Saturday, March 23, 2013

Hold On To The Roof

Shri Lakshmana“Lakshmana tells the earth and Ananta Shesha Naga, ‘Increase your strength. Shri Rama wants to lift Lord Shiva’s bow and string it.’” (Janaki Mangala, 98)

mahi mahidharani lakhana kaha balahi baḍhāvanu |
rāma cahata siva cāpahiṃ capari caḍhāvanu ||

Do we control the revolution of the earth? Do we control how the planets are held up in orbit? Do we control the seasons and when the sun rises and sets? These seem like silly questions, but actually the atheistic science culture is not too far off from affirming all of these preposterous suggestions. If the public can be made to believe that they can change the climate of the earth with their behavior, then surely it will be believed that something can be done to control the other aspects of nature, like the planets. From this verse from the Janaki Mangala we get the Vedic point of view, which also represents the truth in the matter.

If we can’t hold something with our own arms for an indefinite period of time, how can we say that any person can control the planets? We take the law of gravity for granted, but someone had to make it. The mathematics involved in the rate of descent of an object indicates that there is intelligence to gravity. If there weren’t such laws, then the gravitational force would be a random operation. We know that it is not, and we also know that the revolution of the earth is not random either.

EarthThe question them remains: how do we find out who holds up the planets? To respond with “God” seems like a cop out, the easy way out of a tough situation. “The term ‘God’ is so vague anyway, so you can invoke it to get your way out of any mystery.” Ah, but the fact that there is a mystery tells us that there is a need to further delve into the concept of God. Just as we are curious about gravity, the climate, and outer space, we should be curious about the origin of the creation itself. We know that the origin is not chemicals, for if it were then we could use the same chemicals to create a large land mass and have it float in space without any external support. If chemicals were the original cause, we could then at least create a miniature version of the sun. But we are not even close to doing such things.

The need for curiosity with respect to the Absolute Truth is addressed in the Vedic aphorism, athato brahma jijnasa. This translates to, “Now is the time for inquiring about Brahman.” The “now” refers to the time of birth for the human being, and Brahman refers to the Absolute Truth, that which is above the dualities of temporary conditions. That which is not affected by like and aversion, heat and cold, light and darkness, and happiness and sadness is Absolute. In the same collection of aphorisms we find janmadya asya yatah, which means “the Absolute Truth is the source of everything.” From it have come the material nature and its population of creatures.

Our minds are incapable of thinking beyond the infinite time and space. We can’t think of the real beginning of time, because there is always something before a beginning. Similarly, there is always something after an end. That is the meaning to sanatana, i.e. that which has no beginning and no end. There is also no end to space. You can keep travelling and maybe hit a wall, but there is still something beyond that wall.

If we can’t think beyond infinity, how can we properly conceive of something that is absolute? This leads to the speculation that the Absolute Truth must be impersonal. It must be devoid of qualities, because a quality is a limiting feature. To say that I am tall is to say that I am not short. To say that I have blue eyes is to say that I don’t have brown eyes. If the Absolute Truth is tagged with any attributes, it automatically removes its absolute nature. At least this is the conclusion of the mind that has given up hope for supremacy through material acquisition. It is said that the last snare of maya is the desire to merge into the Absolute Truth, to be one with the spiritual energy that is Brahman, declaring oneself to be God.

In the Vedas the recommended way to learn of the Absolute Truth is to hear about Him. And yes, He is a male in that He is the supreme enjoyer. The Sanskrit word “purusha” refers to person or spirit. It also refers to that which is predominating, like a male. Prakriti is matter, the covering of the person; it is dominated. Within each individual the purusha is the spirit and the outer covering is the prakriti. In the larger scheme, however, the living entities are prakriti, or that which is enjoyed by the supreme purusha, or God.

In hearing about the Absolute Truth from authorized sources, we also learn of His activities, which inherently require features. These features are not limiting; they are beyond our conception of features. They can still be identified and enumerated to some degree, though. The above referenced incident is one such example of where features can be observed and lessons can be taken away on other aspects of the material nature from that observation.

Lord RamaIn the scene in question, Shri Rama is about to lift an extremely heavy bow originally belonging to Lord Shiva. This bow lay in the middle of an arena that is central to a contest hosted by King Janaka of Mithila. The prize of the contest is the hand in marriage of the king’s daughter Sita, who is the most beautiful woman in the world. From the Ramayana, a famous Vedic text, and other scriptural works we learn that Shri Rama is an incarnation of the Supreme Lord, the universal God who is known to some degree in all spiritual traditions.

Here Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana is advising the earth and the holder of all planets to brace for the impact of Rama’s feat. He says that Rama would like to lift and string the bow. Since Rama is God, whatever He wants to do is always accomplished. Therefore Lakshmana knows that the bow will be lifted and that Rama will break it while trying to string it. The resulting sound will be tremendous; it will travel throughout the universe.

By giving this command, Lakshmana informs us that the planets are held by a specific personality. His name is Ananta Shesha Naga. Naga refers to a serpent, shesha to ends or remainders, and ananta to unlimited. Taken together, this divine creature is a serpent with unlimited hoods. On these hoods the many planets of the universes rest. Interestingly enough, Lakshmana is considered an incarnation of that serpent, also known as Anantadeva. He is essentially commanding himself here. Ananta Shesha Naga is also the number one servant of the Supreme Lord in His form of Narayana, who is the source of all men. The unlimited hoods also serve the purpose of glorifying God endlessly.

The earth and other planets are living entities with intelligence. All of this borders on mythology, but if we follow Vedic teachings with a little sincerity in the beginning, the mythical aspect quickly gets removed. Just because we can’t see or talk to something doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. Anantadeva is also the original spiritual master, who is the representative of God. This means that his words are the highest authority, which in this case was proven by Lakshmana’s prescience. He knew what was going to happen, and so he gave the proper notifications as preparation.

In the current time period, Lakshmana’s representatives know that without God consciousness society will be lost in an ocean of despair and chaos, where not even material opulence will do anything tangible for them. Therefore such kind-hearted souls, who follow devotion to the same Rama, ask everyone to make devotional service their priority. And this service is open to every person through a simple sound vibration, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”

In Closing:

Rama to lift bow in magnificence,

Showed Shri Lakshmana’s prescience.


Brother told earth and Anantadeva in strength to rise,

Supreme Lord always successful at what He tries.


A living entity the planets does hold,

This from the Vedas we are told.


Not mythology, the truths don’t disbelieve,

With sincerity supreme wisdom receive.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Happy For Others

Shri Rama's lotus feet“Then it started raining flowers from the demigods and drums played. Janaka, along with the city’s people and families, became happy, while the rival kings were embarrassed.” (Janaki Mangala, 97)

barisana lage sumana sura dundubhi bājahiṃ |
mudita janaka pura parijana nṛpagana lājahiṃ ||

It is a saintly quality to be happy for someone else when good fortune finds their way. You are a better person if you are happy when your friend wins the lottery as opposed to being jealous of them. Envy is nevertheless a quality all of us possess to some degree. The killer of envy, which is rooted in false pride, is the Supreme Lord. The mechanism for that destruction is His various triumphs, which the pious souls can then rejoice in. The lowest among mankind, however, will never find happiness even with God, whose existence they will continue to deny.

“Wouldn’t it be so much better if God just showed up in front of us? Just remove the doubt already. Why does He make things so difficult? If He showed up right now, everyone could see Him and know that He is real. He would show to everyone that He is not a myth like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. Then everyone could happily worship Him and believe in His words found in sacred texts like the Bhagavad-gita.”

This lament is understandable, but it is incorrect in a few assumptions. For starters, implied is that God is not available to us right now. That is like saying that the sun doesn’t exist when we don’t see it. If we are in a dark room during the nighttime, there are no traces of the sun anywhere, or at least that is the accepted conclusion. If I were to then say that the sun doesn’t exist, would that be very wise?

Secondly, the assumption is that just by seeing God in a visible and identifiable form everyone would believe in Him. This is certainly not the case, as the field of law shows that any truth will be challenged if someone sees fit. A good lawyer is one who has no principles; they don’t have any system of authority. They change their accepted authority source based on their needs. For instance, if past case law supports their client’s arguments, the lawyer will cite those cases as evidence for their claim. If they run into trouble, they will use other authorities to help them. When there is no other recourse, they will attack the character of the other side. They will look for any chink in the armor to exploit. This also explains why government becomes so chaotic when run by lawyers. By occupation they are not supposed to follow an absolute authority, so when they take over government they use their expertise in cheating the law to grant favors to various special interest groups.

The above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala shows that the miscreants, the lowest among mankind, who have lost all intelligence, will not recognize God’s presence even when seeing Him directly. Here Shri Rama, the Supreme Lord in His incarnation as a warrior prince, is approaching a bow central to a contest in a kingdom ruled over by a pious king. Many princes were assembled there who had tried to lift the bow. The bow was so heavy that some of the princes just walked up to it and then went back without trying. They didn’t want to risk an embarrassing defeat in front of everyone.

Here there is embarrassment nonetheless. When Rama steps up to the bow, flowers rain down from the sky. Drums also beat to mark the occasion. This means that the residents of the heavenly planets have an interest in the game. They obviously want Rama to win. They didn’t do the same for the other princes. This is embarrassing to the rival princes because Rama received honor that they didn’t.

At the same time, Goswami Tulsidas tells us that King Janaka and the residents of the town were happy to see this. They were pure souls; people who had already performed rigorous austerities in past lives. In the present life they lived under the protection of the pious King Janaka. He was known throughout the world for his honor and dedication to the Vedas, the original scriptural tradition of the world. Though he received a daughter in a non-traditional way, he still followed protocol and looked for a suitable husband for her when she reached the appropriate age.

Janaka’s innocent respect for the rule of Vedic law brought the many princes from around the world. He created a contest, and so everyone wanted to win it. The prize was the hand in marriage of Janaka’s daughter Sita. Rama also came, following Vishvamitra Muni from the forest. The people of the town were interested in the contest, which required one to lift the extremely heavy bow of Lord Shiva. Since they were pious souls, they recognized Rama to be someone extraordinary. Therefore they immediately decided that He should win, that He should marry Sita.

Lord RamaThey saw God, and though they didn’t necessarily spot His identity right away, they didn’t have to. They had a spontaneous love for Him, which was shown in many ways. They wanted Him to win, they were attracted to His transcendental beauty, and they were thrilled when flowers rained down from the sky prior to His attempt at lifting the bow.

And their love continued when Rama lifted the bow and married Sita. They never forgot Him even after He returned to His home of Ayodhya with His new wife. They worshiped Rama both when He was in their presence and when He wasn’t. Such worship is only possible with God, who is Absolute. Remembering His physical presence is as good as seeing it in person. Also, saying His name is as good as seeing Him. Therefore the wise souls who follow the example of the thrilled residents of Janakpur always chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” The miscreants will never believe in God despite all the evidence available to them. After many lifetimes of suffering, if they are fortunate enough to receive the blessings of a devotee, only then will their eyes open up, allowing them to join the party.

In Closing:

Should you envy others why?

To be happy for them instead try.


To the saints belongs this quality,

Lack of envy in man a true rarity.


To envy of God never give voice,

In His triumphs happily rejoice.


Flowers and drums when Rama’s chance,

Pleased spectators who with love at Him glanced.


Fiends saw God but still recognition was lame,

Reduced to unhappiness in their shame.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Guru’s Feet

Shrila Prabhupada's lotus feet“Hearing this, Janaka became confused and started to think. Rama offered prayers to the guru’s feet and then went, with neither happiness nor sadness in His heart. The good omens portended auspicious things to come.” (Janaki Mangala, Chand 12.2)

suni sakuci socahiṃ janaka gura pada bandi raghunandana cale |
nahiṃ haraṣa hṛdaya biṣāda kachu bhae saguna subha mangala bhale ||

Feet tread upon the ground. They therefore come in contact with all kinds of dirty elements. The ground is also hard; it contains rocks and other substances that can damage the soles of the feet. Therefore one often wears shoes or other kinds of protection to save the feet from damage. From this when we hear of worshiping someone’s feet, paying honor to them by touching them before important moments, the practice seems a little strange. Though it may seem odd, the practice is most beneficial when the honored feet belong to an authority figure. This fact was validated by none other than the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself one time.

Feet have a tendency to smell, especially if they are trapped inside of shoes for a long period of time. In houses of worship, footwear is often kept in an isolated area, away from the people gathered to worship. If the area housing the footwear is too close to the people, the foul smell of feet will permeate the air. This smell then taints the mood of worshipers, who try to keep a pure mind fixed in devotional thoughts.

Yet in Vedic culture the feet are an object of worship for those deemed inferior. For instance, when greeting parents and elder relatives, the younger parties touch the feet of the elders. The same goes for when departing. This practice has been going on since time immemorial, as it is enjoined in the shastras that the original objects of worship for the newborn child are the parents, followed by the spiritual master later on in life.

Shri Rama paying respects to His motherThere is a benefit to the practice of honoring the gurus, or authority figures, in this way. Touching the feet is a show of humility. Humility when in the company of one who holds important information only makes them more affectionate towards you. If I worship my parents, they will be pleased. If they are pleased, they will protect me. They will be more enthusiastic to protect me as well. If I honor the spiritual master by touching their feet, they will share some of their wisdom with me. That wisdom is the source of their spiritual strength, and so by showing humility, their strength is shared with me. In any endeavor requiring force, it is better to have multiple sources of energy. Two heads are better than one, as the saying goes.

A long time ago, the exhibition of strength related to the lifting of an extremely heavy bow. The guru in this case knew that only one person in a gathered assembly could lift the bow. There were many prospective candidates, and they were all contestants vying for the hand of the daughter of King Janaka. The king had vowed to give away his daughter Sita to whoever would first lift the bow.

The guru Vishvamitra recommended Rama to Janaka. Other princes there had tried and failed in lifting the bow. Some were too afraid to even try. Janaka was very respectful to his own gurus. As a king, he relied on the advice and consent of the priestly class when making important decisions. It was not like him to question the advice of a wise sage. Yet this time Janaka was hesitant to accept Vishvamitra’s counsel. Janaka was worried that Rama would lose like the other princes. Rama was delicate like a flower and the bow hard like steel. How was a flower petal going to pierce through steel?

Vishvamitra told Janaka not to worry and in the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala we see what happened after the advice was given. Shri Rama, being neither excited nor dejected, touched the guru’s feet and then went towards the bow. Rama is God. God is a singular entity, the same person worshiped by all the various traditions that have been in existence since as far back as history documents. Rama is the personal form of God; the detail behind the abstract conception. His features are specific to the time and circumstance of the Treta Yuga in which the demon class headed by a Rakshasa named Ravana was prominent. Rama is an incarnation of the Supreme Lord Vishnu, who is an expansion of the original personality, Shri Krishna.

Shri Rama lifting the bowRama was going to lift the bow without a problem based solely on His identity. God never loses if He wants to win; hence one of His names is Ajita. Yet Rama still touched the guru’s feet prior to approaching the bow, as if to say that Vishvamitra was giving Him the necessary strength. This was a very nice thing that Rama did, and it illustrates to one and all the respect the bona fide spiritual master deserves. The guru’s words were used to alleviate the worries in Janaka, and his feet were symbolically used to lift the bow and bring to Janaka the desired outcome of Rama marrying Sita.

For the spirit souls wandering through the cycle of birth and death that seemingly has no termination, the guru’s feet bring the strength and wisdom necessary to achieve the supreme abode in the afterlife. The wisest guru teaches bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, which is the eternal occupational duty of the soul. By respecting the guru, we gain strength in the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” and we please God in the process. The guru gets their strength from their devotion to God and the disciple from devotion to the guru. The servant thus achieves everything desired based on their respect for the proper authority figures.

In Closing:

Planets of the universe He does carry,

So to lift single bow no need to worry.


Rama touched guru’s feet nevertheless,

Showing victory by Vishvamitra was blessed.


To spiritual master go for strength,

Honor his instructions at any length.


This system God Himself gave,

For from material ocean to be saved.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Agastya drinking up the ocean“O Janaka, just see His beautiful form, and know that it magically takes away all bad elements. This bow is like an ocean of energy belonging to the kings, and Rama is like Agastya who will drink it up.” (Janaki Mangala, Chand 12.1)

saba mala bichohani jāni mūrati janaka kautuka dekhahū |
dhanu sindhu nṛpa bala jala baḍhayo raghubarahi kunbhaja lekhahū ||

As no one except God is all-powerful, each one of us has a weakness. That weakness takes full effect at the time of death, when there is nothing we can do to prevent the soul from exiting the body. There are smaller weaknesses too, as during times of strength we can be brought down to a subordinate position through the influence of only one or two elements. For the demon class in ancient times, a great source of weakness was the presence of a particular sage. Several times he brought them down from their position of power, and because of this the sage is often referenced when discussing the defeat of a formidable foe.

For the comic book hero Superman, the chief weakness is an element called kryptonite. It comes from a fictional planet called Krypton. Superman can fly through the air, hold large buildings in his hand, and see through walls. He is very powerful, but when in the presence of kryptonite, he immediately starts to weaken. His enemies exploit this weakness when they find out about it. Though Superman is fictional, his popularity has made the term “kryptonite” a synonym for that which weakens someone. It is also used to point to a singular weakness, one thing which weakens someone the most.

Kryptonite for the demon class is always the same: devotees of God. The most powerful devotee is the brahmana merged in an ocean of transcendental bliss through following bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. The brahmana is like a priest, and so commensurate with their position is a life of austerity and penance. Just as you can improve your performance in sports by controlling your food intake and following exercise, in spiritual life you can make tremendous advancement by limiting sense interaction and controlling the mind.

Agastya Rishi is one of the famous brahmanas of the Vedic tradition. His powers from austerity are so great that he can defeat others who are apparently more powerful. It’s sort of like the David versus Goliath, where David is victorious because of using strengths not related to brute physical force. Agastya uses his mind, which is connected to God in a mood of love, to defeat enemies.

There are many stories pertaining to Agastya that are documented in the Vedas. One of them relates to the thwarting of a pair of demons who used to trick brahmanas. The demons were brothers, and their little game involved entering into food. One brother would enter food using mystical power, and when a sage would eat the food the other brother would call out to the brother who was now in the stomach of the sage. The sage would thus die from the demon piercing out of his stomach.

“The sage Agastya is of such a purified nature that in his hermitage a liar cannot live, nor a deceitful person, nor a wicked person, nor one that is committed to sinful activity.” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 11.90)

The brothers tried this one time with Agastya Rishi, but the sage simply laughed at them when the moment of truth arrived. Agastya was not so weak spiritually. The brother in his stomach died immediately, and when the other brother went to attack Agastya, the sage burned him to death with a simple glance. Lord Rama, a famous prince of the Raghu dynasty, loved this story so much that He once related it to His younger brother Lakshmana while they were travelling through the forests.

In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, a poem that describes the marriage of the same Rama to the daughter of King Janaka, Vishvamitra Muni points to another famous incident relating to Agastya. One time the demon class took refuge in an ocean, insulating them from the attack of the pious demigods. Agastya then drank up the entire ocean, which left the demons vulnerable and eventually led to their demise.

In this instance, Rama is like Agastya and the bow, which represents the collective energy of the assembled kings, the ocean. King Janaka hosted a contest to determine the husband for his daughter Sita. Whoever could first lift an enormously heavy bow belonging to Lord Shiva would win. Janaka was worried when he saw Rama because the Lord had very delicate features. In a youthful form, Rama didn’t look like He could lift a bow that no king up to this time had been able to even move.

Lord RamaVishvamitra reassured Janaka, who wanted Rama to win the contest, by pointing to the famous incident with Agastya. Agastya was obviously much smaller in stature than a giant ocean. Yet he was spiritually powerful, which was more important. Similarly, if the bow represented the combined material strength of the competitors at the assembly, Rama represented the spiritually powerful Agastya. Rama is actually the source of all strength; as He is God. In the Bhagavad-gita, the same Rama in His original form of Krishna, confirms that He is the ability in man.

Bhagavad-gita, 7.8“O son of Kunti [Arjuna], I am the taste of water, the light of the sun and the moon, the syllable om in the Vedic mantras; I am the sound in ether and ability in man.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.8)

The reference to Agastya is also appropriate because Agastya is a great devotee of Rama. Agastya is part of a disciplic succession that passes on the story of Rama’s life and pastimes. Tulsidas, the author of the Janaki Mangala, is a link in that chain, and so he also has immense respect for Agastya. Vishvamitra’s analogy would prove correct, as Rama would lift the bow without a problem. The ocean of the energy of the kings was formidable, but its kryptonite was the Supreme Lord, whose presence is carried on today through the devotees who always chant His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”

In Closing:

When demons into hiding in water sank,

Exposed by Agastya who entire ocean drank.


Though they thought they had strength not finite,

Powerful devotee of the Lord proved their kryptonite.


Like ocean of kings’ strength was bow that in arena lay,

Shri Rama like Agastya Rishi did Vishvamitra say.


Supreme Lord source of all, the ability in man,

Spiritual strength for one who chant holy name can.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Removing Illusion

Lord Rama“Laughing, the muni said, ‘O Janaka, this form is so beautiful that by remembering it one gets so many good merits that all bad elements caused by illusion get removed.’” (Janaki Mangala, 96)

muni hansi kaheu janaka yaha mūrati sohai |
sumirata sakṛta moha mala sakala bichohai ||

Knowledge is power. A knowledgeable person immediately is able to fight off illusion in the form of ignorance. If you’re lacking the requisite knowledge, it will be more difficult to tell that you’re being fooled. An outsider can inform you that you are wrong in your assessment, that you’re not looking at things clearly, but it is better if you actually know what is going on yourself. Rather than close your eyes to the deception, if you can shine a bright light to see through the thick illusion, you will be better situated. A similar point was made by the venerable Vishvamitra Muni a long time ago.

The illusion in question related to a king’s worries over the outcome to a contest. It was his contest, so it would make sense that he would have concern over the result. A bow lay in the middle of an arena. Anyone who could lift it up with their arms would be the winner of the contest. Frantic jostling over who would get first in line wasn’t necessary. It wasn’t like fighting over some money that fell on the ground. This bow originally belonged to Lord Shiva, and it took hundreds of men just to move into the sacrificial arena. Therefore only one prince, if that, in the entire world could lift it. Each person would get their chance, but their chances of success were low.

Janaka fell prey to illusion when he suddenly had a favorite. The winner of the contest would marry Janaka’s daughter Sita, so the king wasn’t too concerned with the exact nature of the victor. As long as someone would win that would be good enough for Janaka. But when he saw this handsome youth arrive accompanied by His younger brother and spiritual guide, the king suddenly had a vested interest. He wanted this youth, named Rama, to win the contest and marry his daughter. After the many other princes at the assembly failed to even move the bow, the spiritual guide asked Janaka if Rama could take a shot at it.

Lord RamaJanaka replied with doubt. It’s not that the sage Vishvamitra was wrong to make the request. Janaka certainly would allow Rama to try to lift the bow, but he was worried about the outcome. He didn’t want Rama to lose and then get embarrassed. How was such a beautiful youth going to move something as hard as steel?

In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, we see Vishvamitra’s reply. The sage playfully chuckles at Janaka’s words and then offers some sound advice. Rama’s vision is so beautiful that one need only think of it in order to have the bad elements caused by illusion disappear. The illusion in this case caused Janaka to hesitate in allowing Rama to try to lift the bow. Vishvamitra could have told Janaka that he was wrong and that one shouldn’t be deceived by an external vision, but when you’re so invested in an outcome it’s hard to overcome opposing elements that feed your fear.

Vishvamitra offered the easier approach: remember Rama. “Just look at Him,” the sage said. By doing that, the worry would disappear. Rama is God, the Supreme Personality of Godhead actually, as mentioned in the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India. The point to take away here is rather obvious: think of God to overcome illusion. You just have to remember Him when you’re feeling doubtful, and that remembrance essentially acts like a torchlight of knowledge. It helps you see in the dark.

“He [King Muchukunda] could see also that the dense darkness within the mountain cave had already been dissipated due to the Lord's presence; therefore He could not be other than the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He knew very well that wherever the Lord is personally present by His transcendental name, quality, form, etc., there cannot be any darkness of ignorance. He is like a lamp placed in the darkness; He immediately illuminates a dark place.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 50)

Lord VishnuRama is also Krishna, which is the original form of the Supreme Lord. Krishna’s name means all-attractive, and that attraction inherently speaks of a form. That form itself is self-illuminating, a fact shown one time in an encounter with King Muchukunda. The king had been sleeping in a cave for a long time, but when Krishna entered suddenly there was a glowing light. The king could see Krishna without a problem, and so the self-effulgent Krishna acted to dissipate the illusion caused by darkness.

Rama is considered a personal expansion of Krishna, and so His transcendental body is also all-attractive. Looking at it alone can remove doubts, and the more qualified you are to look at that wonderful vision, the more benefits you will receive. Sukriti, or meritorious credits, can come through good work, that which is in line with virtue. In assessing merits, one would have to rank those which bring a greater reward to be superior. There is no better reward than thinking of God, as the soul’s business is to be a lover of God. Therefore the sukriti that comes from remembering Rama is automatically the best. And the best merits always overcome demerits, which in the case of Janaka related to his fear that Rama would lose the contest. While Rama’s vision originally caused the worry in Janaka, the same vision, repeatedly glanced at, would dissipate the bad elements. This was the point stressed by Vishvamitra.

In the material world we are daily a victim to the influence of the illusion known as maya. Know that remembrance of God is the easiest and most effective way to dissipate the illusion. Being able to see clearly, the devotee gets an unobstructed view of the most wonderful vision. Janaka and the rest of the pious souls assembled there that famous day would get to see the heartwarming image of a victorious Rama reuniting with His eternal consort Sita. Illusion cannot survive in that scene, and so anyone who makes it the home for their eyes will not be troubled by the dark elements of this world.

In Closing:

Fog of illusion in front to stay,

How to get it out of my way?


Someone else can tell me to see clear,

Thus send away illusion’s fear.


Better if I have my own light,

In darkness to bring gift of sight.


With beautiful Shri Rama such is the case,

Transcendental light beams from toe to face.


Listen to muni, image of Rama think,

And to abyss watch all maladies sink.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Protecting the Vision

Lord Rama's lotus feet“Every part of that vision puts to shame the beauty of Kamadeva. O muni, please don’t do anything that will sully that form.” (Janaki Mangala, 95)

roma roma chabi nindati sobha manojani |
dekhiya mūrati malina kariya muni so jani ||

The beautiful trophy should go on the mantel in the home. This way it will be on display for others to see. That setting is appropriate given the importance of the trophy; it is befitting its value. If you put the same trophy somewhere else, it won’t be appreciated as much. You wouldn’t want to place it next to the garbage can in the kitchen. You wouldn’t want to place it on the floor. The object wouldn’t lose anything in value, but appreciation of it would diminish. To the person who appreciates it, that loss in appreciation will not be good. The same sentiment exists with devotees of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and so they do whatever they can to protect their beloved.

Why would you need to protect God? If He is God, He must be supreme. If He is supreme, He must not require any person’s protection.

To understand the behavior of the devotees, we can again think of the trophy. That statue indicates a personal accomplishment, and so respect of the trophy is a kind of respect of the accomplishment. The Supreme Lord, who has an image that can rest internally within the heart and externally in front of the eyes of the devotee, is the embodiment of all good qualities. In fact, all qualities emanate from Him, and the good qualities are those which more closely represent Him.

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

Lord KrishnaIn the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna explains that He is the strength of the strong, the ability in man, the penance of the ascetic, and a host of other things. The references show that God is the life of everything. Strength is what makes the strong, and ability is what distinguishes the man from the animal. In the same way, the Supreme Lord is the life of an existence. That we have a consciousness shows that there is a God. In the purified consciousness, when all dirty things are removed, the life of the individual is understood to be driven directly by God, and He is appreciated as such.

If you disrespect God, you are essentially disrespecting yourself. Not that you are God, but He is the source of your identity. Your real identity is Brahman, which is pure spirit. Brahman emanates from God, who is known as Parabrahman. There is a relationship between the two that goes beyond which came first. Parabrahman is superior and Brahman is inferior. There is a relationship of oneness only when the inferior voluntarily acts to serve the superior. The superior party in this case elevates the inferior due to the love they show.

Because of the respect held for the Lord by the devotees, sometimes it is not easy to reveal divine love outwardly. Think about it for a second. As soon as you tell someone that you like something, they have an advantage over you. Let’s say that you like a particular song by a particular band. If someone else finds out about it, they can criticize that song and the band who plays it. Anytime something happens to that band, they can bring it up to you. “Oh, did you see what your favorite band did? I can’t believe they did that. Why would you like them? Did you hear how bad their last album was? They’ve lost it. They’re just sellouts now.”

This criticism will bother you since you like that band so much. If you had never said anything, the criticism from others wouldn’t be so forthcoming. After all, they would have no idea that you’re interested in that particular band. The same vulnerability exists with any preference declared openly, including politics and movies.

Krishna's lotus feetFor the bhaktas, or devotees, the preference is at the highest level. Loving God is the most important commodity any person can possess. Driven by envy, someone else could criticize God in front of you and thus make you angry. Therefore devotees very carefully worship the Supreme Lord in the proper setting. This is with respect to external worship, as no one sees your internal worship. External worship takes place typically in a temple, where a deity representation of the Supreme Lord is honored with offerings of beautiful flowers and sumptuous food preparations. The place is kept clean, and the deities aren’t visible all the time. Only during the proper times will others get a chance to see and worship the deity, automatically making the deity, the Supreme Lord, the chief resident of the establishment.

Sometimes the same Supreme Lord descends to earth and gives a more animate deity to worship. There is actually no difference between the Supreme Lord and His incarnations. The bodies of the incarnations, deities, and original Lord Himself are all spiritual. If they weren’t, they would never be worshiped. Moreover, there wouldn’t be any benefits derived from worshiping them. You can try to worship an ordinary tree as God, but it won’t get you anywhere because the worship of the tree is not authorized. And neither is the tree ever declared to be equivalent to the Supreme Lord.

A long time ago King Janaka saw God in His incarnation of Lord Rama. Janaka immediately held affection for Rama, who came to his kingdom while He was still a youth. In worship in bhakti-yoga, there are offenses to be avoided. The offenses are listed out for the devotee’s protection. There is no way to offend God, as He is self-satisfied. The devotees can be offended, though, especially when the deity is not properly respected. Janaka, as an ideal devotee, was worried on this occasion that Rama would be disrespected if He were asked to participate in the contest.

The contest was to see who could lift an extremely heavy bow belonging to Lord Shiva. The winner would get to marry the king’s daughter Sita. Vishvamitra Muni, the spiritual master of both Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana, asked Janaka if Rama could have a try at the bow. Other princes had tried, but none of them could even move the bow. In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, we see Janaka comparing Rama’s vision to Kamadeva, who is the equivalent of a cupid. It is said that every part of Rama’s vision puts to shame the beauty of cupid. Janaka doesn’t want to do anything that will sully that image. A defeated Rama would certainly tarnish the image, and so Janaka wanted to spare his eyes of that vision.

It was very nice for Janaka to think this way, as he was only trying to make sure that God wasn’t disrespected. There was no reason to fear, however, as Rama would lift the bow without a problem. That feat created a new image to worship, one of a victorious Supreme Lord reuniting with His eternal consort, Sita Devi. The devotees continue to honor the Supreme Lord in the same way as Janaka did by carefully keeping discussions of Him limited to assemblies of open-minded, non-envious spiritualists, those who are sincerely interested in serving the source of Brahman. And since the devotees are harder to find in the present age of Kali, to spread the divine influence the same devotees now risk being offended by others by remaining humbler than the grass and more tolerant than the tree in their congregational chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”

In Closing:

Vision of the Supreme Lord pure to remain,

So devotees avoid anything to bring stain.


God possesses all goodness imaginable,

Thus to offend Him not possible.


Devotees to worship in all brilliance,

Know that God stands in magnificence.


That Rama’s image tarnished Janaka feared,

The muni away from idea he tried to steer.


Not to worry, Rama image only to enhance,

When given lifting of bow chance.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

As Delicate As Shirisha

Lord Rama's hand“You’re asking for the young prince to look at the bow, but can a piece of a shirisha flower pierce through hard steel?” (Janaki Mangala, 94)

so dhanu kahiya bilokana bhūpa kisorahi |
bheda ki sirisa sumana kana kulisa kaṭhorahiṃ ||

Let’s say that you’re out at a restaurant. The food dish you order requires a knife and fork to eat. You could also use your hands and take advantage of your teeth, but then that would make a mess. You’d rather use utensils to make the eating experience more pleasant. But there is a problem at this restaurant. They only have plastic utensils. You’re forced to use a plastic knife and a plastic fork to eat. This causes a problem because the plastic utensils aren’t strong enough to cut through the food you’ve ordered. Every time you go to make a cut, the knife gets duller and duller. Also, just by placing the fork into the food, the fork starts to melt. It cannot handle the temperature of the food, so you’re left with a deformed fork.

You’d rather have the steel utensils, which are strong enough to cut through the food. The firmer utensils are meant to cut through the less firm food. Now try to imagine it the other way around. What if you needed to cut through steel? You’d need something harder, no? Or perhaps you’d need an instrument that can reach a level of heat intense enough to break through the steel. A long time ago, a bow was compared to steel, and during a particular contest that bow need only be lifted. No one had to cut through anything. The king hosting the contest saw one prince in particular and was astonished that He would try to lift the bow. The king compared the prince to a piece of a soft flower, which has no chance of cutting through steel.

The shirisha flower is very soft. It is often invoked in Vedic literature to describe the softness of the skin of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Though there are many gods in the Vedic tradition, there is still only one Supreme Lord. He is known by such names as Hari, Vishnu, Krishna and Rama, and there are endless ways to describe His transcendental features. His skin is of a bluish hue, and His smile is intoxicating. Everything about Him is attractive, and so Krishna becomes the best name to use in addressing Him.

Lord RamaRama is also a great name, as it refers to the full pleasure that the Supreme Lord holds. Rama also describes His incarnation as a warrior prince who once roamed this earth many thousands of years ago. Lord Rama, the eldest son of King Dasharatha, also has extremely soft skin. He is very beautiful and not everyone knows that He is God. They don’t need to anyway, as having affection for Him is enough to attain the goal of life.

And wouldn’t you rather receive attention based on your qualities than your stature? You could say that your qualities make your stature, but it is better if someone appreciates your qualities first. The stature can bring respect even if you don’t possess all of the qualities, but through your qualities someone can respect you for who you really are, even if they never know of your stature. With Shri Rama, His stature is set in the Vedic texts, which describe His endless glories.

And the qualities described are evident to the people who connect with Rama in a mood of love. Sometimes those qualities appear to contradict one another, as they did in the kingdom of Janakpur a long time ago. King Janaka was hosting a contest to determine the future husband for his daughter Sita. The king decided to make the contest one based on strength; this way the winner would be best equipped to protect Sita for the rest of her life.

Many princes came to the contest, but they all failed to even move the bow, let alone lift it. Then the respected Vishvamitra Muni asked Janaka if Rama could try lifting the bow. Rama was not there specifically to participate in the contest. In youthful forms, Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana were defending Vishvamitra and other sages from the attacks of vile creatures in the forest. The brothers came upon the contest through following Vishvamitra.

From the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, which is a poem by Goswami Tulsidas that describes this sacred event, we see that Janaka obviously has appreciation for Rama. He compares the Lord to the shirisha flower, which is a very high compliment. To say that someone has skin as soft as a flower is to say something nice. Soft skin is a more attractive quality than hard skin.

Janaka then compares the bow to something very hard, like steel. As mentioned before, the harder object can easily cut through the softer object; hence the common use of silver utensils when eating. How then is the softer object going to do anything against the harder object? Janaka didn’t think it possible for a youth like Rama to lift the bow, and he was especially worried about embarrassing Him. Many other princes had tried but Janaka didn’t give them any warning. On this rare occasion, Janaka actually expressed doubts to a venerable brahmana, a member of the priestly class. Typically, the kings in those times listened to whatever advice the priests gave. Janaka’s hesitancy only further confirms his love for Rama, who is God.

And that love never goes in vain. Janaka’s affection for Rama shown through his doubt would be rewarded with Rama’s victory in the contest. Today Janaka is one of the twelve highest authorities on devotional service, which is the best occupation for man. Loving God is the soul’s constitutional occupation, and so it can be taken up at any time and at any place. The easiest method is the chanting of the holy names. Just as the soft-skinned Rama easily lifted the steel-like bow, know that the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” can melt the hardest of hearts, making a lover of God out of anyone.

In Closing:

How as a youth with skin so soft,

Going to hold heavy bow aloft?


Failed did many kings mighty and fierce,

How then was shirisha flower the steel to pierce?


Though Rama of features contradictory,

In contest certain was his victory.


From pious king’s concern,

God as son-in-law earned.