Saturday, May 25, 2013

Spontaneous Devotion

Sita and Rama“Sita put the garland on Rama and then her friends took her away, like the kairava flower happily blooming from the bud at the sight of the moon.” (Janaki Mangala, 111)

prabhuhi bhāla pahirāi jānakihi lai calīn |
sakhīṃ manahum̐ bidhu udaya mudita kairava kalīn ||

“Who am I devoted to, you ask? You want to know who I offer my worship to? For me there is only Shri Rama, the eldest son of King Dasharatha. Automatically accompanying Him are Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman. I only begrudgingly say that I am devoted to them because to call myself a devotee is to imply that somehow there is a choice in the matter. It implies that I have chosen them out of a host of worshipable objects. The fact is that they are mine, and I am theirs. There is no separating us. No matter what happens I will always be with Shri Rama and His family in mind. I derive happiness only from their company. Any other activity is tasteless to me, though I sometimes try to pretend that it is not. This is just to get by in society, for I don’t want to draw attention to my relationship with Rama, whom I know to be God but never consciously think of in that way.”

The difficulties in describing something constitutional are many. That which is constitutional exists perpetually. It is not created nor is it destroyed. Yet in our journey through life everything is temporary, so even when we engage in something that is actually constitutional, we feel the need to explain it in terms of a choice. The wise poets know how to accurately describe the constitutional by pointing to objects which are interdependent. The motions are true by definition; they cannot be changed.

“O Rama, You should know that just as fish cannot survive when taken out of water, neither Sita nor I can live without You for even a moment.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 53.31)

Sita, Rama, Lakshmana and HanumanOne of the most common expressions used to explain constitutionality is: “like a fish out of water.” Interestingly enough, in an ancient Vedic text we find that this is used by Shri Lakshmana to explain devotional service. No one is keeping score, but Lakshmana’s use has the chance of being the first time the phrase was ever uttered. He said it to his elder brother, Lord Rama, as a way to explain how neither he nor Sita, Rama’s wife, could live without Him.

The poets have since used similar comparisons, but the fish taken out of water is still one of the more preferable ones. The fish cannot survive out of water. In this sense its love for the water is indescribable; it is part of the fish’s being. The fish cannot be without the water, so it cannot live without its love. The water, the loveable object, defines the fish’s existence.

The comparison is important to study because it helps explain the living entity’s relationship to God. One may wonder how we could be compared to fish out of water when we are alive right now and not necessarily God conscious. Even if we are a sterling example of devotional service to the Almighty today, there was a factual point in history where we weren’t. When we emerged from the womb, we didn’t even know how to walk or talk, so how did we know anything about God? We know that we didn’t consciously know about God back then and yet we remained alive. How, then, can the fish out of water comparison apply to any human being?

The comparison applies to the devotee, who is a living entity in the bhava stage. Bhava is devotional ecstasy and it is the constitutional state. We are eternally servants of the Supreme Lord. This is our original position as well, a fact kindly told to us by Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, a preacher incarnation of the Supreme Lord who revived the bhakti-yoga tradition in the modern age. In the conditioned state, our bhava is covered up, like the sun shining bright but no one able to see it because of the thick cloud cover in the sky.

In the conditioned state we think in terms of “I” and “Mine.” “I am an American; I am an Indian; I am black; I am white.” “This is my house; this is my son; this is my God; this is my religion.” Because we descend into temporary possessiveness and flawed conceptions of our personality, we understand religion only in terms of explicit devotional practices. When we see others in the bhava state, we tend to think that they are purposefully practicing devotion, when in fact they are constitutionally tied to the Supreme Lord in a bond of love. Nothing can be done to change their situation.

Sita DeviIn the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, Goswami Tulsidas makes yet another comparison with the kairava flower to explain spontaneous devotion. Here the kairava flowers are blooming from buds at the sight of the moon. The flowers are Janaki, the daughter of King Janaka, and her sakhis, or friends. Janaki is Sita, the eternal consort of Lord Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead in His incarnation as a warrior prince. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the moon referenced here is Rama, one of whose many names is Ramachandra.

The kairava is the water-lily. It is white and has a unique behavior. While the common lotus flower opens up at the sight of the sun, the kairava opens up at the sight of the moon. Like the fish attached to its water, the opened kairava is attached to its moon. There is nothing that can be done to change this relationship. The kairava doesn’t open up to make the moon happy. It doesn’t open up on purpose to make a show of devotion to the moon. Rather, the relationship is automatic; it is part of the flower’s constitution. Nothing can be done to change this, and to outside observers the spontaneous devotion is a thing of beauty.

In a similar manner, the sakhis and their chief friend, Sita, are forever devoted to Rama. They sprout up in happiness from seeing Him. In this instance, Sita has placed the garland of victory around Rama’s neck. The garland is made of flowers and it is the first reward given to the victor of the contest. Rama was the first person to lift Lord Shiva’s bow in the assembly in King Janaka’s court. His victory earned Him Sita’s hand in marriage, a hand coveted by all the many princes assembled there that day.

Tulsidas here reminds us that Sita and her friends are spontaneously devoted to Rama. As flowers, they open up right away upon seeing Him. We living entities are actually the same way, though we don’t realize it now due to so many births spent in the material existence. Yet just from hearing of Sita’s devotion and the devotion of others associated with Rama, we can slowly work our way back to the bhava stage, where we love God so much that we don’t even realize that we’re serving Him. We always think of Him, and during times of inactivity we involuntarily recite His names, like those found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”

In Closing:

When moon rises in the night,

And gives off its rays bright,

Kairava opens up at first sight,

Spontaneous devotion to light.


To devotional service accurate way to compare,

Only in thoughts of God, in world no other care.


Sita and friends in this way did look,

When glance at Shri Rama they took.

Friday, May 24, 2013


ramayana_CH76_l“Both the picture of Sita and Rama and the day were incomparable. In happiness, the society and the queen look at them and receive bliss moment after moment.” (Janaki Mangala, 110)

rāma sīya chabi nirūpama nirūpama so dinu |
sukha samāja lakhi rāninha ānam̐da chinu-chinu ||

“How can you describe God accurately? If He is everything, the complete whole, then aren’t the words you use to describe Him part of Him? If even your words, which come out of your mouth moment after moment, are part of His definition, how can you ever completely describe Him? Every time you open your mouth to glorify Him you are further expanding the definition. By doing this you’re also saying that the previous descriptions were not sufficient. If God is so impossible to explain, why even try? Why frustrate yourself?”

We use comparisons to try to accurately describe things. For instance, if we go to a new pizza restaurant and try out the pizza, we will explain its taste by comparing it to the pizza from other restaurants. “Oh, this is even better than that other place. Previously, that was my favorite, but not anymore.” We can take the same approach when saying how bad something is. “This is worse than even that other place, and you know how much I didn’t like that place. So just imagine how horrible this place is.”

It is natural, then, to attempt to describe the Supreme Lord, the source of all things, by using comparisons. For the comparisons to be meaningful, they should reference objects which are known to the audience. I can explain how I make my decisions throughout the day by invoking references to computer programming and database querying, but if people aren’t familiar with these disciplines, my comparisons won’t mean much. The Supreme Lord is thus typically explained in terms of objects of which people know.

Lord RamaThe radiance from His complexion is compared to the bright moon. His fragrance is compared to the beautiful lotus flower, as is the softness of His skin. His beauty is compared to Cupid, who is the god of love. His strength is compared to the lion and the elephant. His fighting prowess is compared to the leader of the heavenly realm, Lord Indra. The breadth of His fame is described in terms of known space, namely the three worlds. His longevity is compared to the time span of the living entity, which remains manifest between the times of birth and death. Though He is compared to so many things, He is actually incomparable, or nirupama. The same holds true for the image created when He unites with His eternal consort.

If He is incomparable, why do the scriptures give us comparisons? The reason is the constitutional position of the living entity. Whether we like it or not, we are inherently linked to God. And there is nothing we can do to permanently get rid of the link. We can try to forget it, and this is to our detriment. The forgetfulness causes us to fall into the material ocean, which is miserable due to the fact that everything exists temporarily. Whatever you have today will eventually be gone. Though you search for temporary fixes, trying to forget about imminent death, know that the end will approach all the same.

Death is the end of the current life, but the cycle repeats in the next life. In this way the forgetful soul continues to spin through acceptance and rejection, enjoying temporarily only to suffer separation in the end. The link, however, is available at any time. In order to get it back all it takes is a desire to reactivate it. It’s like that book that you bought months ago that’s remained on your bookshelf, gathering dust from remaining untouched. You mean to get around to reading it, but you’ve constantly put it off. Just because you put it off doesn’t mean that the book ceases to exist. At any time you can open it up and get the experience you originally desired.

In the same way, the connection to God can be rekindled at any moment. The scriptures, such as the Vedas, make the process easier by explaining the glories of God in terms that we can understand. Even if you have no interest in philosophy and get bored hearing about the difference between matter and spirit, you can get the same idea of God by listening to stories about Him. These stories describe factual occurrences, such as the time when the Supreme Lord incarnated on earth and lifted the extremely heavy bow of Lord Shiva to win the contest in King Janaka’s court.

This is the event of focus for the Janaki Mangala poem by Goswami Tulsidas. Though not part of the original Vedas or their direct supplements known as the Puranas, the work is Vedic literature nonetheless, as it describes the glories of God as they are explained originally in the famous Vedic texts. The language may be a little different and the storytelling more streamlined, but since the focus is on the Supreme Lord and His activities, the work serves the same purpose as the original scriptures.

If you know nothing about God at all, from the verse referenced above you can at least know that He once lifted a bow to win a contest. The prize was the hand in marriage of Sita Devi, the daughter of King Janaka. God was in His incarnation of Lord Rama, and in that form He looked so beautiful. When He received the garland of victory from Sita’s lotus-like hands, the picture was so beautiful that you couldn’t compare it to anything else. The fact that the image was incomparable proves that it could only be about God, who is everything.

It is valid to say that the image was incomparable. It is said that the day was also incomparable. Nothing can compare to the marriage of Sita and Rama, which had all the drama of a Hollywood movie and the heroism of a competition of strength. Though the Supreme Lord is unlimited and can thus accept an unlimited number of devotees, as Rama He takes only one wife. They only get married one time in each creation, and on only one day. Thus to say that the day was incomparable is accurate.

Sita and Rama marryingThough words can’t accurately describe the image or the day, Tulsidas does not throw his hands up and give up. The nature of a true saint is to try to bring that which is most valuable to as many people as possible. Never mind that the image was incomparable, the poet still gives us ways to understand what the image looked like. He says that the queen and her family were in total happiness and that they received ananda, or bliss, moment after moment by looking at Sita and Rama. In this way we know that the image was cherished by the eyes; it was so beautiful that no one wanted to look at anything else. The satisfaction came from the image itself; because the object of focus was splendid enough, there was no diversion of attention.

From their behavior know that immersion into the glories of the Supreme Lord, which are fortunately endless, automatically brings the focus necessary to stay away from the unwanted elements in life. “Don’t do this and stay away from that.” This we already hear from so many people, but what should we do all the time? What should we use our vitality for? Here the answer is given: look at God and His devotee. If you can’t see them directly, hear about what they did and what they looked like on an incomparable day. This version of thought is known as vishno-smaranam, or remembering God, and just like its target it cannot be compared to anything else.

In Closing:

Queens and friends at image did stare,

Of such beauty that nothing to compare.


Moment after moment bliss they did receive,

Feeling happiness that no one could believe.


Though accurate description never can give,

Still saints in hopeless frustration not to live.


Accounts of Sita and Rama they provide,

Mind in that image can thus always reside.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Narasimha Chaturdashi 2013

DSC04354“Hiranyakashipu had been exactly like a fever of meningitis in the head of the three worlds. Thus when the wives of the demigods in the heavenly planets saw that the great demon had been killed by the personal hands of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, their faces blossomed in great joy. The wives of the demigods again and again showered flowers from heaven upon Lord Narasimhadeva like rain.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.8.35)

Imagine if it were a crime to love. The crime applied at the most basic level; loving in thought was enough to qualify. No other action would be needed to break the law. Then imagine that the punishment for the crime was death, by any means. Whatever it would take to end the life of the culprit would be sanctioned by the government. Imagine, then, that the government made this the top priority, the one crime more than any other that needed to be prosecuted. Such a circumstance seems unthinkable, but it most certainly existed a long time ago in the kingdom ruled by Hiranyakashipu. On the occasion of Narasimha Chaturdashi, we celebrate the time when the Supreme Lord descended to earth to prove to one and all that loving Him is never punishable. Rather, the one who tries to stop such a love from being practiced becomes worthy of the harshest punishment handed down in the fiercest manner.

If you look at the popular causes taken up by celebrities and the philanthropically inclined, they all somehow involve love. If there is a specific disease that results from people having sexual relations, which is deemed the only kind of love by those who are unaware of the spiritual science, then all efforts are taken to eradicate that disease. No thought is given to abstinence or refraining from that particular activity. Why would you want to do that, as love is the reason for living?

Then, if there is any kind of obstacle made in the profession of love, the same activism is there. Never mind that nature’s law dictates something else with respect to relationships. Also, never mind that the piece of paper from the government doesn’t interfere with the relationship in any way. It also doesn’t make the relationship. I may be very good friends with someone else, but do I need the government to acknowledge that friendship? The prohibition in this case has no bearing on the relationship, and so my activism to get the government to change their mind is really pointless.

Real love is known as prema in Sanskrit. It can only be directed at God because God is the only person who can accept an unending amount of love offered under any circumstance. I can’t love my cat when I am hundreds of miles away from it. While I am at work, and my cat is at home, there is nothing I can do to offer love. My thinking of the cat isn’t as good as being with it. Watching my cat on webcams installed in the home also isn’t as good as being there. The same holds true for any relationship.

In dealings with a paramour, if I say “I love you” too quickly, I could ruin the relationship. If I offer too many flowers, write too many notes, or make too many spontaneous gestures, the corresponding party could leave me for someone else. Thus there is a game that must be played, where the love is withheld to some degree. The fact that the other party can voluntarily opt out of the relationship proves that the love I offer is not supreme. It has conditions.

Prahlada and NarasimhaIn love for God, there are no conditions. Not even the most powerful person in the world pitted against the least powerful can do anything to stop the love. Narasimhadeva appeared on this earth to confirm this fact. His devotee, Prahlada Maharaja, was only five years old at the time. Due to the good fortune of his mother having met Narada Muni when she was pregnant with child, Prahlada was born a devotee. He didn’t want to chase after illusory happiness. He didn’t want to just play the day away. Rather, he knew that loving God is the real business of the spirit soul, the essence of identity. He was so infused with devotional feelings that he couldn’t speak of anything else. Whether in recess with his fellow classmates or sitting on the lap of his father discussing the day at school, Prahlada could only praise Vishnu, which is a name for God given in the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India.

Hiranyakashipu was the king. He was a fierce ruler too. Everyone in the world was afraid of him. Even the worst dictators have a soft spot for their family members. Such was the case with Hiranyakashipu, at least in the beginning. He was affectionate towards his son. He wanted Prahlada to follow in his footsteps. “Let my child grow up to be a great ruler, to be feared around the world like I am. Let him learn from the spiritual guides of the royal court the art of ruling. Let him learn the different methods of diplomacy and how to rule over subjects.”

Unfortunately for the king, Prahlada was only interested in Vishnu. The spiritual guides were dumbfounded by this. They hadn’t taught Prahlada anything about Vishnu. Though the Supreme Lord is the origin of matter and spirit, the strength of the strong, the giver of religious principles and the system of right and wrong, these teachers tried their best to keep Vishnu out of their teachings. Prahlada didn’t need them, though. He remembered what he heard while in the womb of his mother. Just a moment’s association with someone who loves God can thus do so much. Narada Muni gave Prahlada all the information he needed.

An outside observer can say that Prahlada was sort of a “bible thumper” or “religious zealot.” “He was a little too religious for such a young age.” In actuality, he was simply loving someone else. He didn’t ask for sanction from his father. He didn’t ask anyone else to support his relationship. He simply loved God and didn’t hold back in talking about it. This was the number one crime in the community. In the present day there are so many laws on the books that nobody knows all of them. A nation can pass a piece of legislation that is intended to overhaul the healthcare system, and no one in the country, including the lawmakers, knows what’s in the bill. In this way so many laws get ignored, by both the citizens and the administrators. The violators also don’t get punished, especially if they belong to an ethnic group that can be bought off for votes in future elections.

Prahlada thrown off a cliffUnfortunately in that kingdom, Prahlada’s crime was too egregious to be ignored. Hiranyakashipu made sure of it. He tried to kill his son in so many ways. Killing a child within the womb is a little easier in modern times because no one really sees what happens. Meat eating is very commonplace for the same reason; no one really sees the violence. In Prahlada’s case, everyone could see what was going on. The father had his attendants attack the boy with deadly weapons. That didn’t work. He had the boy thrown off of a high cliff. That didn’t work. He had the boy put into a raging fire. That didn’t work. He had the boy thrown into a pit of snakes. That didn’t work.

“My son Prahlada, you rascal, you know that when I am angry all the planets of the three worlds tremble, along with their chief rulers. By whose power has a rascal like you become so impudent that you appear fearless and overstep my power to rule you?” (Hiranyakashipu, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.8.6)

Nothing worked, and so the father tried to have the teachers get the boy’s mind right. When that didn’t work, Hiranyakashipu was set on killing the boy himself, but he first wanted some information. He wanted to know the source of his son’s amazing strength. Hiranyakashipu received his strength from worshiping various demigods. This is worship in the mode of passion, and so it is somewhat religious but not really. The intent was bad all along, indicated by the king’s great contempt for the Supreme Lord. The source of Prahlada’s strength was the same as it is in anyone else. The boy informed his father of this. The father then sarcastically asked if God was in the pillar next to them, as he was unable to see any higher power. Rising up in anger, Hiranyakashipu struck the pillar with his fist.

NarasimhadevaThe Supreme Lord then appeared out of the pillar. He was in a ferocious form, one fit for the occasion. Hiranyakashipu had previously been granted so many benedictions that made him immune from different kinds of attack. He was also safe in certain areas and time periods during the day. Narasimhadeva, a half man/half lion, killed the king in such a way that none of the previous boons were violated.

Prahlada’s crime indeed wasn’t one. Hiranyakashipu’s trying to stop Prahlada’s devotion in any possible way was actually the worst crime, one that the Supreme Lord Himself wanted to punish. He always comes to the rescue of those who are devoted to Him. Therefore the wise souls always chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”

In Closing:

In a kingdom from a long ago time,

To love God in just thought was a crime.


Devotion was in child a precious gift,

But father to offer punishment swift.


Though of flesh and blood of his own,

With snakes, in fire, off high cliff son was thrown.


Finally, to Prahlada’s rescue the Lord came,

Half-man/half-lion, of Narasimha the name.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Garland of Love

Sita holding victory garland“With her beautiful, lotus-like hands she is putting on the garland, like Kamadeva placing the moon in a noose of lotuses.” (Janaki Mangala, 109)

lasata lalita kara kamala māla pahirāvata |
kāma phanda janu candahiṃ banaja phansāvata ||

“What is the purpose to that chain around your neck? Is it an ornament? Does it symbolize something? Why do you wear it? Who gave it to you? If someone offered it to you, why did you accept it? It looks very nice, and you seem to be happy wearing it, so obviously it must mean something to you.”

In the Vedic tradition, it is customary to offer exalted guests a garland of flowers. Especially if the guest is a holy man who has come to speak on the glories of the Supreme Lord, the offering of the garland is almost compulsory. But what is the actual purpose? Why a garland of flowers and not something else? Why does the invited guest accept the offering? In this verse from the Janaki Mangala we see the purpose to not only the offering of the garland, but also the offering of any item in the proper mood. The garland in this case is compared to a noose, which means that the gifted party is bound in some way.

Yashoda binding KrishnaWe don’t usually think of binding the Supreme Lord. He is supreme for a reason; He cannot be bound. We, on the other hand, are bound to the cycle of birth and death based on our karma. We do some work today, and we may not realize it, but that work has consequences both in the short term and the distant future. I enroll in a four-year college today, and while presently my work may involve completing assignments for the specific courses I’m taking, in the future this work will help me to perform my job functions. Thus there is both a short and long term effect.

Bhagavad-gita, 15.8“The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another as the air carries aromas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.8)

Our work influences our state of being when we quit our body. That state of being then determines where we will end up next. This fact is given to us by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita. The gross elements of earth, water, air, fire and ether make up our visible body, and the subtle elements of mind, intelligence and ego make up the portion that we can’t perceive. These subtle elements come with us to the next life, like the air carrying aromas.

As work influences consciousness, it would make sense to fix our work right now so that we could have the best consciousness at the time of death. This is easier said than done, however. In the same Bhagavad-gita, Arjuna, the recipient of Krishna’s instructions, compares subduing the mind to trying to control the wind. The mind is driven by the senses, which are like wild horses running in every which direction. The senses are influenced by the material energy, and so in this sense we are bound to the cycle of birth and death because of the material energy.

Krishna, or God, is the origin of matter and spirit. He has a transcendental body, so His features are not binding like ours are. He can even appear within the material energy and remain above its effects. Therefore when we say that we can bind God, it doesn’t seem to make sense. If the material energy, which controls us when we are conditioned, doesn’t control Him, how can we ever possibly do anything like bind Him?

Sita and RamaIn this verse from the Janaki Mangala the answer is given. Goswami Tulsidas compares the placing of the victory garland on Lord Rama to Kamadeva binding the moon with a noose of lotuses. A noose connotes a negative to the target. Who wants to be bound by a noose anyway? Here the noose is made of lotus flowers, so the experience isn’t bad. The lotus is not only externally beautiful, but it smells very nice as well. The moon is very beautiful, so it is an apt comparison for Rama.

Kamadeva is the god of love, and in this instance Sita is the one acting as the romantically interested party. This is still only a comparison made by a devoted poet. There is no way to accurately describe Sita’s love for Rama, so the comparison to the god of love helps us to understand her emotion a little. Since Sita here loves Rama, who is God, instead of kama, or material love, she feels prema, or divine love. While the conditioned souls are bound by kama, the Supreme Lord is bound by the prema of His devotees.

This should make sense if we think about it. Our children are in the inferior position. They have to listen to what we say. They are smaller in stature as well; a disposition that is very convenient for us. Imagine if our children were stronger than us. In the critical years where they need instruction, we wouldn’t be able to provide it. Due only to their yet to be developed bodies and minds can we compel them to hear some words of wisdom, whether they like it or not.

The children don’t always get pushed around, however. Sometimes we do things that they want. How is this possible if they are in the weaker position? The answer is love. From our love for them, we agree to their demands from time to time. Our love can be so strong in many cases that we allow them to do things that they shouldn’t. This is typically the case when the parents are looking to find friendship with their young children.

Sita and RamaIn the case of the Supreme Lord, any offering made with love and devotion is accepted by Him. In Sita’s case, the victory garland bound Him both in terms of social protocol and divine love. The garland was the symbolic trophy of the contest. Rama, who is the same Krishna but in a slightly different visible form, was in Janakpur while a contest to determine Sita’s husband was taking place. Her father, King Janaka, decided on the rules of the contest: whoever would first lift Lord Shiva’s heavy bow would win the hand of his daughter in marriage.

Rama did what no other king came close to doing: He lifted the bow and broke it while stringing it. This meant that Sita was now His wife. He was bound to her for life. The garland she placed on Him was an offering of love because she wanted Him to win and no one else. Rama was forced to accept that noose made of lotus flowers. Rama is the source of all light. In His transcendental abode there is no need for a sun or electricity.

Bhagavad-gita, 15.6“That abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by electricity. One who reaches it never returns to this material world.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 15.6)

Since He is the source of all light, His brilliance does not diminish when wrapped in a garland of lotus flowers. The moon’s brightness may be shielded by the clouds, but not Rama when in the presence of His devotees. The same type of garland is offered to the spiritual master and to respected Vaishnavas, devotees of the same Rama and Krishna. If made with love, the offering is accepted by the Vaishnava, who then agrees to talk about the Supreme Lord. They accept the offering and pass it up the chain of spiritual teachers, eventually reaching Shri Krishna.

In Closing:

Garland of lotuses in Sita’s hands found,

Neck of her new husband to place around.


Like God of love a noose taking,

And the bright moon bound in it making.


The Supreme Lord, whom Krishna we call,

Controlled by devotees, though controller of all.


Moon shielded by clouds, but with Rama not so,

So beautiful when garland around Him did go.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Helpful Nudge

Sita and Rama“With loving hesitation, Sita steals glances at the body of her beloved, like the vines around a desire tree going through its leaves by the blowing of the wind.” (Janaki Mangala, 108)

sīya saneha sakuca basa piya tana herai |
suratarū rūkha surabeli pavana janu pherai ||

Sita’s love for Rama is real. It is not something that will go away or change. The blowing of the wind causes objects to shift. One second they may be connected with one object and the next they are disconnected. One second the wind knocks off the hanging piece of siding from the house, clanging against the side and annoying the residents in the process. Another second the same wind blows the piece of siding away from the house, removing the noise. In our dealings in the material world, our constant toggling between like and dislike manifests in all areas, and this shift can be compared to the blowing of the wind or the swinging of a pendulum. In real love, however, the connection is there to stay, like vines of a creeper wrapping around a tree and not pulling back.

Love, as we define it, is flickering, and this shouldn’t be difficult to understand. Just think of any couple you know who is married. Perhaps in the beginning of their relationship they are madly in love, always craving each other’s association. After many years together that excitement fades, for they see each other every day. They see each other all the time, and they have no other option. They are essentially stuck with each other for a long time. If they have children, they have other responsibilities to deflect from their original flame of affection. If they both work for a living, they have even less time for interaction. Thus their life goes from excitement to dull routine.

The routine then represents a sort of disconnected state. If you’re not at least thinking of each other all the time, then the physical separation due to the time spent at work only makes you further apart emotionally. Then, as soon as there is any disagreement, it becomes easier to separate permanently. Think about it. If you hardly see the person that you live with, how difficult would it be to live without them permanently?

This fact also explains how quarrels with family members who live elsewhere are so commonplace. If I see my family members once a year on Thanksgiving, what is the harm to me if I don’t see them one particular Thanksgiving? If I barely have enough time for my spouse and children, how will I have time to spend with my friends and family who live nearby? If I get into any kind of argument with them, it is very easy to vow to never speak to them again and then keep that vow.

The Nectar of DevotionThe Vedas explain why material love is tenuous. The foremost exponent of Vedic philosophy in the modern age is His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who teaches from the authorized line of disciplic succession that originates from Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In this line of instruction not only is material love talked about, but so is spiritual love. The Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu of Shrila Rupa Gosvami deals extensively with loving God, which is the soul’s natural disposition.

From the bona fide teachings of acharyas in this line, we learn that what we know to be love is actually kama, which can be translated to “material desire” or “lust.” Material desires change all the time, so what we know to be love isn’t permanent. We love someone today, but tomorrow we could love someone else. We love our nephew today because they are so young, but when they get older the love might not be as strong since they are an adult, and thus deemed less innocent.

Real love is prema, and it can only be directed at God. You cannot have prema for anyone else. Seems like an unfair declaration, but in the Vedas there is no concern for how the truth will make others feel. Political correctness is simply a way to stifle speech because of how others are made to feel. Still, the truth is the truth. If our cat is dead, we shouldn’t tell someone else that it is alive to spare their feelings. The death is a reality. Similarly, the fact that prema can only be directed at God is a reality, and the sooner one accepts this fact the sooner they will reach the ultimate aim in life.

We can try to offer prema to others, but something will get in our way eventually. If we keep our affection for someone else throughout life, which is indeed very rare, eventually their association will be lost. This is the influence of time, which is known as kala in Sanskrit. Kala appropriately also translates to death, which is the most obvious indication of the influence of time. Attempted prema can also be checked by others through their treatment. The lack of reciprocation is the easiest way to turn love to hate. Our own affection can go elsewhere based on the actions of others. Also, we are limited in this exercise of prema. If I am separated from my loved one and I think of them, they have no way of being affected by my thoughts. In this case the physical distance influences how my prema is offered.

Sita and RamaReal prema cannot be checked because it is directed at someone who is omnipresent. Thinking of Him is as good as being with Him. The verse quoted here from the Janaki Mangala reminds us of this fact. Sita Devi is about to place the garland of victory around her future husband, Lord Rama. Rama lifted and broke the bow of Lord Shiva at the contest in King Janaka’s kingdom. The first person to do this would win, and the prize was the hand in marriage of Sita, Janaka’s daughter. Sita was thrilled that Rama won; she saw Him and knew that He was the right husband for her.

Her love was so strong, but since the marriage hadn’t been officially performed yet, she couldn’t do anything but stare at Rama. And yet that was good enough to be considered love, as her behavior is likened to a creeper wrapping around the leaves of a desire tree due to the influence of the wind. The creeper in this sense is too shy to go to the desire tree. Sita loves Rama, but protocol dictates that she not approach Him yet. She was a pious daughter of a pious king; so she would not violate the standard etiquette by showing too much affection in front of others.

Rama is not an ordinary tree; He is likened to a desire tree, which is found in the heavenly realm. From a desire tree you can get whatever you want. It is the only tree in existence that will grow money if asked. To be wrapped around a desire tree is to be in the presence of something that will always give whatever you want. Sita only wanted to be with Rama and serve Him. Her love for Him was without motivation and without interruption. Not even her shyness could prevent her from going to Rama. Her glances were like the wind pushing her towards Rama to steal a moment of affection.

We are all meant to love God. We may realize Him through different features, but the attraction is there all the time. When influenced by ignorance, we love His material energy, which is separate from Him. This kind of love is known as kama, and it results in repetition in the cycle of birth and death. When we love His impersonal feature, we merge into the Brahman effulgence, and thereby lose our identity. The loss of identity means the loss of the ability to love; hence residence in the Brahman effulgence is not permanent.

When we love God’s personal form we actually offer prema. This is what the soul really wants, but due to the influence of the material nature, which changes our real ego into a false one, we offer our affection to so many other people and things. From Sita’s example we should know that if we offer our love to God He will never reject it. He will allow us to wrap our vines around Him without any problem, no matter how far away from Him we may be. And the devotees of the Lord are so kind that they carry the winds of devotion to help the process along, giving us the necessary nudge when we are hesitant. They bring the information of Sita and Rama’s marriage and they also always chant their names, as found in mantras like “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”

In Closing:

To love God you want to give a try,

But in beginning maybe a little shy.


From fear not able to budge,

So devotees give helpful nudge.


Glances at beloved Rama Sita did steal,

Like leaves of desire tree vines to feel.


Blowing wind to desired object closer to bring,

Sita and Rama, their glories we always sing.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Awarding the Victor

Sita with the victory garland“Taking the victory garland in her lotus hands, Janaki is looking so beautiful. What poet is there who can describe such a grand picture?” (Janaki Mangala, 107)

kara kamalani jayamāla jānakī sohai |
barani sakai chabi atulita asa kabi kohai ||

Here Sita Devi is ready to place the victory garland on her soon-to-be husband, Lord Rama. While the victory has brought joy to the entire town, to each person there is a unique happiness. It would be natural to assume that the triumphant party would be joyful, as would be His friends and well-wishers, but in this instance the happiness of the person giving the symbol of victory is specifically addressed. She was radiant with beauty from her happiness, and the picture was too wonderful for any poet to describe.

One way to understand what Sita was feeling is to repeat the same event in the present. “How can we do this? How can we go back to that famous moment in time when Lord Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, broke the amazingly heavy bow of Lord Shiva? How can we recreate the suspense? The victory was more remarkable because it was surprising. It was astonishing because of the many previous princes who had failed to lift the bow. To recreate the scene would be like skipping to the end of a movie without having experienced the entire buildup, no?”

Rama lifting the bowThe fact that we know of this incident today shows that we can recreate the event to some degree. The poets glorified the event in song and thereby immortalized it in the process. From this one verse alone, Goswami Tulsidas has allowed us to travel back in time using the mind. We can try to picture the beauty of Sita’s lotus-like hands as she held the garland of victory. We can imagine the joy she felt and the anticipation in her heart as she awaited placing that garland on the deserving victor.

She wanted Rama to win as soon as she saw Him. She knew that none of the other princes gathered there that day were right for her. Not that she wouldn’t serve her husband regardless. Her father, King Janaka, taught her the principles of religion since her childhood. She was ready to accept a husband and dutifully serve him so that both of them could advance spiritually. She didn’t need this advancement since she is eternally the consort of the Supreme Lord, but in this time period she set the proper example for all the people of the earth.

King Janaka drew up the contest to determine Sita’s husband. Just as the princes assembled in Janakpur were eager to have Sita as a wife, Sita was invested in the outcome going her way. She wanted Rama as a husband, and so when she held the victory garland in her beautiful hands, she was one step closer to making her dream a reality. When someone finally achieves what they truly desired, especially when it looked like there wouldn’t be success, the happiness is unmatched. The joy is so powerful that it cannot be contained. Therefore the poet here says that the picture of Sita holding the victory garland cannot be described accurately by anyone, no matter their superior eloquence.

One way to partially recreate the same scene is through worshiping the deity. Sita and Rama have been worshiped ever since their time on earth many thousands of years ago. They are known as incarnations of Lakshmi and Narayana. Lakshmi is the goddess of fortune and Narayana the source of all men. Narayana is also known as Vishnu and as Krishna. A Vaishnava is one who worships Vishnu or one of His non-different forms, as this kind of worship is directed to a personal God. The Personality of Godhead has transcendental features that the devotees, His fragmental expansions, can contemplate upon, worship, describe, and be fully immersed in.

Sita and Rama deitiesThe abhisheka is a central component of deity worship in the Vaishnava tradition. It is a bathing ceremony. The deity is not dirty; it is transcendental due to the authorized way in which it is constructed and then worshiped. The bathing ceremony is for the worshiper’s benefit. It allows the souls that are servants by nature to serve. It’s like a general being given a mission or a hockey player being allowed to play a game. There are temporary designations we accept throughout the journey of life based on our material capabilities, but every soul’s original designation is servant of God. Any chance we are given to act on that designation should be capitalized upon. And someone who allows for that opportunity to materialize is to be known as a true saint.

The Vaishnavas are saints in this regard, as they pass on the tradition of deity worship. The tradition originates with the Supreme Lord, who is thus known as the most merciful. When performing the bathing ceremony, one takes the designated liquid and pours it from a conch shell over the head of the deity. When one is doing this they can immediately go back in time to when Sita held the garland of victory for Rama. They can pretend that they are declaring both Sita and Rama to be victorious, to be the most beautiful couple that is so kind to allow the fallen souls to worship them in such an intimate way. And that worship is key to the personal relationship, something no person can take away from us. Someone may teach us how to worship and how to understand God, but in the end the formation of the relationship is up to us. To make God our own is to realize the true boon of the human existence.

Rather than imagine what God looks like and what He does, we can rely on the words of the saints like Tulsidas, who from a single verse in his works gives us the chance to spend the entire day thinking about God. That beautiful garland lay in Sita’s hands, awaiting its destiny of hanging from the neck of the beautiful Shri Rama. God is glorious, something which His triumph in Janakpur reminds us of.

In Closing:

When bow shattered the entire earth shook,

Janaki then victory garland in her hands took.


To go around Rama’s neck flowers did wait,

To reach final destination, ideal state.


For sentiments from that day to understand,

Worship deity with conch shell in hand.


Then pour sacred offerings from the top,

And vow to love Sita and Rama without stop.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Perfect Day

Sita's friends“Then the priest asked all the sakhis to sing wedding songs. They then went to bring to Janaki whatever her mind desired.” (Janaki Mangala, 106)

taba upurohita kaheu sakhīṃ saba gāvana |
calīṃ levāi jānakahiṃ bhā mana bhāvana ||

If you could plan out your perfect day, what would it look like? Where would you go? What would you do? Who would be there with you? For many young women, this dream relates to their marriage. That will be the perfect day, when everything goes right. For one famous young lady in particular, her wedding was like a fairy tale, only everything about it was real. News of the reality spread throughout the world at the time. The same news was then immortalized in India’s ancient texts, allowing for us to relive that most auspicious day.

What would be the perfect wedding? For the woman, obviously a suitable husband would be the first priority. How can you have an ideal wedding if you’re marrying someone you don’t like? This begs the question as to what makes the perfect husband. The word itself implies protection. In the Vedas, the term for husband is pati, which can also mean controller. Not to be confused with a domineering figure who forces other people to submit to his demands for sense gratification, the controller in this sense is one who runs the show with respect to a married life guided by religiosity.

What is the difference between marriage in religiosity and marriage in irreligiosity?

Without religiosity, one is guided by their senses. The sense impulses have dominance in the lower species, but in the human being those impulses can be ignored. For instance, we decide when and how much to eat. We could immediately shift to a diet of rice, vegetables, and fruits if we wanted to. We could eat meat, drink wine, and consume endless candy bars if we wanted to also. Each choice has consequences, and using the receptacle of information that is the mind, combined with the wonderful gift of an advanced intelligence, the human being can make wiser choices that will benefit them in the future.

A marriage based in sense gratification isn’t really a marriage at all; it is more a formalized bond based on animal instincts. The animal is cold in its dealings with sense objects. Think of the two dogs that have sexual relations and then move on. There is no duty or honor; there is no conscience persuading one party to take care of the other for life. A marriage in sense gratification is similar to this, as it can break at any time should either party no longer feel sense stimulation. In the Vedas, the householder who lives without religiosity is known as a grihamedhi.

Marriage in religiosityA grihasthi is the householder who lives with religiosity. All rules and regulations of religious life, which in its bona fide form is based on the laws of the spiritual science, are meant to culminate in God consciousness. To think of God is to have a taste of the original consciousness. To constantly think of God is to reach the aim of life, which automatically brings an end to the cycle of birth and death. As the sense demands are the strongest hindrance towards God consciousness, various systems of maintenance are suggested to help one gradually work their way towards the stage of bhava, or full ecstasy resulting from connection with the Divine.

Grihastha is an ashrama; it is a spiritual institution. The male in this system is the protector; he dominates in the sense that he will protect his wife from outside attack and also maintain the household so that the spiritual activities can be carried out without a problem. The woman looking to enter this religious institution would thus prefer the best protector. Someone who was religiously inclined would be the most helpful to fitting into the scenario of the dream wedding.

For your special day, you would also want your friends and family around. Life is no fun if you don’t have anyone with whom to share your experiences. Sometimes it is actually more enjoyable to relive an event after the fact, telling your friends about what happened. If you go on vacation, it is better to visit so many places just so that you have something to talk about with your friends later on. “I went here and I went there. I ate at this place and relaxed over there.”

For the daughter of King Janaka, the wedding was perfect. Everyone she loved was there. All her closest friends, along with her family priest, mother and father, celebrated the occasion. Sometimes the wedding situation is not ideal for everyone. For instance, perhaps the father of the bride doesn’t like the groom. Perhaps the mother of the groom has objections to the marriage. In the end, they may give their blessings begrudgingly so that the wedding can go forward without a hitch.

Sita and Rama's weddingIn Janaki’s situation, everyone was ecstatic. One couldn’t tell who was happier. Was the bride more thrilled or the parents? Were the friends happier or the protected citizens, or praja? In this verse from the Janaki Mangala, Goswami Tulsidas provides further details about Janaki’s special day. The name Janaki means the daughter of Janaka. She is more commonly known as Sita, the wife of Rama. Here Rama has just fulfilled the qualification for marrying Sita, and so the wedding is all set to take place. King Janaka’s family priest, Shatananda, told the sakhis, the friends of the princess, to sing felicitous wedding songs. They then went to get Sita, fulfilling all her desires.

Sita’s marriage was perfect because all the conditions were met. Her husband is the best husband. He is the protector of the whole world. He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead in His spiritual form of a warrior prince. If you surrender to Rama, you will never be devoid of protection. Even if you somehow think He is absent from your life, you can simply chant His name and be reminded of Him. And more comforting than thinking of Rama is thinking of Sita, who is devoted to Him in thought, word and deed. She united with that beautiful son of King Dasharatha on the occasion of her perfect marriage, an event still talked about to this day.

In Closing:

Marriage of Sita and Rama set,

For best day all conditions met.


Groom of strength and righteousness there,

Also all people for whom Janaki did care.


Priest asked friends for wedding songs to sing,

Then to ceremony the princess to bring.


Always names of Sita and Rama should say,

And instantly perfect becomes your day.