Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Missing Part

Shrila Prabhupada“The psychologist makes a serious study of the physiological conditions of the brain, as if the construction of the cerebral lump were the machine of the functioning mind, but in the dead body the psychologist cannot bring back the function of the mind. These scientific studies of the cosmic manifestation or the bodily construction independent of the Supreme Lord are different reflective intellectual gymnastics only, but at the end they are all illusion and nothing more.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.9.34 Purport)

“Oh darn, my car won’t start. Why is this happening to me today? I have to get to work. Why does God hate me? The car is exactly the same today as it was yesterday. Nothing has changed. The tank is full of gas, none of the service lights are on in the dashboard, and it’s not even that cold outside. The engine should work just fine. This is ridiculous. I will have to call a tow-truck so that I can bring this to the mechanic. They will have to tell me what’s wrong.”

The issue in these instances can be very simple. For instance, perhaps the car battery is dead. If you left the trunk open overnight, the light in the dashboard indicating that the trunk was open would have remained on all night as well. Since the car wasn’t on, the battery was utilized unnecessarily to keep the indicator light on. Now in the morning the car won’t start because the battery is out of power. If you give it a quick jumpstart and let the car run for a while, you should be back to normal.

There could also be more major issues. Perhaps the battery needs to be replaced entirely. Maybe the alternator is bad. Maybe there’s some other part in the car that has become defective, thus making the car inoperable. In these instances, you just get the new part and have an expert install it. You should then be good to go.

Lacking God consciousness, the enthused scientist thinks they can keep the machine known as the human body running forever, making the necessary fixes along the way. But in the end it is one part in particular that they have no control over. That part is not of the same quality as matter. It is spiritual, and as such it is rooted in the Supreme Spirit.

Bhagavad-gita, 7.14“This divine energy of Mine, consisting of the three modes of material nature, is difficult to overcome. But those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.14)

Actually, the material energy is also rooted in spirit. We cannot generate matter on our own. For instance, we can’t look at an empty plot of land and will a large building to be erected. If we want the building, we need to gather the necessary materials. To get the parts, we have to look in places where there are collections of matter; we don’t generate the matter ourselves. Even the trees, which grow from a tiny seed, are generated from life. If the tree is dead, it stops growing. If it was never alive, it would never have produced wood to be used in construction. If all we see is the material, then our understanding is incomplete.

“But how do we see the spiritual if it is subtle? How do we know that spirit is the catalyst to something if we can’t put it in our hands? I know that I’m eating pizza right now because I can see it in front of me. I can smell it and also taste it. How can I do the same with spirit?”

The visible changing of bodies is one indication of the presence of spirit. We know the pizza pie in front of us through a variety of sense interactions, so seeing isn’t the only way to believe with respect to spirit. We can hear spirit as well. The fact that sound can be produced by a living creature indicates the presence of spirit. The very reference to life indicates spirit. And that spirit is impossible to control through blunt scientific instruments.

“How do we control it then? How do we control birth and death? How do we stop disease? How do we animate the dead body?”

Bhagavad-gita As It IsThese issues and more are addressed in the original spiritual science, which is presented in a concise way in the Bhagavad-gita. This classic Vedic text is likened to a work for undergraduate study. The graduate study is the Shrimad Bhagavatam and postgraduate the Shri Chaitanya Charitamrita. Despite the various grade levels, there is a common theme that can be understood by any person: we are not our body.

Aham brahmasmi is the Vedic aphorism that says that we are Brahman, or pure spirit. We are not the changing body. We drive the car, but we are not the car. We can alter the parts to fix the broken car, but this has no bearing on the driver. In a similar manner, we can make changes to the body, but as the occupier we are not affected. The spirit soul is tied to consciousness, which is subtle and can be influenced by the actions taken when operating the vehicle.

We can use our car to drive to work or school or we can use it to commit a crime. We can visit our friends and family or we can drive to a strip club. The choices each have a subsequent influence. The aggregate influence, taken as a whole from all the actions of the individual within their body, constitutes karma, or the reactions to fruitive activity. It would make sense then to try to get the best karma, to reap the best reactions to work. In order to get the best reactions, you need the best work.

That work is known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. It is a discipline which identifies the individual properly right from the outset. Notice that in no other discipline does this occur. If we simply study the human brain we will not really get anywhere. We may be able to heal physical damage to the brain, but nothing can be done to get that amazing organ to start working again should the spirit soul depart the body. The person who studies only the brain and not the occupier in the body thus doesn’t really have any worthwhile information.

I am a spirit soul, and I came from somewhere. In this life I emerged from the womb of my mother, but prior to that I existed as well. This truth is presented in the Bhagavad-gita, which again shows the value of the work. The instruction that Shri Krishna offers in the Gita is straightforward. He tackles the most difficult issues right away, lest He be accused of withholding vital information.

As spirit I am eternal, and Shri Krishna is the source of that spirit. He generates the material creation to toss the souls desirous of false competition into a pool of endless games. The competition is false because there is really no winner. If everyone must die eventually, how can we say that any one person is superior to another? The real superior authority is Shri Krishna, and in bhakti-yoga the individual soul looks to connect with Him right away.

The recommended method of bhakti-yoga practice for this age is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” In this practice we hear God, though we may not believe it in the beginning. This connection reawakens a dormant consciousness that is our original consciousness. Krishna, or God, is our eternal well-wisher, and in the purified state of mind we never wish to leave His company. He is the missing piece to revive the devotional engine that roars without motivation and without interruption in the ideal state. One who takes the steps to learn of spirit from the right authority, namely Shri Krishna or someone who follows in His line of instruction, will not be swayed by the illusion of the material energy.

In Closing:

Frustration when the car does stall,

Auto mechanic we must then call.


Expert orders and installs the vital part,

So that again our car can start.


Body a machine controlled by the brain,

But there is a driver, entity of substance not the same.


Study spirit, for it is at the core of our existence,

Ignoring it yields no results in spite of endless persistence.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Giving Himself

Radha Krishna“Out of His immensely charitable disposition He can award some temporary powers to the yogis because of the yogis hankering after them, but to His unalloyed devotees, who do not want anything from the Lord save and except His transcendental service, the Lord is so pleased that He gives Himself in exchange for unalloyed service.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.9.17 Purport)

Would we prefer to receive the personal association of our friends and family or checks in the mail from them periodically? Does the young child prefer to receive gifts from the parents in lieu of their presence? Gifts are always nice in the short term, but the quality time spent together stays with you throughout your life. More importantly, a loved one’s presence indicates a sacrifice on their part, as to give oneself is the greatest gift to offer. In the same way, the Supreme Lord reserves His most precious gift for those who love Him the most. All others receive gifts from the same all-powerful, but those rewards are not equal to that which is given to the devotees.

What kinds of gifts are there? And why are they inferior to the greatest gift?

For starters, we should establish that nothing in this world is our own. Sure, we have temporary claim on various objects, but we did not create them. If we build a tree-house in the backyard, someone still had to create the yard. Someone had to make the tree. We could import those items from elsewhere, but nevertheless the objects themselves must exist. The earth was here before we were born and it will be here after we die. Therefore we really don’t own anything; we only have temporary proprietorship based on interactions in the journey through life.

Everything that we do have a temporary hold on is a gift from a higher power, who is the source of the objects in question. In this regard, everyone is a beneficiary. The rich person is apparently a greater beneficiary than the poor person, but in either case there is dependency. In the Vedas, the gifts are categorized based on the type of work put forth by the individual. The material rewards pertaining to opulence come to those who follow karma, or fruitive activity. Knowledge, a subtle reward, is the benefit given to the empiricists, the philosophers who do more thinking than working. And mystic perfections are the gift bestowed upon the meditational yogis.

Whether one is a fruitive worker, a mental speculator, or a meditational yogi, the gifts received are not considered superior. They are akin to the checks sent in the mail by the parents. As established previously, distributing money is not the best way to show love. Money is impersonal, and it doesn’t represent that great a sacrifice from the individual. Sure, one has to work in order to earn money, which means that parting with it is a kind of sacrifice of time. Nevertheless, to sacrifice time to spend with someone else is more significant because that same time could be spent earning money.

For the Supreme Lord, giving gifts that relate to His temporary material creation is like handing out pennies to someone on the street; the rewards are insignificant. With a single exhalation He can create an entire universe, so what is it to grant a few mystic perfections to the yogi? The yogi still can’t create on the same scale, and to reach any of their opulences they have to do so much work. God doesn’t have to do the same work; He is always superior.

Radha and KrishnaThe bhaktas earn God’s direct association. When following bhakti-yoga in purity, where there is no motivation to receive any of the insignificant opulences offered to others, the Supreme Lord actually takes the initiative to bring Himself to the devotee all the time. The question of “Can you show me God?” is not asked by the devotee because they see God all the time. They hear Him in the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” They see Him in the deity in the temple. They taste Him in the remnants of foodstuff offered to His deity. They smell Him in the fragrant flowers offered to Him, and they feel Him when in the presence of other devotees.

They see God’s influence even in others who are not devoted. The devotees know that the material nature represents God’s external energy, and so the atheists are also connecting with God in some way. The loving relationship is appreciated more than the monetary support because money can be offered by anyone. We only have one mom and one dad, so their association is unique. Similarly, there is only one God, though He may be addressed differently depending on the spiritual tradition followed. His company is available, however, and the saints who follow bhakti-yoga know how to earn it. They don’t even specifically seek His favor, but in serving Him and His devotees, the Lord gives Himself over, like He does with the gopis of Vrindavana and the Vanaras of the Kishkindha forest.

If we have trouble believing this, we can at least acknowledge that the gifts we have in life come from somewhere. Paying homage to the donor is nice, and since those gifts are available to everyone, the donor is the most charitable person. The heat of the sun is available to every single person, as is the water from the rain. If material elements like these are universally distributed, then why shouldn’t the donor’s personal presence have the same reach? Since the Supreme Lord is the all-powerful His personal association received in exchanged for unalloyed service ensures that whatever opulences are needed are readily available, clearing the way for the mind to continue in service without interruption.

In Closing:

Money from parents allows me to live,

But I’d rather their company they give.


Mother and father, loving parents two,

Their sacrifice of time of greater value.


Gifts within material nature are already found,

So why not Supreme Lord can offer same rewards abound?


To His devotees He gives the most special gift,

His personal association, spirits eternally to uplift.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Trouble in Penance

Vaikuntha“There is undoubtedly trouble in executing penance. But the trouble accepted in executing bhakti-yoga is transcendental happiness from the very beginning, whereas the trouble of penance in other processes of self-realization (jnana-yoga, dhyana-yoga, etc.), without any Vaikuntha realization, ends in trouble only and nothing more. There is no profit in beating husks without grains. Similarly, there is no profit in executing troublesome penances other than bhakti-yoga for self-realization.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.9.9 Purport)

“Alright, I just got back from the doctor and everything looks good. My cholesterol, blood pressure, triglycerides, and even my weight are well within the acceptable margins. The doctor didn’t make any recommendations, either. So whatever I’m doing right now must be working pretty well. Nevertheless, I’ve heard of this new diet that seems appealing. It calls for eating only grapefruits. It helps in losing weight really fast. Maybe I should try it out. What is the loss?”

Here if we played the game, “What’s Wrong With This Picture?”, a contestant could spot the problem fairly quickly. If the person in the above hypothetical scenario has a clean bill of health, why do they need to go on a crash diet? What will they gain from that experience? It’s taking a load of trouble for no reason. It might actually hurt their stable health, which means that their trip to the doctor would end up being meaningless.

In the higher scheme, every living entity who takes birth is considered conditioned. The condition is that of being bound to the cycle of birth and death, which is a function of nature. We’re compelled to obey the stringent laws of nature, even if we’re not consciously aware of it. We feel hot in the summer and cold in the winter, and at the end of each day we have to fall sleep. We also have to use the restroom if we’ve had too much too drink. None of these experiences is explicitly desired, but they come upon us nonetheless.

The most noticeable indication of our subservience to nature is death. We are forced to exit the body that we’ve called home for long enough of a time to not remember being anywhere else. We don’t get to bring our possessions with us. All that money in the bank stays there. If it is passed on to heirs, our estate will be taxed at an exorbitant rate to comply with the “fairness” instituted by government. Our electronic gadgets will have to be used by someone else. No more spending time with our family or enjoying tasty food dishes. Oh, and to top it all off, that death can arrive at any moment; we don’t have to invite it.

There are methods to fix the condition. We don’t have to endure material nature’s influence if we don’t want to. Ah, but to strive for life in a different world requires knowledge of the other world’s existence. To want to escape the clutches of material nature requires knowing that material nature is causing our suffering. It’s similar to trying to decipher what exactly is causing an allergic reaction. The reaction is easy to notice. We’re sneezing or our eyes are itching. But what exactly is the cause?

From the sacred texts of India we learn that the material nature is the cause of our suffering . Known as the Vedas, these works provide truths essential for the wellbeing of all men. The truths apply for all creatures, but only the human being has the potential to understand them and practically apply the principles.

A central application of the principles is tapasya, or austerity/penance. The requirement for penance to reach a superior position should not be a foreign concept. In the above referenced scenario, the person thinks that going on a grapefruit diet will help them lose weight, which is the desired condition. Eating only grapefruits is an austerity measure because otherwise everyone would be doing this all the time. Eating only one kind of food exclusively is not normal; it is actually quite difficult.

But again, a voluntarily accepted difficulty should lead to a viable endpoint. In the Vedas, the highest endpoint isn’t always revealed right away. Therefore several paths are presented. There is jnana-yoga, dhyana-yoga, karma-yoga and hatha-yoga. Each of these paths has their respective penances. The ultimate goal of all paths, however, is to realize God in His personal form. Without this realization the penances bring only trouble.

Bhagavad-gita, 7.6“Of all that is material and all that is spiritual in this world, know for certain that I am both its origin and dissolution.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.6)

Bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, also has penances, but the journey is very different. This is because from the beginning the target aim is identified and realized to some extent. Without bhakti, following the penances of the other paths is like following a roadmap in a jungle without knowing where it will lead. You are just told to follow the outlined path and not worry about what’s at the end. In bhakti-yoga, you have a slight understanding of what the end looks like, and you keep it in mind as you execute your penances.

Now, in some respects this could be considered torturous. If the end is really great, and if I think about it all the time, my penances will be that much more arduous. The end in bhakti-yoga is described as all-attractive. The end is a person, and He is known as Krishna. In bhakti-yoga, you think of Krishna from beginning to end. And thinking of Him is actually just as good as being with Him. The end in this case represents a clearer understanding of Him, and the clearer the understanding is, the more you love Him. And that love transcends birth and death; it is eternal. Love manifests in service, and since the love for Krishna never has to fade, so too the service can continue without interruption and without motivation.

Krishna stealing butterIn other paths I may have to do things like sit in quiet meditation for hours on end. I may have to fast for several days and force myself to keep unwanted thoughts out of my mind. In bhakti-yoga, a penance is chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” While chanting, the mind can think about Krishna’s personal activities, like His stealing of butter from the homes of the neighbors in Vrindavana and His subduing of the Kaliya serpent. The mind can think of His incarnations like Narasimha and Rama and how they offer protection to the devotees.

While doing the penance of chanting, one can also think of devotees of the Lord like Shrimati Radharani, who represents His perfected energy. We too are God’s energy, but we are the marginal potency. We can choose between conditioned life in a material existence and blissful life in the Vaikuntha realm, where Krishna and His personal expansions live. In penance, we can contemplate on the heroic activities of devoted servants like Hanuman and how saints like His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada travel across the world to spread the message of divine love.

Chanting is known as kirtanam, which can also translate to mean “describing.” What can be more pleasurable than describing God and His features? This penance is really no penance at all, as we already take great pleasure in praising others. This is our natural inclination, and in Krishna we find someone whose glories are endless, which means that we can practice our so-called penance without end.

Bhagavad-gita, 2.40“In this endeavor there is no loss or diminution, and a little advancement on this path can protect one from the most dangerous type of fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.40)

If you break the fast or stop your meditation when on another spiritual path, your progress is halted and you have to start over. In bhakti-yoga there is never any loss. One step taken towards Krishna equates to Krishna taking ten steps towards you. To increase the potency of chanting, one abstains from meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. This might be troublesome, but when Krishna is kept in mind, the discomfort is cancelled out. With enough steady practice, soon the restrictions are automatic, like arising early in the morning without needing an alarm clock. There is everything to gain in bhakti-yoga and nothing to lose except attachment to a miserable material existence.

In Closing:

If in healthy condition good food you taste,

Why with crash diet time you will waste?


Eating nutritional needs already does feed,

With painful penance there is thus no need.


Tapasya an ability exclusive to human birth,

But must know the ideal destination first.


Penance in jnana and dhyana brings so much pain,

Without Vaikuntha realization there is no gain.


Austerity of chanting holy names take,

And truly worthwhile your penance make.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

With or Without You

Lord Shiva“The Vedas prescribe two different types of occupation for the human being. One is called the pravritti-marga, or the path of sense enjoyment, and the other is called the nivritti-marga, or the path of renunciation. The path of enjoyment is inferior, and the path of sacrifice for the supreme cause is superior.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.2.6 Purport)

“How do we know that this isn’t all just a hoax? How do we know that we’re not wasting our time with worship of God? At least with material attachment I get to directly experience the immediate result. I know when I’m satisfied after eating. I know when I’m intoxicated from drinking alcohol. I know the thrill of victory from gambling. Why should I turn my back to these things in favor of religious life when the promises only relate to the afterlife, to meeting a person no one I know has seen?”

Doubt is a byproduct of ignorance, wherein one isn’t sure of anything really. Despite this doubt, we move ahead with action, relying on authority, which is determined by past experiences which form mini scientific experiments. We have no clue whether or not others will obey the traffic laws, but we pass through the intersection when there’s a green light anyway. We don’t know if someone will attack us when we step outside of our home, but we do leave the home anyway because the odds say that we’ll likely be safe. We can conduct a similar test with spiritual life by comparing those who follow it faithfully with those who don’t. Whichever side is superior would have to be more trustworthy, no?

Well, let’s look at the side that doesn’t follow spiritual life. This side is generally known as the atheists. They say that to satisfy the senses is the ultimate aim. To that end they perform scientific research and concoct theories that will help man exploit the material nature that he calls his home for upwards of one hundred years. Mind you, none of this research gives a permanent fix to the aging problem or the disease problem. It also doesn’t tackle the issue of birth. For instance, if we’re going to research how to go into outer space, why can’t we research how to fit into the tiniest space? We already accomplished that feat when we were in the womb and yet now to do that would be impossible? Science is supposed to make the impossible possible, for if we are just a collection of elements, those elements should be able to be manipulated in any possible way.

Bhagavad-gita, 16.11-12“They believe that to gratify the senses unto the end of life is the prime necessity of human civilization. Thus there is no end to their anxiety. Being bound by hundreds and thousands of desires, by lust and anger, they secure money by illegal means for sense gratification.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 16.11-12)

The atheists have no recourse but to be materially attached. Nature is their God, and they succumb to its forces throughout their time on earth, offering the final obeisance at the time of death. One who is materially attached requires many things for sustenance. In the advanced technological age, where “progress” is hailed as a good thing, the attachments increase. One needs electricity. They need it to heat their homes, power their appliances, and give light during times of darkness. One also needs smartphones, tablet computers, and televisions. There must be programming and applications as well, and so if any of these things are gone there is a big headache. There are attachments in all areas, including sex life and eating.

Outer spaceThe spiritualists who follow bhakti-yoga, on the other hand, know of both material attachment and detachment. Their God is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is the origin of both matter and spirit. Under their understanding, the material universe is created to act as a sort of temporary playhouse. The knowledge of past, present and future is too large for any computer to hold, let alone the human brain. Therefore understanding all the complexities is impossible as well. Material scientific research is a kind of play that takes place in the material creation. Just as there are seasons every year for the major professional sports, so the research continues without end, as the Supreme Lord slowly reveals bits and pieces of insignificant information to keep the appetite of the scientist strong.

The spiritualists know that the spirit soul is the essence of identity and that this soul is transcendental to the changes effected by birth, old age, disease and death. The days come and go, and so do the bodies of the conditioned living entities. Breaking free from the cycle of birth and death is easy to understand theoretically, but practically it requires a permanent change in consciousness. This is brought about by a shift in behavior, which is guided by knowledge and renunciation. Both knowledge and renunciation help to foster bhakti, or divine love, which is the true occupation of the soul. The knowledge arrives from hearing from authority figures on the science of self-realization and how the universe operates. Renunciation requires limiting material attachment as much as possible, keeping the senses sharp in the pursuit of the higher aim: connecting with God.

If we are going to use skepticism, it should be applied equally. We should be just as skeptical of the materially attached atheist as we are of the spiritualist. This is only fair. Under this model, wherein we don’t accept any of the claims outright, we see that the spiritualist is in a superior position while living in the material world. A person who can live a renounced life can automatically live a materially attached life. By definition, the materially attached person cannot be renounced. This should be fairly obvious. If I can survive on just six hours of sleep, if I were to sleep eight hours one night, I would be fine. The person who requires eight hours would have a difficult time only sleeping six hours. Someone who needs very little to eat would be able to survive eating a little more on a given day, while the person who needs more to eat would be in tremendous pain if they didn’t get enough food one day.

Studying the matter further, we see that the spiritualists who are closely tied to the Supreme Lord have tremendous powers and yet are completely renounced at the same time. The scientists who hope to travel far into outer space can’t match the material potency of someone like Lord Shiva. He destroys the entire creation when the time is right. This makes him a worshipable figure in the Vedic tradition. Whether you believe in him or not is not so important for this discussion. The descriptions of him found in Vedic literature suffice for a sober comparison.

Though Lord Shiva is supremely powerful, in behavior he is completely renounced. He prefers to live in the mountains where he can always chant the names of his beloved Lord. Though he is married, he doesn’t desire sex life. God asked that he get married so that he could better manage the material creation. He was gifted with the most chaste wife, Parvati, who is also known as Durga. This material creation is managed by her, as it is also known as durga, or difficult to overcome. It is like a fort that can only be crossed by the devotion that Lord Shiva practices.

Shri HanumanSimilarly, Shri Hanuman is also very powerful but also completely renounced. Lakshmi Devi is the goddess of fortune. She is God’s eternal consort. She has the most wealth to distribute, but she is not attached to it at all. Rather, she spends her time in service to her husband. These people alone are sufficient to rely on as authority figures. They can live with or without, and they do whatever is suited for the occasion. The materially attached atheist cannot say the same; therefore they are automatically inferior. Indeed, the human being only interested in sense gratification is actually inferior to the animal, which is purportedly less evolved. The animal can satisfy its senses without concern for mortgage payments, the national debt, the rebuke of a paramour, and so on.

We can experience the benefits of bhakti-yoga in the present life. Knowledge and renunciation practiced under authorized guidelines coming from those who represent God in the same manner as Shiva and Lakshmi bring some semblance of peace in material association. And then through following the standard methods of bhakti-yoga, including the principal practice of chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” we can hear God immediately, and that association is better than anything we get in a materially attached existence.

In Closing:

Through skepticism hard to tell which is inferior,

Is attachment better or is renunciation superior?


Taking out spiritual element, sober analysis give,

See which side in more situations can live.


The renounced the material allures can go without,

Not the same for those suffering from attachment’s bout.


As the destroyer Lord Shiva has it all,

But in renunciation only Rama he calls.


Hanuman and Lakshmi very powerful too,

But they only worship God of bluish hue.


Use them as your viable authority,

To know for sure bhakti-yoga’s superiority.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Acting As One

Sita Rama“She is the dear wife of Rama, who knows right and wrong and is grateful and self-realized. She is now under the control of the Rakshasis.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 16.18)

dharmajñasya kṛtajñasya rāmasya vidita ātmanaḥ |
iyam sā dayitā bhāryā rākṣasī vaśam āgatā ||

The wife is an extension of the husband. The two are essentially one; their deeds are taken as a collective unit. If one is bad, it reflects poorly on the other, and vice versa. Therefore in all respects it is beneficial for both parties to follow the righteous path, as this will benefit both of them in the future. Yet in one situation Shri Hanuman noticed conditions that were paradoxical. You had a pious husband combined with a pious wife, and yet the wife was in the worst circumstances, with the husband longing for her. How could this be?

The concept of the husband and wife assuming one identity at the time of marriage isn’t exclusive to the Vedas, the ancient scriptural tradition of India. What we know as Hinduism is actually just the modern term for the cultural tradition that follows the Vedas. Indeed, amongst wise souls there is no such thing as believing in a certain faith or belonging to a specific group. In the Vedas spirituality is presented as a science, wherein the individual is identified as a spirit soul who is transcendental to the changes of the outer covering. The covering is composed of material elements, which are accepted and discarded in the same way that clothes are worn and taken off.

The proper identification is provided at the beginning of the instructional period, and all subsequent rites, rituals and guidelines are aimed at tasting the fruit of one’s existence, which is association with the Supreme Spirit in a bond that never has to break. The material world’s current flows in the opposite direction, however. We know this instinctively, as a child is compelled to go to school in order to learn. Their first inclination is to play each day away, and this is not accepted as valid by the wiser adults. The children have to be forced to do things in order to better their condition.

The one thing that takes the individual farthest away from the real goal of life is lust, which manifests most strongly in attraction towards the opposite sex. For this reason the Supreme Spirit provided the institution of marriage in His Vedas. Through marriage conducted under religious guidelines the tendency towards lust is hopefully curbed. The attraction towards the opposite sex is contained, and through the partnership one has help in reaching the ultimate goal of consciousness of the Divine.

Bhagavad-gita, 3.37“The Blessed Lord said: It is lust only, Arjuna, which is born of contact with the material modes of passion and later transformed into wrath, and which is the all-devouring, sinful enemy of this world.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.37)

If the husband is good, it is to be understood that his wife is supporting him. She shares in his merits, so if he’s somehow following the righteous path, she must be doing well in serving him. In the case of a famous princess a long time back, her husband was of the best character. He is described in the verse quoted above as a knower of dharma, which can translate to mean religion or duty. This is like saying that Rama, the woman’s husband, knew right and wrong. He didn’t have to guess what to do. Whatever He did was right.

Hanuman also says that Rama was grateful. The Sanskrit words krita and jnasya can also translate to mean one who knows actions. This can refer to one’s own actions or the actions of others. Both apply to Rama, as He always recognized the good deeds of others. And since He was a knower of dharma, all of His actions were good as well.

Rama was also self-realized. This is very important to mention because self-realization is the ultimate goal of the human form of life. If a married man is self-realized, it means that his wife somehow or other allowed that realization to happen. At worst, she didn’t get in the way of the realization. In Sita’s case, she was always there with Rama to help Him. He one time openly appreciated her support in this regard. He kindly referred to her as a sadharma-charini, which means a chaste wife who lives by religious principles.

“My dear beautiful wife, what you have said is befitting the occasion and also indicative of the greatness of your family heritage. You are dearer to Me than My life, for you are My companion in the performance of religious duties.” (Lord Rama speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 10.21)

Sita-RamaHanuman first mentions Rama’s qualities so that he can show the stark contrast to the situation at hand. Sita, who is by extension the same as Rama, is here in the most difficult circumstance. She is under the sway of Rakshasis, who can be likened to female man-eaters. Under orders from the king of Lanka, Ravana, they are harassing Sita day and night, trying to scare her into submission. Ravana stole her away from Rama’s side through a backhanded plot, hoping to have her as a wife. She utterly refused him, and so he hoped maybe the fear of death would get her to change her mind.

How could something like this happen to someone who was married to someone who was righteous in every way? Rama had never done anything wrong, so why were these bad things constantly happening to Him? First, He lost the throne of Ayodhya on the day His father was to hand it to Him. Then He got kicked out of Ayodhya for twelve years, forced to roam the forests as a recluse. And then Sita, whose company He adored, vanished from His side. Such a wonderful person had all of these bad things happen to Him, and He couldn’t now just sit back and sulk, either. He had to find Sita. He wasn’t going to let her suffer alone.

Hanuman was an extension of Rama’s concern. That knower of the self, who acted piously and recognized good actions in others, had Hanuman working for Him. Hanuman found Sita in this instance after an extensive search. Though he may not have realized it at the moment, but the seemingly bad fortune for Sita and Rama turned out to be good since they got to witness Hanuman’s heroic service. That service is so pleasing to hear of that it is described in detail in the Sundara Kand of the Ramayana.

Rama is God and Sita His eternal consort; so they never actually undergo any suffering. The events of the Ramayana were sequenced in such a way so as to provide so many lessons to man. In spite of how pious one may be, material circumstances are not always guaranteed to be immediately favorable. How one reacts to misfortune is what truly tests their dedication to piety. In Rama’s case as well as Sita’s, the dedication to religious principles never waned, and in this way they provided a great lesson. Good and bad will come and go, but only one who is steady like Hanuman in their march towards the supreme destination will attain it.

In Closing:

Come together do the husband and wife,

Fused into one is their fortune in life.


If the husband possesses qualities good,

That wife is supportive is understood.


Rama treading the righteous path goes,

Good and bad and kind deeds of others He knows.


That Sita in harm’s way is certainly wrong,

Rama for her company shouldn’t have to long.


All this part of Ramayana’s play,

Chance for Hanuman to save the day.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Ten Chariot Fighter

King Dasharatha“She is the famed eldest daughter-in-law of King Dasharatha, who was courageous and never retreated in battle.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 16.17)

vikrāntasya ārya śīlasya samyugeṣu anivartinaḥ |
snuṣā daśarathasya eṣā jyeṣṭhā rājño yaśasvinī ||

In the verses preceding this one, Sita’s relationship to King Janaka and the unique circumstances of her birth were presented. Here further substantiation for her splendid character is provided through her family relationship to one of the greatest fighters in history, a person who could fight in ten directions simultaneously using only one chariot. He was also heroic, never fleeing from the field of battle. His valor combined with his deference to religious principles, or dharma, earned him a son who was the Supreme Lord in a seemingly human form. With God in personal form you get His entourage as well, and so this famous king later on earned Sita as a daughter-in-law.

“Who are you? Where are you from? Who can vouch for your character? I want to know more about you. What are your accomplishments? Where did you go to school? What do you do for a living? Who are your parents? What kind of family do you come from?”

In ancient times the women did not have a specific occupation outside of the home in adulthood. They would serve their husbands and maintain a peaceful and stable family life in the process. Advancement of civilization does not come through machines, large sums of money, or the ability to control the temperature within a certain area. The miseries of the material world, which are threefold, apply to every single person. They will also inflict themselves upon all; no one is spared. One person may live in an apartment that has air conditioning and another in a hut made of mud, but the scorching rays of the sun will affect both of them equally. Just because one person can get temporary relief from the heat doesn’t mean that they are immune to the influence of the sun. Fire burns the same for every person, and so the miseries of life exist to some degree or another in everyone.

Advancement is measured by the development of consciousness. And for consciousness to develop properly there must exist a combination of renunciation and knowledge, or what are known as vairagya and jnana in Sanskrit. In the absence of these two factors that contribute to the betterment of consciousness, the living entity is really no different than the animal. A dog has sexual relations in the alley, while the human being uses the expensive hotel room, but the satisfaction to the senses is the same in both cases. Where the human being is advanced is in the potential to shape consciousness. The human being, if fortunate enough to have contact with a spiritual guide who is non-duplicitous in their prosecution of bona fide religious principles, can realize God and thus reach a level of advancement that stands above everything else.

The duties enjoined for married women are meant to complement the pious husband’s dedication to religious principles, which will ideally lead him towards realization of God. Following religious principles automatically keeps one detached. If I follow something out of duty, I will not be as attached to the outcome. “Whether I succeed or fail, at least I’m doing the right thing,” is the mindset. The husband progresses through the spiritual stages in life, and in the second stage, married life, he gets a wife to support him in his efforts. The wife shares the merits of her husband, so it is in her interest as well to see that he succeeds in realizing God.

When the wife is given this duty, the way to assess her character is to measure her fidelity to it. In a verse previous to this one in the Ramayana, Shri Hanuman identified Sita Devi as being totally devoted to her husband Rama. The woman’s qualities can be further assessed by reviewing the people to whom she is intimately tied. Hanuman previously said that Sita was the daughter of King Janaka and that she was found while the king was ploughing a field. When Sita was found by Janaka, she was covered by auspicious dirt that resembled pollen dust.

In this verse from the Ramayana, Hanuman reviews the qualities of the father of Sita’s husband. Rama is the Supreme Lord, an incarnation of the original Personality of Godhead. Therefore Sita automatically is in the highest position; she serves God. Rama also agrees to stay with her all the time, which means that her company is the most preferred by the best person in the world. Still, Hanuman feels the need to mention King Dasharatha, who was a famous personality that ruled the earth during the time period of interest, the Treta Yuga.

It is said that King Dasharatha was famous and that he was courageous. The demigods, the “good guys” for all intents and purposes, relied on Dasharatha many times in their battles against the “demons”. Fighters during this time period were in charge of the government, a fact that shows the real purpose of a government leader. More than anything they are to protect life and property. To do this effectively they must be willing to combat the evil elements in society, using violent force when required.

Dasharatha had no aversion to this; he bravely fought against the enemies of the demigods. His name references his ability to make a single chariot appear as if it were ten. To fight in this way is to risk one’s life, and on the battlefield one’s bravery is tested fully when there is danger. When times get tough, do you get tougher or do you bail? Quitting is the easier option, as we all have attachment to our body that we’ve known since the time of birth. The truly heroic are those who abandon attachment to the temporary body in favor of duty. Dasharatha was one such brave soul, and so he was worthy of the fame he received.

Sita and Rama's weddingHanuman made this assessment of Sita and her family members while viewing her from afar in the Ashoka grove inside of Lanka, the territory ruled over by the Rakshasa Ravana at the time. The fiend had taken Sita there against her will, and it was Hanuman’s job to find her and then report her location to Rama. At this time Dasharatha had already passed on; he could not bear the separation from his eldest son Rama. Though he was no longer in the world at the time, Hanuman still remembered him while seeing Sita, which shows that the king’s legacy carried on through his pious and beautiful daughter-in-law.

In the same way, Sita and Rama’s glories extend through the work of their courageous servant Shri Hanuman, who did not back down from the daunting challenge of infiltrating an enemy territory and looking for someone he had never met. Hanuman is glorious for his attributes and his deeds, and his character is enhanced further by his relation to Sita and Rama. And similarly, anyone who is devoted to Hanuman in thought, word and deed will be glorious and simultaneously related to the same couple, who are the storehouse of all virtues.

In Closing:

Against enemy attack he can defend,

Can make single chariot appear as ten.


The name Dasharatha this ability brought,

With valor against demon class he fought.


Because of his character it was no surprise,

That as daughter received Sita of lotus-like eyes.


Though the famous king no longer around,

Remembered him when Sita Hanuman found.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sacred Earth

Janaka finding Sita“She arose from the surface of the earth when it was pierced by a ploughshare. She was covered with auspicious dust from the field that resembled the pollen from a lotus.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 16.16)

utthitā medinīm bhittvā kṣetre hala mukha kṣate |
padma reṇu nibhaiḥ kīrṇā śubhaiḥ kedāra pāṃsubhiḥ ||

Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has declared that just as Krishna is worshipable, so is His land. Therefore places like Vrindavana, Mathura and Dvaraka are popular pilgrimage destinations. The earth of these areas is considered sacred because Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, placed His feet on it. In the same way, the land of Tirahuta is also sacred, for the Supreme Lord’s eternal consort, Lakshmi Devi, arose from underneath its ground one time when a famous king was ploughing the field for a sacrifice. That earth was auspicious before Janaka’s daughter arose, and afterwards it became even more important.

The idea that certain sections of land would be more important than others should make sense if we think about it. In the United States, there are tourist areas relating to the Founding Fathers, the group of men who founded the country. These landmarks include the family estates of the famous men, along with other areas of interest. There is also the famous Graceland, which relates to the rock n roll singer Elvis Presley. These areas sport ordinary homes built on ordinary dirt, but since they relate to famous personalities, they take on an added significance.

In one sense, this whole world can be thought of as sacred, since it emanated from the Supreme Lord. There is an original creator, though we can’t get our minds around the concept of eternal time. Keep going back in time as far as you can and you still won’t reach the beginning. Travel into the future as far as you can think of and you still won’t reach the end of time. Yet from our own experiences we know that the things we see had to be created at some point. They don’t just appear from nowhere. We can speculate that the unknown source is a collection of chemicals, an impersonal force, or a personality that is a supreme being.

The wise know it to be a supreme being because only through life can we get life. Chemicals don’t combine together to create life; it is just not possible. Through logical deduction alone, we can assume that a person was responsible for this vast cosmos. In the Vedas, more information is given about that person. It is said that He is all-attractive. He is also all-pervading. Hence two ways to address Him are Krishna and Vishnu. He is the origin of matter and spirit, and while the material creation is a representation of His external potency, sometimes He personally arrives to walk upon that which He created. Those visits are documented in the sacred texts like the Ramayana and Shrimad Bhagavatam.

It is said in the Vedas that Krishna is the original form of Godhead and that He appears in Mathura during the Dvapara Yuga, or the third time period of the creation. He then spends His childhood years in the neighboring town of Vrindavana. These areas still exist today, so one can walk on the same land that Krishna walked on. Krishna’s body is non-different from Him. His body does not undergo change like ours do. His body is transcendental, immune to the effects of karma.

Bhagavad-gita, 7.24“Unintelligent men, who know Me not, think that I have assumed this form and personality. Due to their small knowledge, they do not know My higher nature, which is changeless and supreme.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.24)

Krishna’s name is also non-different from Him. Therefore the easiest and most effective way to stay in God’s company is to always chant His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” Food that has been offered to the Lord is also non-different from Him. Therefore devotees regularly prepare items in the mode of goodness for offering and then eat the remnants known as prasadam, or the Lord’s mercy. The devotee who always thinks of and glorifies Krishna is also non-different from the Lord. Therefore the wise souls always crave the association of devotees, as this is like being in God’s company.

A long time back, in the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, a famous king named Janaka ruled over the sacred land of Tirahuta. In his Janaki Mangala, Goswami Tulsidas refers to this area as the tilaka of the earth, or its sacred mark. The tilaka on the forehead represents Lord Vishnu, who is the same Krishna. Tirahuta thus also represents Vishnu with its earth. Its leader back then also represented Vishnu, as he was a devotee.

“That country is looking so beautiful, and the Vedas have described its purity. Known in the three worlds, Tirahuta [Janakpur] is the tilaka of the earth.” (Janaki Mangala, 4)

Sita and Rama weddingNot surprisingly, that devotee welcomed Vishnu’s wife, Lakshmi Devi, into his family when she appeared on earth to accompany her husband, who appeared as Lord Rama from the Raghu dynasty. In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Shri Hanuman mentions the unique circumstances of Sita’s appearance. She arose from the earth as it was being pierced by a ploughshare. As a pious king, Janaka was preparing for a sacrifice, and wouldn’t you know it, the fruit of that religious act arrived before the ceremony officially began. A beautiful baby was found in the ground, and Janaka named her Sita because of where she came from. The dust covering baby Sita resembled the pollen from a lotus flower. Originally, Sita is Lakshmi, who is very fond of lotuses. Therefore it wasn’t surprising that she would be covered by this kind of dirt when she appeared in Tirahuta.

Hanuman remembered this event as part of an identification process. He finally found Sita after an extensive search. Her husband Rama started looking for her after she went missing from the Dandaka forest. Hanuman had to find her based only on descriptions of her given by others. In this Ashoka grove inside of the kingdom of Lanka, Hanuman saw Rama’s wife, and to glorify her further, he reviewed some of her noteworthy features, such as her relation to the sacred earth in Tirahuta. And just as that land is worshipable, so is Sita.

In Closing:

When Supreme Lord walks on the land,

Earth same as Him understand.


The same for His holy names go,

Thus the devotees chant them feverishly so.


God’s wife to arrive in Janaka’s family chose,

From sacred earth of Tirahuta she arose.


To protect her as daughter Janaka avowed,

Gave her the name Sita, new father proud.


When Hanuman saw her in the Ashoka grove,

Her divine vision to that history drove.