focused, it can’t be carried away by the objects of the senses. It’s like a Catch-22, however, since you need your senses to maintain your life. Therefore the yogi is advised to keep eating and sleeping at moderate levels. Don’t eat too much or too little. Don’t sleep too much or too little.

Niyama, or restraint of the mind, is a principal aspect of yoga, whose ultimate aim is connection to the divine. The connection is maintained by the restrained mind which hears the glories of the Supreme Lord as they are described in the Vedic texts, which are the oldest scriptural works in existence. They actually have no date of inception, as they were originally passed down by the Supreme Lord, who has no date of birth or date of death. Descriptions of Him always exist; we just think they are created because we think in terms of creation and destruction, or past, present and future.

There has to be a commitment on the yogi’s part, and that commitment is strengthened through hearing. If the hearing takes place voluntarily, enthusiasm will ideally result afterwards, increasing the desire to hear. Pretty soon you don’t even require attendance at a spiritual gathering to hear. You can simply chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and hear of God that way. The word “Rama” says that God is the reservoir of all pleasure, “Hare” refers to His energy, and “Krishna” says that He is all-attractive.

The purest form of God’s energy is enchanted the most by Krishna’s attractiveness. That energy is the feminine counterpart to the male God. One of her names is Radha, and her distinguishing feature is her maddening love for Krishna. She is intoxicated with affection for Him, so she never stops thinking about Him. In this sense, she is the greatest yogi, though mysticism is not within her scope of interest. She loves Krishna so much that she doesn’t even know she is practicing yoga.

The yogi free of sin takes great pleasure in hearing about Radha and her affairs with Krishna. Despite the fact that their dealings bear similarities to ordinary illicit affairs, take note that it is the yogi who is in knowledge who derives the greatest benefit from hearing about them. The gross materialist will not know the true meaning to the love Radha and Krishna share, and so the topic is generally not discussed with them. Actually, all matters of the Vedas fall on deaf ears when presented to materialists swooning in the fever of an existence tied to temporary sense gratification. It is only those who are free of envy that hear about Krishna and His instructions found in the Bhagavad-gita and then follow through on the recommended practices who get the highest benefit.

“One who executes his duties according to My injunctions and who follows this teaching faithfully, without envy, becomes free from the bondage of fruitive actions.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 3.31)

Radha and KrishnaShrila Rupa Gosvami is one such personality who is without envy, and so he not only delights in hearing about Radha and Krishna, but he takes the time to glorify them even further. In the above referenced verse from his Shri Kunja-vihary-astakam, he celebrates Krishna as one who makes the gopis drop their household work with the dancing of the corner of His eyes. The gopis are the cowherd women of the farm community of Vrindavana. You can think of Vrindavana as the highest realm of heaven, a place where there is no birth and death. The cover charge is surrender to Krishna in a mood of love. Pious and impious activities have no bearing on the decision for admission. If you are very pious you go to the heavenly realm in the material world, and the sinful go to the hellish planets. The devotees of God go to Vaikuntha, and the devotees of Krishna are specifically sent to Goloka Vrindavana.

There the pastimes of the divine lovers are relished. And thanks to saints like Rupa Gosvami and his followers, we can hear of some of those pastimes without even being there. Radha’s character is exemplary, and she is so dear to Krishna. The two are one in the sense that they are never apart from each other. Krishna always thinks of Radha, and Radha always thinks of Krishna. The devotees who always think of them will also never be separated from them.

In Closing:

If riddled with material fortunes’ fearing,

No use in pastimes of Radha and Krishna hearing.


Should approach the Lord’s topics without envy,

Desire to compete with Him should not be any.


Then only of the glories of Shri Radha know,

And at end of life to Goloka Vrindavana go.


Can get a peek right now through scripture’s sight,

For this Rupa Gosvami magnificent poetry did write.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Household Chores

Gopis of Vrindavana“All glories to Kunja-vihari, who makes all the gopis cast aside their household duties with the playful dancing of the corner of His eyes, and who is the lover of Vrishabhanu’s daughter, who is intoxicated with love for Him.” (Shrila Rupa Gosvami, Shri Kunja-vihary-astakam, 8)

nāgaro jayati kuñja-vihārī

What would happen if you were to abandoned your household chores? You know, what if you forgot to make dinner? What if you don’t clean for a while or don’t take out the trash? A long time ago, the daily household chores for a group of women were so involved that the entire day could be spent in work at home. These were working women in the truest sense, but from the dancing of the corner of the eyes of one particular youth, they would instantly forget about their work.

Were these women careless? Wasn’t it sinful to be enchanted by another’s glances? Actually, these women represent the height of virtue. In the end it is the mind which determines whether or not the activities we commit are sinful. Even in the eyes of the law there are such distinctions. A military man kills others on the battlefield and the murderer kills people in residential neighborhoods. One act is heroic and the other heinous. Killing is present in both instances, but because of the disposition of the mind and the consideration of the higher authority, the activities are not equivalent.

The same truth is reinforced by Shri Hanuman, a famous divine figure of the Vedic tradition. One time he had to search for a missing princess, the wife of Lord Rama. It was learned that she was in Lanka, which was ruled at the time by a powerful king named Ravana. To find Sita, the beautiful wife of the sun of the solar dynasty, Hanuman had to look through the inner apartments of Ravana’s palaces. Ravana had many wives, so Hanuman inadvertently looked at women in vulnerable states. Picture someone peeping into your bedroom. Women particularly don’t like this, and yet what could Hanuman do?

“It is certainly the mind that is instrumental in causing the senses to act in ways that lead to either auspicious or inauspicious conditions. And my mind right now is positively situated.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 11.41)

Shri HanumanIn reviewing his actions, Hanuman correctly concluded that his behavior was not sinful because of the disposition of his mind. He was looking for Sita, and seeing these women by accident did not change his mindset. He was not adversely affected, so there could not have been any sin. More importantly, he was working for Rama, who is the Supreme Lord in His incarnation as a warrior prince.

The same Rama was there in Vrindavana to enchant the household women faithful to their endless chores. Rama was there as Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Krishna’s name means “all-attractive”, and so by just moving the corners of His eyes up and down He can get a fruitive worker to change their mindset, to focus on Him instead of their work.

For the gopis, the household chores were many. Vrindavana was a self-sustaining farm community. The people didn’t need to travel to distant supermarkets to pick up essentials. They grew their own food and raised their own cows. The cows were protected, and as a result the milk production was abundant. Vrindavana had commodities in the form of yogurt and cream, and the gopis would sometimes travel to the neighboring town of Mathura to sell the surplus. During the day they would also tend to the cows, feed their families, and keep a peaceful environment for their husbands.

In love for God, there is no need to fear material loss. If I work on a project today, I’m automatically missing out on something else. I will never get that something back, and so I have to prioritize my obligations. One thing must take precedent over another. In loving God, which is known as bhakti-yoga, there is no loss because the love itself is the greatest gain. It is the most valuable thing any person could acquire, and so even if there is the fear of material loss, eventually the fear dissipates.

The gopis would abandon all of their household work when Krishna would move the corners of His eyes up and down. In one sense this made the gopis more faithful to their work later on, because they would get to think of God while carrying out their work. In any endeavor, if your heart is not in it, you will not do a good job. Also, if you are unhappy from the outset, you will have a difficult time even starting the job.

Krishna with the gopisBut if you’re thinking of the all-attractive delight of Vrindavana, Shri Krishna, and you don’t want anyone to know that you’re thinking of Him, you can carry out your task with outward dedication. You just think of Krishna the whole time, and for the gopis this wasn’t difficult. They got to see Him all the time, so He stayed within their minds. That is the whole point to bhakti-yoga after all, to keep God within your consciousness. Through reading works authored by Vaishnava saints like Rupa Gosvami and chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, Krishna quickly becomes a fixture in the mind, allowing for duties to be abandoned or accepted without issue.

The gopis offer Krishna a wonderful gift with their attention. The young Krishna in Vrindavana is very clever. He sometimes steals butter from the homes of neighbors and then denies it later on, but with everything He does He is charming. As if to add to His opulences, He is adored by the most faithful women in the world, women who pay more attention to loving God than to rules and regulations. The gopis are not handcuffed by the strict moral codes, whose ultimate purpose is to foster love for God anyway. They have a spontaneous devotion that is evident when they cast aside their household chores to meet with the reservoir of all pleasure, Shri Krishna.

In Closing:

Carry out my work for goal to attain,

But can’t do something else at time the same.


Prioritize to find that which to live without,

Some work to stay, others to toss out.


Gopis in Vrindavana never anything to lose,

Because always to please Krishna they choose.


At His dancing eyes household chores they drop,

Work again later, and never thinking of Lord stop.


When you have Him why over anything to fear?

From gopis supremacy of bhakti-yoga made clear.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

Lord Krishna“Being self-sufficient, Krishna does not require the service of any living entity, although He has many devotees. It is because Krishna is so kind and merciful that He gives the opportunity to everyone to serve Him, as though He required the service of His devotees.” (The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 21)

The spirit soul is constitutionally a servant of God. God is the superior entity and we are the inferior. Like it or not, this is how things are. When we say “constitutional”, it means that there is no way to change it. We can deny it, ignore it, pretend that it’s not the case, or even try to change it, but the relationship between the two is eternal, or sanatana. As the relationship and the respective positions are fixed, the occupational duty is as well, and therefore in the Vedic tradition the closest equivalent term to religion is sanatana-dharma. This eternal occupation manifests in service, and on Thanksgiving we are afforded a wonderful opportunity to carry out that service.

Thanksgiving originated as a celebration for a bountiful harvest. The settlers in the New World, a place later to become the United States, had a very difficult time in their initial few months. Imagine leaving your home for a distant land that is unknown to you. You’re leaving because practicing your religion is more important than anything else. The New World offers the hope of a better life, where you can worship the Supreme Lord while maintaining a simple lifestyle.

But the settlers didn’t have it so easy. Many of them died on the journey across the ocean, and in the first few months the food production was scarce. The governor of the new colony, William Bradford, decided to change the system a bit, dividing up the land and giving ownership to individuals. They could keep whatever they produced, rather than having to place everything in a common store. Using individual self-interest to their advantage, the colonists were able to produce so much food that they soon started trading with the Native Americans.

So pleased with the bountiful harvest, the Pilgrims decided to hold a grand feast where they gave thanks to God. This was a genuine sentiment. They believed in Him, and for that reason they risked their lives for the experiment that required a transatlantic journey. God is a singular entity; He is not exclusive to a specific tradition. Depending on time and circumstance the methods used to connect with Him may vary, but the ultimate goal is always the same. Even if the worshipers don’t know much about Him, He is still full of transcendental features, with unmatched kindness being one of them.

“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor…Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be…” (President George Washington, Thanksgiving Day 1789, A Proclamation)

Thanksgiving_ProclamationLater on George Washington, the first president of the United States, made Thanksgiving an official holiday. He described it as a day to be grateful to the Almighty and dedicate service to Him. The Supreme Lord doesn’t require this honor. His ego is not so inflated that He will grow angry if we neglect worship of Him. In the Vedas He is described as atmarama, which means self-satisfied. If you are satisfied in the self, your happiness is not dependent on anyone else.

Yet the person who is atmarama kindly makes room for more happiness when someone offers Him service in a genuine way. And so we can turn one day of giving thanks into a full-time engagement. And more than just eating a feast and saying a prayer, one can offer their food items to the Lord. In the Bhagavad-gita, He says that a simple flower, fruit, or water is sufficient for an offering.

“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.26)

If we are able to offer more than just a flower, why not do it? If our constitutional position is servant of God, why not continue in service without interruption? If we feel pleasure eating nice food, why wouldn’t the Lord be pleased by the same food also? If we get satisfaction from feeding our family, why wouldn’t the same satisfaction exist in God, who can expand His belly infinitely to accept all the offerings made to Him with genuine devotion?

In the bhakti tradition offerings steadily flow towards the lotus feet of that author of all that is good in this world. Those who follow bhakti-yoga maintain the attitude of the original Thanksgiving on a daily basis. At this point one may wonder if the effect wears off through the steady diet of devotion. After all, holidays are special for a reason. They don’t come around every day. If you celebrated your birthday every day, would it be special anymore?

Such limitations don’t exist in bhakti. Only in loving devotion to God does the enthusiasm increase as you progress further along. If practiced in an authorized way, such as by chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, bhakti-yoga continues without interruption and without motivation. All the common pitfalls that lead to despondency, despair, sadness and fear are removed. You have something to do all the time. If you’re not chanting, you can prepare and offer food. You can read about Krishna through the translations and commentaries of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. He had so much enthusiasm for bhakti-yoga that even in old age he had the energy of a youth.

Worshiping KrishnaIf you’re not reading, you can chant together with friends in what is known as harinama-sankirtana. If you want to have something to look forward to, you can make plans to practice bhakti-yoga. You can visit various temples, meet with other devotees, or just think about some way to offer something to God. It is said that if you just think of offering something to God, whose best name is Krishna because it describes His all-attractiveness, that offering is immediately accepted. This means that if you want to say thanks now, you can do it.

The ability to practice bhakti-yoga at any time and any place, coupled with the fact that it allows you to say thanks every day of the year, substantiates the claim that devotional service is the highest occupation for man, a service that is available to any person, at any age. Whether sitting down to a large feast or just eating a single piece of rice, if we say thanks to the origin of matter and spirit and humbly ask for the ability to remember Him during this and every subsequent lifetime, the supreme benefactor will surely grant our wish.

In Closing:

The Supreme Lord with offerings to feed,

By why your service would He need?


The whole world in His hand He’s got,

So what’s the harm if in service we stop?


Bhakti-yoga exists for our benefit,

Solutions to all problems in it sit.


A day for service Washington made,

Thanksgiving, a tradition then stayed.


From one day an engagement for a lifetime make,

Chant holy names and sumptuous prasadam take.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Beautifully Decorated Eyebrows

Gopis watching Krishna“All glories to Kunja-vihari, whose forehead is decorated with a splendorous tilaka made of mineral pigments, whose garland made of champaka flowers moves during His play, and who meets with the girls of beautifully decorated eyebrows in the mountain caves.” (Shrila Rupa Gosvami, Shri Kunja-vihary-astakam, 7)

adri-kandara-gṛheṣv abhisārī
subhruvām jayati kuñja-vihārī

The wife makes herself look good not just to raise her self-esteem. Sure, if you’re wearing something nice, you’ll feel more comfortable walking around in public, but with the married woman in the Vedic tradition, her voluntarily accepted obligation is to please her husband. Therefore she makes sure to look good for him, to please him with her beauty. Yet in the above referenced verse from the Shri Kunja-vihary-astakam we see that women of beautifully decorated eyebrows go to meet with someone in a remote cave , and that someone is not their husband in the traditional sense. But then again there is nothing ordinary about Him.

To break the vows of a marriage is sinful. A sin carries a negative reaction, namely with respect to karma. Karma is fruitive work, action that carries a reaction. I place my hand into a fire and my hand gets burned. The action is the hand going into the fire, and the reaction is the burned hand. On a larger scale, I go to school, do my homework and study, and then get a degree. The conscious action leads to the intended reaction. Oh, but there are unintended consequences as well. The long hours I put in at the library mean that my social life will suffer. I might not do so well in my relationships if all my focus is on school.

Karma can also mean prescribed duty. Man has inherent qualities assumed at the time of birth, and based on those qualities there is ideal work. If you follow your ideal work, with faith and detachment, you will advance in the future. In the afterlife you’ll ascend to the heavenly planets, enjoy for a long time, and then return to earth in auspicious circumstances. You’ll take on a new body, with its owns set of qualities and corresponding work, to start the cycle over again.

If you go against karma, you’re delaying the progress that you really want. If you go against karma, you’re acting like an animal, which has no prescribed duties. The monkeys jump up and down, but their behavior is not karma; as they are not given any work for advancement. There is no sin for the animal because they don’t know any better. Think of it like forgiving a child for their mistakes. The child is not very intelligent, so they are not expected to know right and wrong. The child can gather intelligence, whereas the animal is stuck in an ignorant state.

Even if you follow karma, there is the repeating cycle of action and reaction, in lifetime after lifetime. There is an ideal goal, however. His name is Krishna. He is God, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He originally instituted the system of karma, which brings its prescribed sacrifices and regulations, to help the individual spirit soul attain ultimate happiness in its constitutional position, that of servant of God.

In the constitutional position, there is no question of karma. There are actions and reactions, but they are not materially related. And how could they be? If the person who created the system of karma is the beneficiary of your work, why would you have to worry about repeating the cycle of birth and death? Why would He force you to leave His company if you don’t want to? Seeing just a little sincere devotion, He will instead create more and more opportunities for you to continue in devotional service, which transcends all the rules of society.

Shri Krishna is all-attractive. He has a transcendental form, which means that God is not just an abstract concept to be pondered in a faculty lounge discussion. He is a real person, though His features are inconceivable. The saints nevertheless try to remember some of those features because that remembrance gives them pleasure. This remembrance, smaranam, is not jnana or karma; it is neither study nor work. It is yoga in devotion, the linking of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul, which is another way to describe God.

The cowherd women of Vrindavana are fully surrendered to Krishna. By material estimation, they are married women, and so their prescribed work, karma, is dedication to their husbands. But they have no desire for enjoyment in the heavenly planets or advancement to a higher birth in the next life. They get to think about Krishna all the time, and they have an intense desire to be with Him. In this sense, they have the highest birth already. Their occupational duty with respect to Krishna is something they voluntarily accept and never let go of, regardless of what society may think of them.

Krishna with the gopisThe Supreme Lord is antaryami, or the all-pervading witness. Therefore He knows how the gopis feel about Him. He goes to the caves in the mountains of Vrindavana, wearing His beautiful tilaka made of mineral paste and His garland of champaka flowers. Krishna arrives beautifully decorated and so do the gopis. Among many other features, the eyebrows of the gopis are perfectly decorated for the occasion. The eyebrows are prominent in the glances the gopis throw at Krishna, which excite His transcendental senses.

“Fools deride Me when I descend in the human form. They do not know My transcendental nature and My supreme dominion over all that be.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.11)

Typically, such behavior is considered sinful because it keeps one in ignorance. If I’m so attracted to someone else that is not my spouse, I obviously don’t know that every living entity is a spirit soul, part and parcel of God. Marriage exists to curb the desire for sexual relations, which are driven by the illusion of outward attractiveness. With Krishna, however, there is never ignorance. He does not have a material body, and so attraction to Him is not harmful. It is actually quite wonderful, and the object of attraction in this instance is the only person who can fully reciprocate the loving sentiments offered Him.

In Closing:

As Ajita, Krishna never knows defeat,

Except by affection of the gopis He is beat.


Their homes they courageously leave,

So that in caves beloved Krishna they’ll see.


Reaction to work to only those in karma applies,

Not for the gopis of beautifully decorated eyes.


Yashoda’s son with splendid tilaka on His head,

By His vision away from birth and death be led.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Precious Minerals

Lord Krishna“All glories to Kunja-vihari, whose forehead is decorated with a splendorous tilaka made of mineral pigments, whose garland made of champaka flowers moves during His play, and who meets with the girls of beautifully decorated eyebrows in the mountain caves.” (Shrila Rupa Gosvami, Shri Kunja-vihary-astakam, 7)

adri-kandara-gṛheṣv abhisārī
subhruvām jayati kuñja-vihārī

“Precious minerals fill this earth, so what are we to do with them? Should we harvest them as much as we can? If we don’t, then someone else will. They will grab as much as they can, keep whatever they need for their own use, and then sell the rest. Since they’ll have it all, they will have an upper hand with respect to financial security. If they’re going to take these resources, why shouldn’t I? “

From the above referenced verse from the Shri Kunja-vihary-astakam, we get an idea of how to use the minerals of this earth properly. Everything in this world exists for a purpose, though we might not see that immediately due to our fears borne of illusion. The wise are always on the course that dissipates the illusion, clearing the way for transcendental bliss, which incorporates all aspects of the creation for the pleasure of the source of the creation.

The example of hoarding minerals gives an indication of the effect the illusion has. Under the false notion that acquiring more will advance my plight, I feverishly pursue collection. It doesn’t have to be just minerals. I might want more digital music than anyone else. I may want to amass greater material wealth. Perhaps I want the fanciest cars in the world, which will mostly sit in my garage, rarely to be driven.

The illusion is that I will be happy pursuing this line. If gathering were the gateway to happiness, the effort would stop early on. Think about it. If just adding one more car to my collection will make me happy, why would I ever need to get another car? Oh, but as soon as I get one car, I need another. In addition, I must protect that which I acquire. To protect means to give attention, and to give attention means to tax the brain. Therefore there is mental struggle before, during and after the collection process.

In the Vedas hankering after something and then rejecting it as no longer useful is known as bhoga and tyaga. It’s like being on a swinging pendulum. We’re not really learning anything we don’t know here, but the purpose of pointing this out is to show that no matter what you do, you will want to enjoy and then renounce. So if the gathering propensity exists already, why not purify it? Why not use the elements of nature in the ideal way and find happiness that does not strain the mind?

The origin of creation is one way to describe God. Another is to say that He is all-attractive. Therefore in the Vedas the Supreme Lord is known as Krishna. He is not an abstract concept, the negation to all that we see around us. He is complete with transcendental attributes, which are displayed during His trips to this mortal world. Not that He becomes a mortal, but He walks among us to show what awaits us should we follow the proper course of action.

“Fools deride Me when I descend in the human form. They do not know My transcendental nature and My supreme dominion over all that be.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.11)

Krishna’s most recent appearance on earth took place five thousand years ago. No need to worry about having missed Him, as the saints have documented His life and pastimes. Even saints who weren’t around during that time have added to the descriptions. This is sort of like writing a book about Abraham Lincoln today. No one alive today was alive during Lincoln’s time, but through referencing works that describe him they can learn all they need to about the famous president. They can then add to the descriptions, introducing to the discussion their own realizations based on life experiences.

The Vaishnava saint Shrila Rupa Gosvami, who graced this earth during the medieval period in India, says that Krishna likes to enjoy in the forest of Vrindavana. On Krishna’s forehead is a splendorous tilaka made of mineral pigments. The tilaka is a sacred mark, and on the body it is the sign of devotion to a particular divine figure. The mark on Krishna’s forehead indicates devotion to Lord Vishnu. Vishnu is the same Krishna, except He has four arms instead of two. Devotees of Vishnu are unique in that they worship a personal God. Worshipers of Krishna, Rama, Narasimha, Vishnu, and other non-different personal forms of the original God are all considered Vaishnavas.

Lord KrishnaThe tilaka applied to the body is a paste that can be made up of different minerals or powders. In this verse, it is said that Krishna’s tilaka is made of mineral pigments, which means that it is not a cheap paste made of ordinary mud. In Krishna’s childhood home, the best ingredients are used for cooking and decorating. The best doesn’t have to mean the most expensive. Nature automatically provides minerals to us, and the milk from the cow can be used to prepare the most delicious dishes. Vrindavana, the land of devotion that Krishna enjoys the most, is a rural community, but it is not poor. The residents have enough food from what they grow on their own, enough milk from their protected cows, and enough enjoyment through Krishna’s association.

Krishna wears a garland of champaka flowers around His neck, and this garland jumps up and down as He moves about. He plays with the cowherd women and meets with them in secluded areas like the caves in the mountains. All of Krishna’s activities point to the ideal use of objects. The flowers in Vrindavana are collected to make garlands for the delight of mother Yashoda, and the minerals are used for His tilaka marks. The milk is used to feed Krishna and the homes to store the butter that He comes to playfully steal. In this way know that you can gather the elements of material nature to use for God’s pleasure, offering them to Him in sacrifice. Such a practice will purify the hoarding mentality and lead to liberation at the end of life.

In Closing:

Tilaka mark so splendorous,

Adds to vision so marvelous.


Of mineral pigments it is made,

On Krishna’s forehead it stayed.


Garland of flowers bounced up and down,

As He played on Vrindavana’s hallowed ground.


Milk for food, and butter for Lord to steal,

In Vraja all objects put to use ideal.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Abandoning Pious and Impious

Radha and Krishna“All glories to Kunja-vihari, who has fragrant sandal paste smeared on His body, whose hips are adorned with a beautiful golden belt, and who is like an elephant tied by the ropes of the raised breasts of Shri Radhika.” (Shrila Rupa Gosvami, Shri Kunja-vihary-astakam, 6)

kuñjaro jayati kuñja-vihārī

From the Vedas we get the concept of dharma. Dharma is the closest equivalent for the modern day term of religion, but its definition points to a root property, something that never changes. To awaken that property and make it prominent within the individual is the true purpose to the principles of dharma, which can be equated to piety. That which goes against dharma is thus impious. Without even knowing these terms, it is generally understood that dancing with married women is impious. A marriage is a covenant established under religious guidelines after all, and so to dance with a person who is married to someone else is a way to break that covenant. From the Bhagavad-gita we learn the real meaning of dharma and how in the highest state of existence one actually abandons both pious and impious activities.

Isn’t this a contradiction, though? For instance, the instruction manual that comes with the new furniture piece is a kind of dharma. It tells us the components required for assembly and how to perform that assembly. If we go against the instruction manual, we are essentially acting impiously. The result is usually something negative. An improper construction will not keep the finished piece in an ideal state. In a non-ideal state, the furniture will not function properly. For instance, if it is a bookshelf, it might not be able to hold books for an extended period of time. One day in the future, maybe many years later, the bookshelf will collapse, indicating the reaction to the sin of ignoring the manual. On the other hand, if we follow the manual properly, the bookshelf will be built correctly and thus not cause any unintended problems.

Ah, but one who is truly wise can get the proper use out of the bookshelf without ever looking at the instruction manual. They aren’t explicitly defiant to the system of piety in this case. They are concerned neither with piety nor impiety because they know the ultimate characteristic of the object in question. In the same way, one who knows the soul has no need for mundane principles of religion, though they generally follow them anyway, for it is better to set a good example for others to follow.

“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.66)

In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, advises everyone, through His instruction to the devotee Arjuna, to abandon all varieties of religion, or dharma, and surrender unto Him. By so doing, the surrendered soul will be safe from sinful reaction. This promise is easier to believe with someone who behaves in a manner considered pious by most. Arjuna was a fighter, and so it was his occupational duty, his dharma within society, to defend the innocent. This requires the use of force from time to time, and the user cannot be shy. Imagine if the police were afraid to come to your home to deal with aggressors. Would that be a good thing? No, they must be assertive in their administration of justice, otherwise people will not be safe.

The priestly class behaves piously through reading the scriptures, teaching it to others, performing sacrifices, accepting charity, and in general doing everything for God. Yet from the same Vedas which the priests study we see that the height of spiritual practice is the behavior of the gopis of Vrindavana, whose chief is Shrimati Radharani. In the eyes of society, she is a simple cowherd girl. She is married, lives at home with her husband, and takes care of her duties relating to the farm community. But at night she and her friends rendezvous with Krishna in the forest, dancing with Him under the light of the full moon.

Are not both Krishna and the gopis sinful in this regard? Why would the exalted saints of the Vaishnava tradition prefer to hear about such pastimes? Indeed, in the above referenced verse from the Shri Kunja-vihary-astakam, Shrila Rupa Gosvami is celebrating Krishna as the enjoyer of pastimes in the forest. It is said that He is like an elephant tied by the ropes of the raised breasts of Radharani. In a female, a slender waist and raised breasts are considered attractive features. It is not uncommon for Hollywood actresses to have plastic surgery to lift their breasts when they start to age, as this will make them more attractive on screen.

Radharani is the embodiment of the spirit of surrender. She takes all risks to be with Krishna, as her company gives Him the most pleasure. The purpose of the principles of dharma is to reach the position of abandonment with respect to mundane rules and regulations. Hers is not an attitude to be carelessly imitated, but rather one to be appreciated and understood through steady practice in bhakti-yoga. If you think about it, transcending both piety and impiety eventually should make sense. If Krishna, or God, is beholden to mundane principles, then the principles are superior to Him. The principles must have a purpose after all, and if Krishna hasn’t already achieved that purpose He cannot be God.

“Both pious and impious activities are actually due to ignorance because a living entity, as an eternal servant of Krishna, has no need to act for his personal sense gratification. Therefore as soon as one is reclaimed to the platform of devotional service, he relinquishes his attachment for pious and impious activities and is interested only in what will satisfy Krishna.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 6.1.15 Purport)

Shrimati RadharaniThe purpose is to purify consciousness to the point that you love God, that you think of Him all the time. Radharani always thinks of Him, and so she is able to tie Krishna with ropes of affection. Her body is transcendental; it does not change through the system of karma. The same goes for Krishna, and so the two divine lovers enjoy each other’s company in the intimate setting of the Vrindavana forest. If their behavior were indicative of ordinary lust, renounced ascetics like Lord Chaitanya, Rupa Gosvami, and many others of the highest standing would not take pleasure in hearing about it. Indeed, hearing of the love of Radha and Krishna in the proper mood brings the highest opulence, eternal devotion to their lotus feet.

In Closing:

Follow piety and avoid sin we’re taught,

Otherwise in illusion’s web to be caught.


Yet principles of dharma must have a goal,

Otherwise piety alone supreme standing to hold.


Abandon all varieties is Gita’s final instruction,

Surrender to Krishna and flee sin’s destruction.


Radha and gopis to Vrindavana forest sneak,

To dance with Krishna in pleasure they seek.


So exalted is Radha that she has Krishna bound,

In her height of devotional ecstasy is found.