Saturday, April 27, 2013

Actions Have Consequences

Krishna and Arjuna“The intricacies of action are very hard to understand. Therefore one should know properly what action is, what forbidden action is, and what inaction is.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.17)

Bhagavad-gita, 4.17“How can God let this happen to me? I’m alive, but why should I be in such pain? Only a sick and twisted person would create a world where something like this were possible. A really compassionate person would save me and others from such a fate. This is a terrible place. These people who believe in God are only kidding themselves. There’s no way a Supreme Lord would sanction such terrible conditions.”

These laments are understandable given the tragedies we encounter on a daily basis, either to ourselves or to others. Yet if we break down the situation a little further, it is seen that the circumstances are merely the result of actions. Actions have reactions; that is the basic law. Without the reaction, there is no purpose to the action. The only way to prevent the reaction is to avoid the action. So when the above laments are voiced, the underlying message is: “Please God, let me stop all action. Take away my ability to act. Do this for others as well.”

We may not realize that that is what we are saying, but it is indeed true. Think of the political situation after a major downturn in the economy. The politician in power promises to never allow something like this to happen again. But what exactly happened? Bankers and financiers didn’t all of a sudden become greedy. They have been around since the beginning of time, so it is not like in a specific isolated period they suddenly discovered greed and then engaged in feverish economic activity to turn a profit.

stock marketIndeed, their economic activity in modern times is already highly regulated. All such risky behavior, which was blamed for the ensuing downturn in the economy, was monitored by governing authorities, who not only sanctioned such behavior, but encouraged it as well. And then when the crash occurs, when the reactions to the unwise behavior bear fruit, there is the call to prevent such a situation from reoccurring. And what is the solution? Obviously, it is to put tighter controls on the actions. “Government will regulate more. They will keep a watchful eye on the bankers, financiers and speculators.”

This is all well and good, but there is a reaction to this action as well. If there are tighter controls, there is less activity. And with less activity, there are less economic transactions. Think of it like telling a land owner to grow food but then declaring seventy-five percent of their land off-limits to farming. And by the way, the farmer is expected to produce more crops than they did previously. Of course, the two edicts are incongruous. In the Vedas, it is revealed that the key to economic success is to allow activity to occur. The analogy is made to the cow, who when allowed to roam free will produce much more milk than when it is locked down and tied up.

Economics is only one area where we see bad results occurring from action and then unwanted results from the prevention of action, but the same applies to all areas of life. If you really want to prevent all bad situations from occurring, you have to lock yourself up in a room and do absolutely nothing. Is this what you really want? Is this the pinnacle of an existence? Anyone who tells you that you can avoid all pain in life without taking this course is wrong. There is no other way to avoid heartbreak, disease, financial misfortune, anger through interactions with friends, and other such unwanted conditions.

mario hammerAs the complete end to all activity is not desired in the least, we understand that God is not to blame for our tragedies. Surely He creates the playing field, but the resultant reactions follow actions. The key is to learn the nature of prescribed actions and how one should be aloof to the reactions. If someone gives me a hammer, I have the potential to cause harm. I can throw it at someone, hit someone over the head with it, or even drop it on my foot. But does this mean that the hammer is useless? Should I throw away the hammer since it is so dangerous? Actually, the hammer is meant to be used for punching nails into boards that will be used to build things. The hammer can thus be very useful. When used properly, the negative reactions do not manifest.

In the same way, our potential for action has an ideal target. The target is described in books like the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam. One can argue that these are works of the Hindu faith and that other faiths have their own books. But there is still only one God, though He is described in varying levels of detail in the many faiths. The Vedas, which are the real origin of Hinduism, are considered a faith by those who don’t know any better, but they actually represent the science of spirituality. In works like the Bhagavad-gita, the nature of action and inaction is explained in scientific terms, where there is both observation and experiment. Fortunately, neither of these are required since the teacher is the origin of everything. He knows the laws of spirit and matter, so we don’t need to test His hypotheses. Nevertheless, since the truths presented represent a science, we can see for ourselves whether they are valid.

Bhagavad-gita, 4.18“One who sees inaction in action, and action in inaction, is intelligent among men, and he is in the transcendental position, although engaged in all sorts of activities.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.18)

With respect to action, the Vedas say that a wise man sees action in inaction and inaction in action. This seems like a clever play on words, but it makes sense if you think about it. You can realize this truth without referencing spirituality. For instance, if you’re allowing paint to dry on the walls in a room, you are essentially not acting. But actually, there is action in that inaction, for you are working towards a finished room. Then there is the instance where you are going through the motions, acting with your body but not really paying attention. Perhaps you are like this with your household chores. You are doing the laundry, which is action, but you are thinking about something else. You are thus not affected by the work you are doing; your consciousness is attuned differently. Thus there is a kind of inaction with your action.

maha-mantraThe same concepts apply on a larger scale when you work towards transcendental knowledge. That is the goal to your potential for action. If you are sitting in a room and not doing anything, it is considered inaction. But if the mind is actually thinking about spirit and matter and how the essential characteristic of spirit is to serve God, you are actually acting. By the same token, if you are working at the jobsite to earn a living, but the whole while you’re reciting the holy names in your mind, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” you are actually not acting. In that action there is inaction.

Many other such profound truths are found in the Bhagavad-gita, which is the guidebook for human behavior. Its truths apply to all people, regardless of the faith passed on by the family, the country of origin, or the language spoken. God is truly universal; He transcends all designations created through ignorance of the spiritual science. More than anything, our potential for action is meant to be used for connecting with Him; this is the result of attaining transcendental knowledge. In the absence of that connection to Him, which is known as yoga, there are so many calamities faced. The nature of the world we live in is such that forgetfulness of God is very easy, and so harmful things like disease, old age and death are guaranteed to happen. One who acts properly, though, gets closer to Krishna, the Supreme Lord. Such a reaction is welcome, making one appreciative that they are allowed to act, free to show their love to the one person who truly deserves it.

In Closing:

“How a loving God can there be,

When so many calamities I see?


Earthquakes, hurricanes, economic disaster,

Even after calm they come again after.”


In such lament for stoppage you ask,

To end all activity thus becomes the task.


Is this really what you want, no more motion?

From Gita learn real purpose of action: devotion.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Retirement Age

Shrila Prabhupada“Materially, when a man becomes tired by rendering service in his physical body, he is allowed retirement, but in the transcendental service there is no feeling of fatigue because it is spiritual service and is not on the bodily plane. Service on the bodily plane dwindles as the body grows older, but the spirit is never old, and therefore on the spiritual plane the service is never tiresome.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.2.3 Purport)

Work hard all your life, save up enough money, and then be done with work. Go to the same job, day after day, week after week, and year after year until you are ready to retire. Retirement is the panacea, the release from pressure. No more going to work. Ah, but too bad you don’t have as much energy. In your youth you could have marathons of playing video games, watching movies, playing sports, and hanging out with your friends, but in old age you have trouble staying awake into the primetime television viewing hours. Is all that hard work worth it, then? Is there any other option? In one discipline there is actually no end to the activity, even if the body starts to deteriorate. As the activities in this discipline are not dependent on the body, they are considered spiritual. And as the spiritual continues indefinitely, it is in line with the constitutional position of the individual.

The soul is the identifying force within all animate creatures. There are both moving and nonmoving creatures. The tree is alive but it doesn’t move. The snake is alive as well, and it slithers from here to there. The human being is alive and can move around or remain stationary. As long as there is life, the presence of the soul is there as well. The soul remains localized until it is ready to travel to another body, where it will again serve as the vital force. The surrounding bodies take birth, develop, leave byproducts, and eventually decay, but the same does not happen to the soul.

birth and deathActivities that relate to the body and not the soul go through the same cycle. They cannot be carried out indefinitely, nor does one desire to have an indefinite period of activity. Think of the nine-to-five office job. The happy hour at the local bar is frequented because of the dislike for long, extended hours at the office. The same applies to the job involving manual labor, where one works very hard, gets tired at the end of the day, and then rests up so that they can repeat the same behavior the subsequent day. All the while, the body is slowly dying, though the vibrant force within is not. Spiritual life seeks to meet the desires of the soul. Thus spiritual life can continue on without stoppage.

What is retirement like in spiritual life?

It is actually similar to non-retirement life. The soul’s constitutional position is to serve. This is known as its dharma, which means an essential characteristic. The term “dharma” is used in other contexts as well, but it basically has the same meaning all the time. If there is a dharma for a particular occupation, it relates to the set of activities which maintains the characteristic essential for that occupation. The dharma for the doctor is the practice of medicine, for the lawyer the study of the law, for the teacher the instructing of students, and so on.

Though dharma in these instances relates to a kind of set of guiding principles, there is still the link to the essential characteristic. In the same way, those procedures which help the soul maintain its essential characteristic get tagged as a dharma. In this sense there is only one true dharma. In the Vedas it is referred to as sanatana-dharma or bhagavata-dharma. Sanatana means that which has no beginning and no end. Bhagavata refers to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is the most fortunate person. God is without beginning and without end, so the soul’s proclivity for serving Him is the same way.

In a land where there is the option to choose to meet the demands of the body, activities are recommended for the practice of sanatana-dharma. In the spiritual world, where the material option is unavailable, all activity is sanatana-dharma; there is no need for distinction. There isn’t even the need to think in terms of devoted and non-devoted. As soon as there is any hint of envy of the Supreme Lord or a desire to compete with Him for enjoyment, residence in the material world is granted.

Lord KrishnaThe quintessential act of spiritual life is thinking. And that thinking is about God, who is full of features and a transcendental form. Through hearing thinking becomes easy, and you can hear easily by chanting. Thus through chanting alone one engages in perfect spiritual life. The best words to chant are those which most completely describe God and His features. Krishna means all-attractive and Rama means the source of transcendental pleasure. Hare refers to the Lord’s energy, so through these words we get the superior mantra, the formula of all formulas: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

You can chant this mantra when you are too young to even attend school. You can repeat the sound like a parrot who doesn’t know any better. The sound has potency; it is pleasing to the ear. Something that is pleasing will be repeated for as long as it continues to bring pleasure. Krishna is all-attractive, Rama gives the pleasure, and Hare provides the energy, the impetus and instruction necessary to continue in the chanting without end. You need all three components; otherwise you will fall back into material life, which is dull, lifeless and the cause of so much pain. You need the attraction of the Lord to bring you in. You need the pleasure to make the entry worthwhile, and you need the instruction and energy to help maintain your focus in the midst of so many distractions.

You can continue the chanting when you reach adolescence. You can keep on chanting while you’re an adult. If you’re at the office earning your living, you can chant in your mind. And then you can chant out loud when you get home. You might retire from work, but you’ll never want to give up connecting with the Supreme Lord, especially if you are practicing bhakti-yoga properly. Bhakti-yoga is another equivalent term for sanatana-dharma. It is just another way to describe the same truth, namely that the soul’s occupational duty is to remain connected with God. As this is the inherent duty assigned by an all-perfect being, it is without flaws. Problems only arise when bhakti-yoga is not accepted, which happens through either ignorance, misfortune, or willful defiance.

Bhagavad-gita, 8.6“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)

Sanatana GosvamiThere are so many historical examples which show how bhakti-yoga is timeless. It does not have a retirement age because there is no desire to give it up. The body may be renounced, but this does not mean that the consciousness has to change. Whatever state of being one remembers at the time of death, that state they will attain in the next life, without fail. The next life is as guaranteed as the next day, as the life as we define it is merely a marking of elapsed time spent in a particular area. The notches on a ruler help us to make measurements, but they have no bearing on the existence of anything. Measurement perceives; it does not create. The consideration of a lifetime is merely a way to measure something; it does not determine whether something lives or dies. There is always life for the soul, who is eternal in its constitution. And for one who is devoted to Shri Krishna and always chanting His names, there is always a vibrant life, irrespective of the age of the temporary body.

In Closing:

After so many years in office chair to sit,

Can’t wait for retirement, from work to quit.


But then with my time what will I do,

I need some action in retirement too.


When to reach transcendental stage,

Blissful life through work at any age.


Material matters hampered by body growing old,

In bhakti spiritual consciousness into next life rolled.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Full Dependence

Tulasi plant“In any condition, any man can live in a small cottage, plant a tulasi tree, water it in the morning, offer it prayers, and continuously chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. Thus one can make vigorous spiritual advancement.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 24.261 Purport)

“Should I live in Vrindavana? I heard that Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, perpetually remains there. He plays with the damsels of Vrajabhumi, calls out to the calves under His protection, and plays His flute to the delight of the forest animals such as the deer, birds and parrots. Though there is the Vrindavana of the spiritual world, in the Vaikuntha planets, there is the Vrindavana in this earthly realm as well. And even though one can’t see Krishna directly with their eyes, they feel His presence there nonetheless. In fact, through living there long enough and staying immersed in bhakti-yoga, one actually can see Krishna, while others cannot.”

“Should I read the Bhagavad-gita every day, trying to really understand the key verses, or should I move on to other Vedic texts like the Shrimad Bhagavatam, which are longer and thus more detailed? I’ve heard that the Bhagavad-gita is for beginners and that the Bhagavatam is for the more advanced. The Bhagavad-gita is a summation of Vedic teachings, which are the oldest known to man. They predate man himself, who took birth from the Supreme Lord after He decided there would be a creation. There is the total material substance, known as the mahat-tattva, and Krishna impregnated it in order to generate the population. The spirit souls existed before that impregnation, they exist now, and they will continue to exist in the future. That is the true meaning to eternal.”

Bhagavad-gita, 14.3“The total material substance, called Brahman, is the source of birth, and it is that Brahman that I impregnate, making possible the births of all living beings, O son of Bharata.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.3)

Lord Krishna“In the Bhagavatam, there is the history of the creation, the lineage of the first kings on earth, the purpose to the creation, the process of devotional service and other such relevant topics. Then, towards the end, there are the pastimes of Krishna performed in the aforementioned Vrindavana. One is advised to first learn of Krishna’s position and then hear about His pastimes. Without the requisite understanding, one will take the Supreme Lord’s childhood sports to be those of an ordinary child, who is less intelligent than the adults. With a full understanding, however, one delights in Krishna’s pranks played on the neighbors, His dancing with the beautiful gopis, and His slaying of wicked creatures who embody the worst of the envious nature towards the Supreme Lord. The Bhagavatam thus allows for much fuller immersion into bhakti-yoga, which I’ve heard is the original occupational duty of the soul, something that every person is meant to practice, regardless of their background, country of origin, native language, gender, level of intelligence, and so forth.”

Issues similar to those mentioned above exist with any type of spiritual practice. Should you be advancing to a different destination or should you remain where you are, content in your practice? Indeed, there are qualities one assumes when they take up devotional life, as it is inherently different from material life. The summit of material life is sexual relations. The famed “rock n roll” lifestyle involves drugs, drinking and partying, but the end-goal is always sex. The rock stars can get any woman they want, and thus they are envied by others. Yet this never provides lasting happiness, as even the most hedonistic rockers grow tired of such activity; at least in the case of those who become wiser as time goes by. In spiritual life, one sees everything properly, and an indication of the change is the shift in desires, wherein what one previously thought was important no longer remains so.

Surely there is a need for measuring progress, for gauging the effectiveness of practices in genuine, non-sectarian religious life, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that there are absolute requirements as they relate to the book of study or the place of residence. Indeed, such insistence goes against the very nature of the person being worshiped. By definition, God is all-pervading; so His residence is not exclusive to just one area. He has multi-forms, a truth described as ananta-rupam in the Brahma-samhita, a wonderful set of prayers offered by Lord Brahma to Krishna. Brahma is the original creator, the person everyone can trace their ancestry to. If you don’t believe in his existence, you can still accept the fact that there is an original creator. Since every person has a mother and father, there is always a higher link to ascend in the chain of creation. When you reach the original, you have your creator, who is known by the name Brahma in the Vedas.

Krishna with mother Yashoda in VrindavanaIn addition to being all-pervading, God is non-different from many things. Vrindavana is the same as Him because that is His preferred land of choice. The other lands are part of the material energy, which is in one sense the same as God but still different at the same time. The material energy is like an extension which the Supreme Lord has no direct interest in. The material energy is the shelter for those who are inimical towards God, and since that attitude is not constitutionally compliant, the material energy actually provides no shelter at all. The idea that one can surrender unto a female, a sumptuous food dish, a gambling hall, or a bottle of whiskey is mere illusion. Real surrender, wherein one fully relinquishes responsibility for happiness and sadness to another party, can only bear fruit when it is directed at God.

In addition to the land of Vrindavana, the holy name is non-different from God. This is a radical concept that one has great difficulty believing. Not to worry, though, as we can keep chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” to see if the claim has merits. If you’re not sure after chanting a few times, keep on repeating the formula. The fact that so many people chant this mantra regularly, sometimes singing it for hours on end each day, proves that there is something special in the component words.

Think of your favorite song in the world. For starters, you would have difficulty making this identification, as your tastes change over time. And within a certain time period a specific song may grab your attention more than others. Nevertheless, let’s say that you could pick one song that you couldn’t live without. Now try playing that song over and over again during the day. Do that again day after day. Would you not get sick of it? For a better analogy, try just memorizing the lyrics and reciting those over and over again. This way you’re not getting sick of the tune. Would that suffice? Do you know of any person who does such a thing?

maha-mantraWith the holy names, however, we know of countless people who have recited it day after day throughout their lives. And these weren’t just ordinary people either. Some of the most exalted personalities, genuine saints, followed this tact. Some of them lived in Vrindavana, while others moved around from sacred place to sacred place. Many of these people weren’t so famous, but they had the same qualities of real goodness nonetheless. In their kindness, they also went to places where there was no God consciousness at all and then flooded the areas with the sounds of the holy names. You can only do this if the holy name is really non-different from God Himself, as the Supreme Lord is the only person whose association never grows tiresome.

The power of the holy name shows that it is sufficient for proper bhakti-yoga practice. The tulasi plant, who is a pure devotee of God, can also be chanted in front of in an isolated area.  Such a simple life is enough to bring spiritual advancement. Residence in Vrindavana, study of a specific famous work, and thoughts of Krishna’s pastimes are also bhakti-yoga, and they may result from chanting the holy names, but never are such things an absolute requirement. If they were, then the holy name would be deficient, as it wouldn’t completely represent God. But it most certainly does, and so it makes for the best and most efficient way to remain connected in spiritual life, bringing all good things to the person who honors it and fully depends on it for their sustenance.

In Closing:

For my spiritual intelligence to feed,

Residence in Vrindavana do I need?


If to read Bhagavatam book I get the chance,

Should I scrap Bhagavad-gita to advance?


Actually for from ignorance to be set free,

All that is needed is holy name and tulasi tree.


Try lyrics of your favorite song to daily chant,

And keep the spark of interest alive you can’t.


With holy name the same defect not to exist,

Wisest saints in path of chanting persist.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Witch-hunt Riding Through

birth and death"Day after day countless living entities in this world go to the kingdom of death. Still, those who remain aspire for a permanent situation here. What could be more amazing than this?" (Maharaja Yudhishthira speaking to Yamaraja, Mahabharata, Vana-parva, 313.116)

If you’re really cornered in an argument, if the other side has you stuck on a position that is just not a winning one, you can always rely on the ad hominem attack to help you out. If you’re wise enough to know that your argument doesn’t hold any merits from the outset, you can employ the attack right away and save yourself the headache of dealing with logic and reasoning. While the technique is correctly labeled a fallacy, it works in the public arena, especially in an era where knowledge is more commonly accepted through sight than through sound.

What is the defect in sight?

Images appeal to emotion, while sound appeals to intellect. Intellect is superior to emotion when judging the proper course of action. If you’re at work and someone keeps agitating you with their boorish behavior, what is the proper response? The intellect says to ignore it, as the job pays you a salary that maintains your lifestyle. You are not a bad person. What others say to you is not a reflection on your character. Rather, it is a reflection on theirs, especially if you haven’t done anything wrong. Why should someone else’s stupid words upset you?

Emotion says to fight back. “I’d sure like to let this person have it. Just one time, I want to tell them off. They’re useless to the company. They don’t do anything but sit back and criticize others. If they were asked to do something, they couldn’t take charge. They have no courage of their own. As soon as they point out a flaw in someone else, they buy some more time. They think they prove their worth by nitpicking the work of others, while not providing any tangible help in the process. Such a useless person deserves no respect.”

politicsIf you follow emotion in this case it will likely be to your detriment. In the same way, if you are swayed only by the emotional response to images and short sound bites played on television, then you won’t delve deeper into the issue. With respect to politicians, stories about how many houses they own, where they went to vacation, whether or not they sipped water during a speech, and how much they earn in a year are meaningless. Even what they say during a televised speech and how well they speak are meaningless. They are politicians holding political office after all. The laws they pass are what affect the people; not just the words. Anyone can say anything; it’s how they act in office that matters. Yet the coverage on television rarely focuses on what is actually done or what real impact a piece of legislation will have. This is because emotion works when trying to sell a losing argument.

And through that same medium, personal attacks on others work as well. If you can find any odd statement that a person has made, you can use that against them. Never mind the fact that everyone makes mistakes or that every person is flawed to some degree. Just shine the public spotlight on that blemish and watch your problems disappear. In times past, such tactics were used to suppress critics of the government. People were labeled as belonging to this party or that, and then blacklisted for what they were accused of believing.

With knowledgeable devotees of the Supreme Lord, the arguments presented in favor of devotional service are without flaws. That is because they were originally heard from God Himself, who passed on that information through notable personalities in the subsequent generations. The teachings of the devotees can be summarized as such:

“Human life is meant for realizing God. The spirit soul is what identifies each of us. The body is a covering composed of the material elements. It is temporary and destined for destruction. Why should a perishable lump of matter be the primary focus for the superior living being, whose intelligence indicates an active spirit? God is not sectarian; He is for everyone. It is the soul’s dharma, or essential characteristic, to serve. That dharma is seen in all activities, where service is the driving component. God is the ideal object of service; all other objects are thus flawed, which leads the person offering the service to feel unsatisfied. Turn yourself to God by chanting His names, reading about Him, and worshiping His deity. Avoid behavior that makes it difficult to realize His true nature.”

Krishna's lotus feetSeems well and good, no? Nothing too controversial here. Ah, but the truth of the creation’s origin is what leads to the controversy. We are not just spirit souls who randomly entered into these perishable bodies. There was a choice in the matter. To serve God is to live in transcendence; real freedom. To serve yourself is bondage, and it has a commensurate playing field. The material world is thus the home for the souls who don’t want to serve God. As soon as their desires shift back to the right place, they follow a path destined for liberation, a return trip to the original home.

The souls who don’t make that choice are violators of the original dharma. Therefore they will not take too kindly to the teachings of the devotees. While the material is flawed, the spiritual is not. Therefore the spiritually infused devotees will always have arguments that are superior to the materialists’. Left with no other choice, the ad hominem attack is the savior for the materialist defiant of God’s will. Their arguments will be along the lines of the following:

“Look at those devotees. They couldn’t make it in life so they decided to worship an imaginary figure. They couldn’t figure out how to earn money, so they convinced themselves that they could live with very little. They worship cows and don’t eat meat. They worship these strange gods from a primitive time. They are taken in by mythology and hocus pocus. They are crazy to think that living entities control the planets and the elements. They are insane to believe that God can have a form and that originally He is bluish in hue and all-attractive in features.”

Lord KrishnaTake just one of these practices that seems strange to most and you have a good way of discrediting the devotees as a whole in the realm of public debate. Nevertheless, the practice of the devotees is not dependent on anyone. To be a surrendered soul means to accept the mercy of the Supreme Lord for everything. He ensures that His dependents can always stay connected with Him. Whether a million people think they are crazy or only a few has no bearing on their practice.

And in actuality, no one is crazier than the person who thinks that through imitating the animals they can be happy. The animals don’t worry about mortgage payments, unrequited love, the national debt, healthcare costs, or the price of gasoline. They eat, sleep, mate and defend without a problem. The human being is supposed to be more intelligent, and yet through imitating the animals they find a more hellish life. Is not the person who tries to imitate the flying of the birds insane, considering the fact that the bird already flies through nature’s arrangement? Is the bird superior to the human being? What, then, will flying do for the human being? Should not the advancement of the species correlate to an increase in real intelligence?

Maharaja Yudhishthira, a famous king from an ancient time, once remarked that the most amazing thing in life is the fact that people don’t think they are going to die even after they see so many others, including their elders, leave this world. It’s an interesting point if you think about it. Are we not crazy to act as if we’re never going to die, when we know that we are? Wouldn’t an intelligent person seek to find answers to the mysteries of birth and death?

The devotees understand such mysteries through hearing Vedic wisdom. This process is known as shravanam and it appeals to the intellect. From hearing faultless knowledge, one can use their pure emotion to serve God, thereby showing real intelligence. Call them fanatical or call them brilliant, but regardless the wisest souls in this age always chant the holy names in full ecstasy: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

In Closing:

When in argument about to lose,

To resort to personal attack can choose.


When not one good retort exists in your hand,

Discredit your opponent all across the land.


Just one strange practice of the devotees take,

And as oddball their public persona make.


On the devotees’ practice this has no bearing,

Only in real wisdom interested in sharing.


One who imitates animals at any cost,

Shows that their intelligence is really lost.


Hearing from shastra the intellect to appeal,

In bhakti pure ecstasy towards God to feel.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

So Much Space

Rama winning the contest“When the bow broke, the sound that was heard was such a ghastly roar that the earth and mountains shook. The pearl of Rama’s fame spread through all the worlds, like a box being filled with treasures.” (Janaki Mangala, Chand 13.1)

gaṃjeu so garjeu ghora dhuni suni bhūmi bhūdhara larakhare |
raghubīra jasa mukatā bipula saba bhuvana paṭu peṭaka bhare ||

In the modern age, where amenities are available at the click of a mouse, it is not uncommon for households to be filled with items that are unnecessary. The excess items are collectively referred to as junk, and some people have so much of it that film crews come to document their lives. “Why would anyone keep so much stuff?” is the question that piques the curiosity of the viewers. Though hoarding is generally considered a bad thing, space still exists for a reason. It is meant to be filled with something, and when the right something is found, it is anything but junk.

Let’s say that I’m moving into a new place, perhaps a house. When I visit the house for the first time, it is empty. This means that there are endless possibilities with respect to interior decorating. If I am married, I will have to discuss with my spouse on how we will decorate. I will want my stuff, and they will want theirs. Hopefully there is room for compromise. Sometimes what the man wants is not what the woman wants, and vice versa. The husband may be excited to have a painting of dogs playing poker, while the wife thinks that the painting is ridiculous and should never be seen by anyone who enters the home.

Dogs playing pokerAt its essence, the space in the house is for living. Living at the basic level involves eating, sleeping, mating and defending. These four behaviors guide the primary actions of animals each day. The human being is animal-like, so they follow the same behaviors, though they require a more refined version of the lifestyle. To facilitate this, the ideal home is laid out to have a room for sleeping, a room for lounging, a room for eating, and rooms for external cleansing. There are also locks on the doors to take care of defense.

All of this still doesn’t require that much space. So what do you really need in the home? Well, perhaps you can mimic what is required outside of home. At the office you need a desk and a computer. Maybe you can put that in the home too. At the nightclub there are places to sit so that you can relax and do nothing, like watch television. Maybe you can have an area for that in the home as well. You can also play games outside, so perhaps there can be a game room too.

The wise person will realize that every inch of space in the home should be filled with things that are valuable. This doesn’t have to equate to high monetary value. The children, the spouse, and the guests are what make the home. None of them are purchased in a store. They are valued because of the association; they make the journey through life more enjoyable.

That which holds us together is even more important, and not surprisingly its association is the most enjoyable. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna says that all the truths of the Vedas are like many pearls. They rest on the thread that is Krishna. This analogy is nice because it is easy to understand. You can have many individual pearls, but if you don’t have a string to place them on, they aren’t that useful. Who wants to walk around holding a bunch of loose pearls? The pearls are valuable and beautiful, but they take on their true significance when placed on a thread.

Bhagavad-gita, 7.7“O conquerer of wealth [Arjuna], there is no Truth superior to Me. Everything rests upon Me, as pearls are strung on a thread.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.7)

In the same way, all the objects of this world aren’t so valuable when disassociated from their origin. Everything, both matter and spirit, is rooted in the Supreme Lord. Thus in one sense there is no way for anything to be separated from Him. This understanding of oneness is known as advaita, or non-dualism. Everything is God. It must be this way, otherwise God is not God. If He is not everything, then He is deficient, which automatically invalidates His supreme position.

At the same time, the objects that emanate from Him have an independent existence to some degree. Hence there is also non-dualism, or dvaita. The combination of the two properties gives us the highest truth known as achintya-bhedabheda-tattva, which was taught by Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu through the congregational chanting of the holy names: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”

Lord ChaitanyaThere is simultaneous oneness and difference between God and what He creates. The energetic is the source and the energy is that which the energetic generates. The relationship is inconceivable; it cannot be grasped through mental effort alone. Fortunately, we don’t really have to understand the relationship empirically. Just acting off of it is enough to reach the highest position. One acts off of the relationship by using whatever they have for the Lord’s pleasure. In bhakti-yoga, one fills whatever space they have around them with things and people that glorify God. To glorify the Supreme Lord is the most pleasurable activity, but unless one knows God they cannot glorify Him properly.

The verse referenced above from the Janaki Mangala tells us a little more about God. In this way Goswami Tulsidas, the author of the wonderful poem, gives every person an invaluable gift. From this verse we learn that God as Lord Rama broke a bow belonging to Lord Shiva to win a contest in the kingdom of Janakpur many thousands of years ago. The sound of the bow breaking was ghastly; it created such a thunderous roar that the earth and mountains were shaking as a result.

More powerful than that sound was the fame that spread as a result. Rama’s fame, which is compared to a pearl, filled the three worlds. There are the heavenly planets, the earthly planet, and the hellish planets. These three worlds, with their fourteen planets in total, comprise the material creation, which is perishable. God is imperishable. His fame inherits the same property, so His fame is not bound by any material designation; a fact confirmed by this verse.

Lord RamaThe spreading of Rama’s fame was like a container being filled with treasures. The treasures in this instance were the pearls of Rama’s fame. If we have a trunk full of junk, it is a great burden to us. We have to haul it with us if we want to move, and it takes up much space in the home. If we want to make room for something more important, we have to lift the heavy trunk and put it somewhere else.

If we have something valuable in the trunk, however, we are so happy to have the trunk. It becomes our prized possession. If the trunk is filled with pearls, we won’t look at it as a burden so much. Rama’s fame is like a pearl because it can be remembered and appreciated at any time, by any person, from any background. A person born in a poor family is just as fortunate as the rich person if they both have this pearl. Material designations are of no concern. God is for everyone, and so His fame is meant to spread through all the worlds, to all the creatures, whether living in heaven or hell.

Whether we have a lot of space to work with or just a little, we can fill it with the Lord’s glories, which are too many to count. It is said that of the millions of verses in Vedic literature that glorify Rama, Lord Shiva takes only the two syllables that comprise Rama’s name as his most valuable possession. He produces this name constantly to remember God’s glories, thereby filling the space around him with auspiciousness. Through using the holy names handed down by the Vaishnavas we can find good things as well. The name of Rama reminds us of the time He lifted Shiva’s bow to win the hand of the beautiful Janaki, Sita Devi, the daughter of King Janaka.

In Closing:

When new house we get,

To fill space mind is set.


Specifics for this room and that,

Need beds, desks and mat.


To continue living our only real need,

So space this ability should ideally feed.


Shiva’s bow breaking created sound of dread,

Rama’s fame throughout three worlds spread.


Ideal use of space came from this sound,

With God and devotees yourself surround.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Lion’s Den

Rama breaking the bow“Examining her love, Rama broke the bow, like a young lion routing a great elephant.” (Janaki Mangala, 104)

prema parakhi raghubīra sarāsana bhanjeu |
janu mṛgarāja kisora mahāgaja bhanjeu ||

“Though this youth is very innocent in appearance, don’t underestimate Him. He has already proven His fighting ability in the forest against the wickedest creatures. Maricha was very proud of the boon he received from Lord Brahma. Therefore when he attacked the sacrifice of Vishvamitra at the last moment, he thought that the destruction was a done deal. Unfortunately for him, he forgot about Rama. Though a young boy at the time, Rama, without hesitation, strung His bow and drove away Maricha. The demon’s friends weren’t so lucky. They did not leave the area alive. Now the same Shri Rama is here in Janakpur to lift the enormously heavy bow of Lord Shiva. Though He is still a youth with delicate features, He can roar like a lion when necessary.”

In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, Goswami Tulsidas invokes a reference that is commonly used in Vedic literature to describe the Supreme Lord’s activities. These acts described are heroic, and so the comparison to the lion is fitting. Mentioning the defeat of an elephant is also appropriate, as since the elephant is much larger than the lion, it is believed that it should have no problem in a conflict. Yet the lion can scare with just its roar, and thus it is the king of the jungle. Similarly, the Supreme Lord is the king of all kings, so no one can defeat Him. Moreover, He roars like the lion to protect His devotees like Sita, who love Him unconditionally.

God is compared to a lion several times in the Shrimad Bhagavatam, considered the crown jewel of the Vedas, which are the ancient scriptures of India. God is a person, but a supreme one. As a person, He has features. The abilities tied to these features are inestimable, so to give us a slight idea of what that means, God descends to the earthly plane every now and then to enact pastimes.

Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.43.14“Lord Hari then climbed onto the elephant with the ease of a mighty lion, pulled out a tusk, and with it killed the beast and his keepers.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.43.14)

One of His many names given in the Vedas is Hari. This word has several meanings. It can mean one who takes away. Hari is the remover of the fears in His devotees. Hari can also mean a monkey or a lion. When Shri Krishna, the original form of the Personality of Godhead, battled an enemy elephant named Kuvalayapida, He was addressed as Lord Hari in the verses in the Bhagavatam. This use was intentional, as Krishna attacked the elephant like a powerful lion.

image“Hiranyakashipu murmured to himself, ‘Lord Vishnu, who possesses great mystic power, has made this plan to kill me, but what is the use of such an attempt? Who can fight with me?’ Thinking like this and taking up his club, Hiranyakashipu attacked the Lord like an elephant.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.8.23)

Narasimhadeva against HiranyakashipuOne of Krishna’s most famous descents to earth was as His avatara named Narasimha, which means half-man/half-lion. Narasimhadeva is also known as Lord Narahari, which means the same thing. In this descent, God stayed on earth for a very short period of time, there only to rid the world of an evil king named Hiranyakashipu. This king was harassing his five-year old son named Prahlada. God’s unique form kept the boons previously granted to Hiranyakashipu safe, while at the same time allowing for the demon to be killed. During the short battle that took place after Narahari arrived, it is described in the Bhagavatam that Hiranyakashipu attacked like an elephant. This means that he was eventually defeated by the lion, which is what happens often in the jungle with conflicts between elephants and lions.

“I am faithfully engaged in the service of Rama, who is a lion among men [nrisimham], has a broad chest and powerful arms, who treads the earth like a lion and who is like a lion in prowess.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.35)

The Ramayana is another Vedic work, and it describes the life and pastimes of Lord Rama, one of Krishna’s most famous avataras. In that work, Rama is compared to a lion by His wife Sita. She makes this comparison when speaking to the evil King Ravana after he kidnapped her. Ravana thought that he was very powerful, but Sita wanted him to know that her husband was a lion among men. This meant that Rama wasn’t afraid of anyone or anything, and that He had the might necessary to fight anyone.

With these references and more found in many places in the Vedic literature, it is not surprising that Goswami Tulsidas would make the same comparison to a lion in the above quoted verse from the Janaki Mangala. Here the same Shri Rama is in Janakpur ready to win Sita’s hand in marriage. This took place before Sita and Rama were officially wed. Though Rama was only a youth at the time, He still acted like a lion. The strength and courage of a lion were necessary to win the contest.

Rama lifting the bowThe bow of Lord Shiva lay in the middle of the sacrificial arena. Many princes from around the world came to try their hand at lifting the bow, but none of them could even move it. The first person to lift the bow would marry Sita, the eldest daughter of King Janaka, who was the host of the ceremony and the person who came up with the idea of a contest.

As Rama is the Supreme Lord, He has many names. In this verse He is addressed as Raghubira, which in Sanskrit would be spelled as Raghuvira, which means the hero of the Raghu dynasty. Rama was a king’s son, and not just of any ordinary king. King Dasharatha of Ayodhya was a famous ruler appearing in the ancestry of King Raghu, who himself was part of the ancestral line dating back to King Ikshvaku, one of the first kings on earth. Rama was the hero of this dynasty because He was the best fighter. He was the most capable of protecting the citizens, and so He was naturally the greatest hero. He was also the jewel of that line.

Tulsidas purposefully uses the name Raghubira here because Rama’s act of lifting and breaking Shiva’s bow was heroic. Rama didn’t do it just to show His strength. Rama is God, so He is above the need for cheap adoration. He broke the bow to ease Sita’s fears. She was watching the contest and was very anxious. Though she only saw Rama for a few brief moments, she wanted Him to win. Her desire was so strong that she could think of nothing else. Rama knew her worries, and so by breaking the bow, He shattered her fears, which is what any good hero would do.

The bow was like a great elephant and Rama like a young lion. The contest looked like a mismatch, but with God anything is possible. Know that this present age of Kali brings cause for much fear, but if there is reliance on the same Raghubira, who can be called out through the holy names in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” then the immediate vicinity turns into Shri Hari’s den, with all unwanted elements shattered in the same manner as the wonderful bow in Janaka’s kingdom.

In Closing:

In general elephant for lion no match,

Its tusks with ferocity to snatch.


In Vedas many such mentions made,

To describe God and His pastimes’ parade.


Hiranyakashipu like roaring elephant cried,

To defeat God as Narahari he tried.


Bow also God as Shri Rama pitted against,

Like chased elephant away in defeat went.


Like the princess Sita’s fears ran away,

For protection with lion Rama always stay.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

What’s Bugging You

Lifting Shiva's bow“As antaryami, Shri Rama knows everyone’s maladies. Raising the bow, in curiosity He is drawing the string to His ear.” (Janaki Mangala, 103)

antarajāmī rāma marama saba jāneu |
dhanu caḍhāi kautukahiṃ kāna lagi tāneu ||

“In the Vedas it is said that the Supreme Lord is antaryami. This means that He is the all-pervading witness. At any time, at any place, whatever I am doing He can see me. He knows if I’ve been naughty or nice for not only the present year, but my whole life. The same holds true for every other person, existing past, present and future. As He is the greatest witness, He knows exactly what is bugging me. Therefore shouldn’t He come to fix the situation? Why does anyone succumb to the effects of disease if the antaryami Supreme Lord knows their condition? How could He let them suffer like that?”

Indeed, such concerns are understandable once one learns that God resides within them as the Supersoul. The individual soul is what identifies us, but that soul is only locally residing. My soul is in my body but not in yours. My soul does not change, while my body constantly does. At the time of death, a new body is given to me to replace the one I just left behind.

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

reincarnationThough my soul travels to different bodies, it is still only locally conscious. I do not know what you’re thinking. I may witness your activities right now while you are in front of me, but I have no idea what you did before this. I can only find out through hearing, and in that I have to trust that what I hear is true. God, on the other hand, is everywhere. The Supersoul is our link to Him that is within close proximity, should we choose to take advantage of the situation.

This last point is what answers the question of why God doesn’t stamp out bad conditions altogether. He certainly does know all of our maladies. If you think about it, He must be all-pervading. If He cannot witness every activity, it means that He has a defect. If He is deficient in any possible way, if He is not supreme in every single category, He is not God. Since He is the Supreme Lord, He knows all and has seen all.

If we don’t want to connect with Him, He is not obliged to get rid of our ailments. To help us understand how and why, let’s say that I have a small child. They don’t know very much since they have only been on earth for a short while. Though the soul is eternal, full of knowledge and full of bliss, in the conditioned state, where the soul accepts a temporary body, knowledge is covered and requires action in educational disciplines to become uncovered.

The young child’s inherent knowledge is covered up and doesn’t start to reveal until they mature. This means that I have to guide my young child in all of their activities. Let’s say that they want to place their tiny hand into a blazing fire. I tell them not to. I know what the result will be. Their hand will get burned, and that is not good. When they are in my presence, I give a stern warning: “Don’t place your hand in the fire! Get away from there! I don’t want to see you anywhere near that fire.” If they disobey me, I get in the way and use force to prevent them from getting injured.

Though the child is a dependent, they are raised to eventually become independent. At some point in time they will have to make their own decisions. This is true even while they are in the childhood years. Despite the best protection, I cannot control my child’s every move. They will make many decisions on their own. If during a moment of alone time they decide to place their hand in the fire, an action which is prohibited, they will get hurt. Is it my fault then that they got the pain? Am I responsible for the burn on their hand?

Perhaps you can blame me as the parent when the child is young, but if they make the same mistake in adult life, it is solely the child’s responsibility. I know what their potential action is and I also know the result of that action. And I did whatever I could to prevent the injury as well, but it came nevertheless because of the independence afforded the child. That same independence is granted to all of us to some degree.

If we do things the wrong way, and thereby neglect our inherent occupational duty of devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, then we’ll surely fall into unpleasant situations. If I am offered soup to eat and someone gives me only a fork to use, obviously I will have a difficult time eating the soup. I need a spoon for the soup, not a fork. The fork is intended for something else. In a similar manner, the material nature can be used for endless activities, but as a spirit soul I am constitutionally fit to serve the Supreme Lord. This service doesn’t have to be based on blind faith towards a particular personality. In fact, it is said in the Bhagavad-gita that the person who approaches the Supreme Lord with some knowledge of the Absolute is actually the most dear to Him.

Bhagavad-gita, 7.17“Of these [four kinds of people who approach to render devotional service], the wise one who is in full knowledge in union with Me through pure devotional service is the best. For I am very dear to him, and he is dear to Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.17)

There are various spiritual traditions and different grades of practice, but if the purpose is the same, that of loving God, then the recommended actions are valid. When operating under any other kind of consciousness, I will be misusing the material energy around me and the Supersoul’s influence will be ignored. As such, I will be responsible for the misfortune that befalls me.

Rama lifting Shiva's bowIn the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, Goswami Tulsidas reminds us that God is antaryami. He is the all-pervading witness. In this instance, God is seen as Lord Rama, the eldest son of King Dasharatha who roamed this land many thousands of years ago during the Treta Yuga. God is one, but He has many incarnations and expansions. There are too many to count, but the most prominent ones are enumerated in the Vedas.

Rama knows everyone’s maladies, including Sita’s. Here Sita is worried over the outcome to a contest that will determine her future husband. She wants Rama to win. She has eyes for Him and He for her. But rules are rules. King Janaka, Sita’s father, vowed to give Sita away to whichever prince could first lift the bow. This meant that Rama had to lift this amazingly heavy bow originally belonging to Lord Shiva. Sita was worried because Rama was a youthful prince and the bow was ghastly in weight. The odds were very much in favor of the bow.

Knowing her worries, Rama lifted the bow with ease, like a curious child playing with a new toy. And then He drew the bowstring to His ear. That was it. He did it. He removed Sita’s worry, which was the ailment causing her the most pain. Her worry was entirely related to serving Rama, who is God. She was afraid that she wouldn’t get to serve Him as His wife. Rama made sure that she had nothing to worry about. And in a similar manner, if we are eager to serve God and wish to derive all the endless benefits that come with that service, Shri Rama will remove all obstacles in our way.

In Closing:

After giving it a quick look,

Bow in His hands He took.


Like curious child drew string to the ear,

Lifted bow thus to remove Sita’s fear.


To serve God or nature we all have a choice,

Can find repeated misery or in divine felicity rejoice.


If towards Him the path is taken,

Through Shri Rama all worries forsaken.