Saturday, December 8, 2012

Tools for Worship

Worshiping Krishna“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)

There are many ways to worship. This fact should be obvious based solely on the existence of so many religious systems. Within the Vedas themselves there are multitudes of spiritual regulations and rituals that one can follow to achieve a specific end. Yet in the highest discipline, the one that produces the best result, which leads one towards the most beneficial end, the requirements for worship are minimal. This allows for this highest discipline to be practiced without motivation and without interruption.

Motivation is dampened when the method of worship is difficult. As an example, many Vedic rituals require the feeding of brahmanas. A brahmana is a priest-like person. They are learned in the Vedas. They have realized Brahman, which is the term that describes the all-pervading spirit. We are all Brahman. The cats and dogs are also Brahman. It is very difficult to see this when we are embodied, when we are influenced by a temporary form composed of the material elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether.

The brahmana knows Brahman both theoretically and practically. Therefore they are considered the first-class person. Because of their stature they are worthy of charity, and to help society they actually require charity from others. This is on purpose. By maintaining a meager lifestyle, there is more time for the brahmana to focus on religious activities. This also allows others to give in charity, to please the first-class citizen. In return the brahmanas dispense valuable wisdom. Each person is in a different situation, so if an outsider can judge the situations objectively, they can provide custom-tailored advice aimed at helping each individual reach the target aim of Brahman understanding.

And understanding Brahman represents a difficult hurdle on the road to the highest end of God consciousness. God is the Supreme Brahman; hence He is known as Parabrahman. The brahmanas are fed in Vedic rituals by those looking for spiritual merits. But what if there are no supplies available to worship the brahmanas? What if there are no brahmanas around at the time that you want to perform the specific ritual you heard about? Obviously you will be out of luck. It’s like wanting to go somewhere and not having a ride. It’s like being ready to eat without having any food.

The same requirement for external tools exists with all religious processes except one. Bhakti-yoga, which is also known as devotional service, aims to connect one directly with Parabrahman, the personal aspect of the all-pervasive energy. The personal is the source of the impersonal, and so the personal is superior. The superiority is proven in so many ways, with one of them being the scope of applicability of the processes aimed at recognizing the personal aspect.

What do we mean by this? To practice bhakti all you need is the holy name. One of the holy names is Krishna, and since it means all-attractive it is considered the best name for Parabrahman by those who know Him. Krishna is also a historical personality; a captivating youth with a bluish complexion, who holds a flute in His hands and wears a peacock feather in His hair. Krishna is also Vishnu, who has four-hands and whose name means “all-pervading”. Krishna is also Rama, who is the prince of the Raghu dynasty and whose name means the source of all pleasure.

To practice bhakti perfectly, you can rely on only one mantra: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. “Is it really that simple? Why wouldn’t everyone practice this then? Why isn’t everyone going around repeating this mantra day and night?” While the method of implementation is easy, the attitude required to decide in favor of implementation is difficult to adopt.

In every endeavor except bhakti the attitude is focused on the individual. With that focus, the true position of the individual, that of a spirit soul who is a lover of God due to being part and parcel of Him, is ignored. If you ignore your constitutional position, you can’t expect to get ideal results. At the same time, despite the inferior results to the many other kinds of worship, since there is no knowledge of the true position of the individual, the path of least resistance is taken. It is much easier to continue in ignorance than to acknowledge the reality that we are flawed, that we are inferior to someone else.

“After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.19)

Krishna's lotus feetLord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita that one takes up bhakti-yoga in full surrender after many, many lifetimes. That’s how long it takes to shed the flawed mentalities of “I” and “Mine”. Though letting go is hard, the results come very quickly afterwards. If only I can believe that I am not the doer of my actions. I take responsibility for the choice in action, but the results are due to the influence of the three modes of material nature. Goodness, passion and ignorance dominate the material world, and through their forces, which still originate in Parabrahman, results manifest. I make the decision to talk, but the resulting sound is out of my control. I don’t have any say in how my voice sounds, as I am not the creator of sound.

Besides the chanting of the holy name, there is also explicit worship that can be carried out to the deity, which is the non-different visible representation of the Supreme Lord. Though it is carved out of stone or wood, it is nonetheless the same Krishna, provided the procedures for its construction follow authorized guidelines, those which come from the Vedas and are validated by devotees of Krishna. Deity worship of Krishna falls into the category of bhakti, so it is not a very difficult process. The Lord says in the Bhagavad-gita that He accepts something as simple as a leaf, provided it is offered with devotion.

Thus from the properties of bhakti-yoga, we see that we can practice it anywhere. There is no excuse, as any person can say the word “Krishna”. Knowing this, the kind-hearted Vaishnavas distribute the holy names to society at large, begging everyone to say the name of their beloved. Lord Chaitanya started this tradition, and since He gave something so valuable away for free, He is considered the most munificent avatara, Krishna in His most merciful mood.

In Closing:

For the priestly class to feed,

Food and brahmanas I need.


For divine wisdom to get,

On meditation stay set.


Bhakti-yoga not so limited,

Ease of implementation we’re gifted.


Using something as simple as sound,

The Supreme Lord is easily found.


It’s so easy that there is no excuse,

Chant holy names and put life to good use.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Reminding Me Not To Think

Om“The first aphorism in the Vedanta-sutra is athato brahma jijnasa. In the human form of life one should put many questions to himself and to his intelligence. In the various forms of life lower than human life the intelligence does not go beyond the range of life's primary necessities - namely eating, sleeping, mating and defending.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 4.25.26 Purport)

When the time of death arrives, it is natural to think about the past. “What have I done with my life? Did I make the most out of my opportunities? Was all the hard work worth it? Did I waste time on stupid things?” In the moment of panic, it is understandable to have regrets. We know that we should have done things differently. If only we could have those wasted days back, we would live them differently. But how? How are we supposed to live our life? We can prevent those wasted days from occurring right now, but we need to know what to do. The famous Vedic aphorism, athato-brahma-jijnasa, solves the mystery.

Athato means “now”, and brahma-jijnasa refers to the inquiry into the Absolute Truth. The human birth gives rise to the urgency, as with the advanced consciousness that is developed in the adult human being there is the ability to bring the mind towards pondering the higher realizations of this world. More importantly, real identity can be ascertained. I am always changing on the outside, but I am actually the same person on the inside. The qualities are the same within other species as well. Therefore the outer coverings are the only difference, and yet somehow we give priority to the needs of the outer covering.

We can think of the journey through life in ignorance as like having a wound that keeps on bleeding. The blood pouring from the wound prevents us from thinking. Sometimes, this is what we want. To forget about the previous mistakes, the past hard work applied, or the grind just completed, we sit back and watch television. Or perhaps we listen to music or lay down in bed. Anything we can do to forget the influence of time is desired. Sometimes we even zone out while driving, letting the subconscious take care of the operation of the vehicle while we ponder something else.

bandageIf the wound keeps on bleeding, we are forced to not think about more important things. As it applies to life in general, the constant plans and worries relating to the temporary body keep us from pondering our true identity. “Let me worry about my next exam in school. Let me focus on my career. Let me spend time with my family. Let me worry about saving money for retirement. After I’m done with all my obligations, then I will focus on the higher truths of life.”

Ah, but in this case the more the wound is tended to, the more it bleeds. And the more it bleeds, the more we don’t think about our true identity. The irony is that by thinking about who we are, we can actually stop the bleeding. In fact, there is no other way to heal the wound, as karma continues for those who choose to remain under its jurisdiction. Karma is fruitive work. From that work there are consequences, both intended and unintended. Reincarnation operates under the rules of karma, and based on the consequences due us from the work we put forth, we are given a body with specific qualities. This explains the variation in species and also the varieties of type within each species.

Athato brahma-jijnasa is the call to think right now. Don’t worry so much about the wound. It will continue to bleed if you keep worrying about it. On the other hand, if you worry about thinking about Brahman, or truth, then the wound will eventually take care of itself. So how and where do we make this approach? How do we find out our real identity? Is it through religion? We see so many religious systems in place today. Some people even kill innocent women and children in the name of religion. Others tell us that if we don’t submit to their will, we will be forced to suffer eternal damnation in hell. None of this seems to make sense.

Notice that the Vedic call to inquiry relates to Brahman, which is not sectarian. Brahman is the term for the all-encompassing spiritual energy. That which is spiritual is not material. That which is material is mutable, changing and nonpermanent. The energy itself is divine, or daivi, but its manifestations aren’t fixed, especially based on our perception. Spirit, on the other hand, never changes in quality. You can put on whatever clothes you want, but the clothes don’t identify you. You will be the same person at the end of each day when you change out of your clothes. The entire material energy is the same way, as it does not identify us.

You learn Brahman from consulting the Vedas. And you can’t read the Vedas alone and learn everything. There is both theoretical and practical knowledge. Theoretical knowledge of the Absolute Truth gives an impersonal understanding, and the practical application helps you realize the oneness shared between all species. Under the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master, however, both the theoretical and practical arrive simultaneously while one acknowledges and learns about the higher spiritual force, the source of Brahman.

That higher force is generally referred to as God, but in the Vedic literatures it is given thousands of names. It is also a personality, which means that the higher spiritual force is not impersonal. Krishna is considered the best name because it means “all-attractive”. Nothing can be superior to that which is all-attractive. The attractiveness extends to all areas of life. For our understanding, we can put the attractiveness into the categories of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, knowledge, renunciation and wisdom. This gives us another name for Krishna: Bhagavan.

Chanting the holy namesPerhaps it seems like Krishna is another sectarian figure, a God that we are supposed to surrender to out of blind faith. Through the inquiry into Brahman and the principles implemented according to the direction of the spiritual master, however, we see that Krishna is God for everyone. He is the same person everyone else worships, ignores or despises, but His features are more clearly drawn out.

There are so many benefits to worshiping Krishna directly in the discipline known as bhakti-yoga, and one of them is that the wound of the material existence automatically stops bleeding. Through chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, I make permanent progress in properly identifying myself. When I know who I really am, I can use the same material energy in the proper way, knowing it to be sourced in Krishna. Hence not only is the wound healed, but the healed surface is then properly utilized, allowing for us to think about God all the time, which is our constitutional position. Such truths and more are realized through a little faith applied in bhakti-yoga, which is the ultimate system to free us from the shackles of karma.

In Closing:

When cup of knowledge I need to drink,

My bleeding wounds remind me not to think.


This obligation and that let me take care,

Then only into my identity I will stare.


But the wound will continue to bleed,

Ignorance of the spirit continues to feed.


Athato brahma-jijnasa is man’s call,

Our knowledge of God we must recall.


In bhakti-yoga to the bleeding put a stop,

Full knowledge also with devotion only a drop.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Transcendental Senses

Radha and Krishna“In the diseased condition of the senses there is too much engagement of the senses in increasing material needs. When one comes to see the disadvantage of aggravating the sense activities, one is called a jnani, and when one tries to stop the activities of the senses by the practice of yogic principles, he is called a yogi, but when one is fully aware of the transcendental senses of the Lord and tries to satisfy His senses, one is called a devotee of the Lord.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.5.30 Purport)

“I can’t wait for the new device to come out. Sure, I like the current version that I own, but look at all the new features that are supposed to be included. I can’t wait to start playing around with those. Once I get that new device, I will have to get rid of my current one. I will also have to buy new accessories. Nevertheless, isn’t that what life is all about, excitement? Why should I be bored all day in a conservative life?”

Such a mindset is quite common, especially in an advanced age where technology improves at such a rapid pace that we have trouble keeping up. In actuality, such reliance creates artificial needs, wherein we think we require something when we really don’t. Deep down we know the truth, but since we’re not confident of the proper path in life, we have no choice but to choose in favor of the reliance. Otherwise, what would we do with our time? Wouldn’t we be bored? The key is to realize the senses of another, more powerful being. Only in that state are our own senses used properly.

What do our senses have to do with anything? We’re talking about playing with material things here. I don’t see what seeing, hearing, touching, feeling and tasting have to do with this.

Let’s take eating to see how the senses work and how their needs can be artificially increased. I need to eat to stay alive. It’s as simple as that. The food I eat gives me the energy I need to work. And without work I couldn’t eat, so it’s a symbiotic relationship.

But what do I need to eat? Also, how much food is required? Simple grains, milk and water are enough to keep me alive. This is a fact, though in a time when new stories on diet and nutrition are published daily, you will have so many people argue with you on this fact. We can look to recorded history, however, to see the truth in our claim. So many sages in India have lived for a long time surviving on minimal food intake. They were “healthy” in the sense that they lived long. They weren’t unhappy either; it’s just that they derived their happiness from someplace other than food.

I create artificial needs when I tell myself that I need to eat more than I should. “I’m in the mood for ice cream. I could sure go for a hot fudge sundae right now. Pizza would be perfect right before that. Let me go online and see which pizza places have the best reviews. Perhaps I can make this a regular thing; checking out new pizza places. I can create my own rating system in the process.” As a result, now I have a threshold for satisfaction in eating. If food is not up to par in taste, I will be unhappy. I also now need to spend more money than I should on something as basic as eating.

This entire sequence of events is driven by the senses; which in this instance is the sense of taste. The same principle applies to the other senses as well. The reliance on new technological gadgets creates artificial needs for the eyes and the ears. And we mention all of this because the increase in needs is not advantageous. Rather, the more one relies on external objects for their maintenance, the more inferior they become. If I can eat grains, milk and water, and perhaps some fruit every now and then, I’m in a position superior to someone who must have gourmet food every day. This is because my fare is readily available and I’m satisfied with basic quantities. Conversely, the person eating the gourmet meals must have the proper taste in order to feel even a little satisfaction. In addition, since they put so much stress on eating, they will not know the proper portions to eat, thereby causing lethargy after eating, which is the opposite of the intended effect.

When one realizes the disadvantage of artificially increasing the demands of the senses as a whole, they are called a jnani. The understanding is confirmed through study of Vedanta, which teaches the individual that they are spirit and not their body. The senses actually have nothing to do with us. It’s sort of like putting on an expensive suit and then constantly worrying if our tie is aligned properly and if there is the right crease in our pants. If we put so much stress on the clothes, we’re ignoring our own person, who has nothing to do with the clothes.

The jnani sees the entire material body as a set of clothes, with the soul forming the identity of the individual. The jnani is a philosopher in a sense, as they see but don't necessarily act. They are realized in mind, but when one takes the steps necessary to stop the activities of the senses, they are called a yogi. Think of retreating to a cave and sitting in meditation all day. Now you’re not enticed by food, sex, or material objects. Your senses are thus deprived of outside contact, thereby eliminating the disadvantage.

Lord KrishnaThe devotee, however, is superior to both the jnani and the yogi because they realize the transcendental senses of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and then use their own senses to try to please Him. We have arms, legs, and a brain for a reason. We have the ability to speak and to hear, so why not use them for a higher cause? The jnani will say that these can only connect with maya, or illusion, and thereby cause agitation. But the senses of the Supreme Lord are not material. This means that using our own senses to please His senses will not entangle us. On the contrary, this endeavor trains the senses in such a way that one can live either renounced or fully engaged and still not be at a disadvantage.

The same desire for eating from before can be used to offer elaborate preparations to God and then eat the remnants. The same technological gadgets can be used to describe God’s pastimes and features and hear about the same from other devotees. In this practice, known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, why would there be a need for artificial renunciation? Why renounce something that brings me transcendental pleasure? Why give up something that is so good for me in the end? The devotee is neither materially detached nor renounced; they live in God consciousness.

Bhakti-yoga is elaborate and difficult to understand completely in the beginning, but through a little effort adopted under authorized guidelines, much progress can be made. Lord Chaitanya has authorized one process in particular in being the most effective for the people of this age, who are very materially attached due to the increased reliance on artificial needs. That process is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. It pleases the senses of the master of all senses, Hrishikesha, which is another name for God. To seek out His pleasure is the ideal use of our senses, making our human birth worthwhile.

In Closing:

If external engagement my desire feeds,

Temporary happiness made with artificial needs.


When the disadvantage I see,

Known am I as a jnani.


When from engagement I retreat,

As a yogi on ground I take my seat.


Devotee with real knowledge sees,

With their senses God they try to please.


As Hrishikesha of the senses God is master,

His devotees approach heavenly bliss much faster.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

All Potencies

Lord Chaitanya and associates“The sound representation of the Lord is nondifferent from the Lord Himself because the Lord and His representation in sound are absolute knowledge. Lord Chaitanya has instructed us that in the holy name of the Lord, as sound representation of the Lord, all the potencies of the Lord are invested. Thus one can immediately enjoy the association of the Lord by the pure vibration of the sound representation of His holy name, and the concept of the Lord is immediately manifested before the pure devotee.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.5.25 Purport)

The Swiss Army Knife comes in handy in many different situations. If you need to open a bottled beverage, there it is with its opener. If you purchase a product in the store and it is inconveniently packaged in plastic that is practically impossible to open, there are the tiny scissors to help you out. If you need to jot down an important phone number, there is the tiny pen found within the knife. Then, of course, there are the times you need a knife, something sharp to cut something else. All of this is available in one valuable tool, so it is nice to keep it with you. The tight knot of ignorance, which has the extended effect of ruining your outlook on life and making you do all the wrong things, can be cut very quickly with one valuable tool, which brings all auspiciousness at the same time.

What is this tool? For it to work so effectively, it has to have applicability for more than one type of person. As a crude example, some prescription drugs only work with certain patients. If you are taking another kind of prescription drug, you can’t take others. If you have some other type of ailment, this one drug will not work for you. There are all sorts of restrictions, and so the consent of a doctor is required before you can take these more potent medications.

With ignorance, sometimes you might not want to have it dispelled. Think of the drunkard who likes to drink so much that they don’t want anyone changing their ways. Try teaching mathematics to someone who is intoxicated. Actually, try teaching them anything; they won’t learn. The recipient also has to be worthy. A child who doesn’t understand higher concepts can’t be taught much. Someone who doesn’t speak the particular language you use will not understand you.

With the ignorance borne of the darkness of the material world, there are several ways to remove it. The most obvious way is through knowledge. Hear from the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, on how the soul is the chief resident of the body and that everything else is part of the temporary house. Any activity you do to try to make the house more comfortable does only that, fix the house. The resident is not affected. The influence of this behavior on the resident is a negative one, as it forces them to remain occupants for the foreseeable future. At the time of death, the resident moves on to another house to repeat the cycle.

The chief work of study in the Vedas is the Bhagavad-gita, which dispels this flawed identification with the body at the outset. Hear from Shri Krishna, the speaker of the Gita, and take away lessons on karma, duty, reincarnation, the modes of nature, and how to transcend birth and death. But the Bhagavad-gita is a Sanskrit work, so in order to understand it we need to consult a translation done in a language we know. We also need someone to explain the verses, as there is a rich tradition packed into each word. The tradition represents the culture, and so without knowledge of the culture, the verses themselves won’t mean anything to us.

Inherently required is some kind of intelligence. You need to be a good student to get into a good college, and so to understand the teachings coming from the best university of spiritualism, you need to be pretty good at learning. This automatically means that some will not be eligible to attend the university. They will not be able to understand the Bhagavad-gita, so the method of knowledge gathering to dispel ignorance is not available to them.

Another option is to work according to regulative principles. This is generally known as “doing good things”. “Be good; follow the righteous path; don’t sin.” To follow this option you need an expert guide, who can tell you right and wrong. You also need to know what your goal is, what you are working for. Sure, I can work without being attached to the results, but why am I working in the first place? In addition, I need the ability to work. If I can’t work, then this option is not available to me.

Another option is mysticism. Find a remote area, sit on a deerskin rug, and chant the sacred syllable “om” over and over again. Completely abstain from sex life, eat and sleep very little, and focus your mind on the self, which is your identity. By the way, you can’t practice this for fifteen minutes a day and expect to get anywhere. This has to be your only occupation for it to work in dispelling ignorance. As soon as you break away from the yoga, you return to the pool of ignorance, and thus have to start all over the next time you meditate.

Lord Chaitanya worshiping Radha and KrishnaThe one tool that is all-applicable is the holy name. As Lord Chaitanya instructs, all potencies of the Supreme Personality of Godhead are invested within His name. There are also thousands of names, and the sound is so powerful that you don’t even have to be consciously hearing it in order to see effects. A famous highway robber during an ancient time once chanted the holy name of Rama backwards over and over again and as a result emerged a realized soul capable of authoring transcendental literature that is still relevant to this day.

So which name should we chant? Krishna is considered the best name because it means all-attractive. It is the most complete description for God, and it also happens to represent the same speaker of the Bhagavad-gita. From the name Krishna we know there is full knowledge. There is full attractiveness as well, since Krishna is the most beautiful. The same effect from studying the Vedas, working in detachment, and meditating in yoga is found through chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”

Chanting the holy names is the real peace formula, and the activity belongs to the category of bhakti-yoga, or the yoga of devotion. Through the holy name you realize not only your true self but also the Supreme Lord. Knowing one without the other is incomplete knowledge, because the two are inherently linked. One is the master and the other the servant. In devotion the holy name is heard in a mood of devotional surrender. When that mood exists, the root cause of ignorance is removed, and one is able to live happily knowing that the Supreme Controller is constantly with them.

In Closing:

Range of applicability is method’s test,

Can’t help a few and ignore the rest.


All potencies in holy name God invests,

Thereby making it method of yoga the best.


In study you must know how to read,

In yoga stringent meditation must heed.


In work attachment must go without,

In each method people who are shut out.


But God is available easily to all,

Names of Krishna and Rama call.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Whole World in My Hands

Lord Krishna's hand“You are air, fire, water, and You are the moon! You are the supreme controller and the grandfather. Thus I offer my respectful obeisances unto You a thousand times, and again and yet again!” (Arjuna speaking to Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 11.39)

Is the whole world in my hands? Seems like a silly question, right? Obviously, I’m not in control of everything. The sun’s influence is impossible to overcome. The rainy day cancels my plans for a picnic, and the snow prevents me from driving on the road. Disease tears away at my ability, and death is sure to arrive, as are taxes. If I know that I’m not in full control, why do I act as if I can shape my destiny completely? Why am I constantly searching for ways to find peace, when in fact that peace never comes? Indeed, such a cogent point is raised by the Vaishnava saints, who remind others that there is one controller who does always get what He wants.

“Let me guess. It’s God, right? Wow; what a surprise. When faced with a difficult situation, when up against the wall, you just lean on God, who is such a vague concept that you can make Him anything. He’s old; He’s young; He’s mean; He’s nice. You should make up your mind already. Why focus on an imaginary figure when you can better spend your time in other areas?”

It does seem like a safe excuse to lean on God when we run into trouble, but who else is there? Should we lean on ourselves? We know that we’re not all-powerful. Should we lean on others? We know that they are just as flawed. Actually, just giving God a try, especially when He is approached through authorized channels, brings benefits immediately. The reminder that we are not God is beneficial across many spectra. There is the fruitive worker, who thinks that by putting in enough hard work they will get what they want. They forget that they don’t always get the desired result and that sometimes the achievement of a desired goal only leads to more misery. Then there are the empiricists, philosophers who deem the entire collection of energy to be God. Since they are part of that singular unit, they take themselves to be God as well. This is the conclusion of the philosophy known as Mayavada, which is quite prevalent amongst followers of the Vedas. The cultural convention of Hinduism is more or less dominated by this philosophy.

Goswami Tulsidas, a famous Vaishnava poet who follows the real principles of the Vedas, says that if man is God, why can’t he always get what he wants? If I am Brahman, part and parcel of the impersonal spiritual energy, why do I have to become Brahman realized? Why do I need education? Why do I sometimes fail? I am indeed spirit that transcends the material covering, but I am not all-powerful. I can reach a state of enlightenment, where I see all living forces as spiritually equal, but I don’t have perfect vision. I can’t see beyond the immediate vicinity, and if there is no external light I can’t see at all.

The Supreme Lord, who is the source of Brahman, does get whatever He wants. He has no need to strive for anything. Simply by exhaling He can create many universes, and by inhaling those same universes merge back into Him. He doesn’t need to work hard for wealth, because He is already the wealthiest person. He is adored by the beautiful Lakshmi Devi, the goddess of fortune, and praised by the hymns of the Vedas, which represent the choicest poetry ever composed. The saints who follow in the Vedic tradition add on to the Vedic literature, which means that in every era, in every language, in every setting, the Supreme Lord is adored.

If not a single person can say that they have always gotten what they wanted, it means that everyone is suited for worship of the Supreme Lord, the higher entity. In the Vedas He is given thousands of names, with Krishna and Rama considered the best ones. Rama also refers to a specific personality, an incarnation of the original Lord. Rama is Tulsidas’ worshipable figure of choice, though Rama is really not any different from Vishnu, Krishna, or the entity the rest of the world refers to as God.

Only in devotion can one always get what they want. It’s an axiomatic truth because the desire in pure devotion is the continued ability to practice devotion. Through the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the worshiper asks God and His energy to be allowed to continue in service. That service, which goes by the professional name of bhakti-yoga, can include hearing, chanting, remembering, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, worshiping, offering prayers, carrying out service, becoming friends, and complete surrender.

There is no failure with chanting in bhakti-yoga. This is because the chanting is done to bring about a change in consciousness, a link to the divine realm. Even if later on the same person goes on to do abominable things, the time they spent chanting was worthwhile. If even for a brief moment one links to the divine, the progress they make is permanent, sort of like filling a reservoir that is there to be used later on. There is no failure in remembering, as who can stop us from remembering God if we want to? There is no failure in service because in bhakti the divine controller ensures success. The successful completion of direct service is indicated by the pleasure of the Supreme Lord, and His pleasure is tied directly to the degree of sincerity in the worshiper. No one can be more sincere than the yogi in bhakti because they don’t desire anything for their personal welfare. They only want God to be happy.

Lord RamaBhakti-yoga is so superior that the attitude within the individual who practices it turns completely around. Instead of always wanting to get what you want and failing miserably, you start to desire to have Rama get what He wants, even if He doesn’t need it. Lakshmana, Sita and Hanuman serve Rama even though sometimes He tries to dissuade them. They think that He doesn’t know better, that He will be better off with their service, whether He likes it or not. And since Rama is the supreme controller, the worshiped figure in bhakti, He is obligated to grant the devotee their wish, thereby creating a condition with a one hundred percent success rate, which is an irony worth celebrating.

In Closing:

Never to see one hundred percent success rate,

Results of work bring both pain and pleasurable state.


If output of work in my hands I don’t hold,

Why then do I think I have supreme control?


Only God what He wants always gets,

Never defeat on that which His mind sets.


In bhakti-yoga the same success comes,

At devotee’s sight defeat immediately runs.


This is nothing more than Supreme Lord’s gift,

Due to sincerity to prominence He lifts.


Sometimes bhaktas even do what He doesn’t ask,

For to bring Him pleasure is their only task.

Monday, December 3, 2012

My Big Break

IMG_0195“Always chanting My glories, endeavoring with great determination, bowing down before Me, these great souls perpetually worship Me with devotion.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.14)

“Wow, I can’t believe how good my life is now. I’m at the top of my profession. I worked so hard in the early years, and through the combination of dedicated work, good timing, and incredible luck, I’m now in a position to say that I love my job. I enjoy going to the office every day, interacting with my coworkers, and producing quality output that I can be proud of. Because of this, I am also able to sustain a happy home life. My wife and kids are a joy to come home to, and we’re always looking forward to doing things together. I’m so happy that I want to repay the debts I owe to so many people, like that person who gave me my first big break. They took a chance on me, and though they weren’t always kind or explicitly supportive, through their tough love I learned the ropes. I’m on the top now and I want to help the people who helped me get here.”

They say that the people you meet on your way up are the same ones you’ll see on your way back down. This notable truth is intended to make sure you treat everyone nicely, for just because you’re in an apparently superior position today doesn’t mean that it will always be the case. At some time or another, the situations might reverse, i.e. the inferior will be the superior. In the Vedas the same truth of changing conditions is presented through the descriptions of the spirit soul, which is the essence of identity. The soul of the ant is the same as the soul of the human being, and in the next life the roles might switch. Today we are a small child, but in the future we’ll be an adult. There will also be other children around then. We never know where we’re going to end up, so we might as well be nice to everyone.

In the above hypothetical scenario, the successful person wants to repay the debts they feel they owe to those who helped them along the way. The question that remains is how to do that. Say, for instance, I feel that I owe a debt of gratitude to my teachers from school. Should I seek them out and give them money? Should I try to get them a better job if I have the power? Should I honor them with my words? Actually, the best way to honor them is to use their teachings for the betterment of my character. If they taught me specifically about the field I work in, I should use those teachings to produce excellence. That is reward enough for the teacher, who takes pride in seeing others learn things about that which they are passionate.

The same can be said of spiritual teachers. In the Vedas it is said that man is born with three debts. He owes something to his parents for giving birth to him. But the parents came from somewhere also, namely the forefathers. Hence the debt is to previous generations as a whole. Then there is a debt to the divine figures in charge of things like the rain, the sun, the water, and the other material elements used for bodily maintenance. These two debts are repaid through begetting a son and performing religious sacrifice.

The third debt is to the rishis, the Vedic scholars of the past who have passed down a wealth of information that stays relevant for millions of years into the future. This debt is repaid by reading the scriptures, the foremost of which are the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam. To learn these works properly, one must practically apply the principles. Think of it like taking lab sections in conjunction with the regular science classes in school. The practical application allows for a realization of the truths versus just memorizing a bunch of facts.

The practical application of the Vedic principles found in texts like the Bhagavad-gita is learned through the instruction of the guru, or spiritual master. The Vaishnava spiritual master, who is a devotee of the personal form of the Supreme Lord, says that we should chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, a set number of times each day. We should also avoid meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. This foundation helps to shape consciousness for the better, making it easier to realize the truth of aham brahmasmi, which means, “I am a spirit soul, part and parcel of the spiritual energy known as Brahman.”

Shrila PrabhupadaThe spiritual master gives us the tools, and if we use them properly we can attain transcendence. The state of transcendence represents the top of the transcendentalist’s field, sort of like being number one in your trade. When at the top, you’ll naturally want to repay the favors of those who helped get you there. But how can you repay the spiritual master? They are devotees of the Supreme Lord, so they don’t require lots of money or palatable food to eat. Indeed, offering such items would likely displease them. Lord Chaitanya, a notable saint who is non-different from the Supreme Lord Himself, would often receive sumptuous food preparations in large supply from His devotees as thanks for His blissful influence. Outwardly Lord Chaitanya accepted the sannyasa order, so He wasn’t supposed to eat a lot of food or dishes that were very nice. Nevertheless, out of kindness He accepted the offerings.

Goswami Tulsidas, a Vaishnava saint specifically devoted to the Supreme Lord’s incarnation of Rama, also had to deal with the same problem. When he was an ordinary sannyasi, or one in the renounced order, he had no problem with begging for small amounts of food and eating just that. But once he became popular through his literature glorifying the Supreme Lord, people kept bringing him so much food to eat, which forced him to reluctantly break his voluntarily accepted spiritual practice of limited eating.

From the spiritual master’s example we can see how best to please him. He lives devotion, always thinking of the Supreme Lord throughout the day. Therefore the best way to repay the debt owed him is to follow in the same line. Stay dedicated to bhakti-yoga, hear the holy names, and kindly distribute them wherever you go. Through glorifying God and teaching others how to glorify Him, both you and the people you instruct will be benefitted. And best of all the spiritual master will be pleased to the heart.

In Closing:

Now that supreme position I’ve reached,

Must repay those who principles teached.


Something to them I must certainly give,

So that with satisfaction they can live.


But how to do this is the question real,

This burden of debt I don’t like to feel.


Vaishnava to God is always devoted,

Bhakti to highest stature promoted.


Practical and theoretical to students they share,

That they become lovers of God their only care.


In position of prominence their line to continue,

Chant holy names and repay debt to them too.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Knowledge of Past, Present and Future

Sita and Rama“Knowledge of the three periods of time (past, present, future) Vishvamitra holds in his hand, so why would he bring to this svayamvara boys devoid of strength?” (Janaki Mangala, 77)

There is a section in the Shrimad Bhagavatam where Narada Muni approaches his father Lord Brahma to hear about the cause of all causes. Brahma is considered the creator, the grandsire, the original living being. Every creature can trace their ancestry to him, and since he is responsible for the population of creatures, he knows about the present. Since he is the oldest person in the world, he also knows about the entire past, as Brahma’s original act of creating took place in what is the past for everyone else. He also knows about the future because it is due to his influence that future generations of creatures manifest. That same knowledge of the three time periods is found to some degree in the brahmana, who is the servant following in the line of devotional service established by Brahma.

“My dear father, all this is known to you scientifically because whatever was created in the past, whatever will be created in the future, or whatever is being created at present, as well as everything within the universe, is within your grip, just like a walnut.” (Narada speaking to Lord Brahma, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.5.3)

Past, present and future are the three time periods, and they are different for each person. My past is different from your past, and my future will be different from your future as well. Narada Muni, who is himself very wise, once approached Brahma to know the cause of all causes. Only Brahma could really know this since he was around at a time when no one else was. Brahma wasn’t the original cause, as he took birth from the stem of the lotus flower that grew out of the navel of Lord Vishnu. And Vishnu is a personal expansion of the Supreme Lord Krishna, who is thus known as the cause of all causes.

Brahma is provided knowledge of the Absolute through the medium of the heart. He then follows devotional service while simultaneously carrying out his duties as the creator. The first human beings are of the brahmana order, so they only know devotion to God. As such, they know of past, present and future through Brahma’s influence. Narada is also a brahmana, and from approaching Brahma, who initially approached Vishnu, his knowledge is perfect. Vishvamitra is a brahmana in this line, and through austerity, penance, and acceptance of authorized information passed down through disciplic succession, he knows past, present and future.

In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, it is interesting to note that women of the court in Janakpur were well aware of Vishvamitra’s knowledge. These sakhis, or friends to the queen, stepped in to reassure the worried queen about the outcome of a contest. This wasn’t a friendly competition or a game to watch to pass the time. The winner of the contest would get to marry the queen’s daughter Sita. She is the goddess of fortune, so whoever is blessed with her association is considered very fortunate. King Janaka and his wife got to raise her as their daughter, but when she reached an appropriate age, she had to be married off, lest she remain unprotected later on in life. The fortune of Sita’s association was to be granted to a capable prince. To ensure that the prince was capable of adequately protecting her, Janaka set up a contest, where the task was to lift an extremely heavy bow initially coming from Lord Shiva.

Princes from around the world came to Janaka’s capital city for the contest, and Vishvamitra arrived too, bringing two princes from Ayodhya with him. These youths captured the attention of everyone, both friend and foe alike. There were more friends than foes, as the innocent spectators of the town immediately took a liking to the two boys, who were named Rama and Lakshmana. The rival princes were on the opposite end, fearing over the potential outcome. Yet even those who were in favor of Rama and Lakshmana had cause for concern.

Rama was the elder brother, so Lakshmana would not participate in the contest. Sita’s mother noticed Rama’s delicate features and His exquisite beauty. She determined immediately that He was a perfect match for Sita; never mind the contest. The king had made a vow, however, so he could not now go back on his word. For Sita to marry this boy, the boy would have to lift up the bow, which previously required hundreds of men just to move. The queen began to worry, thinking that the desired outcome would not occur.

In stepped the sakhis to reassure her. They made a very good point by reminding her that Vishvamitra has knowledge of the three time periods in the palm of his hand. Narada Muni made a similar comparison when offering a prayer to Brahma. He said that Lord Brahma holds the information of past, present and future like a walnut within his grip. The walnut is rather small, so when it is inside the closed hand, it cannot move anywhere. Similarly, Vishvamitra knew of the past through study, was aware of the present through knowledge of his surroundings, and knew of the future based on proper assessment. Therefore he wouldn’t bring Rama and Lakshmana to this svayamvara, or self-choice ceremony, if they were not strong.

Sita, Rama and LakshmanaVishvamitra previously had proved his knowledge of the future when he went to Ayodhya to specifically ask for Rama’s protection. Rama was quite young, and the father, King Dasharatha, did not want to let Him go off to the forest without protection. And yet Vishvamitra wanted this youth to protect him from the attacks of the wickedest creatures in the world. Lakshmana came along too, and the brothers showed that even with their beauty in youth, they could still defeat anyone in battle.

And now in Janakpur, Rama was slated to lift Shiva’s bow and marry Sita. The sakhis relied on Vishvamitra’s knowledge to allay the fears of the queen, and in a similar manner we can rely on the advice of the sages to know that bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is the only way to win God’s favor. Through chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and hearing of Rama’s triumph in the assembly in Janakpur, know that victory will ultimately arrive for you too in the form of ascension to the spiritual kingdom.

In Closing:

With knowledge of past, future and present,

To Janakpur with two brothers sage went.


If of Rama’s abilities he didn’t know,

Why to contest would he go?


This information to queen friends gave,

So that from despair she would be saved.


Future of devotees Vaishnava knows as well,

That in spiritual kingdom in afterlife they will dwell.