Saturday, April 13, 2013

How to Understand God

Krishna and Arjuna“O Dhananjaya, all this work cannot bind Me. I am ever detached, seated as though neutral.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.9)

Bhagavad-gita, 9.9“How can I understand God? Is He the richest person? I know wealthy people right now, so maybe He is wealthier than all of them combined. What about understanding Him through ability? I know someone who can drink so many beers within a few hours. They don’t even look phased afterwards. Perhaps the Supreme Lord is better than them in that area. I know someone who can hold their breath for like five minutes. It seems unbelievable, but they are able to do it. They’re not even huffing and puffing afterwards. Maybe God can hold His breath for six minutes then.”

We don’t know anything beyond what we’ve experienced in this current lifetime. Our viewpoint is extended a little by the experiences we hear others explain, but even in that there is some skepticism. Since we haven’t experienced what they describe, we either don’t fully accept their words or we don’t want to think about what they mean. Thus the tendency is to measure greatness using only points of reference known to us. Ironically enough, the Supreme Person, the one we think is better than everyone else at everything, doesn’t really have much concern for greatness in these areas. He is the original creator of the material universe, and though everything happens according to His will, He is not affected by the work.

What does it mean to be affected by work?

softwareLet’s say I start a business. It can be any business, but in this scenario let’s say it’s a software company. To start, I will need an idea. I want to sell such and such product. Then I need a way to produce it. For software, I’m going to need computer programmers. I will need a few of them, perhaps one dedicated to each facet of the software development life cycle. Then I need a sales team. The software programmers likely aren’t very good at communicating or softening up the stances of others who are unwilling to part with their money. I’m going to need someone expert at selling things in order to get the finished product out the door.

I will also need a place of business, an office. Oh, and all of this costs money. Before I can even begin working on my product, I need some funding mechanism. Therefore I will take out a loan from the bank, hit up a friend for some cash, or look for investors. Once all of that falls into place, only then can I begin the work.

In our hypothetical scenario, let’s say that I reach a point where the business is up and running and selling to many customers. I now have a full human resources department that manages hiring new employees. I have an accounting department that sends invoices and processes payments. I have a real sales department along with the revamped IT department that constantly looks for new ways to improve the product. As the president and founder of the company, I was responsible for all of this taking place, but now everything more or less operates without my intervention. I’m sitting back and enjoying the fruits of my labor.

Since everything in the business runs at my command, I can be considered responsible for everything. At the same time, I’m not really doing everything, so I am detached from the situation as well. Despite a position in detachment, I am affected by the work. What I did had an influence on my life. I enjoy the profits the company earns and I suffer when the company loses money. If there is a lawsuit, I will be negatively impacted. If someone has a problem with the software, I, as the face of the company, will have to go out in public and explain what happened. I am always affected, no matter my level of involvement.

Lord KrishnaThe Supreme Lord, on the other hand, is not affected. He creates much more than just a single business. His creative powers are so great that one can easily get lost in all the detail and forget the fact that there is an original controller. The field of material science today more or less ignores the influence of spirit. Seeing only the results of the original person’s work, the scientists think they can manipulate the material elements, which have their own laws that can’t be broken, in order to reach a position of superiority.

Their drive is destined for failure due in part to many factors. There is eventual death. There is also subservience to the will of nature. We have to live by the relative positioning of the sun and the influence that has on us. We have to abide by gravity and the effects of disease. We have to suffer the effects of other living entities, and we have to survive through the calamities brought on by mother nature. In this way we are not independent at all, though we think we are.

Though the Supreme Lord creates all of this, He is not affected by the work. Whether or not the elements of nature operate on time has no bearing on Him. Thus to try to understand Him in terms of material opulence alone does not lead to perfection in knowledge. We think that maybe God is the richest person, but actually He doesn’t care about material wealth at all. That is the true definition of greatness. A person who is really great can survive just fine whether in opulence or squalor. They say that you should be nice to the people you meet on your way up because they will be the same ones you meet on your way down. No position is fixed. To think that only large accumulation is an opulence is a mistake. The person who can go without needing to drink so many beers or holding their breath is just as good as one who is supposedly skilled in these areas.

There is a benefit to knowing that God both creates the material nature and is unaffected by that creation. Since material opulence is not fixed, it cannot be the best way to understand the Supreme Person. Rather, only someone who is above both high and low can be supreme. A clearer understanding of Him is provided in the Vedas, which also describe the essence of the individual. That essence is a spiritual fragment, a vital force which is eternal, knowledgeable and blissful. The Supreme Person is similar to this essence, except the magnitude of His qualities is greater.

How can someone be more eternal than someone else?

Eternality for the individual means remaining a spiritual spark regardless of the material body accepted. Though there is still birth and death, the individual never dies. For the Supreme Lord, there is never a material body accepted. Therefore His eternality is superior; it is constant on both the inside and outside.

Narasimhadeva with PrahladaHis superiority in eternality, bliss and knowledge gives pleasure to the individual. God is aloof from the material creation, but He is not so with the interests of those who deeply care for Him. For them He is the swift deliverer from the greatest danger. He provides to them what they lack and preserves what they have. By definition, they only want to serve Him, a service which can take place through a variety of ways, including hearing and chanting. The principal ways are enumerated by Prahlada Maharaja in the Shrimad Bhagavatam.

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

Since the devotees don’t desire material opulence, God has no problem breaking from His neutrality to help them out. He is not affected by this work, either, as how can there be a downside to helping the devotees come back to Him? The followers of bhakti-yoga get a much better understanding of God, and through that knowledge they transcend the influence of the material nature. At the end of life they return to the Supreme’s abode, where there is neither creation nor destruction.

In Closing:

“How God to truly understand?

Is He like magician with slight of hand?


Does He possess number of houses untold?

Can breath for long periods He hold?”


Actually, on Him greatest work has no effect,

All of nature under His control, no fatigue to detect.


Greatness is there for Him whether small or large,

For material rewards He puts others in charge.


Real understanding only from the Vedas hear,

In devotion relationship to Him to become clear.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Talk About Krishna

Arjuna and Krishna“O King, as I repeatedly recall this wondrous and holy dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna, I take pleasure, being thrilled at every moment.” (Sanjaya speaking to Dhritarashtra, Bhagavad-gita, 18.77)

Bhagavad-gita, 18.77“Talk about what it’s been like playing with such and such players on your line. Talk about what an asset the new coach has been for your team this year. Talk about how you’ve progressed so much from last season. Talk about why it’s important to get off to a good start in the next big game. Talk about how happy you were when you finally broke out of your slump there in the beginning of the game.”

From following professional sports, and especially coverage of it in the media, you’ll notice an interesting pattern. At the beginning and end of each game, there are interviews conducted by various members of the press. The press conference is where the most number of people from the press get to ask their questions and listen to answers. You really only need one person asking questions, as the answers will be heard by all. But there are so many writers there nevertheless.

The answers given are pretty boilerplate. The head coach doesn’t want to make too many waves with the opposing team. If you say something blatantly derogatory, that might fuel the opposition’s desire to win. Motivation is a key determining factor in success. If you want it more than the other guy, that might be enough to overcome a lack of ability. Teams coach their players on how to deal with the media as well. That’s why the majority of the answers given to questions are not very interesting to the person asking them.

NHL press conferenceThe press doesn’t sit back, though. They don’t say, “Oh well, this guy isn’t going to say anything interesting, so let’s leave him alone. We don’t really need to know anything, since we watched the game ourselves. We can describe what happened through our own lens.” A new tactic has emerged which shows the increasing laziness prevalent in modern media coverage. If you can’t think of a question to ask, or if you’re too lazy to come up with one, you just give an opinion and then tell the player or coach to talk about it. “Talk about this, talk about that.” It is not even a question, but more of a command. And that command gives us invaluable information into the real purpose of the interview itself.

The pre and post game shows are there just to stir interest. There are in-game interviews now too. Those are even less noteworthy, as the players and coaches have less time to answer the questions. They are in the heat of battle, so they keep their answers short and simple. The media actually isn’t looking for anything important; they just need content for the stories that they are going to run regardless. With every answer they get, they have another point of interest in their story. When the player or coach “talks about” something, it can be quoted directly in the ensuing story describing the game. The panels that discuss the games before and after also are there more or less just to talk. They don’t have to say anything important, as who can really predict what is going to happen in sports? If people could, gambling establishments would shut down from losing so much money.

The same tendency for talking and hearing can be purified when it is directed at the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The stories on athletes and celebrities can go one of two ways. There is either glorification or criticism. Glorification goes to the winners and criticism to the losers. In either case there is attention, and so there is a kind of worship. The worship is flawed, however, because the individuals themselves are imperfect. One day an athlete is heralded for his amazing victories and subsequent philanthropic work, and the next he’s vilified for being a cheater and having lied about it for so many years.

The Supreme Lord is flawless. One of His names given in the Vedas is Achyuta, which means one who never falls down. He doesn’t have a falling from grace because His lofty position isn’t generated by media spin. He is self-sufficient, so He doesn’t require anyone’s aid to do anything. Also, whether one criticizes Him or praises Him makes no difference to Him. He will remain the Supreme Lord regardless of outside viewpoint.

The benefit in worshiping Him is for the person offering the worship. We see that different styles of worship are already practiced constantly. There are throngs of media surrounding celebrities asking questions that are more or less meaningless. They are asked so that the writers can fill stories that others will read. The same stories can be written about the Supreme Lord without having to consult Him directly. He has been asked questions before, and His answers are not canned. They are not given to avoid controversy. They are not in response to commands to talk about this or that. Rather, His words have the deepest meaning. They can be heard thousands of years after the fact and still remain relevant.

“In Bhagavad-gita five principal subject matters have been discussed: the Supreme Personality of Godhead, material nature, the living entities, eternal time and all kinds of activities.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 18.78)

Krishna and ArjunaCase in point: the Bhagavad-gita. It is a classic Vedic text that consists of a conversation between Krishna, the original form of the Absolute Truth, and Arjuna, an inquisitive, non-envious soul who wants to have his doubts dispelled. Arjuna presents real questions to be used to solve a real situation. And yet from that one conversation alone we can write thousands of stories, countless books, and create points of discussion every day until our time on earth is finished. And we can start off again in the next life discussing the same topics, the whole time not needing to interview Krishna again once.

The topics covered include life and death, the soul, the nature of activity, and the reason for living. These are the most important matters of discussion. If there is a tendency to receive any content to fill stories that are produced on a periodic basis, why not get the content from Krishna and His authoritative works like the Bhagavad-gita, Ramayana, and Shrimad Bhagavatam. If we’re going to talk, we might as well make that talk worthwhile. The saints are so immersed in thinking of God that they can’t stop talking about Him. They give us more points of reference by producing works describing God and His teachings.

The Supreme Lord is for everyone. He is beyond an imaginary concept created by a desire for a utopian paradise. He is the real thing to those who know Him, and those who know Him never tire of glorifying Him. And anyone who hears that glorification is benefited as well.

In Closing:

“Talk about your recent game’s play,

I’ll make a story based on what you say.


Though your words always seem the same,

Still I talk of them, in media enhancing your fame.


Of your actual words I don’t really care,

For controversial tidbit to arrive very rare.


Just words needed for stories to make,

From regular talk in sport interest to make.”


Get endless interest from just one conversation,

Topics of life and death for mental contemplation.


When tendency for talking towards Krishna steering,

So many qualities to glorify just from hearing.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


Lord Krishna's lotus feet“Karma is regulated action for the enjoyment of the fruit by the performer, but karma-yoga is action performed by the devotee for the satisfaction of the Lord. Karma-yoga is based on bhakti, or pleasing the Lord, whereas karma is based on pleasing the senses of the performer himself.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.1.4 Purport)

There is a difference between karma and karma-yoga. In both processes there is action, but the key distinction is in the beneficiary. In one, the beneficiary is a flawed individual who doesn’t even know what it is that they really want to begin with. In the other, the beneficiary is all-knowing. Even if He sometimes distributes rewards that seem unfavorable, the eventual end-result is always a lasting benefit.

Karma is a term passed on from the Vedas, the original scriptural tradition of India. The Vedas are the original tree of knowledge, and the many branches they spawn are representative of different kinds of fruits that can be tasted. Then there are the fruits that fall off the tree that are then exploited by others, who in the process ignore the original tree of knowledge. Hence we see karma commonly used as a vernacular term today, with its origin completely ignored.

Karma is understood to be action and reaction. But those reactions don’t take place on their own. Neither can the work be performed without outside help. As a simple example, think of planting a seed in the hopes of seeing a fruit. There is karma in the planting of the seed, but for that action to take place, there must be ground, or earth. The actor cannot create earth. They cannot will earth to generate from their hands. They cannot exhale and produce dirt that will be fertile ground for the growing of a seed. Even the seed must come from somewhere else. The sunlight is also out of the hands of the worker, as is the water required for nourishment of the seed. In this way the individual is merely a decision-maker; the component pieces must first comply in order for the work to take place.

Bhagavad-gita, 18.61“The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone's heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material energy.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.61)

Bhagavad-gita As It IsIf not even the worker can act independently, how can any person expect the results to come on their own? The same external forces that collaborate to sanction the original work must also comply for the desired result to come about. Karma in the vernacular is understood to be the system that delivers reactions where the explicit cause is not immediately visible. For instance, I’ll do charitable work today so that in the future someone will be charitable to me. I have no way of tracing how the beginning leads to the end, so I chalk up the good fortune that arrives later on to karma. The same idea is there with bad behavior, as when we see misfortune fall upon someone, we attribute it to a past misdeed of theirs.

In the Vedas the word karma takes on different meanings depending on the context used. At its basic level, karma is work. In this way it is distinguished from jnana, which is knowledge. Think of the difference between going to work in the field and sitting in your room and studying. Essentially there is work going on in both places, but the work of the subtle body gets described as jnana, whereas the physical work is labeled karma.

Karma can also mean prescribed work. In this context the accompanying term is guna, or material quality. An easy way to conceptualize guna and karma is to think of the different workers in a business . The salesman is skilled at talking to people and persuading them to buy the product. The computer specialist is expert at making sure the computers used by the salesman and other employees function properly. Both people are involved in work, but their prescribed duties are different. The karma of the salesman is unique to his guna, or material quality with respect to the business. The karma of the computer specialist is also tied to his asset in ability towards the company.

In the Vedic definition of karma as prescribed activity, the related guna generally falls into one of four categories. These gunas are assumed at the time of birth, but they are not necessarily inherited from the parents. Just as we see sports stars born to parents who have no athletic ability, a person can be born with the qualities of a learned priest even if their parents are ordinary laborers. The reverse situation can also hold true.

The benefit of following your karma in terms of prescribed duty is ascension to a higher varna, or material classification with a corresponding guna and karma, in the next life. By following your prescribed duty, you also ascend to the heavenly realm in the afterlife, where you get to enjoy material amenities for a time commensurate with your accumulated pious credits. As more enjoyment occurs, the credits diminish, like a shrinking bank balance due to continuous ATM withdrawals. When those credits are no more, you fall back into the material world and hopefully continue your climb up the ladder of varnas.

Karma-yoga looks similar to karma, but it is actually vastly different. The results are not tied to a material body. There is no ideal aim of ascending to a higher varna in the next life because if one is really engaged in karma-yoga, there is no extra benefit to any specific type of body. Whether one is an ordinary sweeper or a learned scholar preaching to large groups of people, the assessment of the beneficiary is still the same.

The beneficiary of karma-yoga is the controller of the system of karma itself. In ordinary karma, His influence is passive; sort of like a government official who audits tax returns. In an honorable system of government, the tax auditor doesn’t play favorites. They look at the tax return filed and then either investigate further or accept it. The acceptance then allows the law-abiding individual to continue with their life. In karma devoid of yoga, the origin of matter and spirit distributes rewards fairly as they are earned. He does not interfere with the desires of anyone, as by definition their desires don’t relate to Him.

Karma-yoga automatically has a direct link to Him. That is the very definition of yoga, to link to the Supreme. There are different ways to create that link, and karma-yoga is the method where work is applied. The results of that work are either renounced or discarded. Think of it like going to work every day, getting your paycheck every two weeks, and not even looking to see how much you’re getting paid. You’re working for the sake of working. You know it’s the right thing to do. Whether you get paid a lot or a little is of no concern.

Karma-yoga eventually turns into bhakti-yoga, or the link to the Supreme in a mood of love. Karma-yoga is thus also often translated as devotional service, which is the term used to describe bhakti-yoga. In karma-yoga, you work to please the Supreme, and since the service itself is the source of the highest pleasure, there is no reason to worry over the results. If I know that the greatest person in the world, the only living entity who is without flaws, who never envies me, who always keeps my best interests at heart, who will never reject me no matter how many times I’ve ignored Him in the past, is pleased with my work, why will I worry so much over the exact nature of the results?

Pizza pieIn ordinary karma, I am only trying to please myself. It is thus a very precarious condition. I don’t know what will ultimately benefit me. I can get frustrated in either success or failure. If I get what I want, and what I want fails to please me, I will be frustrated. If I don’t get what I want, when I think that what I want is what I need, I will also be frustrated. The senses are the beneficiary in karma, and sometimes the senses need to be starved in order to feel pleasure. I think that if I get drunk tonight I will be happy, but later on I will regret the action. I think that eating the entire pizza pie in front of me will be fun, but later on I will wish I hadn’t.

In karma-yoga practiced under the guidance of authority figures who are dear to the ultimate beneficiary, I only want to please God. And interestingly enough, the purer I become at heart, the more I will think that I am failing. And that increased concern will compel me to work even harder. And once I work so hard that I don’t even care at all about the results to my work, I will be in bhakti-yoga, which is the soul’s constitutional occupation. Ordinary karma cannot bring such a benefit, as since the senses are never fully satisfied, I will have to constantly jump from one activity to another, and find frustration and misery along the way.

Lord KrishnaIn bhakti-yoga, I get to connect with the Supreme Lord, who in His original feature has a blissful, eternal and knowledgeable body, sach-chid-ananda vigraha. Chanting and hearing are ordinary acts of karma, but when the same take place through the medium of the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” they turn into devotional service. As the soul is happiest when it is serving, in this chanting and hearing there is so much pleasure that one will want to repeat it over and over again. And since He is the beneficiary, the Supreme Lord ensures that the desire alone is sufficient for bringing success.

In Closing:

Karma to please senses my own,

Karma-yoga to please God alone.


On outside both seem to look the same,

Do some work and profit with material gain.


With yoga to Lord there is connection,

Benefits arrive even without intention.


Karma is life full of regret,

Senses on true path never set.


In karma-yoga Krishna’s help to get,

Where from desire alone success is set.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Comparing Powers

Krishna lifting Govardhana Hill“When Indra saw that Nanda Maharaja was worshiping Govardhana Hill, he became very angry and sent vicious clouds to inundate all of Vrindavana with a flood. Krishna then showed Indra that his power was not even competent to deal with the little finger of His left hand. Therefore Krishna lifted Govardhana Hill with the small finger of His left hand and used it as an umbrella to save all the people of Vrindavana from Indra's torrents.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Lord Kapila, Vs 42 Purport)

There is a way to measure the strength of something or its impact in comparison to something else. In one method, you place two different objects on a scale and see which one is heavier. The heavier one has a greater mass, and therefore is superior in one sense. The same can be done with testing tensile strength, wherein the two objects are measured to see how much force can be applied in stretching before they break. There is one person, however, who defies all measurement. Hence one of His names is Adhokshaja. Instead of solely relying on theoretical understanding for acceptance of this fact, we can also look to historical incidents.

Case in point: a torrential downpour matched up against the pinky finger on the hand. Not just any hand either; the hand of a young child, less than ten years of age. At this point skepticism is sure to arise:

“Why would you ever want to compare those two things? The rain can cause flooding in minutes, which creates an emergency situation. The pinky finger on the hand of a small child can barely do anything. If you’re carrying plastic bags full of groceries from the supermarket, you’re not going to hold the handles with your pinky fingers. The bags would fall down immediately, as the pinky is not strong enough to hold a bag filled with a gallon of milk and other items. Why then is there any reason to juxtapose the pinky finger and the rain?”

Lord Krishna's handA long time ago a pinky finger in the hand of a child proved to be much stronger than a torrential downpour. Accounts of the incident are found in several Vedic texts, which are the ancient scriptures of India. On initial hearing we’re tempted to discount the incidents as mere mythology. “Oh, those stories must be exaggerations. Just like Greek mythology and the legends we hear from American Indians, these things relating to a pinky finger defeating a devastating flood are overblown. Perhaps something more believable happened, and in the course of time the incident got blown up in proportion.”

Of course we can apply the same skepticism to any event and to any description we hear. The doubting soul will not receive any benefit from hearing the Vedic texts with this attitude, however. With a little faith extended in the beginning, so many benefits arrive afterwards. This fact was proved in the very incident itself. One year a small farm community decided to pass over tradition in favor of a new ritual. That newly attempted ritual was the doing of a young child, who was known as the darling of the town. He requested it of His father, and since the father was the leader, the rest of the citizens agreed.

There were no issues with the new ritual. In fact, everyone had a great time. They brought so many wonderful food preparations to a hill known as Govardhana. The items of sacrifice were previously slated for the annual tradition of choice, but now they got shifted to a different beneficiary. The hill is an inanimate object, but the citizens trusted the judgment of the young boy, who seemed to have a magical charm. At the very least, the hill provided grass to the cows, who sustained the residents with the resulting milk products. There was no harm in at least appreciating the hill in this way.

The beneficiary of the annual tradition that was skipped over did not like this new ritual. In retaliation, he ordered a torrential downpour to hit the residents. This occurred right after the inaugural worship of the hill. Whether we want to believe that a person is behind such events of nature is not very important in this discussion, as the rain itself is very powerful. We know that it can rain in tremendous quantities. It is thus a valid object of reference for comparing strength.

Lord Krishna lifting Govardhana HillThe young boy who was responsible for the worship of the hill attempted to save the day. He lifted the just worshiped hill with His hands and then held it above His head with His pinky finger. He then called out to the frightened residents to come and take shelter underneath the hill. There was skepticism of course. How was the young child going to continue to hold up the hill? How did He lift it in the first place? Gravity itself would be no match for the young boy, what then to speak of the continuous rain pouring down.

The residents took a leap of faith with the initial worship of the hill, and so they followed that with faith in the young boy’s promise of protection. They stayed underneath the hill for seven days and were thus saved from the flooding. The king of heaven, the person responsible for the flood, in defeat offered his respects to the young boy.

In this comparison the pinky finger in the child’s hand easily defeated a force so powerful that no machine of scientific advancement exists to stop it. The young child was none other than Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He is the detail behind the foggy notion of a Supreme Lord, a God for all of humanity. Rather than say God is great and leave the rest up to the imagination, the Vedas attempt to quantify that greatness by relaying accounts of historical incidents. From the lifting of Govardhana Hill, we can at least say that God’s pinky finger is stronger than any force any human being or celestial can use to do harm to any other person. And if you are favored by such a person, whose favor is earned easily through simple devotion, then you will be protected by someone whose power is so great that it cannot be accurately measured by any scientific instrument.

In Closing:

Torrential downpour to Vrindavana sent,

Indra’s rain young Krishna’s pinky against.


Seems like silly things to compare,

How against rain a tiny finger will fare?


In God there are qualities beyond measure,

Has immense strength and a beauty to treasure.


From His hands to the sky Govardhana went,

Pinky held up hill, defeating rain from heaven sent.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Unparalleled Joy

Shri Hanuman“Observing Maithili, who was tolerant, had perfectly proportioned limbs, and was shining even without ornaments, Maruti felt unequaled joy.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 17.30)

tām kśamāṃ suvibhaktāṅgīṃ vinābharaṇaśobhinīm |
praharṣamatulam lebhe mārutiḥ prekṣya maithilīm ||

What makes Shri Hanuman happy? He has possession of the six siddhis of yoga. He does not practice yoga as a fad. He doesn’t sign up for classes for thirty days so that he can improve his health. Not that there is anything wrong with trying to keep the body fit, but Hanuman’s yoga practice is pure. It is in line with the original intent of yoga. Despite full mastery over the various siddhis of yoga, and knowledge of the Vedas inside and out, Hanuman doesn’t want anything from this world. He doesn’t seek fame, fortune, comfortable living conditions, or release from the cycle of birth and death. All that he desires is for Shri Rama to be happy, and part of that happiness involves seeing His family members safe and sound.

Imagine if one of your family members has been wrongly accused of a crime. There is nothing you can do about it either. The matter is out of your hands. The law came, saw the situation, and determined that your family member was guilty. The law enforcers are supposed to be unbiased; they are supposed to be objective. They should not get emotionally involved in any issue. But then again, for these conditions to be met the enforcers must be of the utmost character. If they are addicted to sinful activity, how can one expect them to be completely down the middle in their administration of justice?

In an ancient time period, the administrators were so pious that even the punished couldn’t find fault with them. Such was the case with Shri Rama. As the eldest son of the King of Ayodhya, Rama had to sometimes administer justice. Yet everyone knew that Rama wasn’t invested in the outcome to any case. If someone committed a crime, the Lord would punish them but not harbor any ill will. He was not out to look for people to punish as a means of fulfilling a quota. He wasn’t particularly interested in stamping out this crime or that. For this reason even the criminals in His kingdom couldn’t say a bad word about Him.

“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 and LakshmanaWithout God consciousness, without fully realizing who the Supreme Lord is and what His laws in the material world entail, how is anyone supposed to be truly objective? Therefore there is every chance that the innocent may go to jail, that they won’t get a fair trial. Imagine if such a thing happens to a family member of yours that you love very much. The moment that they are released from jail you will feel unbounded happiness. If you see them set free after having suffered so much, you will be thrilled beyond belief.

Take that feeling and multiply it by a very large factor and you get an idea of what Hanuman experienced in the Ashoka grove in Lanka. And mind you, the innocent person in this case wasn’t even set free yet. She was only found. Hanuman located her after a dangerous and lengthy search. In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Hanuman is said to have experienced unequaled joy upon seeing Sita, who still wasn’t in the best of situations.

It is said that she was tolerating her situation. She was stricken by grief and her sighs were so strong that it looked like the surrounding trees were being burnt by them. Her grief was understandable. Previously, she had been living peacefully in the forest with her husband Rama, the aforementioned objective administrator from Ayodhya. She had already suffered enough when her husband was forced into exile without cause. Why should she expect any more suffering?

It came nevertheless. She was totally innocent, but due to unforeseen events she ended up in Lanka. The king of Lanka wanted her as a wife, but she refused. She remained in the Ashoka grove as a prisoner, tormented day and night by ghoulish creatures who were at the beck and call of the king. Hanuman found her finally and felt so happy. He could have stayed home and just relaxed. Why risk your life for someone that you don’t even know? Hanuman was sent to look for Sita by Sugriva, who had formed an alliance with Rama. Though ordered by Sugriva, Hanuman actually felt that he was conducting the mission for Rama. Whether he had to be asked or not did not matter. Hanuman was going to fight to the death to look for Rama’s missing wife. He knew that finding her would take away some of the Lord’s grief.

Sita DeviHanuman knew that finding Sita would take away some of her grief too. And that is what made him so happy. While tolerating the situation, her limbs still appeared beautiful. She was shining though without ornaments. She was all beautiful because that is her nature. When a woman takes to devotional service in earnest, it is seen that her aura changes. The same occurs for any person in fact, as the soul’s constitutional occupation is service to the Supreme Lord. Sita serves God as His devoted wife.

Hanuman shines as well, and one aspect of that splendor is his heroism. He is courageous in fighting against the enemies of God. And he takes supreme delight in meeting Sita and Rama and pleasing them in any way possible. The devoted souls, who dedicate their lives to thinking of the same Sita and Rama, take similar delight in seeing Hanuman, hearing about him, and praising him. Though he doesn’t covet such praise, there is nothing he can do to stop the devotees from worshiping him, as he is the source of unbounded delight for millions.

In Closing:

Like a mountain can stand tall,

In an instant become very small.


Of yoga he holds every perfection,

But his mind goes only in one direction.


On how the Supreme Lord to please.

In what way His concerns to ease.


Thus in Lanka unbounded joy Hanuman found,

When he saw Rama’s wife seated on the ground.


Without ornaments her body still did shine,

Was tolerant though in situation certainly not fine.


Because message of husband to bring,

Today the glories of Hanuman we sing.

Monday, April 8, 2013

My Character Will Protect Me

Rama and Sita“Though her face was morose, because of her husband’s prowess that lady was not despondent. Sita, of black eyes, was protected by her own character.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 17.27-28)

tām devīṃ dīnavadanāmadīnāṃ bhartṛtejasā ||
rakśitām svena śīlena sītāmasitalocanām |

When times are tough and everything seems to be going against you, it’s hard to believe that anyone or anything will offer sufficient protection. “Let me take things into my own hands” is the natural sentiment. “No one else is helping me, so I will have to do this myself. Forget what others say, I’m going to retaliate for everything that has gone wrong.” From the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, we see that for the devotees especially, there is full protection from their own character alone. When they are virtuous in the truest sense of the word, there is nothing anyone can do to harm them.

Can there be different kinds of virtue?

Depending on what your goal is, the exact makeup of virtue will vary. For instance, one kind of a virtuous runner is one who finishes the race. They go until the end, they don’t get in anyone else’s way, they don’t cheat, and they train properly beforehand. A virtuous chef uses fresh ingredients, cooks them properly, and doesn’t lie about what is included in their food. A virtuous businessman is one who turns a profit while abiding by the law of the land. They may sometimes lie to others about how much profit they make, but this is actually virtuous for their particular occupation.

The highest virtue is love and devotion to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Someone who is virtuous in this way attains the best favor, which means they automatically reach the best position. We think that we are in total control of our destiny, but actually so many things have to fall into place in order to get what we think is good fortune. When good fortune does arrive, what really happens is that the higher authorities align things beforehand to allow the desired outcome to occur.

Prahlada Maharaja saved by VishnuWhen your virtue, your high character, is offered as a sacrifice to the Supreme Lord, He takes on the role of managing your destiny. He protects you personally, even if sometimes it seems that no one is around to protect you. There are many instances in recorded history that show the presence of the divine protection even when it is apparently not visible. These examples are prominently represented in the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India.

A long time ago there was a five-year old son of a powerful king. The boy was named Prahlada and the king Hiranyakashipu. The boy was the definition of helpless. He had no one protecting him except his father. And that father turned on him in the worst possible way. Angered by Prahlada’s staunch devotion to the Supreme Lord Vishnu, Hiranyakashipu attempted to kill Prahlada in so many different ways. Just one of the ways would have sufficed, but since none of them worked, the king had to keep trying new ways. Being thrown off a cliff, thrown in a pit of snakes, set on fire, and placed under the feet of giant elephants could not kill Prahlada. He was protected by his character, which was defined by his devotion to God. He had no one else there to protect him. Finally, the Supreme Lord Himself came to do away with Hiranyakashipu.

In a later time period there was a famous queen named Draupadi. She was the wife of the five Pandava brothers. One time she was lost in a wager, and the side of the rival kings tried to take off her sari in the middle of an assembly. During that time it was considered a great shame for a woman to appear naked before anyone except her husband. Draupadi had her character to protect her. She thought of Shri Krishna, the same Vishnu but in His original form, as the evil kings were taking off her sari. Krishna heard her plea and took the form of the sari to save her. The dress became endless in length, and no matter how much the miscreants tried, they couldn’t get Draupadi to appear naked.

Krishna saving DraupadiThe same Pandava brothers were also protected by Krishna. They had every justification to use violence that was outside the bounds of propriety. They were kicked out of their kingdom and many attempts were made on their lives. Imagine sleeping peacefully in your home, when all of a sudden it goes on fire. You leave the house in time to save yourself, and you know for certain that one of your rivals was responsible for the crime. Wouldn’t you want to do something? The rivals in this case were in charge of the government. So it wasn’t like the Pandava brothers could call the cops. One of the brothers, Bhima, who was very powerful, wanted to take action against the culprits so badly, but he was restrained by the cooler-headed eldest brother Yudhishthira. It was Krishna who protected them from the attacks every time, and finally the miscreants got their due in a massive war. Guided by Krishna, the five Pandava brothers survived the bloody war, while the rivals, headed by Duryodhana, died.

In this verse from the Ramayana, we see how a famous princess was protected against the worst evil. She was held against her will in an enemy territory. The king basically wanted to scare her into submission. She refused to give in to his advances. She can only be with the Supreme Lord Rama. Her chastity is what defines her. If she didn’t love Rama, she would cease to be. The King of Lanka, Ravana, was much more powerful in physical strength. That’s why he was able to drag Sita away from the forest of Dandaka. Despite all his power and his willingness to commit the most shameful acts, he still couldn’t touch Sita. She was protected by her character.

Shri Hanuman, the person who found Sita in the pitiable condition inside the Ashoka grove in Lanka, was also protected by his character. Seeing Sita’s plight, he wanted very badly to take her back to Shri Rama, who had sent Hanuman to look for her after she had gone missing. Hanuman also wanted to kill Ravana and all the people associated with the crime of abducting Sita. He kept his cool, though, as he was only asked to find Sita. Rama was the one wronged by Ravana, so He would be the one to kill the evil king.

From these incidents we know that devotional service is the greatest protection, as it helps to create the best character, real virtue. That devotion is best created and sustained when one is in a culture that pays heavy emphasis to the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” In this chanting we can remember devotees like Draupadi, Prahlada, the Pandavas, Sita and so many others who are protected by their high moral character.

In Closing:

For his resolve in devotion stiff,

Young Prahlada thrown off cliff.


After winning Draupadi in dice game,

Rivals tried to make her naked in shame.


Pandava brothers’ house set on fire,

In trying to kill them rivals never to tire.


Away from her husband’s side to take,

Ravana tried Sita his wife to make.


In all cases the demons did not succeed,

To devotee’s rescue did God proceed.


By virtue to which they held firm,

Lord’s promise to protect confirmed.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Confident of Rama’s Prowess

Shri Rama's hand“Though her face was morose, because of her husband’s prowess that lady was not despondent. Sita, of black eyes, was protected by her own character.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 17.27-28)

saṃvṛtām mṛgaśābākśīṃ dadarśa hanumān kapiḥ |
tām devīṃ dīnavadanāmadīnāṃ bhartṛtejasā ||
rakśitām svena śīlena sītāmasitalocanām |

The descriptions of Sita provided here are similar to what was provided by Shri Hanuman himself in the previous section of the Ramayana. This shows yet another difference between the original Ramayana and the others that descend from it. There is much repetition in Valmiki’s telling, as during the Treta Yuga it wasn’t as difficult to commit such lengthy works to memory. If you can remember a lot, why not use that potential for storing information about the Supreme Personality of Godhead? From this one verse we get so much insight into Sita’s nature and also advice on how to deal with the common difficulties of life.

Imagine a situation where someone has wronged you. You are completely innocent. It’s not that you are being partial in this case. In a sober assessment, under an objective analysis, you have done nothing wrong. Yet to the other person you are the enemy. They will do whatever it takes to harm you, either physically or financially. They will try to ruin your reputation with others. They will try to take away as much money as possible, and they will hold the things most valuable to you as ransom. They are a reprobate in the truest sense of the word.

How will you deal with the situation? Will you get angry? For sure, especially if you think others are taking advantage of you. You are a nice person, but there is a limit to your kindness. You’re not going to just sit around and let someone else rob you. In this situation imagine what one of your close family members is feeling. They are likely angrier than you are. They want to do something very badly, even if it is against the law. They are burning with rage, but what can be done?

From this verse from the Ramayana we understand how a goddess handled herself in a similar circumstance a long time ago. She was personally wronged in the worst way. She was forcibly taken away from her husband while she was living peacefully with Him in the forest. She wasn’t unfaithful to Him at all. Rather, people today use her as the best example for chastity. She is the ideal woman, mother, and wife. She is the ideal devotee of the Supreme Lord as well. The glories of Sita Devi know no end.

Sita DeviThe verse above describes Sita while she was sitting under a tree in a grove of Ashoka trees in Lanka. Being in a beautiful garden doesn’t seem so bad, right? To the observer, Shri Hanuman, the more immediate surroundings are what made the situation worse. Sita was encircled by a band of cruel-looking female ogres. They were ordered by the king of Lanka to harass her day and night. Not just your ordinary people making fun of you, these were man-eaters who wreaked of the stench of dead animals and wine. They had no scruples. They weren’t lobbing just empty threats. They were ready to eat Sita as soon as the king Ravana gave the order.

It is noted here that despite the fact that her face was morose, Sita was not in a poor condition. This is because she remembered her husband’s splendor or prowess. Maha-tejah is also an appropriate description for Rama, which means that He has great strength. When she felt angry, when she felt distressed, when she felt afraid over what might happen, she remembered her husband and His strength. This kept her from being in a totally depressed state.

It is also said that Sita was protected by the virtue of her own character. Ravana wanted her as a wife, but she refused. She couldn’t use weapons against him. She couldn’t run away. She didn’t caste a curse on him. She simply held firm to her virtue. Her father taught her to follow Rama like a shadow and to be a chaste wife. This wasn’t difficult for her, as Rama is full of virtues. He is Bhagavan, the Supreme Lord in His avatara as a warrior prince. He is a full incarnation, so He possesses the attributes of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, wisdom and renunciation to the fullest degree and at the same time.

Shri HanumanRavana could never touch Sita because of her character. She would never give in to him, despite his repeated attempts. The fear from the Rakshasis also didn’t work because Sita remembered Rama’s strength. An extension of that strength is His dearmost servant, Shri Hanuman. He was in the Ashoka grove as Rama’s representative. He was sent to find Sita and he succeeded.

In the difficult times through the travel in the material world, our virtue can protect us as well. The same virtue of holding affection for the Supreme Lord can come into our possession, should we so desire it. The virtue is initially created through the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” and then strengthened through remembering the prowess of Shri Rama and His courageous friend Shri Hanuman.

In Closing:

When undue calamities befall you,

To your virtuous character hold true.


Supreme prowess Shri Rama has,

His messenger Hanuman to arrive fast.


Despite opulence’s perceived charm,

Sita’s chastity Ravana could not harm.


Chant holy names for virtue to make,

And strength from Rama and Hanuman take.