Saturday, December 29, 2012

Chasing Opulences

Panchamukha Hanuman“Parents and other relatives of the Lord achieve all mystic opulences automatically because of their intimate relationship with the Lord. Such opulences include all details of material enjoyment, salvation and mystic powers. Therefore, the devotee of the Lord does not seek them separately, wasting his valuable time in life.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.7.4 Purport)

You stumble upon something favorable. You weren’t specifically looking for this, but it fell into your lap. It’s so enjoyable to have that you now expect the same favorable item in the future. You might receive it again and again for one hundred times in a row, but as soon as it is missing just one time, when it’s favorability vanishes, you’re stuck with unhappiness that could have been avoided all along. If that opulence hadn’t been chased, the later negative experience wouldn’t have occurred. The wise saints know that opulences come and go, and when there is connection to the person who possesses all opulences, necessary things arrive without our specifically seeking them.

Let’s work through a few examples to see the futility in chasing opulences separately, without connection to God. Connection to God is known as yoga, and the human being, through first inquiring about the Absolute Truth, Brahman, has the opportunity to practice yoga. As there is connection in yoga, when not in yoga there is an automatic disconnection. The superior party is not affected in the disconnected state, just as the electrical socket is the same with or without appliances plugged into it. The appliance is what requires the electricity, and without being plugged in, it won’t work.

In the same way, the living entity requires connection to God in order to approach life properly. As the default condition with birth in the material world is disconnection, the first path chosen is the improper one. In the disconnected state, I chase after opulences, thinking that getting them will make my life better. Let’s say that pizza is my favorite dish. In America there are so many restaurants that make and sell pizza. I can spend a good amount of time trying to find the best pizza place. I can make this an adventure, trying new places week after week.

Let’s say that I find a place that is really good. The pizza is exactly to my liking. The crust is soft, the sauce isn’t too greasy, and the cheese is fresh. This will be my new pizza place. I will go here from now on because the good pizza satisfies my senses. I start going here week after week, but one time the pizza doesn’t taste so good. They overcooked it. You can’t undo “burnt”, and so this well-done crust is not cutting it today. The perfect pizza place that I found is no longer perfect; it has flaws. Thus my chase after opulence in this area was futile.

The same pattern applies to the king. He rises to prominence through hereditary links or by exhibiting his fighting prowess on the battlefield. With that prominence he gains control over the kingdom, and with that control he can get whatever he wants. Even in democratically elected governments, the leader enjoys perks that others don’t. The President of the United States can call out for a pizza at any hour of the night and have one brought to him. He can get Air Force One ready to fly to wherever he wants to go, at any time.

Yet even the ruler runs into a wall eventually. They can’t have everything they want, all the time. Presidents don’t always win reelection, and sometimes kingdoms lose sovereignty over areas. The British kingdom once stretched across the world, but slowly its power faded. More and more countries gained independence, and the once mighty kingdom shrunk in scope.

The advantage of yoga is that you strive to please the senses of the connected party first. In simpler terms, your primary objective is to please God. To please someone else, they must be a distinct personality. To be a distinct personality requires a form, and so the Supreme Lord is more than just an impersonal energy. He is full of all opulences; hence He is also known as Bhagavan. In the Vedic scriptures His opulences are described to the best extent possible, and there are also pastimes presented to show us the difference between action in yoga and action in maya, or illusion.

In the Treta Yuga the Supreme Personality of Godhead personally expands into Lord Rama, the youthful prince of the Raghu dynasty whose actions while on earth are recorded in the sacred Ramayana poem of Valmiki. From that work we see that those devoted to Rama achieve extraordinary opulences without specifically endeavoring for them. Sugriva and Vibhishana take over kingdoms just by serving Rama in full devotion. Shri Hanuman, considered Rama’s greatest devotee, is arguably the most worshiped figure in the world. This is true not only today but for the past many thousands of years.

hanuman-poster-CJ09_lDid Sugriva and Vibhishana strive for sovereignty as the ultimate objective in life? They may or may not have, but nevertheless they couldn’t get full control over their respective kingdoms. Yet from just surrendering to Rama in one second these things were handed over to them. And more importantly, both were in yoga, so while ruling over their kingdoms they only thought of Rama and following His dictates set forth in the Vedic literatures.

Hanuman asks for nothing from Rama but is given everything. The Supreme Lord’s wife is the goddess of fortune. She is like the wife who manages the finances for the household. She spends the Lord’s limitless fortune on worthy recipients. Sita provides for Hanuman’s necessities, allowing him to constantly chant the names of her husband wherever he goes. Thus he stays in yoga, and since he is the ideal devotee, others can worship him too.

Bhukti, mukti and siddhi are the three categories of opulences sought out by those who are not connected to God in a mood of love. Bhukti is material enjoyment, and we know that one can’t have full control over anything without God’s sanction. Mukti is the release from the cycle of birth and death, an end to reincarnation. And since one of God’s names is Mukunda, or one who grants mukti, only through the Supreme Lord’s will does liberation come about. Siddhi is a mystical perfection, the result of meditational yoga practice. Shri Hanuman has all the siddhis of yoga, but he doesn’t purposefully strive for them. You must have a purpose to an ability for it to mean something. If I can hold my breath for hours, it doesn’t really mean anything unless I can use it to better my condition. Hanuman uses mystic perfections in service to Rama. Since he uses his abilities to please God, his opulences fall into the category of bhakti.

For one who follows bhakti-yoga, intentionally or unintentionally, all necessary opulences come on their own, allowing more time for focus in transcendence. As Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita, something as little as a fruit or flower is accepted by Him if the offering is made with love. This means that whether we have a lot or not very much, we always have the opportunity for real yoga in bhakti. And love for the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord, which is the fruit of bhakti-yoga, is the greatest opulence, a gift that keeps giving.

In Closing:

Frustration to come from just one time,

When perfect circumstances don’t align.


For opulences separately no need to strive,

Supreme Lord to provide plenty to stay alive.


Vibhishana and Sugriva kings became,

Eternal devotion Shri Hanuman gained.


To be connected with God we are meant,

In devotion all required opulences sent.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Not An Angry God

Vishnu kicked by Bhrigu“The Lord has the sign of the foot of bhrigupada as the mark of tolerance. The Lord, therefore, is never affected by any kind of wrath, so how can there be any place for lust, which is less strong than wrath? When lust or desire is not fulfilled, there is the appearance of wrath, but in the absence of wrath how can there be any place for lust? The Lord is known as apta-kama, or one who can fulfill His desires by Himself. He does not require anyone's help to satisfy His desires.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.7.7 Purport)

In an episode of the famous American television sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, one of the children makes a presentation of a short story in school. It is titled “The Angry Family”, and it is about how the members of the family are always angry with each other. This alarms the parents, grandparents and uncle who are in attendance. They all live within close proximity, so for the young child to describe a family that’s angry, he must be referencing his own. The concern is caused by the fact that a family is not supposed to be angry; it is supposed to be happy to have each other around. We get angry with people we are not friends with or with people we don’t know very well. Friends and family are our support system, so why should they be angry in dealing with each other?

But there is anger from time to time. Especially between husband and wife, personal desires aren’t always met. The wife wants the husband to do more around the house. “Don’t just come home and plop yourself on the couch. Help out with the dishes. Cook something. Take the kids out of the house so that I can get some work done. Ask me how my day was. Don’t be so selfish. If you really loved me, you wouldn’t have to ask why I’m angry.” The husband, for his part, wants the wife to be supportive. “Don’t nag me all the time. I had a hard day at work, so I want to have some peace and quiet when I get home. Why are you always yelling? And don’t tell me what to wear and what to eat. I don’t like that.”

In social circles that believe in God, it is generally accepted that we living entities are God’s children. He is the Supreme Father, and we are the nurtured dependents. We see that families get angry, so God must be the same way with us, no? “If we defy His will, He will punish us. And sometimes the punishment is severe, so we mustn’t go against His wishes.” Through consulting Vedic texts, we get more concrete information about God, and the analogy to the father who sometimes gets angry starts to break down. God is most certainly a caring father, but there is no specific anger on His part in relation to our willful neglect of worship. The consequences are automatically built into the system, and in actuality God is the most benevolent. Not even a kick to His chest from an unexpected assailant can make Him angry.

To understand how the consequences operate, we can look to fire. If we place our hand into a fire, we will get burned. It’s as simple as that. We don’t need to study too much about the fire or the hand. This is just the law of nature. The wise person will advise against putting the hand in the fire, but if someone else doesn’t listen, is the wise person to blame for the reaction? Of course they aren’t, as the properties of fire exist regardless of outside opinion. In addition, that same fire has other uses which are beneficial. This means that it is the improper use which causes the negative reaction, not the fire itself nor the person who created it.

God created everything in this world, and thus there is an ideal use for everything. In the improper use, there are negative consequences, which are sometimes intense. He is not to blame, as the energies can be used for our benefit. Independence, a minute amount at that, is the most potent gift that we have, which means that it also has the highest potential for misuse. Our independence is meant to be used for serving God in what is known as bhakti-yoga, or the linking of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul. This is confirmed by Lord Chaitanya, who says that the true form of the self, or svarupa, is servant of God.

“It is the living entity's constitutional position to be an eternal servant of Krishna because he is the marginal energy of Krishna and a manifestation simultaneously one and different from the Lord, like a molecular particle of sunshine or fire. Krishna has three varieties of energy.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 20.108-109)Chaitanya Charitamrita

Any other engagement is thus a misuse of the independence. Large or small, pious or impious, if the activity is done for personal sense gratification, enjoyment tied to a temporary body, there will be some negative consequences. This is how karma operates, i.e. there is work and a subsequent reaction tied to the material body. Bhakti is above karma, as it is the constitutional engagement of the soul.

One has the choice between karma and bhakti because of God’s benevolence. He does not force anyone to love Him. In fact, if there were force applied the resulting relationship couldn’t be accurately described as a loving one. There has to be voluntary acceptance from the person offering the service; otherwise the offering is not genuine. If someone apologizes to us simply to get away with what they did, will we accept their apology? Do we not expect a genuine feeling of remorse from someone who has wronged us?

The “angry God” concept is invalid also because of what causes anger. Anger is due to frustration, the inability to get what you want. But if you’re God, how could you ever not get what you want? If you are frustrated due to inability, it means that you are fallible. If you are fallible, then you aren’t God. If you are God, then your tolerance should actually be immeasurable; no one should be able to sway you from your steady position.

There is an interesting incident related in the Puranas that illustrates this high level of tolerance. One time Bhrigu Muni conducted a test to see who was supreme among Lord Brahma, Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. The original Personality of Godhead is known as Krishna in the Vedic tradition, and Vishnu is His direct expansion who carries out the original creation and subsequent maintenance of the universe. Brahma and Shiva are exalted living beings who carry out other functions in the same creation, but they are subordinate. They worship Vishnu and that’s what makes them exalted.

Bhrigu managed to offend both Brahma and Shiva with his purposeful impious behavior. When he reached Vishnu, his method of experiment was a kick to the chest. Can we ever imagine doing such a thing? Would you go up to a professional wrestler and kick them in the stomach? They would immediately run after you, no? God is the most powerful, so if you kick Him in the chest, He has the most strength to use in retaliation.

Lord VishnuVishnu took the blow in stride. Since Bhrigu was a brahmana devotee, Vishnu said that He was very humbled to have felt the lotus feet of a brahmana on His chest. He worried that Bhrigu might have gotten hurt by having to kick a chest that was so hard. In this way Vishnu’s supremacy was proven, as His tolerance was unexpected and unbelievable. For the devotee, the Supreme Lord is willing to do anything.

If He needs to show anger on occasion, He will do so. Prahlada Maharaja was harassed by his father when he was only five years old. Prahlada used his independence properly, but the foolish father didn’t like that. For the sake of protecting the devotional service of His devotee, the same Vishnu arrived on the scene in a ferocious form named Narasimha and very angrily tore Prahlada’s father in half, killing him. The father had neglected devotional service for all his life, but that in itself didn’t warrant personal intervention from an “angry” God. It was when he tried to obstruct the devotion of his son that the Supreme Lord personally intervened.

Families sometimes do get angry, but in the spiritual family consisting of the devoted sons and daughters and the Supreme Lord, there is only love. To this day Vishnu proudly wears Bhrigu’s footprint on His chest, and His protection of Prahlada is a famous incident celebrated and discussed constantly. God is nice, and those who chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, quickly realize it.

In Closing:

Families sometimes with each other fight,

Familiarity raises tension just upon sight.


Since God is father maybe He is the same,

To those who ignore Him He brings pain?


Actually, the Lord’s tolerance supremely strong,

Never defeated in getting that for which He longs.


Between karma and bhakti is our choice,

Better in glorifying God to rejoice.


He’ll even get angry for protection to offer,

Like when Prahlada harassed by his father.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

He Has Got Life

Worshiping Krishna's lotus feet“The body is only a dead vehicle to be worked by the spirit soul, which is always active and cannot stop even for a moment. As such, the spirit soul has to be engaged in the good work of Krishna consciousness, otherwise it will be engaged in occupations dictated by illusory energy.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 3.5 Purport)

“If only I could sleep in; wake up on the weekend. I work so hard during the week. There are endless responsibilities. I have to get up in time for work. I have to make breakfast, eat it on time, get out the door at a certain hour, all just so I can arrive at the office. And then life at the office isn’t a picnic, either. I’m constantly bombarded with requests. It’s like a never-ending soap opera. At the end of each day, we complete one task, only to have a new one that needs to get resolved. When I get home at night, I just want to relax and do absolutely nothing. I long for the days when time is of no concern, when I have no idea where the day is going, nor do I care.”

These laments are certainly understandable given a hectic lifestyle for the busy adult worker. But on the other hand, think of the day where you don’t have to do anything. You can get up out of bed whenever you want. In fact, you can stay in bed the whole day. Wake up, reach over for the remote control, flip on the television, and just lie there. Watch show after show. Maybe get up once to use the restroom, but then quickly jump back into bed.

After a few hours of this, will you feel good? Will you feel happy? Is the summit of an existence the absence of activity? Actually, you probably feel better on the days when you have responsibilities. Not that you crave tension and pressure, but at least during those times you are actively engaged. Rest is nice when it comes after hard work, but rest as a fulltime occupation is not very fulfilling.

The ancient art of bhakti-yoga, devotional service, is the topmost system of activity because it directly deals with the core properties of the individual. To know those properties one must know the individual. What represents me? Is it my hand? My leg? What about my body as a whole? In the Vedic definition, the individual is identified by the atma, or soul. There are different kinds of atmas, and the individual soul is more technically known as the jivatma.

The jivatma is not dormant. To “be” means to be alive, and since the spirit soul always exists, it is always active. Evidence of this can be seen even during sleep. Sleep is the absence of activity for the tired worker, but just because we’re not working doesn’t mean that the mind ceases to function. In fact, in order to fall asleep the mind has to start racing from one thought to another, more quickly than it does during periods of alertness. Thus the mind is “always on”, if you will, which is a symptom of the soul’s active propensity.

The properties of the soul are known to the Vedic seers, who first heard them from the Supreme Soul, who never heard it from anyone because no one existed before Him. In fact, He has always existed; He is sanatana. Our mind has no way of conceiving of infinite time or infinite space, so we are inferior to the sanatana Supreme Soul. The jivatma is also sanatana, but because of its inferior nature it can be placed into bodies that mask pure consciousness.

Knowledge of the soul is kindly passed on by the original person to sincere disciples, and that chain of information transfer has continued to this day. It is through consultation with this link of spiritual knowledge that we’re able to know that the spirit soul is eternal, blissful and full of knowledge. Eternal means never inactive. Blissful means not unhappy, and full of knowledge means not ignorant.

Compare this to the state of inactivity, where we’re just sitting around all day. The soul is still active during this period, but the consciousness is in a less active state. In addition, bliss is absent as well; otherwise everyone would immediately choose to do nothing all the time. Also, you cannot be knowledgeable when you are in a state of laziness. Laziness equates to ignorance. Combining these conditions together, we see that bodily inactivity does not square with the constitutional position of the spirit soul.

To regain the real happiness of the soul one needs to find an engagement suited for the soul and its properties. Bhakti-yoga is that engagement. Any other activity that brings some sort of satisfaction is but a derivative of bhakti-yoga, sort of like a watered down version. As you can dilute a compound in decreasing percentages of purity, you can water down bhakti-yoga to the point that you’re offering service to just your personal senses. Bhakti-yoga can translate to mean the connection of the individual soul to the Supreme Soul in a mood of love. Love manifests in service, and so any kind of service gives a glimpse of the original occupation that is bhakti-yoga.

There is service to the parents, the community, the paramour, the children, the nation, the employer, the employee, the customer, and so on. Only service to the personal form of God qualifies as bhakti. The personal forms are described in the Vedic texts. Not to be confused with the concocted idea of many gods popularly attributed to Hinduism, there is only one God. He kindly expands into other non-different forms to fit the preferred method of worship of the devotee, but this does not mean that everything or everyone is God.

Lord KrishnaThe original Personality of Godhead is described as all-attractive, and so He is addressed as Krishna. He is also the source of transcendental pleasure, and so He is also addressed as Rama. His energy is always tied to Him, and we are part of that energy. The aspects of that energy that follow bhakti-yoga are as worshipable as God, and so the chanting of the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, is a great way to practice bhakti-yoga.

Better than worshiping by yourself is worshiping with others, and better than this is expounding on the glories of God to others. The need for this kind of preaching should make sense. If there weren’t active spiritual preachers around, how would we ever find out about God? How would we know the alphabet if nobody taught it to us? How would we know mathematics unless someone took the time to give instruction? Similarly, how are we going to learn about the properties of the soul and its ideal engagement if no one is kind enough to give us the information?

In ancient times the spiritual teachers were very selective in sharing information. We don’t allow just anyone to take over the airplane and fly it. We don’t put children behind the wheel to drive a car. You must be qualified to do these things. Knowledge of the soul and the fundamentals of bhakti-yoga represent very powerful information, and so only the worthy recipient should be blessed with it.

In more recent times, finding qualified recipients is much more difficult, as the watered down versions of bhakti, which are based in illusion rather than knowledge, are more prominent. For this reason, saints like Chaitanya Mahaprabhu actively preach about bhakti-yoga through the method of congregational chanting of the holy names. Let everyone hear the names of God, and if there is an interest from there, then one can further expound on the glories of the Supreme Lord and His personal features. Even if no one is around to listen, the devotee is advised to still carry on with their preaching, for through describing God they will gain a better understanding of Him for themselves.

His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, a spiritual teacher following in Mahaprabhu’s line of instruction, would say that his spiritual master, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, used to say that one who has life can preach. In other words, someone who is actively engaged in spiritual life will take to glorifying God out in the open and discussing those glories with others. This preaching life is actually a wonderful gift handed down to the sincere spiritualist. This is a gift that continues to give infinitely into the future. You can never run out of good things to say about God. There is limitless information found in Vedic texts like the Bhagavad-gita, Shrimad Bhagavatam, and Ramayana. Personal experiences bring new points of reference which can be used in explaining the properties of the soul and how its constitutional engagement is devotional service.

Plugging into these new outlets of worship beats sitting around doing nothing. We are happiest when we are active, and in real spiritual life the individual is never sedentary. And in that always active state, bhakti-yoga’s supremacy, along with the authority of the personalities who teach it to us, is validated.

In Closing:

One who has got life can preach,

Of devotion to God they can teach.


Why all day just sit around,

And behave like rocks on the ground?


With work initiative take,

And fulfilling your day make.


Describe God every single day,

And happily never run out of things to say.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Keeping the Momentum

Japa beads“The mahatma is always engaged in different activities of devotional service, as described in the Shrimad-Bhagavatam, hearing and chanting about Vishnu, not a demigod or human being.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 9.14 Purport)

Vishno-smaranam is one of the processes of devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, recommended by a young Prahlada Maharaja many eons ago. Devotional service is the constitutional engagement of the soul. This means that the soul’s ideal occupation is to serve God, the Supreme Absolute Truth. As the soul is eternal, so is its ideal occupation, and so the closest equivalent term for religion in the Vedas is sanatana-dharma, or the occupational duty which has no beginning and no end. Unfortunately, with residence in the material world, the soul goes on hiatus from the constitutional engagement. Therefore steps are necessary to rekindle the dormant love for God that rests within the heart. From the model of the assembly line, we learn one way in which to increase efficiency in devotional service.

Vishno-smaranam means remembering Vishnu, which is another name for God. In the Vedic literatures you will see many mentions of Vishnu, Rama, Krishna, Narasimha, and other such beings who are considered the original Supreme Lord. There is also mention of other god-like figures, but nowhere is it said that they are equal to Vishnu. Vishnu and Krishna are equal because they are the same person, the origin of life and matter. Just like there is an original candle that can then light many other replica candles, the original Personality of Godhead, Shri Krishna, personally expands into different avataras to carry out different functions. The living beings, both elevated and degraded, are separated expansions, so they are not the same as God.

A simpler definition of vishno-smaranam is “remembering God”. “This seems worthwhile enough. Just remember God.” You have to remind someone else of this because of the proclivity towards forgetfulness. If we can forget what we had for lunch yesterday, we can most certainly forget God. Aiding that forgetfulness is the preponderance of religious systems which appear to be contradictory. One person worships five times a day while another goes to church once a week. They both say that their religious system is authentic. How do we square the differences? Are they worshiping the same person?

In the Vedas, the oldest scriptural tradition in the world, the differences are reconciled through the truth that God is realized in three different ways. There is the impersonal energy known as Brahman. Think of collecting every individual fragment of spirit and putting them together. This is the Brahman energy. It is transcendental to the temporary changes of the manifest world. We are all Brahman, aham brahmasmi.

Brahman is only a partial realization of the Absolute Truth, because there is also Paramatma, or the Supreme Soul. This is the localized aspect of the superior spiritual force within every single living entity. The Supersoul is the same individual within each person. My identity is different from yours, but the Supersoul in my heart is identical to the Supersoul in yours. They are one and the same, and so they are conscious of both my activities and yours.

Bhagavan is the full realization of God. Bhagavan means one who possesses all opulences. To possess an opulence means to possess a form. To have a form that is above maya, or the material nature, means to have a spiritual form. This concept of spiritual matter is achintya, or inconceivable. We only use the term Bhagavan to get a slight understanding of the Personality of Godhead’s features. Bhagavan is a singular entity, and the different religious traditions around the world worship the same Bhagavan but with varying levels of knowledge. If you don’t really know who He is, you are essentially worshiping Brahman. If you want to attain spiritual awareness through yoga, you are essentially worshiping the Supersoul.

Lord KrishnaBhakti-yoga is exclusively reserved for Bhagavan. Within bhakti-yoga, there are different methods, and they are not all required for perfection. Just one implementation done in the proper mood, where desires for material gain and for the elimination of distress are completely absent, brings perfection. Perfection is connection with God, or yoga. The question then remains as to how to implement any or all of the processes.

Remembrance seems the easiest, but how do we practice it in a way that is fruitful? We can look to the assembly line concept to see how to build something in an efficient way. Let’s say that I have to mail out a large number of letters. To mail a letter requires a piece of paper with written content, an envelope, a stamp, and the act of dropping the letter in the mail. There are different ways to tackle this project. I can take out a piece of paper, write the letter[which in this example will be a form letter], stuff it in an envelope, affix the proper postage, and then go to the mailbox to drop it off. Once the entire process is done, I can go back and start on my next letter.

The wise person, however, will divide up the components in a way that will allow for momentum in work. For instance, one part of the day can be spent solely on writing the letters. After all of the letters are written, all of them can be stuffed in envelopes. Then postage can be applied to all of the stuffed envelopes. Finally, all of the letters set to go out can be taken to the post office at once. This way there is momentum in each task, and the work is much easier to accomplish. If you break your concentration by jumping from one task to another, your mind will be less interested in the work itself.

Taking the same concept and applying it to bhakti-yoga, it is better to practice remembering God in a way that builds momentum. This brings us to the most important recommended practice for spiritual seekers of the modern age: the chanting of the holy names. If you’re going to chant, why not pick the best names? In the Vedas are to be found many names for God, but Krishna and Rama are considered the best. Hare refers to Bhagavan’s energy, and so the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, is the best sequence of words to chant.

Chanting out loud actually fulfills two other methods of devotional service, namely chanting and hearing, or kirtanam and shravanam. The recommendation by the acharyas who follow in the line of Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is that we chant the aforementioned mantra for up to sixteen rounds a day on a set of japa beads. You can divide up the rounds throughout the day if you prefer, but one round consists of 108 recitations of the mantra. There is automatic momentum built into this recommended practice. Rather than chant one mantra, then drift off to something else, and then return to chanting, if you chant the mantras over and over again, in a circle that repeats, it slowly turns into a habit.

There is no better habit to have than remembering God, and by chanting and hearing the holy names, the best habit quickly forms. Devotional service, the soul’s constitutional engagement, soon becomes a fixture in everyday life rather than a separate endeavor viewed as a chore. In the recommendations of the acharyas we see that they give us the tools necessary to build our way to a spiritually-infused consciousness, a subtle house of delight so sturdy that it doesn’t even break at the time of death.

In Closing:

With someone with discipline instilled,

Work in way where momentum builds.


The work no longer to become a chore,

Otherwise jumping mind to easily bore.


In bhakti divine consciousness to make,

To find success lessons from assembly line take.


In japa chant holy names in succession,

Remembering and hearing God make perfection.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Greatest Donor

Krishna's lotus feet“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

The living organ donor kindly offers an essential part of their material body to someone else so that they can continue to live. It is not an easy transfer by any means, but to the donor the risk is worth the reward. To see someone else continue to live when they otherwise would die is a tremendous gift. This is but one example of a generous donor, but transcending life and death is the soul. If there were a way to give someone a gift to last beyond the current lifetime, that gift would have to be considered superior. In addition, the person granting that gift would have to be considered the greatest donor. Both of these conditions are met by Shrila Rupa Gosvami and his wonderful gift of devotion to the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

You see a destitute person on the street and offer them a few dollars since that’s what they’re asking for. Can’t hurt, right? They need money, and you have no problem sparing a few dollars. Ah, but what will they do with that money? If your response is, “I don’t care,” you should know that you are immediately implicated in the resultant reaction as soon as you interfere with your donation. Think about it for a second. If a thief wants to commit a crime and comes to me for a weapon, should I give him one? Should I lend him my rifle and then say, “Go ahead, do what you want with this”? Of course I would be partially at fault for the resultant crime, even if I was totally ignorant of the situation beforehand.

“And charity performed at an improper place and time and given to unworthy persons without respect and with contempt is charity in the mode of ignorance.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 17.22)Bhagavad-gita As It Is

In the Bhagavad-gita, the different kinds of charity are covered. The material universe consists of three modes of nature, and there are many combinations of these modes. There are 8,400,000 species of life, with each one possessing a unique combination of the modes of goodness, passion and ignorance. Goodness is knowledge, passion fruitive work that leads to a neutral state, and ignorance stupidity, i.e. doing things the wrong way. The animals are mostly in ignorance, while the heavenly beings are mostly in goodness. The human species has a combination of the three modes.

Charity in the mode of goodness is giving to the proper recipient, at the right time, and not expecting a payback. The proper recipient is the brahmana, or a person in the mode of goodness. As they are in knowledge, they don’t have the time to engage in fruitive activity as much as those in passion and ignorance do. Therefore charity to them never goes to waste. The true brahmana, by quality and work, uses the charity they accept to continue their worship of the Supreme Lord, which then benefits society.

How does this work exactly? The brahmana is not just a receiver. He is a donor too. Shrila Rupa Gosvami is an example of this fact. He roamed this earth during the medieval period in India, and in his early life he was a government minister. Due to the influence of Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu he accepted the renounced order of life. Living on practically nothing, taking shelter underneath a tree, he and his associates revived a dormant spiritual culture in the holy land of Vrindavana. Part of that culture is hearing the glories of the Supreme Lord, and in order to hear there has to be material available to consult.

The original Vedas and their supplements like the Ramayana and Puranas take care of this need, but the saints also take pleasure in describing God through their own lens. It is not that they change the conclusion. The Supreme Lord is still a person, and His original form is Krishna, the beautiful youth with a dark complexion. Each of us has a unique life experience, and that can be used in further describing God, which has the added benefit of purifying us in the process.

Rupa Gosvami’s Shri Kunja-vihary-ashtakam is an example of a description of God added on after the composition of the original Vedas and Puranas. It is a short work of eight verses, which are concise and beautifully sequenced. They specifically reference Krishna’s affinity for the Vrindavana forest, where He happily plays about in transcendental sweetness. There are family and friends in Vrindavana as well, and they are equally worthy of contemplation by the spiritualist.

In the concluding verse to his short poem, Rupa Gosvami says that by hearing these sweet verses one gets attachment to the lotus feet of Krishna, which is the greatest fortune. Can we get such a gift just by hearing? Actually, we can, provided the attitude is right. Attitude is ultimately determined by consciousness, and so when consciousness is cleared of distractions like doubt, envy, pride, and attachment to temporary things, it can create the attitude necessary to relish the sound vibrations that describe God, who is a figure universally worthy of worship. Whatever spiritual tradition you inherit, whether you are religious or not, to hear about Krishna in a humble attitude is a wonderful experience, one that eventually gives the fruit of your existence.

Rupa GosvamiAnd that fruit is attachment to Krishna’s feet, which are His servants. Attachment to His feet is devotional service, or bhakti-yoga. This is the greatest reward because it is like a wish-fulfilling tree that can be accessed at any time. Whether you are in trouble or in peaceful comfort, chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, can make you even happier. Chanting and hearing go hand in hand, and they foster remembrance, which is the function of consciousness. Consciousness follows us in each life, like the air carrying aromas.

“The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another as the air carries aromas.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 15.8)

The gift Rupa Gosvami gives the listeners of his poem is a purified consciousness that is permanent. In this respect he is the greatest donor, a brahmana who requires only sincerity in humble submission as alms. He then gives back a thousand times what others offer him. And since it is the greatest gift, there is no way to properly repay him other than to try to spread that same gift to as many as possible, following his example.

In Closing:

That which eternally your spirits to lift,

Will be considered the greatest gift.


He who such a benediction gives,

Known as the greatest donor who lives.


If we have devotion to Lord’s lotus feet,

In humble service His pleasure we’ll seek.


Earn this gift just from Rupa’s poem hearing,

Such a wonderful servant to God so endearing.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Strange Bedfellows

Sugriva and Vali fighting“Sovereignty over the Vanara kingdom was difficult to obtain and was protected by Vali. It was for her sake that Sugriva obtained that kingdom, which is honored throughout the world.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 16.11)

aiśvaryam vānarāṇām ca durlabham vāli pālitam |
asyā nimitte sugrīvaḥ prāptavān loka satkṛtam ||

Here we get more information on what Lord Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, will do for His devotees. He will go to any length, cross any bridge, and battle any enemy to maintain His promise to protect and defend those who are surrendered to Him. This fact is noted by Shri Hanuman, who is an extension of Rama’s mercy. Though a servant, Hanuman follows through with the same vigor, accepting Rama’s desires to be the most important. Rama aligned with forest dwellers to find His missing wife, and in that alliance He defeated one of the most powerful fighters in the world.

Applying brute force isn’t always the best tactic to get what you want. If I pull out a gun on someone else and threaten them with violence, I may get what I want today, but then in the future that same person can pull a gun on me. “Fight fire with fire” is the saying, so just because I have ammunition doesn’t mean that others don’t. It is therefore sometimes necessary to make alliances, to have people around who will support you in a struggle.

In order for that alliance to materialize, you have to compromise. You might have to do something for the other party. You might also have to join up with someone who isn’t always your friend. The famous world wars of the twentieth century made for strange bedfellows, countries which were allies during the period of military conflict, but who immediately returned to their respective corners once the conflict was resolved.

Shri Rama is a friend to all, but while playing His role as the warrior prince of Ayodhya, He had some enemies in the form of Rakshasas. These vile creatures were actually enemies to the world, especially the innocent priests seeking refuge in the quiet forests. Rama too lived in those forests for a brief period with His wife Sita and His younger brother Lakshmana. The Rakshasas, who were headed by the King of Lanka, could not leave well enough alone. They had to harass Rama as well, first attacking Him with an army of 14,000 strong. Rama defeated them singlehandedly, and so the opposition leader, Ravana, resorted to trickery to strike back. He took Sita away in secret, leaving Rama and Lakshmana to frantically search for her.

Shri HanumanFortunes turned their way when they ran into a minister to the Vanara-king Sugriva. Vanaras are mostly monkey-like, but in the earlier periods of the creation they have human-like features as well. We learn from the Vedas that the material bodies already exist; they don’t evolve. Each body is composed of a combination of elements in the modes of goodness, passion and ignorance. These modes are present at the beginning of creation, so the different species are like different paintings, different ways to mix the three component qualities. The spirit soul, the occupier within the body, evolves through the different species, but the species themselves aren’t capable of evolving. Life comes from life; matter cannot do anything on its own.

The minister Hanuman met Rama and Lakshmana at Sugriva’s insistence. Hearing what had happened with Sita, Hanuman knew that Rama and Sugriva could help each other. Sugriva was kicked out of his kingdom by his brother Vali. Rama was exiled from His kingdom of Ayodhya for fourteen years, but the matter of pressing urgency related to finding Sita. Rama could help Sugriva and Sugriva could help Rama. Through Hanuman’s efforts an alliance was born.

From the above quoted verse from the Ramayana we see what the immediate result of that alliance was. Sugriva obtained his kingdom back. It was difficult to obtain and it was protected by Vali. Vali was actually more powerful than even Ravana. He was one of the strongest fighters in the world. Through a misunderstanding, he and Sugriva became enemies, and since Sugriva was physically weaker, he was forced out of his kingdom.

Under normal circumstances, Rama would have had no interest in the feud. Conflicts arise all the time, especially between siblings. But Rama took more than just an interest in this case. He directly intervened by shooting Vali in the back while the Vanara was fighting Sugriva. According to the standard code of ethics, this is sinful, but since Sugriva was a surrendered soul and a friend, Rama would do anything for him. Vali too protested Rama’s deed as his life breath was leaving him, but Rama correctly reminded him that as the prince of Ayodhya He had jurisdiction over the entire forest. There was no reason for Vali to have kicked Sugriva out. Therefore Rama actually gave the kingdom back to the rightful owner.

More importantly, we understand from Hanuman that all of this was done for Sita. As the Supreme Lord, Rama is self-satisfied. This means that He doesn’t need someone’s company to feel happy. If a man who has been married for many years suddenly has to sleep in an empty bed at night, he feels very lonely. If his wife leaves his side, he doesn’t know how to handle the separation. Rama is not like this. He can live by Himself if He has to.

He moves heaven and earth for Sita because she is completely devoted to Him. In many respects she has a higher stature than Him. There is no sin in her, and she has to suffer sometimes in separation from her beloved. For this Rama is criticized, but never Sita. Rama takes special attention to protect the honor of His devotee. In this instance, His trusted servant, who was also Sugriva’s minister, went to find Sita. Hanuman’s arduous journey to Lanka is documented in the Sundara-kanda of the Ramayana. It was not an easy trip, and it was only after an exhaustive search that Sita was finally found.

When he saw her Hanuman knew that she was something special. Here he remembers the different things that Rama did for her as a way to further glorify her. If for Sita’s sake Sugriva could regain a kingdom that was so honored throughout the world, imagine how great Sita must be. And if Rama would do all that for Sita, He most certainly will do the same for anyone else who is devoted to Him. He doesn’t always do the work Himself. Sometimes He sends the fearless messenger Hanuman, whose association is just as good as Rama’s.

In Closing:

His kingdom back Sugriva did gain,

Guarded by Vali, was difficult to obtain.


The enemy brother was rid,

By Rama, for Sita this He did.


For His devotees God anything will do,

Sometimes even transgress moral codes too.


His messengers like Hanuman He’ll also send,

For worries in separation to mend.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Pleasing the Self

Sita and Rama“And Khara was killed in battle, and also Trishira and the highly splendorous Dushana brought down by the self-realized Rama.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 16.10)

karaḥ ca nihataḥ samkhye triśirāḥ ca nipātitaḥ |
dūṣaṇaḥ ca mahā tejā rāmeṇa vidita ātmanā ||

For Shri Hanuman, remembering the glories of Lord Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead in His role as a warrior prince, brings great pleasure to the self. The self is the spirit soul, and the ultimate knower of the self is the Supreme Lord, who is also the Superself, or the supreme soul resting within the heart of each living being. That knower of the self one time defeated some of the most powerful fighters in the world, and Hanuman remembered that remarkable feat when looking at the knower’s wife from a distance.

It is one thing to say that a woman is beautiful. That’s a pretty vanilla description. We can say that about a lot of women. If the woman is the most beautiful person we’ve ever seen, we’ll need other ways to describe her. In addition to comparing her external features, if she should happen to have a husband of tremendous fighting prowess, it would be helpful to know the nature of the relationship between the two. Can anything from the husband be used to better describe the beauty of the wife?

Hanuman was able to make this connection immediately upon seeing Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama. She was separated from her husband through no fault of her own, and Hanuman was the person sent to find her. After a lengthy search that spanned many months, Hanuman finally located her in a grove of Ashoka trees in a land ruled over by Rakshasas. A Rakshasa is like a human being who is a man-eater. If someone were to tell us that they eat cats and dogs, we wouldn’t think too highly of them. Therefore we can understand just how degraded one must be to eat other human beings. The man-eating is but a symptom of a larger problem: ignorance.

Previously, these same ignorant creatures attacked Sita’s husband in the quiet forest of Dandaka. Sita was with Rama at the time, and Lakshmana, Rama’s younger brother, was with them as well. The trio wasn’t bothering anyone, and yet the King of Lanka, Ravana, sent 14,000 of his best fighters to attack after his sister was disfigured by Lakshmana. She had tried to take out Sita in the hopes of being with Rama, and so Lakshmana kindly defended his sister-in-law. Ravana’s band of ghastly men previously had no problem attacking innocent sages set on religious observances in the forest, and so attacking Rama this time was not an extraordinary request.

Of course 14,000 against one doesn’t seem like a fair fight, and that is true here in one sense. Against the origin of matter and spirit, not even 14 million fighters stand a chance. Rama told Lakshmana to take Sita away to a safe place. He was going to fight this battle Himself. The details of the ensuing fight can be found in the Aranya-kanda of the Ramayana. In short, 14,000 of Ravana’s fiercest fighters were dispatched by Rama. They used every weapon imaginable, but just with arrows Rama fought them off. Then Dushana fought with Rama alone. The Lord lopped off his arms with His arrows and thus ended his life.

Khara, the best fighter in the group, was ready to attack next, but Trishira begged to be allowed to try first. So he then fought with Rama and was eventually killed. The final battle was with Rama and Khara, and after a fiery exchange of weapons, Khara’s chariot was shattered, leaving him to fight from the ground. Rama took this opportunity to chastise the demon, informing him that his past evil deeds were now coming back to him. Khara and his Rakshasa friends thought there would be no consequences to killing innocent sages, but just as the trees blossom at the appropriate season, so the doer of sinful deeds reaps their ghastly reward at the proper time.

“Just as a tree starts to blossom during the proper season, so the doer of sinful deeds inevitably reaps the horrible fruit of their actions at the appropriate time.” (Lord Rama speaking to Khara, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 29.8)

Lord RamaFighting on foot, Khara hurled a fiery club at Rama, but the Lord shattered it with His arrows. Rama then laughed at Khara, and the demon in turn retorted with his own promises of victory. In the end, Rama took out an arrow given by Indra and shot it at Khara, killing the demon. Khara was the best fighter sent to Janasthana, or the Dandaka forest, and so when Rama killed him it was certainly a big deal. With great pride Hanuman remembers Rama’s killing of the three leading Rakshasas. Similar statements are found elsewhere in Vedic literature, including in the Shrimad Bhagavatam.

“While wandering in the forest, where He accepted a life of hardship, carrying His invincible bow and arrows in His hand, Lord Ramachandra deformed Ravana's sister, who was polluted with lusty desires, by cutting off her nose and ears. He also killed her fourteen thousand Rakshasa friends, headed by Khara, Trishira and Dushana.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 9.10.9)

The wise relish the opportunity to remember God and celebrate His triumphs. Now seeing Sita from afar, Hanuman remembered Rama’s heroic act in a new way. Rama had indeed killed these fierce fighters of cruel deeds, and He had done so to protect the sages. But He also fought to protect Sita. If not for her, those fiends would probably have still been alive and kicking, wreaking havoc throughout the world. Thus in her own way Sita brought about the demise of the Rakshasa clan in Lanka. Rama kicked things off in Janasthana, and now Hanuman was in Lanka to give the message to Sita that Rama was coming to save her. And in the end the entire army of Vanaras, who teamed with Rama and Lakshmana, would come to destroy Ravana and his clan.

In Closing:

When beloved wife of Rama he sees,

Remembers His pastimes for self to please.


Fourteen thousand demons headed by three,

Were killed by Rama’s arrows set free.


Khara, Dushana and Trishira had might,

But never to win against Rama in a fight.


That Sita had the best husband this meant,

Known to Hanuman who to find her was sent.