Saturday, February 9, 2013

City of Love

Sita and Rama“You can see the love they have for each other, which they try to keep secret. Knowingly they erect a collection of stable pillars made of goodness within their hearts.” (Janaki Mangala, 85)

prema pramoda paraspara pragaṭata gopahiṃ |
janu hiradaya guna grāma thūni thira ropahiṃ ||

In an area that is more or less undeveloped, when you see a series of pillars placed in the ground, indicating that construction is going on, you know that some type of building is going up. The pillar goes with the foundation, and in order for it to serve its purpose it must be stable and remain in good standing [no pun intended] for quite some time. The pillars are not something to be knocked down right away. Ideally, they should last a very long time, providing stability to the building’s occupants. Such stable pillars were erected within the hearts of two lovely souls ready to embark on a lifetime’s journey together. The construction was seen not through yellow tape or hard hats, but through the looks they gave each other.

The pillars were made of goodness, or guna, which can also mean virtue. The more goodness you have inside of you the better. You hear the expression, “that person is just a good soul,” which means that “good” has a higher presence within their body than “bad.” It is very easy for the bad side to dominate. You just have to look at someone else to give rise to bad feelings. “Oh look at them. They think they are so great. They’re really not. My stuff is better. Plus, even if they have more stuff, they are just wasting their money. I’m more intelligent with my expenditures. I don’t need all that stuff to be happy. I’m not so materialistic.”

It’s harder to see the good in everything around us, especially in other people. It is for this reason that the highest transcendentalist in the Vedic tradition is known as a paramahamsa. The most elevated religionist if you will, the person who practices spirituality as it is meant to be practiced, does not suddenly find more and more people to tag as sinners. They do not find more and more people to criticize and make feel bad. Rather, the perfect transcendentalist is compared to a supreme swan. The swan is unique in its ability to separate milk from a mixture of milk and water. Basically, it grabs the essential item, the nectar if you will, out of something that isn’t pure.

“If we give a swan milk mixed with water, the swan will take the milk and leave aside the water. Similarly, this material world is made of two natures - the inferior nature and the superior nature. The superior nature means spiritual life, and the inferior nature is material life. Thus a person who gives up the material part of this world and takes only the spiritual part is called paramahamsa.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Queen Kunti, Ch 3)

The supreme swan of a transcendentalist sees the good in everything. They know that God’s energy is everywhere, and that not even a blade of grass can move without His sanction. They are not Pollyannaish or unreasonably happy. They know that karma works on everything, and so there isn’t a pressing need to look at everything negatively. After all, every individual is a spirit soul, part and parcel of God. Eventually they will make their way towards enlightenment, even if it takes them many lifetimes. To preach to others, to give them instruction on how to remove all bad from within and acquire all goodness, the paramahamsa temporarily steps down from their lofty position to make distinctions, but all the while they maintain their pure goodness on the inside.

Sita and RamaOne way to foster that goodness on the inside, to erect pillars of good qualities within the heart, so much so that it looks like you have a neighborhood full of sturdy buildings made of goodness, is to hear about God and His pastimes. One of His most famous pastimes is His lifting of the illustrious bow belonging to Lord Shiva. This occurred in the kingdom of Janakpur, where a contest was taking place. At the time the Supreme Lord was there in His incarnation of Shri Ramachandra, the eldest son of King Dasharatha. Lord Rama is God based on His qualities, which are described in the Vedic texts. He is not a pseudo-incarnation created on a whim after the fact. His appearance and activities were described before they took place by Maharishi Valmiki, a self-realized soul, a paramahamsa in his own right.

The purpose of the contest was to find a husband for King Janaka’s daughter Sita. The problem was that none of the kings could even move the bow. Rama was there as a guest with His younger brother Lakshmana and the sage Vishvamitra. Though a guest, He was eligible to participate in the contest, and when Sita and Rama saw each other, sparks started to fly internally. Just from looking at one another, pure love began to grow. They tried to keep this a secret, however, but others could tell what was going on. There was no hiding it, though neither party made any outward gesture.

The love was growing within their hearts. Goswami Tulsidas compares it to erecting a network of pillars made of virtue or goodness. This love was there to stay; it wasn’t going anywhere. The only people leaving dejected on this day were the rival princes who had come to try to win Sita. Rama would lift the bow with ease and complete the construction of the buildings of goodness through wedding Sita in a grand ceremony.

How can hearing about this incident fill our hearts with goodness? Envy, especially of God, is the root cause of our residence in the material world. The envy we feel towards others indicates a lack of spiritual awareness. Think about it for a second. If someone else has more money than you, why should you feel threatened? They still have to eat. They still feel the sting of defeat. They still hanker for things. They also have to die. If you can eat just fine, why does it matter if someone else is better off financially? Since you know how difficult life in the material world is, shouldn’t you be happy that someone else might be able to find some relief from the daily pressures?

Sita and RamaOnly through knowing the self, which is completely spiritual, can you get rid of envy, lust, greed, anger and all other negative emotions. To know God is to know the self, for He is the Supreme Soul, or the Superself. He is the origin of both matter and spirit, and so if you learn about Him as best you can, you will know yourself too. And when you know yourself, you will know others, and pretty soon you will see that we are all in the same boat, trying to find our way to eternal happiness.

Simply from hearing the Janaki Mangala, we can know God so well. He is very strong, pious, and kind. He also loves Sita, His eternal pleasure potency, very much. She loves Him without deviation, and He loves her back. Know that He always loves us too, and His mercy is already available to us in so many ways. Through regularly chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” we can start to take advantage of that mercy.

In Closing:

When looks at each other start,

Pillars erected in the heart.


Of goodness they are made,

Of strength never to fade.


Shiva’s bow in His hand to take,

Sita His beloved wife to make.


From this God’s nature revealed to you,

Gives insight into nature of yourself too.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Pleasing the Choir

Krishna with mother Yashoda“The description of the pastimes of Lord Krishna is so attractive that automatically it gives us an impetus to study repeatedly, and the more we study the pastimes of the Lord, the more we become attached to Him. This very attachment to Krishna makes one eligible to be transferred to His abode, Goloka Vrindavana.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 35)

“I appreciate all that you’re doing to get the word out, but shouldn’t you try to branch out a little more? Do you think you’re really making a difference by speaking to the same audience every day? These people are unique. They don’t listen to anyone else. They are in their own little world. Just because they agree with you doesn’t mean that everyone else does. If you only speak to them, you won’t really make a difference in society.”

This sentiment, where one is accused of the more general term of “preaching to the choir,” seems logical enough. If you’ve got an important message to give, why keep offering it only to people who already believe it? Isn’t that like washing your clothes right after they have come out of the dryer? Isn’t it like cooking an elaborate meal for yourself after you have just eaten? While the “preaching to the choir” criticism may have merits in many circumstances, in bhakti it does not. This is because the aim in bhakti is different. While the discussion may be externally labeled as a class or sermon, the real purpose is to bring pleasure to the speaker. Interestingly enough, the speaker’s pleasure in this instance also pleases the object of the speech, and also those within audible range.

Let’s work through a few examples to see where the “preaching to the choir” criticism has merits. The origin of the term is obviously religious. The choir is the group in church that sings the glories of God. If they are already dedicated to some type of service, which the majority of the community will not be dedicated to, what is the need to preach to them further? It’s like when you’re younger and your mom keeps telling you to go to sleep on time or do your homework when you already do these things every day.

Bhagavad-gita, 6.34“For the mind is restless, turbulent, obstinate and very strong, O Krishna, and to subdue it is, it seems to me, more difficult than controlling the wind.” (Arjuna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.34)

The most obvious argument in favor of preaching to the choir is reinforcement. The mind forgets very easily. In the Bhagavad-gita, Arjuna describes the mind as being restless. Its thoughts go adrift very easily. Arjuna likens trying to control the mind to trying to control the wind, which is impossible to do. As the mind flickers in this way, constant reinforcement of guiding principles is necessary to keep one on the proper course.

Issues arise in “preaching to the choir” when the predominant aim is to accumulate converts. Everyone is trying to convert someone to something. This is just a plain fact. Even the news media, which will say that they are only innocently reporting the news, is giving you their opinion on things in the stories they choose. Most often they have their narrative already in place, and they set about to find people to give testimony to support the story. Their behavior is only natural, as every person has some system of maintenance which guides them.

When there is a perceived absence of a system, the guidance comes through the impulse of the senses. Eat whatever you want, drink whatever you want, have sexual relations with anyone, and gamble and party as much as your heart desires. When the enjoyment, or bhoga, leads to pains, the tide turns; there is the desire for renunciation, or tyaga. A lifetime of swinging between bhoga and tyaga provides sufficient research for crafting a personal system of maintenance. “This is how I’ve managed to moderate things. This is what works for me. I should share this information with others, as this will help them.”

In this way we see how the many books of self-help and personal memoirs line the bookshelves at retail outlets and fill the search results on online stores. As everyone is essentially selling some type of system, to be effective in their preaching they need to go out and target those who either don’t know their message or don’t believe in it. Therefore preaching to the choir isn’t the best option, as this will not yield many new converts.

In bhakti-yoga, which is the ultimate system of maintenance, as it guides one towards the constitutional engagement of divine love, there is automatic preaching through one’s behavior. And since bhakti-yoga transcends all sectarian designations, differences based on intelligence and age, and even qualifications hinged upon ability, it can be taught to any person. Love is the universal language, after all, and since God is the Supreme Lord and best friend for every single person, the message of bhakti-yoga has appeal to everyone.

As this is the ultimate system of maintenance, it shouldn’t be limited to just the choir, right?

Actually, speaking of the glories of bhakti is part of bhakti. No need to be puzzled by this, as the mystery is revealed to one who is intimately familiar with bhakti, a familiarity which comes through personal practice. The recursion is due to the fact that bhakti-yoga is non-different from the Supreme Lord. One worships by offering attention, and when that worship brings one closer to the object of attention, that worship is as good as the object itself. The potency of the worship is linearly related to the potency of the object of attention. Since no one is more potent than God, His worship is the best activity.

To put it in simpler terms, if I speak about God to a room full of people who already know and love Him, there is no wasted effort on my part. Bhakti is solely reserved for the personal form of the Lord, who is known by such names as Vishnu, Krishna and Rama. These are also personalities with transcendental features, with Krishna considered the original, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Krishna stealing butterLet’s say that as part of my bhakti practice I daily speak to gatherings about Krishna’s childhood pastimes in the Vrindavana forest. “My friends, when Shri Krishna was young He would sneak into the homes of the neighbors and steal their butter. The women of these households would get angry and lodge complaints with Krishna’s mother, Yashoda. Yet amazingly enough, while complaining they would get one look at Krishna’s smiling face and forget about their anger. After complaining, which apparently made them happy, they asked Yashoda not to punish the young child.”

This gathering may have heard these stories many, many times. And yet hearing it again brings so much pleasure. In the Ramacharitamanasa of Goswami Tulsidas, there is a section where the same Supreme Lord Krishna, in His form of Rama, asks the sage Valmiki where He should go to set up camp while in the forest. Rama is accompanied at the time by His wife Sita and younger brother Lakshmana. Valmiki cleverly responds with descriptions of a devotee, stating that Sita and Rama should live in such a person’s heart. One of the descriptions he gives is that the devotee constantly relishes hearing about Rama. It is like they have a reservoir full of nectar that constantly gets filled with rushing waters in the form of Rama’s pastimes. And though the waters keep rushing in, the reservoir never spills over.

“Listen Rama, I will now tell You where You, Sita and Lakshmana should reside. Those whose ears are like oceans which are constantly replenished by, and never overflow from, streams represented by stories of Your wonderful activities – in their hearts You should make Your charming abode.” (Maharishi Valmiki speaking to Lord Rama, Ramacharitamanasa, Ayodhya Kand, 127.1-2)

In the same way, if I speak of Krishna’s glories day after day, despite the makeup of the audience, there is some benefit. The need to convert is of secondary importance. Whether one person likes to hear about God’s glories or one thousand, a benefit is there all the same. Therefore in the bhakti tradition there are so many books written glorifying God and describing the service required to stay connected with Him. Those same glories are nicely packed into a simple set of words, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” Repeating this sound to oneself maintains internal purity and broadcasting it can turn a chorus of naysayers doomed in a material existence into a choir of energized parrots who daily repeat the glories of Shri Krishna.

In Closing:

If message of God I give to people the same,

What will be the use, what will they gain?


Should not to others message go instead,

This way useful information throughout will spread?


Creating converts of importance secondary,

Glorifying God the issue primary.


From those words myself I will please,

Attention of devoted souls also to seize.


Ears like reservoir of divine nectar that gets filled,

Though always hearing God’s glories never to overfill.


Chorus of naysayers too can hear the sound,

Of holy names and become choir of ecstasy abound.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Driven to Impersonalism

Krishna's lotus feet“For those whose minds are attached to the unmanifested, impersonal feature of the Supreme, advancement is very troublesome. To make progress in that discipline is always difficult for those who are embodied.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 12.5)

Bhagavad-gita, 12.5Question: “I’ve been around devotees of Krishna, but due to various missteps made by famous gurus and negative information I’ve read about them on internet sites, I’ve been turned away. Now I lean more towards impersonalism. I’ve read the works of Vaishnava saints of other disciplic successions and it seems that they confirm the superiority of impersonalism. The lesson I take away is that you can pretty much worship any god and chant any mantra and achieve perfection. What should I do?”

In the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, the Supreme Absolute Truth is described as both formless and with form. He is impersonal and personal simultaneously. What does this mean for us? How do we know which one is superior? The Vaishnavas are those who worship Vishnu, who is the personal form of the Lord possessing four hands and beautiful features throughout. Vishnu also has activities that accompany His features. One way to determine which path is superior, impersonal or personal, is to see which one allows for limitless glorification. The Vaishnava saints all praise and glorify God and His activities, which means that by definition they are personalists. Any other interpretation of their behavior is flawed.

Yes, this means that any genuine Vaishnava is a personalist. To say otherwise is wrong; it is deception. The impersonalist must rely on deception when critically analyzing the Vaishnava because their philosophy is ultimately rooted in envy. How is this? If God doesn’t have a form, then He doesn’t have to be worshiped. He is not even a He. By definition, if He is impersonal then He is not a person. It is said that impersonalism is the last snare of maya, the illusory energy governing the material world. Impersonalist philosophy can only exist in a place where there is some illusion, i.e. where the Absolute Truth is not fully realized.

“It is astonishing to see how a person who is being kicked by the laws of the Lord's illusory energy at every step can falsely think of becoming one with the Lord. Such thinking is the last snare of the illusory energy offered to the conditioned soul. The first illusion is that he wants to become Lord of the material world by accumulating wealth and power, but when he is frustrated in that attempt he wants to be one with the Lord. So both becoming the most powerful man in the material world and desiring to become one with the Lord are different illusory snares.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.9.30 Purport)

The first snare of maya is the trap of thinking oneself to be superior in terms of accumulation. Get the highest paying job. Buy the biggest house. Enjoy with as many women as possible. Sadly, this pursuit is riddled with flaws without even touching upon spirituality. Someone else will always have more than us. We may have the most money in the world, but someone else could have better friends and family. Wealth is always changing as well, as currency values can shift drastically overnight. The ultimate equalizer is death, which erases all accumulated gains.

Eventually realizing that competing for resources is futile, the frustrated mind turns to impersonalism. Instead of the attitude of “I want everything,” the new attitude is “I am everything.” “I am God. I am the Absolute Truth. I am immortal. By merging into the impersonal energy known as Brahman, I can become one with everything.” In fact, many spiritual leaders encourage this attitude in their students. “Constantly chant that you are God. Remind yourself of this fact daily and pretty soon you will become God. Any mantra will do; they are all the same. If you can’t meditate on the formless Absolute, choose a divine figure to worship, and in this way keep yourself concentrated on Brahman.”

In the Vedas the statement “aham brahmasmi” is found. This translates to “I am Brahman.” Brahman is the Absolute Truth, a spiritual force above the dualities of the material nature. We are all indeed Brahman, but we are not Parabrahman. Originally we are completely spiritual in quality and activity, but deluded by the material energy we have forgotten our constitutional position. Through properly implementing certain techniques we can become Brahman realized.

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)

Lord KrishnaBut to think that the ultimate realization of God is Brahman is wrong. The Lord Himself mentions that He is the source of everything spiritual in the Bhagavad-gita [7.6], which is an authoritative work accepted by all schools of thought which base their philosophy on the Vedas. At one point Krishna is asked by Arjuna whether the impersonal path or the personal path is superior. Krishna says that the impersonal path is very difficult for those who are embodied, i.e. those in the material world. This is because of the influence of maya. He says that through enough practice one eventually finds perfection, but that the personal path is superior.

Trapped in maya’s last snare, the impersonalist will even go so far as to claim that famous Vaishnavas of the past espoused impersonalism, despite the fact that the claim is axiomatically false.  These Vaishnava personalities worshiped forms besides Krishna, which seems to support the claim that any figure can be worshiped. They also chanted different mantras, which apparently supports the claim that any mantra can be chanted. Yet if we delve into the works of these Vaishnavas, we see that they spend all of their time worshiping God. In the Gaudiya-Vaishnava school Shri Krishna is accepted as the original form of Godhead. Other Vaishnava schools take Vishnu to be the original, and some take Rama. In the Shrimad Bhagavatam and other works it is described that there is no difference between these different forms. The different forms are described as vishnu-tattva. Other divine figures are never equated with the vishnu-tattva forms. Indeed, in the Padma Purana it is said that one is an offender if he thinks that Vishnu is on the same level as any of the demigods.

Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 18.116“A person who considers demigods like Brahma and Shiva to be on an equal level with Narayana is to be considered an offender, or pashandi.” (Padma Purana quoted from Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 18.116)

Some famous Vaishnavas have worshiped a Vishnu form other than Krishna but while in the mood of Lord Shiva, who is a devotee of Vishnu. The famous Shridhara Svami, whose commentary on the Shrimad Bhagavatam is considered most authorized, worshiped the Vishnu form of Narasimhadeva while in the mood of Lord Shiva. Goswami Tulsidas worshiped Rama while following in the footsteps of Lord Shiva. Tulsidas’ most famous work, the Ramacharitamanasa, is all about Rama’s activities. You can’t write about the activities of someone who is impersonal. In his other works Tulsidas repeatedly emphasizes the superiority of the path of personalism. He also glorifies the activities of Krishna, Vishnu and Narasimhadeva, all the while equating them with Rama. It is absolute nonsense to say that he is an impersonalist, for he dedicated his whole life to glorifying God’s activities and qualities.

“Those who differentiate between the forms, qualities, pastimes, and characteristics of the incarnations of the Lord, such as Matsya and Kurma, will certainly be forced to enter the darkest regions of hell. Therefore, those who desire their own welfare always see Lord Vishnu’s names, forms, qualities, and pastimes as non-different from one another.”  (Madhvacharya, Gita-tatparya, 2.25)

Famous personalities in a particular disciplic succession may have legendary fall downs, but this does not invalidate the philosophy they claim to follow. Smoke emanates from fire, but the smoke does nothing to pollute the purity of the fire. In the same way, some people may fall from a lofty position due to the influence of the material nature, but this doesn’t mean that the original teachers are at fault. Even with all of their flaws, the fallen Vaishnavas at least give others valuable information about how to worship God with thought, word and deed. They present to the world translations of Vedic works like the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam, which allow us to make devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, our way of life.

DeitiesOn the other hand, if we encounter the kindest impersonalist in the world, someone without any character flaws, they still can’t take us beyond the path of meditation or study of Vedanta. This leaves us vulnerable to the attacks of maya, for without the Lord’s personal presence how can there be any protection? There have been several famous impersonalists who later on jumped on the personal path. King Janaka is one, and his emotions are given to us by Tulsidas in both his Ramacharitamanasa and his Janaki Mangala. It is said that when Janaka met Rama for the first time, he felt a thrill a hundred times that of Brahmasukha. Brahmasukha, which is also known as Brahmananda, is the pleasure that follows merging into the Brahman effulgence. As an impersonalist, Janaka experienced Brahmasukha, but when he saw a Vishnu form with his eyes, he felt a pleasure much greater than that.

“The king went and received blessings and then paid so much honor and respect after that. When he saw Rama, he experienced a happiness one hundred times that of Brahman realization.” (Janaki Mangala, Chand 5.2)

In the Bhagavad-gita it is said that one out of many thousands finally endeavors for perfection in transcendentalism, and even from there to achieve success is rare. Therefore it shouldn’t surprise us to see people who follow the personal path succumb to the effects of the material nature from time to time. They are still eventually guided back to the right path by the Supreme Lord Himself, for in personalism we get the hand of a personality to help us. In impersonalism, there is no form identified with, so how can there be any outside help?

In Closing:

“Bad things about Krishna gurus I read,

My skepticism towards philosophy to feed.


Impersonalism appealing now I find,

Rather keep formless Brahman in mind.


Other Vaishnava literature this seems to confirm,

Worship anyone, chant any mantra with conviction firm.”


Vaishnava by their work personalism to reveal,

Towards God with spiritual attributes they kneel.


“I am God” is indication of maya’s snare last,

Flawed conception that individual must get past.


Devotees can sometimes fall from grace,

Still does nothing to change philosophy’s face.


In devotion receive God’s helping hand,

So that in spiritual world later to land.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Will of the Majority

Prahlada Maharaja“Ahaituky apratihata: unconditional devotional service cannot be checked by any material condition. This means that one does not have to be very rich to serve the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Even the poorest man can equally serve the Supreme Personality of Godhead if he has pure devotion. If there is no ulterior motive, devotional service cannot be checked by any material condition.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 1.161 Purport)

As material life is full of temporary situations, how exactly do we define victory? A triumph today is a forgotten memory tomorrow. That which is sought after today is the reward taken for granted after it is attained later on. Conditions constantly change, as is guaranteed to happen based on the cycle of life. One person dies while another is born. One person matures into adulthood while another turns the corner into old age. Life is constantly replaced, with the spirit soul travelling to different bodies, bringing along its consciousness like the air carrying aromas. Studying this temporary nature, however, and really understanding it help to properly define victory. The ultimate triumph would have to be that which never exhausts in strength. In addition, once I attain it, it should never cease to bring me happiness. These are precisely the conditions met by bhakti-yoga, or divine love, and oddly enough, it can be acquired in just one second.

“I’m so sick of this. I put so much time and effort into this election. The country is hanging on the edge, ready to go off the cliff. I wanted my side to win so bad. I gave money to candidates, I volunteered to get out the vote, and I anxiously awaited the returns on election night. I invested so much time and energy and emotion, and for what? My side lost. Nothing will change. The issues I care about so much will go unaddressed for at least the foreseeable future. Now I want to take a long break. I don’t want to hear about the issues. I don’t want to invest any time. I’m done with all of this for now. I’m removing myself from the media bubble.”

electionThis lament sounds familiar to pretty much anyone who’s ever cared about an issue. Elections occur regularly, and the same party doesn’t win all the time. And yet the issues get new champions, new people entering the mix who are interested in seeing a specific condition met. To get an idea of how many people are interested in the issues, think of the thing you are most passionate about and which you think has the most number of supporters. Now understand that there are still people who oppose your viewpoint. They may not be large in number, but they still exist. Every issue has two sides, which means that someone is bound to be disappointed when their activism doesn’t yield the desired result.

Not only is there the frustration of failure, but victory doesn’t bring much relief either. I may win a political or social issue today, but in the future things could change. I may ride the tide of public opinion today, but due to uncertain circumstances, opinions could shift in the other direction. I will therefore have to constantly remain diligent in the fight for my specific cause. Thus there is no peace before, during, or after the pursuit. I’m always chasing after a condition that can never be met to my satisfaction.

Another flaw with activism related to a temporary realm is that I’m dependent on others for my satisfaction. If, for instance, my cause is the environment, I need to rally others in order to get what I want. If others don’t want to follow, I’m essentially a failure. My goal in this instance is not only to be environmentally conscious myself, but to get others to be as well. To think of it another way, as dedicated as I may be to my cause, someone else who is not dedicated at all can cancel out my efforts. Just by going to the ballot box they can erase all the progress that I have made.

Such are the ways of the material nature, but thankfully there is one cause whose success is not dependent on the will of the majority. Sure, it would be nice if many others joined this cause as well, but it is not necessary for success at the individual level. We can look to the famous example of Prahlada Maharaja to see how this works. A long, long time ago Prahlada was born the son of a powerful king named Hiranyakashipu. Prahlada was to follow in his father’s footsteps. A good king was someone who could protect, and in order to protect you had to be able to deal with any enemy. Sometimes brute force isn’t the best option, so one should know how to employ other methods of diplomacy, such as pacification, giving gifts, and sowing dissension within the enemy ranks.

Prahlada Maharaja learned all of these things while in school when he was very young, but he had no interest in the subject matter. He wasn’t concerned with succeeding as a king because he knew that the aim of the human form of life is to become God conscious; particularly maintaining that connection to the Divine at the time of death. More than just a way to ensure a fruitful end to life, thinking of God all the time is the source of the highest pleasure. This thinking is something that anyone can do, under any circumstance. If you don’t believe, just look at what Prahlada was able to accomplish.

While he was still in the womb of his mother, Prahlada heard instruction on the meaning of life and how to attain it through the words of the saint Narada. Narada did this on purpose, as the celestials needed a way to thwart the influence of the nefarious Hiranyakashipu, who was not God conscious at all. Worse, the king wanted to root out all devotion to God from the world. By instructing Prahlada’s mother while she was pregnant, Narada allowed the son to be born with the divine consciousness, which he later showed through his behavior in school.

During lunch breaks, Prahlada would lecture the other students about matter and spirit and how there is nothing to be gained from a material existence. This information was not taught to the students by the teachers, though it should have been. The teachers were following the orders of Hiranyakashipu, so they adapted their instruction to fit the needs of those born into royal families. Prahlada loved talking about devotion to God, and he was so excited about it that he would share the information with his young friends.

Prahlada MaharajaAt this point, we may be tempted to think that Prahlada was similar to a modern-day activist, trying to further an agenda. That is the point to speaking openly, no? He could have just remained silent and lied about what he was thinking inside. Actually, whether others listened or not did not matter to the boy. He spoke from the heart because that is what pleased him. If you love someone, you will enjoy talking about them. When you talk about them you will derive further pleasure by describing how great they are. Since God is unlimitedly great, Prahlada never ran out of good things to say.

It would have been one thing if the other children just ignored Prahlada. It would also have been fine if the teachers just let it slide. Prahlada would have been worshiping God by describing Him, and thus his work would have been successful, even if the other children didn’t follow him. Bhakti-yoga, however, can be practiced in any circumstance, even if someone purposefully tries to stop it. Hiranyakashipu heard about what Prahlada was doing from his son’s mouth. The father affectionately placed the son on his lap and asked him what he had learned in school. He was then appalled to hear Prahlada speak of devotional service.

image“Prahlada Maharaja said: Hearing and chanting about the transcendental holy name, form, qualities, paraphernalia and pastimes of Lord Vishnu, remembering them, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, offering the Lord respectful worship with sixteen types of paraphernalia, offering prayers to the Lord, becoming His servant, considering the Lord one's best friend, and surrendering everything unto Him (in other words, serving Him with the body, mind and words)…” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.23)

Prahlada was previously safe in worshiping by himself, and now in telling his father he jeopardized that worship, or so it seemed. Hiranyakashipu first blamed the teachers, and then he tried to understand from Prahlada where he learned this information about Vishnu, which is one name for God. Prahlada wouldn’t stop talking about Vishnu, though, so the father grew so enraged that he tried to have the boy killed in so many ways. Only one slight problem; the boy couldn’t be killed. He was a pure devotee, which meant that he didn’t worship Vishnu for any reason other than love. He didn’t ask for anything from God, since he already believed he had everything in the ability to worship.

Narasimhadeva protecting PrahladaVishnu protected Prahlada because of the boy’s desire to serve. He saved the boy during each attack, finally appearing on the scene in a ferocious form to do away with the boy’s father. As Narasimhadeva, Vishnu tore Hiranyakashipu apart and confirmed that anyone can follow devotion, regardless of their age or circumstance. It is always successful when tried in earnest, and the attempt is the goal itself. This means that once you get love for God, or Krishna-prema, your efforts aren’t done. You derive even more pleasure afterwards. Ahaituki-apratihata, unmotivated and uninterrupted, is devotional service. The practice in earnest, which is exercised through such things as chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” is the victory itself.

In Closing:

To effect change dollars to candidates sent,

Resulting failure shows to waste all efforts went.


Gathering supporters storming to ballot box,

But others to nullify your vote, reality in populi vox.


For material conditions peace there is never,

To maintain situation keep working forever.


Devotional service on conditions not reliant,

Hiranyakashipu not to stop son’s worship defiant.


In trouble and peace of Vishnu Prahlada thought,

Protection to helpless child Narasimhadeva brought.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Two Mayas

Lord Krishna and cows“Because nothing can exist without the Lord, it should be known that the illusory energy is also an energy of the Lord. The right conclusion of dovetailing everything in relationship with the Lord is called yoga-maya, or the energy of union, and the wrong conception of detaching a thing from its relationship with the Lord is called the Lord's daivi maya, or maha-maya. Both the mayas also have connections with the Lord because nothing can exist without being related to Him.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.9.34 Purport)

In the Vedic literature, we are often told of an energy called maya. Translated to mean “that which is not,” maya is interchangeable with illusion. To be under the sway of maya is to be in illusion, which means that you don’t see things as they are. This isn’t really helpful, even if illusion is what you are going for. The mere desire to be illusioned is a sign of defeat. Rather than give up in the struggle for existence, one should find a situation where the illusion has no influence. Maya is actually an energy, and it can be of two varieties, both of which originate in the Supreme Lord.

God’s advaita property indicates that He is not different from His energies. This means that whatever we experience in life is rooted in God. Happiness, kindness, charity, compassion, and so many other good things are rooted in Him. And yet so are anger, despair, hatred, aversion, miserliness, and envy. The latter are the inverse of the constitutional emotions belonging to the pure spirit soul. The former give an indication of this constitutional position, which is one of bliss, eternality and knowledge.

Despite the fact that His energies are non-different from Him, they all don’t have the same effect on us. Some energies are specifically meant to operate in one way, while others are meant to do something else. Why the dichotomy? There are different desires. Try as hard as you may to eliminate wealthy people from society, you will always have disparities in income. In the end, the salary is nothing more than a result to activity. And not all activities are the same, since not all desires are the same. Therefore the results will never be uniform, which means that income levels will vary from person to person.

Disparity in wealth is just one way to show the factual variety in desires. At the root level, there is a basic up or down vote, a yes or no choice made that determines which energy will dominate. In the choice to separate from God, to futilely compete with Him for supremacy, the individual souls, the jivatmas, are placed under the sway of the illusory maya, who is also known as maha-maya. This is the bad maya, as it is not good for us. Think of it like operating a motor vehicle while under the influence or not paying attention while taking a test. In these activities there is a central focus that is required, and that which breaks the focus is harmful. In an existence, irrespective of the location, the central focus should be serving God. This is not only natural, as God is always superior to us, but it brings happiness as well.

When the choice is made in favor of service to God, the dominating energy is known as yoga-maya. Yoga is the linking of the individual with the Supreme Lord, so yoga-maya is that which helps to keep the link active. From this we see that God is ultimately not impersonal. If there is an energy that helps to keep one connected to Him, it means that within that energy there is variety. After all, there is variety in maha-maya, for we see differences all the time. These differences may only be temporarily manifest, but they still exist.

In yoga-maya, the differences in outcome are also there, but the whole nature has a different quality. Every outcome helps to increase one’s love for God. And the ironic thing is that the love can never reach a ceiling; it is always increasing. The idea of a fixed emotional reservoir can only exist with maha-maya, which persuades us to ignore the influence of spirit, though maha-maya itself is rooted in the Supreme Spirit.

In the Vaikuntha spiritual planets, the only energy is yoga-maya. This is different from even the heavenly realm in the material creation, which is not permanently manifest. One can fall down from heaven once their spiritual merits expire. In the same way, one can rise up again to heaven once their term of punishment ends.

Radha and Krishna in VrindavanaIn the Vaikuntha planets, the residence is permanent, but as there is a governing energy, there is constant activity. The highest of the Vaikuntha planets is Goloka Vrindavana. This is where God stays in His original form of Shri Krishna, who is the beautiful youth with a blackish complexion. His eternal consort, Shrimati Radharani, lives there as well, and both of them have many wonderful friends.

In Goloka Vrindavana yoga-maya is known as the personality Paurnamasi, who is also Radharani’s grandmother. She and the goddess of devotion, Vrinda Devi, collaborate to create situations that increase the pleasure of both Radha and Krishna. Each day is thus perfectly coordinated, with the energy acting in the Lord’s interests. There is full variety in activity, and that variety keeps everyone so happy that they don’t even know that they are serving God.

We can feel the same yoga-maya energy while on this earth. All that is required is a change in desire. The devotees, who indicate their desire to be with God through reciting His names, like those found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” take shelter of yoga-maya, who makes sure to keep them always connected with the beloved darling of Vrindavana, Shri Krishna.

In Closing:

A maya for illusion and a maya for devotion one,

Both energies from the Supreme Lord come.


If Shri Krishna’s supremacy you want to forget,

The powerful influence of maha-maya you’ll get.


If on Goloka Vrindavana you take your aim,

Protection of yoga-maya you’ll gain.


Advaita says that from energies God not apart,

Through illusion only from divine service we depart.


Variety in spiritual world there is as well,

Worship Radha-Krishna and avoid ignorance’s spell.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Don’t You Forget About Me

Lord Krishna“Maya means forgetfulness of Krishna, and forgetfulness of Krishna and Krishna consciousness stand side by side like light and shadow. If one remains in shadow, he cannot enjoy the facilities offered by light, and if one remains in light, he cannot be disturbed by the darkness of shadow. “ (Shrila Prabhupada, Nectar of Instruction, 7 Purport)

“Just forget about her man. She was bad news. The more you think about her, the worse off you’ll be. Forgetfulness will only help you here. I know that it is difficult to forget, but if you can move on to someone else, you will be way better off. Have a short memory. If you let this linger inside, it will only hurt you.”

There is no doubt that forgetfulness is helpful in certain situations. They say that the cornerback in the National Football League should have a short memory. The cornerback is a defensive player assigned to guard one or more receivers from the offense. If they get burned by a wide receiver on a pass play that leads to a touchdown, they shouldn’t let that stick in their mind for the rest of the game. The moment is over, so why linger over it? Why stay hooked on failure, when your goal is to succeed? While in the short term such forgetfulness may be helpful, to have knowledge is always better than to lack it. This truth gives us a way to compare competing philosophies. If one is dependent on forgetfulness and the other remembrance, we can immediately tell that the latter is superior.

How does this work exactly?

cable newsWe can study the news business to see the reliance on forgetfulness. Turn on the nightly newscast or cable news station tonight and you’ll be bombarded with headline after headline. “Such and such politician said that such and such politician will not cooperate. They want old people to die or they want the country to go bankrupt. Perhaps they are not interested in a certain issue.” Then you hear about someone being killed by someone else and also the latest crisis with a commodity. What you won’t hear, however, is anything from the previous year’s newscasts. This information is conspicuously absent. You won’t hear anything that was covered ten or twenty years ago. All those debates that took place between analysts; all those predictions; all those worries…no mention is made of them after the fact. The omission is not accidental.

Why would we even want to go into the past? What would we gain from that?

For one thing, we could see if the issues from today were present before and how they were dealt with. If they were addressed in the same way as they are today, we can predict what will happen going forward. Also, we can tell whether or not a certain issue existing has a bearing on one’s overall happiness. Let’s say, for instance, that in the current situation the price of gasoline is very high. Also, the unemployment rate in the nation is high; people are out of work. These factors will combine to create a difficult situation, one that is not desirable.

But we know that in the past the price of gasoline was less and that more people were employed. In fact, maybe five years ago the situation was significantly better. If we were to revisit some newscasts from that time period, would we see stories about how happy people were? Would we hear about how people loved having a job and paying less for gasoline? Of course we wouldn’t, as the news back then was focused on something else. There was another issue to worry about. The present day news will never remind the viewers of this fact because then the people would perhaps start to worry less. The present day situation is only an illusion, a temporary situation related to material comforts or the lack thereof. For the illusion to stick, for the interest to remain, there must be forgetfulness.

Bhagavad-gita, 2.11“The Blessed Lord said: While speaking learned words, you are mourning for what is not worthy of grief. Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor the dead.” (Bhagavad-gita, 2.11)

On the other hand, with real knowledge, remembrance is required. This was pointed out by Lord Krishna in a talk He gave to a hesitant warrior named Arjuna. Arjuna was worried over the present condition, that of imminent war. Many people were set to die in that war, and Arjuna did not like this. Krishna, however, reminded Arjuna that the wise lament neither for the living nor the dead [Bg. 2.11]. This is because the soul is the essence of identity, and the soul is eternal. The bodies are temporary conditions, sort of like snapshots in time. What I see in the mirror right now is changing every second, but I don’t notice the changes until there are further gaps in time. The strongest indication of the change is death, which represents the full changing of bodies.

Bhagavad-gita, 2.22“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.22)

Krishna and ArjunaIn His instruction to Arjuna, Krishna advised him to remember, not forget. This is important because the rest of the talk became very famous. It is today known as the Bhagavad-gita, and the teachings found within it were actually spoken by the same Krishna at the beginning of time. It is said that Arjuna was there as well, but he couldn’t remember being there. This is the difference between God and us. We are part and parcel of Him, but we are not as potent in the areas of opulence. Memory is an opulence tied to intelligence, and one of God’s potencies, namely the samvit potency, is full knowledge. We inherit this potency to a lesser degree, so we are not able to remember everything, including past lives.

By remembering the past, we can act with knowledge. Knowledge is better than ignorance, just as light is better than darkness. Perhaps forgetfulness can help in the short term, as it does with the scorned lover, but it is still wiser to remember the past bad experiences so that they are not repeated. The cornerback in the NFL still has to watch film of his mistakes after the game so that he doesn’t repeat them. The person scorned by relations with the opposite sex should learn the dangerous game that is kama, or lust. Sense gratification is the perverted version of true love, or prema, which is directed at God.

Krishna’s instructions to Arjuna summarize the teachings of the Vedas, whose ultimate conclusion is that full devotion to God is not only the best way to act but also the soul’s constitutional occupation. In simpler terms, we are all meant to serve God. To take up that service, we have to realize that it is worthwhile. And to realize that it is worthwhile we need to remember as many of our past bad experiences as possible. These experiences were harmful because they weren’t in line with our constitutional position.

For a life dedicated to sense gratification to continue, we must constantly forget. Otherwise we’d realize how pointless repeated birth and death are. Repetition occurs within the present life as well, as birth and death can refer to the beginning and end of any activity. The night club requires darkness, loud music, smoke, and intoxicating beverages so that the patrons will not realize that they are wasting their time. Better it is to remain in the dark if one wants to stay away from true happiness.

On the other side, Krishna’s instructions, which are presented today through the representatives of the Lord, enlighten the individual of their constitutional position, shining a light that at least offers them the option of making the right decision. This is very kind of Krishna and His representatives, as only those who really care about us would take the time to fix our mistakes. Arjuna was loved by Krishna and therefore guided along the proper path. That path is the same for us: devotion to God. It is easily found even in the dark age of Kali by chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”

In Closing:

About present financial condition I have worry,

To move my money from one account to another I hurry.


Gas prices are certainly too high,

No employment for even those who try.


Of these things the news will constantly tell,

But never on the past situations will they dwell.


In material life forgetfulness a must,

Your sense demands instead of intelligence trust.


Krishna to Arjuna: past experiences must know,

Only then to supreme destination can go.


Memory is knowledge, superior path to take,

Worship God, ignorance from forgetfulness forsake.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Beyond Faith

Krishna lifting Govardhana Hill“The devotee believes in the almighty potency of the Lord, while the faithless say that the Lord is almighty but do not believe it. Such men with a poor fund of knowledge do not know that the Lord is the Lord eternally and that one cannot become the Lord by meditation for millions of years or by mental speculation for billions of years.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.9.32 Purport)

The Vaishnava explains that all the ills in society are rooted in one thing: forgetfulness of God. Look at any problem that you see, any issue you currently have with the way things are run and with the way that other people behave, and know that the real cause is lack of knowledge of the Almighty Lord. The Vaishnava refers to this ignorance as forgetfulness because ultimately the living entities, who are part and parcel of God and thus beneficiaries of His samvit potency, are fully knowledgeable. A component of that knowledge is full faith in the words of the Vedas, which say that Krishna does amazing things like lift hills with His pinky finger while in the spiritual body of a five-year old boy.

We already acknowledge the amazing all the time. If you go to India, you can find yogis in remote areas who can levitate, stop their breathing for significant periods of time, make a snake dance, and read minds. These things are all amazing, and so the spectators are taken in. In our day-to-day affairs, we’re amazed by someone who can write a wonderful song, deliver a heartwarming speech, or prepare a delicious food dish.

If we appreciate these things and are amazed by them, why not be just as amazed by the things God can do? From a tiny seed a huge banyan tree can grow. We know that this is the case, and yet for some reason we don’t attribute the growth cycle to God. Or we may acknowledge God’s role but not appreciate it; we take it for granted. “It is there for me to exploit, not ponder over. The sun gives us tremendous heat and light to the point that we can’t live without it, but let me not worry over the sun or appreciate it.”

The Vaishnava’s claim of forgetfulness of God is quite interesting if you think about it. Public opinion polls show majority support in favor of a belief in God. This means that most people claim to be religious or at least believers in the Almighty. But if they really believe, why would they discount statements from the Vedas that describe the amazing? For instance, it is said that the Supreme Lord, in His personal form, once lifted a massive hill and held it up using just His pinky finger. This Supreme Lord is the same for everyone, though that particular vision was of a young and beautiful child living in the sacred land of Vrindavana.

He didn’t lift the hill as a cheap show of mystic strength, either. There was real protection involved. The people saved already believed in Him, who was known as Krishna. Their faith was further strengthened by Krishna’s lifting of the hill, which saved the residents from a torrential downpour that was instigated by a vengeful king of heaven.

Lord Vishnu's lotus feetAs mentioned before, the root cause of all ills is forgetfulness of God. The forgetfulness implies knowledge that one already has. Knowledge is stronger than faith, so in acknowledgement of the Almighty and His supremacy more than just blind faith should be extended. Perhaps this is the point of contention amongst those who claim to believe in God but then don’t believe any of the words of the Vedas which point out His amazing abilities. How do we go beyond faith? How do we reach true knowledge?

We know that knowledge can develop from direct perception. If we see something happen with our own eyes, we know that it is true. We can then share what we saw with someone else. Their acceptance of our words should thus give them perfect knowledge of the situation as well. The Vedas work in the same way. What the people saw in Vrindavana was retold by Shukadeva Gosvami in a conversation with a dying king named Parikshit. That conversation was recorded in the Shrimad Bhagavatam, which has since been translated and commented on by famous Vaishnavas, including His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

Surely there is faith extended in the beginning, but when one follows the principles of the Vaishnavas, principles which aim to revive one’s dormant knowledge of God and also one’s love for Him, then the faith turns into assuredness from knowledge. In this respect there is really no conversion from this faith to that. Lord Chaitanya advised everyone to become true to their faith in God by relishing the transcendental sound vibrations of “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” Basking in this mantra, which addresses God in a mood of love, not asking for anything in return, makes one a true believer in God and not just a spiritualist in name only. And the ability of this mantra to transform faith to knowledge is itself proof of the factual potency of the Almighty.

In Closing:

God is real I will say,

But from religion I’ll stay away.


To the snake charmer I’ll give praise,

From his sounds the snake standing up stays.


Beyond faith is knowledge real,

Of God’s existence, His potency to feel.


In higher authority we already believe,

Why not follow bhakti and real knowledge retrieve?