Saturday, April 6, 2013

A Series of Distresses

Sita Devi's hand“Having lost her splendor like the lotus flower struck with frost, tormented by a succession of distresses, the daughter of Janaka has been reduced to a helpless state, like a female crane separated from her companion.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 16.30)

hima hata nalinī iva naṣṭa śobhā |
vyasana paramparayā nipīḍyamānā |
saha cara rahitā iva cakra vākī |
janaka sutā kṛpaṇām daśām prapannā ||

A parampara is commonly known as a chain of disciplic succession. In this verse, the parampara refers to a chain of unfortunate events, calamities that arrived one after another. They struck a person who never deserved them, and seeing this stoked the ire of Shri Hanuman, a heroic warrior sent to find said person. While in a situation worse than anything you could imagine, the distressed person carried on, although looking like a beautiful female crane who was previously with her companion and now separated from him.

“This is too much to take. First I lost my job. The economy is really bad. I understand that. And so I couldn’t catch a break when it came time for layoffs at my firm. I was one of the first people given the pink slip. Then I lost my home. I couldn’t pay for it anymore. I just didn’t have the money. Then I lost my spouse. They left me for someone else. And then I landed in jail, over something I never did. I was just trying to do the right thing, protecting someone I care about. But that person didn’t care as much about me, so they got me caught up in something illegal, and now I’m in jail. It’s cold in this cell, and the guards are very mean. I have no idea what time it is or if anyone is coming to rescue me. How can all of this be happening to me?”

As horrible as this hypothetical scenario sounds, Sita’s situation was worse. If such things were to happen to us, we would feel pretty bad. If we knew that we had done everything right, that we hadn’t committed any sin, the sting of the pain would be even sharper. Such was the case with Sita, as she had never done anything against the rules of propriety in her life. She only cared about others, and her husband was the same way. He never told a lie and always gave in charity. He never took charity, as it was His duty to protect the citizens.

“Rama always gives in charity but never takes any. He always speaks the truth and never tells a lie. O brahmana, this is Rama’s highest vow and He is incapable of deviating from it.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.17)

Sita DeviIf Rama never told a lie, and Sita always did everything right, why did a series of calamities befall her? First she was kicked out of her home. The eviction order was actually given to her husband Rama. It came from a jealous step-mother. So strong is envy that it makes a person commit crimes against the most innocent. Queen Kaikeyi wanted her own son Bharata to ascend the throne after King Dasharatha. Rama was the eldest son and thus the rightful heir. Consumed with envy through the trickery of her servant, Kaikeyi demanded that Rama not only not get the crown, but that He also leave the kingdom for fourteen years. Dasharatha was in a bind, as he had previously promised Kaikeyi any two boons of her choosing. Rama made the decision easy; He left without objection.

Sita insisted on coming along with Him, and while in the forest with Him she would be separated from Rama. This was due to the influence of the evil king of Lanka, Ravana. Again, losing your home and being separated from your wonderful husband are bad enough, but things got even worse. Sita refused to give in to Ravana, so he left her in a grove of Ashoka trees, where she was surrounded by grim-visaged ogres ordered to harass her day and night.

In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Shri Hanuman, a messenger sent to look for Sita at Rama’s behest, sees the beautiful princess in this grove of Ashoka trees and very poetically describes her situation. In the verses that follow in the Ramayana, we get more details about how ghoulish the creatures surrounding Sita were. They had disfigured faces, looked plenty scary, and had blood around their mouths from eating animal flesh. They were also heavily intoxicated from drinking wine. Think of the prison cell filled with the worst characters in the world. With that picture in mind, know that it isn’t nearly as bad as what Sita faced.

Sita was naturally beautiful, but because of her predicament, to Hanuman she looked like a lotus flower destroyed by the frost. Usually, the winter chill is too much for the flowers to bear. They can only be revived by the onset of the spring season. In this case, Hanuman actually looked like the spring personified, as he was perched on a tree and covered by flowers. When he had first found that perch, birds flew away and clipped the flowers on the trees with their wings. Those flowers then fell on the heroic Hanuman.

“Seeing that monkey going in all directions through the collection of trees, all the creatures there took him to be Spring personified.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 14.12)

Shri HanumanSita’s situation is just another reminder that sometimes bad things happen to good people. Sometimes even very bad things happen to very good people, the extreme opposite of what we think should hold true. The material land is temporary and full of miseries. Therefore conditions are never permanent. And due to ignorance others are always envious. Ravana’s envy and lust led to this horrible situation, but the harsh conditions still weren’t enough to break the daughter of King Janaka. She remained firm by thinking of Rama, and as a reward for that stream of consciousness she got the gift of Rama’s messenger. He braved his way into Lanka to deliver life-giving words from Rama.

That same Shri Hanuman revives us from our stupor caused by the bewildering material energy. He reminds us that the meaning of life is to be devoted to God. There is no other purpose to work. The potential for action exists solely for pleasing the Supreme Lord, who looks more at sincerity than ability. Hanuman’s desire to please Rama was genuine, and so the Lord of all creatures, the origin of matter and spirit, made sure that his ability was sufficient as well. No one would believe the things Hanuman did, but the people who know Rama aren’t surprised by them. Similarly, they are not surprised in the ability of Rama’s messengers to deliver the fallen souls.

In Closing:

“Why such calamities come to me?

No more paycheck or home to see.


Company of friends and family bereft,

To rot in jail in innocence I’m left.”


Situation for Sita in Lanka much more bad,

In distress looked like crane so sad.


Female ogres made sure that with peace she was without,

Had horrible faces, blood dripping from each mouth.


Hanuman came to meet with Rama’s wife,

Delivering message to give her hope and life.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Ready To Die For Others

Shri Hanuman“She, who is forgiving like the earth, has lotus-like eyes, and was previously protected by Rama and Lakshmana, is now guarded under the tree by Rakshasis of deformed eyes.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 16.29)

kṣiti kṣamā puṣkara samnibha akṣī |
yā rakṣitā rāghava lakṣmaṇābhyām |
sā rākṣasībhir vikṛta īkṣaṇābhiḥ |
samrakṣyate samprati vṛkṣa mūle ||

In the Bhagavad-gita, there is a section where Lord Krishna reviews the qualities of both the demons and the saintly people. This review is nice because it allows us to properly assess others as well as ourselves. In addition, we learn what these various qualities lead to. If you are envious, mean, and selfish, your future isn’t too bright. On the other side, the godly qualities of truthfulness, forbearance, kindness, and knowledge of right and wrong lead to your benefit. The above referenced verse from the Ramayana seems to tell the opposite story, but from it we actually learn another way to tell the difference between a saint and a villain.

Bhagavad-gita, 16.5“The transcendental qualities are conducive to liberation, whereas the demonic qualities make for bondage. Do not worry, O son of Pandu, for you are born with the divine qualities.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 16.5)

The saint is ready to die for others, while the demon gladly sees others die for them. The saint doesn’t want to purposefully suffer, but they are so compassionate that they don’t mind a little inconvenience if it is for the good of someone else. The demon, on the other hand, is so selfish that they don’t care if the innocent have to suffer endlessly. The demon wants what they want, and they want it now. Who cares what others have done for them? And who cares whether or not the demon is worthy of what they are asking for?

Sita DeviShri Hanuman here describes Sita Devi as being as forgiving as the earth. She is the beautiful wife of Lord Rama, the prince of the Raghu dynasty. Prior to her marriage she was affectionately known as Janaki, the eldest daughter of the virtuous king Janaka. Her father rightly taught her the proper role of a wife in marriage. At the time of her wedding, Janaka gave her away to Rama and asked her to always stay by His side, like His shadow almost. Sita took these words to heart; she didn’t discount them as being formalities tied to a ritualistic tradition.

“I have not seen anyone in this world, not even an enemy or someone expelled, who would speak ill of Rama, even behind His back.”  (Lakshmana speaking about Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 21.5)

Rama was also virtuous. As His younger brother Lakshmana points out in the Ramayana, not even those Rama had to punish from time to time could find anything wrong with Him. As the eldest son of the King of Ayodhya, Rama was groomed to follow in His father’s footsteps and be a capable administrator. The kings were the law in essence, so they had to punish people from time to time. Rama was known for being so virtuous that even those who were punished by Him knew that He didn’t play favorites. Therefore how could they find fault with Him?

You had the virtuous couple of Sita and Rama, and though they never did any harm to anyone, they had to suffer greatly for others. Rama’s father, King Dasharatha, had three wives. The youngest, Kaikeyi, once grew envious over Rama. She wanted her son to become the next king instead. So she used her influence with the king to get Rama kicked out of the kingdom for fourteen years. Rama accepted the punishment without objection. As a saint, He was ready to suffer for others. In this case His suffering would uphold Dasharatha’s virtue.

Rama, Sita and LakshmanaSita also suffered for Kaikeyi. She didn’t want to let Rama go it alone in the forest. In fact, she refused to remain home alone. Bearing no resemblance to the miserly wife who simply lives off her husband’s hard work without giving anything in return, Sita considered Rama’s punishment to be her own as well. She went to the forest with Rama, as did Lakshmana. The devoted younger brother was even ready to attack Dasharatha and anyone who was going to get in the way of Rama’s coronation, but Rama talked him out of that idea.

In the forest, the trio was suffering due to the selfishness of Kaikeyi, but they were still okay. The three saintly characters were happy in each other’s association. The time in the forest afforded them the opportunity to meet with the many sages who had set up hermitages in the remote areas. The real benefit of visiting a place of pilgrimage is the association of the saints, or sadhus. They stay at the holy places to keep focused on their religious practice. When others get a chance to meet them, they can get divine wisdom. Sita, Rama and Lakshmana did not need such association, but as they were of the godly nature they enjoyed such association.

Here Sita is suffering for the selfishness of an outright demon named Ravana. He heard of Sita’s beauty and wanted her for himself. Never mind that Sita was already married or that Rama had done no undue harm to anyone. Ravana couldn’t fight with Rama one on one because Rama was more powerful. So he instead created a diversion that allowed him to steal Sita away and bring her back to his kingdom situated far away.

Sita refused to even look at him. Ravana could have given her back to Rama, but as he was of the demoniac nature, he made her suffer for his selfishness. Here Hanuman sees her and remarks that while she was previously guarded by the saintly Rama and Lakshmana, she is now surrounded by Rakshasis, vile female creatures of the same nature as Ravana. She didn’t deserve any of this. Her situation was the result of the selfishness of both Kaikeyi and Ravana.

Shri HanumanHanuman too is of the godly nature. He risked his life to find Sita. No one knew where she was, so the Vanaras in the Kishkindha forest scoured the earth to find her. They were allied with Rama through the help of Hanuman. Sita’s suffering was Hanuman’s suffering as well. So in this way Ravana’s demoniac nature inflicted pain on Hanuman too. There is no limit to the number of people the demon will harm. They have no conscience, so what care do they have for what others feel? It never occurs to them that they couldn’t tolerate even a second’s worth of the same suffering for someone else’s cause. Their foolishness knows no bounds.

Of course Sita, Rama, Lakshmana and Hanuman are divine figures, so their suffering is a little different. The events of the Ramayana are a coordinated play meant to give the association of the Supreme Lord to countless future generations. Those who are devoted to them are of the saintly nature, and those opposed are of the demoniac. The devotees will tolerate anything to please the Supreme Lord, while the demons cause untold suffering to others in order to chase their illusory happiness. The devotees always win in the end, as they are on the side of Hanuman, who never fails in his service to Shri Rama. This incident is an example of one of his triumphs, as he found Sita after he was asked to do so.

In Closing:

If for them countless die,

Demon not to bat an eye.


For reflection there is no pause,

For own sense pleasure just cause.


Saint works for countless others to save,

Like Hanuman, to whom mission Rama gave.


All good qualities in Lord’s devotees reside,

Victory for those on Hanuman’s side.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Bad Company

Sita in the Ashoka grove“She, who is forgiving like the earth, has lotus-like eyes, and was previously protected by Rama and Lakshmana, is now guarded under the tree by Rakshasis of deformed eyes.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 16.29)

kṣiti kṣamā puṣkara samnibha akṣī |
yā rakṣitā rāghava lakṣmaṇābhyām |
sā rākṣasībhir vikṛta īkṣaṇābhiḥ |
samrakṣyate samprati vṛkṣa mūle ||

“Boy, I’m so excited to go to this thing. I’ve been waiting all week to go. I haven’t been able to think about anything else. Sure, it is the middle of the winter season and today happens to be the coldest day of the year, but I’m not going to miss this for anything. I’m going for sure; I’ll accept whatever conditions come my way in the journey.”

A little later…

“Okay, that walk to the train station was a little difficult. The chilling wind hitting up against my face felt like ice smacking against my cheeks. I have my winter gear on, but that is only a little help. When the temperature is well below freezing like it is today, there is not much you can do to keep yourself warm. I keep thinking to myself, ‘If I didn’t somehow make it indoors within a few minutes, I would literally freeze to death out there. Makes you wonder why man ever decided to inhabit this area when there are so many other places that are warm year round.’

“Okay, now I’m on the train. It’s warm in here. Everything is going to be alright. We’re at our first stop. I’m seated in a row of three, with two empty seats next to me. This train is for everyone, so I don’t mind if others sit next to me. They are individuals just like me, headed somewhere for the day. There is no reason to be afraid of them.

“Oh, here is a person coming this way. And now he has sat down next to me. No worries, right? But he looks odd. He has so much layering on that it looks like he’s from the North Pole. He could easily be mistaken for an Eskimo. He’s got a bunch of bags and stuff that he’s laid on the empty seat next to me. Still, no big deal. But wait, what’s that smell? It’s awful. It’s starting to make me sick. It’s like toxic fumes mixed with terrible body odor. Oh no, it’s coming from this person. He smells as if he hasn’t showered in days. His long beard tells me that he likely doesn’t have a home. I shouldn’t judge, especially when we are in the dead of winter like this.

“Considerable time has passed, and the situation is not getting any better. I really can’t stand this smell. It’s not fair. Why do I have to endure this situation? I’m actually travelling for a good cause right now. I made this choice all on my own. No one is forcing me to go. I easily could have gone home after work and relaxed in the comfort of my bed, but I chose this instead. Why am I being punished like this? This smell is so bad; I can’t wait until I am rescued by the arrival to my destination.”

In this scenario, the incredible discomfort is due to a situation where there is unwanted company. The smell in this case is what makes the person’s company unwanted. Such situations occur all the time, and they get worse when the length of the time spent in the unfavorable association increases. A princess a long time ago faced the worst company, and it was immediately after she had the best company. Seeing this, a warrior who went to find her felt pity. At the same time, he made sure to do whatever he could to fix the situation.

Sita with Rama and LakshmanaThe above referenced verse from the Ramayana gives us some more details about the woman in question. She has eyes that are like lotuses. The shape of the eyes is what resembles the petals of the lotus flower. Her face is thus pleasing to the eyes of others, as who wouldn’t like to look at lotus petals? It is also said that she is as forgiving as the earth. The earth accepts whatever others do to it without balking. Sometimes she has earthquakes, but more or less there is no response to the constant treading on her land. Therefore the best way to compare forgiveness is to use the earth as a reference.

Mentioning this woman’s forgiving nature is important due to the situation at hand. A person who is forgiving is considered superior to someone who isn’t. As such, they don’t deserve bad fortune. For the woman in question, the situation was really bad. She was underneath a tree, surrounded by female ogres. Unlike her, these ogres had hideous looking eyes; they weren’t pleasant to look at.

This woman previously had the protection of Rama and Lakshmana. She stayed with them in the forest of Dandaka. Rama is the Supreme Personality of Godhead in His incarnation as a warrior prince. In His appearance, He comes as the eldest son of Maharaja Dasharatha of Ayodhya. Lakshmana is a partial incarnation of the same Supreme Lord, considered the servitor God. On earth He is Rama’s younger brother. He can also be addressed as Ramanuja, which means “younger brother of Rama.”

There is no better company than Rama and Lakshmana, especially for Sita. She is Rama’s wife. She loves Him more than any person can love someone else. She is not interested so much in what Rama does for her; she only cares about what she can do for Rama. The two brothers are the best bow fighters this world has ever seen, so she feels protected in their company. They are also highly chivalrous, which matches well with her spotless character. Therefore the three of them never deserve bad fortune, though they were in the forest of Dandaka due to the envy of Rama’s step-mother.

Shri HanumanNow here was Sita surrounded by vile creatures. Hanuman did not like that. He was sent by Rama to look for Sita after she went missing. Here he has finally found her. He will offer a short-term solution by giving Sita news about Rama, relaying how the Lord is dedicated to finding and rescuing her. We are in a similar situation today. We may or may not have a person with a foul odor sitting next to us on a train, but such situations are only temporary and not so important, even if we think otherwise. The more pressing problem is the lack of company of Rama and Lakshmana or their representatives. As individual spirit souls, we are meant to serve God, but how can we serve Him if we’re unsure of what He looks like, where He lives, and what He wants from us?

The saints kindly disseminate information about God to those who are willing to accept it. We all need it, but suffering from the illusion of the material nature we think that we’ll be better off on our own. In that fearful condition, we meet all sorts of unpleasant situations with unpleasant company. The heroic warriors like Hanuman are sent from above to give us the warmth of the company of Godhead. In Sita’s situation, the relief came from words about Rama, and in our situation the same powerful presence arrives through just the name of God alone. Thus hearing, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” from a devotee of the Lord can turn things around very quickly.

In Closing:

Foul smelling person on the train,

Slow and reckless driver in our lane.


If in motives we are pure,

Why bad company to endure?


Sita staying in Ashoka grove on ground,

Rakshasis of wicked eyes in circle around.


Came to scene Hanuman of no fear.

To give news of brothers to her very dear.


Know that from only His name,

God to arrive all the same.


Saints thus to give association the best,

Through their hard work we are blessed.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Flower With a Hundred Petals

Flower“Even my mind is afflicted knowing that this lady of black-ended hair, having eyes that resemble lotuses with a hundred petals, who is deserving of happiness, is in distress.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 16.28)

imām asita keśa antām śata patra nibha īkṣaṇām |
sukha arhām duḥkhitām jnātvā mama api vyathitam manaḥ ||

“I’m safe. I have a secure job, which pays me more than enough money to maintain my meager lifestyle. Every day I get to do things that are fun. Since I am not tied down by a spouse, no one tells me what to do. I go wherever I want to go. I do whatever I want to do. I know that there are others in distress, but that is not my problem. I can only do so much, right? I’m not God, so I can’t save the world even if I tried. Shouldn’t I just stay happy doing what I’m doing? Why should I concern myself so much with others?”

Though this wasn’t the exact attitude of a notable warrior a long time back, he was indeed comfortable where he was in the forest of Kishkindha. Though he was a creature that is similar to a monkey, he and his other monkey-like friends in the forest had some semblance of civilized life. This meant that the warrior had an occupation as well. He was the chief minister to the king of this tribe of monkey-like creatures. Though technically he was an emissary, on one occasion he was called to duty that went way beyond basic diplomacy. He had to search for someone without being spotted himself. And if anyone should spot him, he would be in danger. For someone to be successful in this mission, they would have to really want to succeed. From the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, we see the emissary’s interest in the mission and how deeply affected he was by the conditions of someone else.

Shri HanumanWe can come up with so many excuses as to why we shouldn’t help others. “Look, it’s their fault. They made the wrong choices in life, and now they have to live with them. They have every opportunity to find a better way of life, but nevertheless they’re stuck where they are.” Even with someone who understands the teachings of the spiritual science, which go well beyond that which is directly perceptible to the eye, there are excuses made to refrain from offering help. “Oh, this is that person’s karma. They’ve done bad work in the past, and so that’s why they’re in trouble now. Who am I to get in the way of the reactions that nature dictates is due to arrive for them?”

The emissary mentioned above is Shri Hanuman. The difficult mission assigned to him was a reconnaissance one. He had to find a missing princess, who could have been anywhere in the world. Also, it was not known whether or not she was still alive. Her husband Rama was desperate to find her, as He felt responsible for her abduction. As the sworn protector of the princess Sita, Rama blamed Himself when He was suddenly drawn away from her side by a running deer that Sita asked to have caught for her, preferably alive. That deer was a diversion that allowed the fiend Ravana to swoop in and take Sita away against her will.

Hanuman and his monkey friends had no relation to this incident. They were living elsewhere at the time. They only came to know of it when Rama formed an alliance with their leader, Sugriva. Sugriva then ordered his massive monkey army to scour the globe in search of Sita. Only one person had any chance for success, however, and it was the chief minister Hanuman. He had both ability and desire. The desire was evident from his immediate affection for Rama upon their first meeting. Rama rewarded this affection by investing further responsibility in Hanuman. Though all the monkeys were assigned to the search mission, Rama specifically gave His ring to Hanuman, asking him to give it to Sita if and when he saw her.

“Thereafter, being very pleased, that chastiser of enemies [Rama] gave to him [Hanuman] a ring inscribed with His own name as a token of recognition for the king's daughter [Sita].” (Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 44.12)

hanuman_CH52_l[1]After a lengthy search, Hanuman finally found Sita in a grove of Ashoka trees in Lanka. As would be expected, Sita was not in the best of emotional states. She was sighing uncontrollably, and her body was worn thin from not eating. A good worker is one who doesn’t let temporary failure get in the way of their march towards success. Diligence means to persevere through the rough patches, and this is beneficial because without diligence there is no chance for success. Thus in one sense it would be okay if the person sent to find Sita wasn’t so affected by her situation.

At the same time, if you’re not emotionally invested, how are you going to put in the necessary work? Hanuman wasn’t given specific instructions on what to do in each situation. No one assumed that he would have to enter an enemy territory like Lanka unseen. Hanuman couldn’t call home to find out what he should do. Rather, he had to rely on his natural talents, which were guided in this case by his love for Rama. Someone who was totally divested of interest in the outcome would not have gone to the great lengths that Hanuman did. He knew those measures were worth it once he finally found Sita.

In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Hanuman remarks that even he is affected in the mind by the distressful situation. Sita was Rama’s wife, so it would make sense for Rama to be affected by her absence. But Hanuman had never met Sita before. He only knew Rama for a brief while, so why should he be influenced by the external vision of a distressed Sita, who only stayed alive in the faint hope of reuniting with her husband?

Hanuman gives justification for his mind’s distress. He says that Sita has eyes that are like lotus flowers with a hundred petals. She has beautiful black locks of hair, and she is deserving of happiness. The fact that such a person is in distress makes Hanuman a little distressed as well. This is the mark of a saint. It is one thing to see someone else in distress when we know that they deserve it. It is entirely another thing to watch someone who doesn’t deserve anything bad find misfortune. This explains why there is such widespread sadness when young children are involved in a tragedy. The same incident involving adults doesn’t draw nearly the same attention. The children are considered innocent; they don’t deserve such bad things to happen to them.

Shri HanumanSimilarly, Sita didn’t deserve anything bad, and so people who were not part of her family, like Hanuman, also felt bad for her. Hanuman’s reaction shows that he has real affection for Sita. Ravana didn’t feel bad for her; he was actually responsible for her predicament. He was driven by kama, or lust, which he mistook for love. Real love was shown by Hanuman and his side. The brave warrior risked everything to find Sita, who was helpless and in need of rescue. This is the behavior of saints; they cast aside their own interest in favor of helping others. Through their work they set the right example for others to follow.

The rescue Hanuman offered to Sita was the sound of Rama’s message, which gave her hope that she would be reunited with Him. Rama is God, the person known in all the universes. The Vaishnavas of today carry the same flag hoisted by Hanuman. They look for all the innocent people of the world, those who have any sincere interest in reuniting with God, the original friend. The rescue they bring is the sound of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” which they carry to stranger and friend alike, feeling the utmost compassion for both.

In Closing:

Even when comfortable in home and fare,

The saint for plight of others will care.


To great lengths they will go,

For transcendental light to show.


In Hanuman’s case to Lanka he went,

Rama’s message with him to Sita was sent.


Comfortable at home and happy to be alive,

Nevertheless to please Rama was his drive.


When of troubled Sita he caught sight,

Distress even to him over her plight.


Conditions for her unpleasant and dark,

Distress in him showed true saint’s mark.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Not Falling Down

Lord Rama's hand“That Lord Rama is doing a very difficult thing in maintaining His body and not falling down from grief from being deprived of her company.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 16.27)

duṣkaram kurute rāmo hīno yad anayā prabhuḥ |
dhārayati ātmano deham na duhkhena avasīdati ||

One of the many names given for the Almighty in the Vedas is Achyuta. Like many other words that describe His attributes, this is a negation of another attribute, namely chyuta, which means “fallen.” The short “a” added in front indicates that God is someone who never falls down. This not only applies to the literal meaning of hitting the ground from a standing position due to a blow inflicted by someone else, but it also refers to the emotional descent from not getting what you want. For a man, nothing is more debilitating to his spirits than separation from a loved one. And yet Rama, who is Achyuta, does not fall down even when separated from His beloved wife Sita.

“You say that a man feels great pain from separation from a loved one, but how can God have a loved one? Is that not a sign of weakness? Shouldn’t the Almighty be above love and affection?”

Though God is described as nirguna in many places in the Vedas, the ancient texts of interest from India, this doesn’t mean that He is without attributes of significance. Guna is a quality, and to say that the Supreme Lord is nirguna is to say that He is without qualities. But guna has different meanings based on context. Guna can also mean a good quality, so here that definition doesn’t apply. Guna also refers to a material quality, which can translate to mean rope, or that which binds. This is the definition specific to the use of nirguna.

NarasimhadevaWe see someone with specific qualities, or gunas, and we know that whatever is there is limiting. For instance, someone who has blue eyes automatically doesn’t have brown eyes. Someone who is tall isn’t short, and vice versa. As God is unlimited, none of His qualities can limit Him. Therefore the nirguna description is appropriate. Saguna is also appropriate for Him, as this means that He has identifiable features, such as with His incarnations. The nirguna Supreme Lord appears on earth in forms that are apparently saguna, such as with Krishna, Rama, Narasimha and other personalities.

But one must remember that both nirguna and saguna apply simultaneously. This means that though we see God in a saguna form, the nirguna description is still appropriate. The only logical conclusion from this is that God’s qualities are transcendental. They are not like ropes, which bind a person in one direction or another. He does love others, but His love is not the source of distress. What we refer to as love is actually kama, which can translate to desire or lust. Kama is like an albatross around the neck of someone who is afflicted by it. It has brought down many a powerful man in history, and it is the subject of so many songs written by popular recording artists.

In His saguna form of Shri Rama, which was visible to the eyes of the fortunate, Rama apparently was stricken by kama over the association and subsequent loss of His beloved wife. But here Shri Hanuman rightfully asserts that Rama has done an amazing thing by not falling down due to that separation. At the present moment Rama is without the company of Sita. And Sita is no ordinary woman, either. It is one thing to be separated from someone you love, but how would you feel if that person was someone who loved you so much as well? How would you feel if she was forcefully taken away from you in secret and left to worry whether or not she would ever see you again?

Sita and RamaThis was the predicament for Sita, and just by seeing her from afar Hanuman appreciated how Rama had been able to maintain Himself in her absence. As Achyuta, separation from Sita did not cause Rama to fall down from His voluntarily accepted position in society, that of a warrior. He used whatever resources were available to look for Sita. Hanuman, as a dear servant from the Kishkindha forest, was one of those resources, and the best one at that. An entire army under the command of Sugriva was sent to look for Sita, but the singular force of Shri Hanuman was the only one able to penetrate the city of Lanka, the land ruled over by the fiend named Ravana. He was the one who had taken Sita, and his island home was far away from any mainland.

So many lessons can be taken away from this verse, with the most obvious one being that God never falls down due to another’s influence. He can do the remarkable by staying true to His position even when bereft of the company of the most beautiful and chaste wife. The same resolve exists in his servants as well, as Hanuman easily could have fallen down from his determined stance in the mission to find Sita. He saw her from afar, and what he saw was not totally pleasing to the eye. Yet he continued on, inheriting the resolve of his master.

We too are related to the same Achyuta, though we have forgotten this fact through our many lifetimes spent in the material world. In one second, however, that remembrance can come back to us, and when it does our resolve to reunite with God in the spiritual kingdom never has to break. And to keep our strength we regularly remember the heroism of Shri Hanuman and his wisdom displayed when he first saw the beloved wife of Rama.

In Closing:

To address Him Achyuta name we can call,

Means that from grace never to fall.


In battle always to stand tall,

And any incident to memory can recall.


When of loved one’s company bereft,

In sadness ordinary man is left.


With Rama not the case,

Though His wife the most chaste.


Steadiness in Him unsurpassed,

To servant Hanuman it was passed.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Doubting Who We Are

Bhagavad-gita“One who follows the instruction of the Gita, as it is imparted by the Lord, the Personality of Godhead Himself, becomes free from all doubts by the grace of transcendental knowledge.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 4.41 Purport)

“This person sucks. That person stinks. Look at the way that person walks into the room and plops themselves on the floor. Look at the way that person dresses; what are they thinking? Look at the way that person talks. They are so weird. Notice that such and such person didn’t say ‘hello’ to us before. They are very rude. Remember when that person did that? You should always remember that, because that incident shows who they really are.”

In the ancient scriptural texts of India, a person constantly providing such criticism is compared to a crow. The crow stays amidst garbage. The weeds and the rubbish within it are what the crow prefers. It doesn’t think that there is a better way to live. It doesn’t know that the swan has it much better, for the swan stays with purity. One of the earliest mentions of this exact comparison is found in the sacred Ramayana, where it was offered by a princess of the swan-like variety who was being wooed by a crow-like fiend.

“How can that female swan who is accustomed to sporting with the king of swans amidst lotus flowers ever cast her eyes on a water-crow that stays amidst bunches of grass?” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 56.20)

Sita and RamaThe crow-like attitude is very easy to adopt, and if we study the matter a little further, we see that it is rooted in envy. To constantly criticize others, to the point of excess, especially when it is applied to those we hardly know, indicates envy, which challenges the ego. The envy is rooted in ignorance of the self, for if one truly knew who they are, they would empathize with everyone instead of trying to compete with them. Fortunately, there is a way to curb envy, and not surprisingly it involves the acquisition of real knowledge.

Are we saying that envy is the root cause to the difficulties we see in society?

Absolutely. The politician is envious of the other politician. Why should one person be more famous than another? The competitive athlete is jealous that another athlete is rising to prominence. The uncle is jealous that the nephew living nearby has a larger home. The younger brother is envious that the elder brother has made something of his life. The wife is jealous of the success of the husband. Neighbors are also jealous of one another, as are nations, who are nothing more than larger collections of neighbors.

What is the nature of the knowledge we need to get?

Real knowledge can dissipate envy because it gives information of the self. I am envious of another because I don’t know who I really am. I think that I am this life force who has randomly entered an area where the goal is to compete with others for resources. I also think that this life, as I choose to define it, will be the only one I receive. “Get as much as you can, right now, today, otherwise you will lose out.”

Are the parents proud when their children grow up to be ordinary laborers or when their son or daughter becomes a doctor or a lawyer? What is the real difference anyway? Both occupations pay a salary. Both sides are workers. One may earn a lot more money, but at the end of the day the purpose to working is to have food to eat and a place to stay. If someone does menial work to secure the basic necessities in life, what is the harm?

If the comparison for greatness is based solely on material acquisition, then of course there will be so much envy. The introductory biology class in a large university typically has several hundred students, and the class is made very difficult precisely to weed out the pretenders, the students who aren’t serious. This means that there will always be fewer doctors than ordinary laborers. There will be fewer lawyers as well. Those who don’t make it to the end will feel a little envious. And we know that envy is not good because it is rooted in ignorance. I think that someone else is happier because they have a bigger house, but that isn’t necessarily the case. The bigger house brings more responsibilities and more sources for tension within the family. Those who have less don’t have as much to defend.

The changing bodyIn the Bhagavad-gita, which is also known as the Gitopanishad, one learns about their true self. They do this through two different ways. They get explicit instruction on the identity of the individual. It is said right at the outset that the spirit soul is what identifies each person; not the body. The body goes through changes, starting from childhood. The final change occurs at the time of death. The soul is not altered at any time. Despite the changes to the body, the soul is always full of bliss and knowledge.

If the body changes, then so also must the objects it is attached to. The body is the outer covering to something that is spiritual. Dull matter is itself lifeless for the very reason that a soul is required to give it life. In the higher understanding we know that the impersonal spiritual force pervades every atom and thus every aspect of matter as well, but as far as individual living entities go, they only reside within bodies that are considered to be with life; their very presence gives it life.

The readers of the Bhagavad-gita, properly translated and commented on for the people of the time who lack the necessary culture to understand the complex and confidential truths, also find out about their true self by learning of the origin of spirit. He happens to be the speaker of the Gita as well. His spirit soul is also full of bliss and knowledge. It is eternally so. A key distinction, however, is that His body is not different from Him. It does not undergo the same changes we are accustomed to. His soul also resides within everyone. He doesn’t break up into pieces for this to happen. He simply expands Himself while remaining original and completely individual in His personality as Shri Krishna.

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

From further practice of the principles presented in the Bhagavad-gita, one learns that they are intimately connected to Krishna through both physical proximity and constitutional qualities. He is residing within us right now, though He is more of a neutral observer. That spiritual force is invisible to the eyes, but it is still with form. The outward form, known as either the incarnation or the original personality itself, is visible to the eyes, provided one is fortunate enough to have a glance at it. It is all-attractive; hence the name Krishna is appropriate in addressing it.

Intimate connection to the Supersoul representation within the heart takes place through meditational yoga, and the outward form is found through bhakti-yoga, or the yoga of devotion and love. The latter path is superior because it automatically gives cognizance of the Supersoul, whereas the former does not bring connection with the original personality who has a visible form. The best means of practicing bhakti-yoga, especially in the modern age, is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”

Lord KrishnaThe expert yogi in bhakti is known as a paramahamsa. The components of the Sanskrit word translate to “supreme swan.” The attitude of the paramahamsa goes something like this:

“I can’t believe how great Krishna is. Though He is known by many different names across the many spiritual traditions, He is still one. He is so kind that He allows us to serve Him at any time and at any place. All around me I find only good people. They are all related to Krishna in some way. There are those who serve Him. They are known as devotees, and from their example I know for sure that God exists. From the behavior of the envious I also get proof that Krishna exists. They validate the claim that the material world acts as a sort of prison house to reform the souls who are envious of the Supreme Lord, who has everything. Such envy never works out because nothing can be done to change the situation. Why try to compete with God when He can give you everything in a second if you so desire? Why envy Krishna when serving Him is the source of the greatest pleasure? Nevertheless, even the miscreants are good at heart; they just don’t know any better. They are presently under the sway of Krishna’s material energy known as maya. Once they have the fortune of meeting a devotee and getting the seed of the creeper of devotional service, when they will water it regularly with devotional practice they will be free of all bad things, including envy.”

Thus we see that only through high knowledge acquired through connecting with Krishna, or God, can the crow turn into a swan. If I know the Supreme Lord I will also know myself. And if I know myself, I will know others too. I will then know that envy of others is not necessary, as we are all meant to be eternal servants of the all-merciful Supreme Lord, whose Bhagavad-gita directly represents Him and is a sign of His causeless mercy.

In Closing:

Without my true identity to know,

In envy to act like a crow.


In criticizing others I won’t quit,

Find fault with their walk and how they sit.


Identity from Bhagavad-gita understand,

Soul not tied to body’s face, legs or hand.


Also the Supreme Lord to rightly see,

His true nature from maya’s influence is free.


In real knowledge turn from crow to swan,

Without doubt others’ goodness only dwell upon.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Eternal Worship

Lord Krishna“The nondevotee impersonalists imagine the material forms of the Lord, and ultimately they merge in the impersonal brahmajyoti of the Lord, whereas the pure devotees of the Lord are worshipers of the Lord both in the beginning and also in the perfect stage of salvation, eternally. The worship of the pure devotee never stops, whereas the worship of the impersonalist stops after his attainment of salvation, when he merges in the impersonal form of the Lord known as the brahmajyoti.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.10.35 Purport)

“Why would I want my worship to be unending? In everything else that I do, there is a beginning, a middle, and an end. I show up to the office in the morning, begin my work, take a break for lunch, and then continue into the afternoon. The end of the day is so wonderful precisely because the work is completed. Even if it’s not, I know that I have to stop working, that I have the opportunity to go home.

“If I had to work without end, I probably wouldn’t even show up in the first place. It would be like the single man who feels like he’s getting placed in a deathtrap through marriage. He could probably stay with the woman for a long time without a problem, but if you tell him that he’ll be stuck with her for the rest of his life, he feels differently. Who wants to be trapped in anything interminably? Come to think of it, death is a great blessing. If we were told that this is the only life, and that we are stuck with this body for all of eternity, would we like that? That would be terrible.

“In the same way, if my worship has to continue forever, why should I even begin? It seems to me like pouring water into a jar that has a hole in it. It’s all just a wasted effort. I’d rather do something that is worthwhile. Therefore the impersonalist approach seems appealing to me, and it is even described in many places in the Vedas. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna says that the impersonalist path eventually leads to perfection. He does admit that it is the more difficult path, but the eventual perfection indicates an end to me, where a goal is achieved. Therefore that goal must be the end.”

Bhagavad-gita, 12.3-4“But those who fully worship the unmanifested, that which lies beyond the perception of the senses, the all-pervading, inconceivable, fixed, and immovable - the impersonal conception of the Absolute Truth - by controlling the various senses and being equally disposed to everyone, such persons, engaged in the welfare of all, at last achieve Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 12.3-4)

Lord KrishnaThere are many differences between worship of an impersonal Absolute Truth and worship of a Supreme Personality of Godhead. One of them is that the impersonal path has an endpoint, the attainment of a goal if you will, whereas the personal path continues without cessation. There are transformations along the way for sure and maybe some changes in residency, but the worship never stops, as it is the source of the very pleasure that the soul has been seeking since time immemorial.

If the personal path is superior, why does the impersonal path exist?

We can think of it this way: If I refuse to acknowledge the presence of a superior personality, should I be completely shut out from religious life? In addition, as there is ample freedom in a temporary and miserable land, is there not the full possibility of any path being chosen? Not everyone will take to the personal path right away. The impersonalist philosophy also accurately explains the relationship between the innumerable spiritual fragments that are roaming the infinite space in a variety of bodies. The impersonalist philosophy is based in truth, so it is actually not invalid.

The deficiencies arise when one stops at the impersonal understanding. This stoppage allows those on the personal path to make up ground and eventually surpass the impersonalist. If you understand the impersonal energy, which is non-differentiated and thus equal in all respects, you have a way of seeing things properly. If you see everything as it truly is, you will not be flummoxed by the different changes that constantly occur. Your daily despairs and troubles are due to ignorance of the spiritual identity within all of us, and through the impersonal path you can see that spiritual force.

Of course, the impersonal understanding is not easy to come by. I know that my shirt and pants don’t really matter, but if they get damaged, I will be sad. I know that one day my parents will no longer be on this earth, but when their time for passing does arrive, I still get distressed. Knowing something theoretically and applying the principles practically are two different things. Impersonal understanding, without any touch of personal worship, thus requires strict adherence to stringent rules and regulations. Even then there is every possibility of falling back into ignorance.

If all I know is the non-differentiated energy known as Brahman, eventually I will merge into it. The merging can be likened to entering a state where there is nothing to do. When we sleep at night, we take that to be the absence of activity, but actually we just shift the burden to the subtle body. The mind, intelligence and ego do the brunt of the work during periods of rest for the gross body. Merging into Brahman is not like this. It is the complete absence of individuality and its accompanying potential for action.

The devotees, those who follow the personal path, never merge into anything. If there is ever any reference made to merging, it is with respect to entering an ongoing chain of events that brings transcendental ecstasy, sort of like hopping on a train that doesn’t stop anywhere and that is constantly filled with fun activities in every car.

Radha and Krishna playingThe unending nature of the personal path, which is known as bhakti-yoga, is viewed negatively only when we don’t really know what it is about. If we mistakenly think of all activity as the source of misery, wherein we operate with the understanding that our body is all bad, then surely the absence of activity is the more appealing option. In reality, though, only the nature of the activities need be changed. With this there is no harm done. In fact, the activities then have the opposite effect; they enlighten us.

If we do things that are good for us, why should we stop? Why would we want to stop either? The unending nature of bhakti gives us one way to measure the superiority of something. If we can practice bhakti ad infinitum and we can’t do the same with the impersonal path, doesn’t that automatically make bhakti superior? In the impersonal path there are also activities done by the gross body. There is reading, arguing, hearing, and travelling. These activities are considered above maya, or illusion, since they help to foster jnana, or knowledge.

Activities in bhakti, which hinge on worship of a personal Lord, also lead to knowledge. The difference is that they bring bliss as well. As the personality worshiped is changeless and eternal in His existence, so too the methods used to worship Him can be implemented without end. Try for yourself to see the validity of the claim. Chant the holy names of the original personality, Shri Krishna, and see if you ever get tired of it. Perhaps you may not like it in the beginning, but through good association and constant repetition, the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” can be your saving grace.

And if you’re worried what will happen to you after death, know that Shri Krishna Himself will provide you a body suitable for the field of bhakti activities. Just as the worship is endless, so too is the body provided for that worship. The same can’t be said of the impersonal path, as for one to achieve their goal they need to renounce their identity, which includes their spiritual form. There is a physical nature to the spiritual world, and it does not cause illusion. It works at the Supreme’s direction. It is eternal, and it grants the devotees the opportunity to continue in transcendental bliss while maintaining their individuality.

In Closing:

“In impersonal path there is an end,

To brahmajyoti light identity send.


This path to me seems appealing,

With goal, so much pressure not feeling.”


Blessing that nature of bhakti is endless,

True potential for activity within harness.


If supreme pleasure to you something gives,

Why without it should you want to live?


Krishna grants eternal body for endless spiritual play,

When His names we never forget to say.