Saturday, July 6, 2013

Attacking the Ego

Sita Devi's hand“Thus destroyed by your sinful work, with happiness the people you have brought down will speak of you thus: By good fortune the terrible one has met destruction.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.14-15)

evaṃ tvāṃ pāpakarmāṇam vakṣyanti nikṛtā janāḥ ||
diṣṭyaitad vyasanaṃ prāpto raudra ityeva harṣitāḥ |

In the Vedas it is described that the spirit soul is the identifying force within each living being. As soon as you say “a life,” you are implying the soul. Just as when I mention my cat, my dog, my shirt, my house, I am automatically referring to myself in some way, as soon as you mention a living being or anything relating to them, you reference the spirit soul. Due to the illusion created by the material covering we don’t know that the soul is being mentioned. This covering is both gross and subtle. Part of the subtle covering is the ego, which is false when knowledge of one’s real identity is lacking.

Bhagavad-gita, 7.4“Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego-altogether these eight comprise My separated material energies.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.4)

The false ego in the male rises most rapidly through interactions with a female. As a man, if I meet a woman who compliments anything about my appearance, it can very quickly go to my head. “Wow, she must really dig me. It’s probably this shirt I’m wearing. I look great in this shirt. I mean, who wouldn’t be attracted to me right now? Let me check myself out in the mirror. Man, I am looking so good.”

There is every chance that the compliment is not genuine. A waitress is supposed to be polite. It’s part of her job. The same goes for a receptionist, a nurse, and a salesperson. Sometimes people say things just to be nice. It doesn’t mean that they are interested in you or attracted to you. Nevertheless, with the male nothing will inflate the ego more quickly than a compliment from a female. On the flip side, nothing can dampen the ego more quickly than harsh words from a woman. We get an example of this from the above referenced verse from the Ramayana.

Ravana was very puffed up over his opulence. By today’s standards, he would be the wealthiest person in the world. Actually, there is really no comparison available from today’s world. This is because the wealthiest person today isn’t necessarily the strongest. They probably aren’t very courageous either. They have hired help to keep them safe. They may be very smart, but they aren’t necessarily considered the world’s strongest man.

Shri HanumanRavana was all of these things, or so he thought. His kingdom was filled with gold. There was so much opulence that no one would believe it. The opulence of the city of Lanka during that time is partially described in the Ramayana itself through the eyewitness testimony of Shri Hanuman. He had no interest in praising Lanka either. Hanuman was in the city as an uninvited guest, a person who snuck in to crash Ravana’s party. Though Hanuman knew Ravana to be the world’s greatest fiend, he still couldn’t help but admire the city’s opulence.

By any conventional assessment, Ravana earned his opulence. He fought for it. Lanka was basically handed to him out of fear. That fear grew out of Ravana’s reputation in fighting. The demon had ten heads and a tremendous fighting prowess. In actuality, he didn’t earn this ability; it was given to him as a reward for austerities. I can be proud of my beauty, but what hand did I play in getting it? I can be proud of my parentage, but what say did I have in who my parents would be? Thus everything is actually given to us, or at least sanctioned by a higher authority.

Ravana fought with other powerful kings around the world and defeated them. He accepted the queens of the defeated foes as his wives. These were very beautiful women. They were chaste as well, headed by Mandodari. Thus Ravana had so many people around to puff up his ego. Swelling with pride, he thought he could easily attract someone who was off-limits. Sita was Rama’s wife, and she was dedicated to Him for life. She would never accept another man; not even if he forced himself upon her. Ravana tried every which way to win Sita over. He kidnapped her, held her captive, tried to scare her by painting a bleak picture of the future, and even surrendered unto her fully in lust. None of this worked.

The above referenced words from Sita were part of her rebuke. Here she really attacks his ego. She says that he will meet with destruction because of his sinful work. The reactions to work don’t always arrive immediately. The reward of studying for so long in school is increased intelligence in adulthood. The reward for planting a seed and tending to the crop is a healthy plant that produces fruit later on. Ravana had done so many sinful deeds, like killing innocent sages and eating their flesh. He was a man-eater, which is the lowest of the low even by today’s standards.

“Just as a tree starts to blossom during the proper season, so the doer of sinful deeds inevitably reaps the horrible fruit of their actions at the appropriate time.” (Lord Rama speaking to Khara, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 29.8)

Sita DeviOf course his worst crime was stealing Sita away from Rama. Ravana didn’t fight the Lord fairly. He would have lost. Rama was alone with His immediate family in the forest. Though He was living like a recluse, still He could defeat anyone in battle. Ravana was advised of this, and so he used a ruse to take Sita. She had not done anything wrong her whole life. She was extremely charitable. One of her favorite pastimes was going to the forest with her husband and liberally distributing gifts to the sages who lived there. She did not deserve anything bad, and yet she found herself in a terrible situation in Lanka.

This was due to Ravana, who is referred to here as raudra, which can mean one who is very terrible or angry. It also can refer to a worshiper of Rudra, which is another name for Lord Shiva. Both definitions applied to Ravana. He was not a pure devotee of Shiva, who is the deity in charge of the mode of ignorance. All individuals have a worshipable figure. There is thus religion for everyone; with the culmination of all religious practice being love for God; the kind of love Sita had and Ravana didn’t. Ravana worshiped Shiva, but only for material benedictions. Shiva is a devotee of Rama, and so there was nothing Shiva could do to prevent Ravana’s demise. And neither would Shiva prefer to protect Ravana.

Sita here says that Ravana’s foes would be so happy once his destruction came about. Who likes to be embarrassed? Who likes to be laughed at? We especially like to be praised after we have left this earth. We want many well-wishers to come to our funeral and remember us fondly. Not that we want others to suffer in our absence, but it’s nice to know that we’ll be missed. Here Sita essentially says that others will praise God for their good fortune once Ravana is gone. These are the people that Ravana previously defeated. Their joy would essentially nullify the prior defeat at the hands of Ravana.

The ego that is easily manipulated by the reaction of females is false. Praise or ridicule from members of the opposite sex should not make one’s identity. In Ravana’s case, the rebuke was necessary, as his ego was dragging him towards destruction. Already slated for death, not even the harsh rebuke from Sita would save him. All individuals, however, regardless of gender, can take great pride in Sita’s resolve. She is the greatest wife, always thinking of Rama and serving Him. Rama is God, the Supreme Lord for all of humanity. He descends to earth whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, but this doesn’t mean that one can’t serve Him now.

Bhagavad-gita, 4.7“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion-at that time I descend Myself.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.7)

Sita DeviSita is very humble, shy, kind and sweet, and her ego is completely real. She takes full confidence in Rama’s prowess. She is sure of herself because she knows that devotion to Rama is beneficial to her. And in the same line, devotion to her is most beneficial for all of us. She persevered through her connection with Rama, and so through remembering her we can fight through the difficult challenges of material life, conditions that are made worse through the influence of the false ego. The ego rightly shifts from false to real through knowledge of our constitutional position, which is servant of God. Sita shows how that position manifests and how one behaves when they have found it.

In Closing:

From words pretty woman tells me,

I know I’m beautiful, in mirror just see.


This shirt does make me look good,

My attractiveness now understood.


From such compliments ego to inflate,

Rebuke also the same to quickly deflate.


Defeated foes of which Ravana mentioned,

Upon his demise they’d get their redemption.


This to Ravana Sita told,

Sadly prediction to unfold.


Through service to God make real,

The false ego, no more hubris to feel.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Where’s Your Crown

Ravana's crowns“O Ravana, all living entities take great pleasure when a short-sighted person of sinful work meets destruction on account of their own deeds.” (Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.13-14)

svakṛtairhanyamānasya āvaṇādīrghadarśinaḥ ||
abhinandanti bhūtāni vināśe pāpakarmaṇaḥ |

“I can’t stand my boss. He is the worst person in the world. Seriously, I’m not just saying this because he orders us around. He has a terrible character. He’s always intoxicated. He promotes the wrong people and belittles the ones that are actually valuable. He has been this way ever since I’ve known him. Now that the company is doing poorly, he’s on the verge of collapse. He’s gotten rid of the most valuable people, and so now he’s left with hardly anyone who knows what they’re doing. I know I shouldn’t feel this way, but I’m pretty happy. He deserves everything he’s getting. He was the king of the castle before, and now he’s blaming everyone else for his demise. In the end, he’s left without his crown, forced to suffer the results of his own work.”

We know we shouldn’t feel pleasure over someone else’s misfortune, but if they have it coming to them, we can’t help but rejoice. Imagine if that someone took stock in what other people thought of them. If they came to know of the happiness their downfall caused, they surely wouldn’t like it. Here Sita informs Ravana that he will indeed fall down and meet destruction and that others will take delight in seeing this.

She’s not being mean. She’s not trying to hurt his feelings. She’s merely telling him the truth. She gives the prediction in the form of a general truth. She also explains the specific circumstances that lead to the result. The person must be shortsighted. We see the negative consequences to shortsightedness all the time. If we feel tired in the morning and decide to sleep some more, there is shortsightedness because we’re only thinking of the fatigue at the moment. We’re ignoring the work that has to be done the rest of the day. We’re ignoring the responsibilities we have.

pillow on bedThe negative consequences will be due to our own deeds. No one else will be to blame. Sure, we can try to blame others. “Oh, they gave me too much food last night. I thought it would be rude saying ‘no’, so I just kept eating. When I eat too much, I have a difficult time sleeping. When I don’t sleep enough, I can’t wake up in the morning. Therefore someone else is to blame. Not me.”

Actually, in this situation no one forced us to eat. We made the decision. In fact, overeating the night before is another example of shortsightedness. With a vision that extends out longer, we could have predicted the future negative outcome. We could have thought, “Oh, I won’t be able to sleep well if I eat too much. I won’t be able to get up in time the next morning. Therefore let me control my eating tonight.”

Sita says that the enjoyment of the living entities here comes from the destruction of someone who is sinful. Papa-karma is the exact term used, and it translates to one who does sinful work. We tend to think of sin in terms of harsh restrictions like “no sex before marriage” and “no missing church.” At the rudimentary level, a sin is just something that leads to a negative consequence. In the previous example, the overeating was a kind of sin, propagated by a lack of foresight. It is surely difficult to do pious work, which is the opposite of sin. In pious work, others may not be so favorable. They will not like the restrictions you put on yourself. If you are not shortsighted, however, then the vision of the future will help to keep you on the straightened path.

From Ravana’s example, we see that the shortsightedness and sinful work went hand in hand. He stole Sita away from her husband Rama in secret. It was a sinful act because she was already married to another man. It was shortsighted because he didn’t think that Rama would ever find him. He also only looked at Rama’s present situation, where He was living in the forest as a recluse. Ravana thought that Rama was a poor man, someone who couldn’t maintain a wife, let alone defend her.

Lord RamaIf his vision was a little extended, Ravana would have realized that Rama voluntarily left the kingdom of Ayodhya. He did so to maintain the promise of His father, King Dasharatha. Rama also had defeated the fiercest creatures in the world, which included 14,000 of Ravana’s own soldiers. Rama did all of this while in the forest. He did not have His chariot with Him, nor did He rely on an army.

Ravana’s destruction was going to arrive soon enough, and all the living entities would rejoice in that. If you’re a king who is puffed up by a false ego, if you hear that others will be happy over your demise, you will not take too kindly to those words. That was the purpose to Sita’s statement, after all. By being truthful, she hoped to make Ravana concerned over something that he took a great interest in, namely fame. Who wants to be famous for their downfall and the subsequent elation of the people of the world over it? Rather, you want others to be somewhat saddened by your death. This way it shows that they miss you. If they are happy, it means that they really didn’t like you.

The worst sin is to get in the way of someone’s devotional service, which is the highest occupation for man. This is symptomatic of the strongest shortsightedness, as it ignores the Supreme Lord’s interest. In karma, or ordinary work, God is more or less neutral. There is a system in place to hand out the rewards and punishments for such work. The system works smoothly, so there is no direct effort required on the part of the Supreme Controller. With the fate of His devotees, however, there is an interest. Sita is the Supreme Lord’s eternal consort, therefore Rama always takes in interest in her wellbeing. Ravana’s most grievous sin would indeed cost him everything, and in that demise the saintly people of the world would rejoice in Rama’s victory.

In Closing:

If you are a person of deeds bad,

At your death others not to be sad.


Instead with elation to rejoice,

To your bad qualities give voice.


This to Ravana Sita pointed out,

Fame his legacy would be without.


To shortsightedness and sin this due,

Of his eventual destruction Sita knew.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

A Single Offense

Lanka on fire“Just as getting you as their leader, Lanka, though filled with an abundance of the best jewels, will be soon destroyed due to your single offense.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.12-13)

tatheyam tvām samāsādya laṅkā ratnaughasamkulā ||
aparādhāttavaikasya vacirādvinaśiṣyati |

An aparadha is an offense, something to be avoided by someone who is serious about spiritual life. There are ten offenses to chanting the holy name, and one of them is blaspheming the devotees. Here is an instance of that offense, and it is of the worst kind. More than just speaking words aimed to harm someone else who is innocent, the offender here has snatched her away from the side of her husband without just cause. Though she refused him over and over again, he would not budge. He tried further attempts at persuasion, using even coercive techniques, but nothing worked. Because of his single offense, his entire city would soon be destroyed.

The cause and effect here should not be difficult to understand. An offense is just doing something the wrong way. The worse the offense, the more egregious the violation from the rules of propriety. Imagine preparing to run a marathon. You start running short distances and then gradually build your way up to running several miles without a problem. In the weeks leading up to the race, you keep an eye out for bad foods. You want to keep your blood pumping smoothly. Thus you don’t want to clog your arteries with saturated fats. You want to keep your blood pressure in check and get a nice routine of exercise going.

PizzaWith all this being done, you’re ready to run the race. Oh, but the night before the race you decide to get plastered by going out to a bar. While intoxicated, you decide to eat an entire pizza. After that, you grab a pint of ice cream and finish off the whole thing. You are in so much discomfort then that you can’t even sleep well. The race is the next morning. In such bad shape, you can’t run more than a mile.

All that hard work was destroyed by a single night of offenses. Here the objective was to run a long-distance race. Your prior training built up your strength. Your fitness in this area was a kind of opulence. It was something of value; something which not every person possesses. It also was not very easy to acquire; it took hard work. From one night, however, all of that got erased.

Ravana had an opulence too, but on a larger scale. His city of Lanka was filled with an abundance of wonderful jewels. In the opening sections of the Sundara-kanda of the Ramayana, we get descriptions of Lanka’s opulence based on the observations of Shri Hanuman. He was a messenger sent to find the missing wife of Lord Rama, Sita Devi. He infiltrated Lanka when he heard that she might be there. While in the city, he couldn’t help but notice its opulence.

“He [Hanuman] saw in that great city seven and eight story buildings inlaid with crystal and decorated with gold. Those houses of the Rakshasas shone brightly with their surfaces studded with vaidurya gems and decorated with strings of pearls.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.52-53)

The amount of gold alone was mind-boggling. Crystals were found in the floor tiles and along the walls. The arches in the city were made of gold. The opulence was beyond anything one could imagine. Ravana was very powerful too. He had tremendous physical strength. Kings around the world feared him. He had taken over Lanka by threat of this physical force. His half-brother Kuvera had lived there previously, but when he heard of Ravana’s dreadful prowess, he fled the city.

Despite so much opulence, through a single offense Lanka would be destroyed. Sita’s prediction here would prove to be true. Ravana did not have to take this route. He could have avoided the offense by worshiping Sita, honoring her as the mother of the universe. He could have returned her to Rama, who is her husband for all of eternity. He could have invited Rama to come to the Ashoka grove in his kingdom and enjoy the pristine environment there with Sita. He could have immediately sent his ministers out to find Rama and let Him know that His wife was safe.

Sita and RamaThe offense here is particular to a devotee. Though Rama was also offended since it was His wife, because He is God no one can offend Him. What does He care if someone doesn’t like Him? What’s it to Him if He’s not shown the proper respect? The offender is the loser in these instances. They miss out on associating with the only person who has all bliss and all knowledge for all of eternity. They miss out on rekindling the lost relationship with the one person who can accept an endless amount of affection, lifetime after lifetime.

The offense here was against Sita, as she was prevented from serving her husband, which was her lone desire. Previously, Rama’s step-mother Kaikeyi had banished Him from the kingdom for fourteen years. This almost prevented Sita from serving Rama, but it didn’t. Prior to that, there was the heavy bow of Lord Shiva in the assembly in Janakpur that served as an obstacle. Sita’s father, King Janaka, had made the bow the issue of the contest. Whichever prince could lift it first would win Sita’s hand in marriage. If Rama couldn’t lift the bow, Sita couldn’t marry Him. Thus she would be prevented from serving Him in the manner she desired.

If the motives are pure, the servant gets to carry out their service. Whatever is in the way, especially an obstacle created by someone who is against such service, will eventually get destroyed. Whether the obstacle is a nagging cold or a fiendish king who lives in an opulent city, the destruction is sure to arrive all the same. Sita, and particularly the offense committed against her, did Ravana in. If he had left her alone, perhaps he could have ruled over Lanka for a long time and then continued in his passionate pursuits later on. Since he was so offensive, the entire kingdom was destroyed.

Sita made mention of this because the jewels in the city were important to Ravana. He had used his opulence as a way to support his ego. He thought that maybe Sita would be impressed by his tremendous wealth. If he didn’t have it anymore due to offending Sita, no other princess would be impressed by him either. So in this way Sita knew just what to say to try to cut at the heart of the miscreant.

Through envy, insecurity, wrath, false pride and other negative attributes we are prone to offending others, including those who work tirelessly to chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” and distribute them to others. Such saints are very dear to Sita, and so offending them is like offending her. And from her statement above, we know how destructive such a mistake can be.

In Closing:

In strength he stood tall,

With opulent city he had it all.


Or so that is what he thought,

Desired princess to Lanka he brought.


Her heart away from Rama not to win,

Offense against her the greatest sin.


When pleased all opulence to devotees she gives,

When offended miscreant in total destruction to live.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Ruining a Great City

Lanka burning“After obtaining a king who is engaged in bad conduct and whose mind is not controlled, even opulent states and cities will be destroyed.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.11-12)

ākṛtātmānamāsādya rājānamanaye ratam ||
samṛddhāni vinaśyanti rāṣṭrāṇi nagarāṇi ca |

“Boy, I’ve had my eye on this car for a long time. I’ve followed along with the news updates once it was announced that the car was going to be manufactured. I think it’s the coolest thing out there. In one sense, it’s a work of art. Never before has a car like this been made. The internals are great; such a remarkable engine. The exterior is befitting the superior make. I can’t wait to get my hands on this.

“Normally, I negotiate when buying cars, but not with this. I will have to struggle to get first in line. I will have to beat other customers to the punch. This car will be in such high demand that I will have to stay tuned to the latest news in order to make sure that I’m able to purchase one. Cost is no concern here. Sure, this car is worth a pretty penny, but I think it’s better to pay a little extra for the finer things in life. Don’t you agree? Granted, this is paying a lot extra, but so what? You only live once, so why not take hold of the chance?”

…a little later

“I love this car. It’s my baby; such a smooth ride. I’ve gotten rid of my other cars. I only want to drive this one. Sure, I have to get it washed like once a week, but it’s worth it. Sure, I have to park it all the way in the back of public parking lots so that no other cars come near it, but protecting this bad boy is worth the extra effort.

Expensive car“I have to go out of town this weekend. My youngest son is the only person who will be home. I’ve given him explicit instructions to not drive the car. We’ve had trouble with him in the past, as he likes to party and have fun with his friends. He also really likes my car. He doesn’t really listen to what my wife and I tell him, but we have no choice in this situation. I can’t bring the car with me. He’s our only option. As I conveyed the gravity of the situation to him, I’m sure he will do the right thing.”

In a situation like this, it’s easy to predict what will happen. Putting an irresponsible person in charge of something that warrants responsibility is not a good combination. The object of attention here is an expensive car. The worst that can happen is the car gets damaged or ruined. Surely this is bad, but hopefully everyone is safe and sound afterwards. The car here is very opulent. It is a wonderful object. And yet from just one weekend in the custody of someone bereft of a controlled mind and who is given towards impious behavior, it can get ruined. The same happens when you have a kingdom that falls into the hands of a lusty fiend. This is the point made here by Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama.

Her statement makes complete sense if you think about it. We used the example of an expensive car, but so many other situations can be referenced as well. You wouldn’t put a teenager in the cockpit to steer an airplane, would you? Especially if they had no training whatsoever in flying, such a decision would lead to peril. The leader of the state makes decisions that affect everyone’s lives. If they are not of the right caliber, even the most opulent city or state can be ruined.

This fact is worth mentioning precisely because of the visual. The opulence creates a sort of illusion within the mind. If we see so much opulence, it’s difficult to picture destruction. It’s hard to imagine being poor if you are so wealthy. And yet poverty is exactly what will result if all of your wealth is gone. If it is put into the hands of someone whose mind is not controlled and who is always engaged in bad conduct, then there is every chance of the wealth being squandered. Think of the person who hires a financial manager and puts all their trust in them. The manager, who is not very wise in this case, then invests in something very risky. In an instant, the life savings of the customer vanishes.

RavanaIf you choose a leader of bad qualities, your state that once had high employment rates and low crime can take a turn for the worse overnight. Ravana needed reminding of this because his city was very opulent. He thought no one could harm him due to many reasons. First, he was very powerful. He took over the city by force. It was also strategically located. It was an island situated far away from any mainland. An army would need to build a bridge to the city in order to attack it. What army would take the effort and how would they successfully build such a bridge?

With his false sense of security, Ravana went ahead and did the worst possible thing. He kidnapped the wife of Lord Rama, the most capable bow-warrior this world has ever seen. Ravana had an idea of Rama’s abilities. The Lord had defeated 14,000 of Ravana’s men singlehandedly. He did this in defense; Ravana’s army had attacked first.

Because his mind was not controlled, Ravana threw aside common sense and went ahead and took Sita. He did so in secret. He figured nothing bad would come of it. If she refused, he could try to persuade her. If that didn’t work, he could try to scare her into submission. In fact, the retort offered by Sita here is in response to Ravana’s most heartfelt pitch. He practically begged her to become his queen, but she wouldn’t budge.

Sita’s wise words apply to both prince and pauper alike. We are all ruling over something, as at the most basic level we steer the direction of our life through actions. If our mind is not controlled, we are in trouble. Weight gain, drug addiction, anger, greed, wrath, and so many other negative things can be avoided with a controlled mind. If we are engaged in bad activities, we can quickly destroy our lives. The homeless are pitied upon first glance, but with so much social welfare available in industrialized nations, how does anyone become homeless? Only through the combination of an uncontrolled mind and bad behavior can someone fall so quickly.

Sita DeviSita is a Vaishnavi, which is the feminine form of the word Vaishnava, which means a devotee of the personal aspect of the Supreme Lord. The personal is the origin of the impersonal. The foggy conception of a supreme controller is a derivative of the original personality. Rama is considered an expansion or incarnation of the original spiritual personality known as Krishna. A Vaishnava is someone who worships either Krishna or one of His direct expansions like Rama.

As a Vaishnavi, Sita tries to steer others in the right direction, no matter how vile they may be. Ravana here was being warned so that he could avoid ruin for both himself and his kingdom. Meditational yoga is the mechanical way to control the mind, but it doesn’t necessarily guide conduct. You can try to do good deeds, but if your mind is fixed on sinful behavior, those thoughts are like seeds waiting to bloom.

Devotional service combines both aspects [controlling the mind and doing good deeds] to bring about the best possible end. Devotional service is simple: worship God. Do it through any of nine different ways, the two foremost being hearing and chanting. Accomplish both through constantly reciting the maha-mantra: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

Sita always chants the names of her beloved husband, who is with her for life. Her mind is thus always controlled, and in deeds she can never do anything wrong. She showed Ravana the right path through her rebuke, but unfortunately he didn’t listen. The Vaishnavas of today offer the same path, and since it is so wonderful, it can maintain any good condition. A controlled mind and good deeds can maintain a wealthy state, but most importantly they can maintain an unbroken link to the beloved husband of Sita, who promises that the devotional service of His devotees is never destroyed.

In Closing:

With this car in luxury to live,

Care for weekend to son I’ll give.


In this I have no other choice,

Gave stern warning to him with raised voice.


Taking expensive vehicle as toy,

Surely will do something to destroy.


Leader of the nation has responsible post,

Therefore his misdeeds cause suffering the most.


With Ravana’s bad deeds and uncontrolled mind,

Destruction opulent city of Lanka sure to find.


Best if the Supreme Lord instead to know,

This path devotees like Sita to us show.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Ultimate Reality

Sita holding flower“Or you do not accept the good words spoken by the wise, as your mind is led towards something false. This will bring the destruction of the Rakshasas.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.10-11)

vaco mithyāpraṇītātmā pathyamuktaṃ vicakṣaṇaiḥ ||
rākśasānāmabhāvāya tvam vā na vratipadyase |

“I tell you from the bottom of my heart, there is no tangible result from fruitive activity alone. You’re worried about money right now, but everything will be alright eventually. You’re worried over this and that, but why are you not concerned over why birth and death take place? You know that despite the best efforts of government, no matter what laws they do or do not pass, tragedies will occur. Even if you are able to prevent all bombings and horrific acts of violence, will everyone be happy?

“As recently as five years ago, the price of gasoline was much less than it is today. Were people happy back then? The unemployment rate was much lower and so was the cost of healthcare. Were people thrilled about those things? Actually, they weren’t. They were worried about something else. Therefore I’m telling you that whatever problem you think exists right now, solving it will not put an end to your distress. Birth and death are the real problems, and they are caused by an error in consciousness. If you fix your consciousness, you won’t have to deal with these things anymore.

“You fix your consciousness by thinking about God. You may take me to be a religious zealot, a fanatic who is trying to force their religious model upon you, but why should you feel threatened? You worship already. Everyone does. Just change your primary focus of worship. Don’t give up being nice. Don’t give up caring for others. Don’t give up being charitable. Just offer those things first to God.

Lord Krishna“Originally He is all-attractive. He has a beautiful, youthful form that never changes. Because of these features, the Sanskrit word used to address Him is Krishna. He is also the reservoir of transcendental pleasure. This reservoir is shared with those who connect with Him. Therefore He is also addressed as Rama. The energy of God is so attracted to Him that it thinks of nothing else. This is the never-contaminated energy. It is addressed as Hare.

“Even if you’re thinking that Krishna is the God of the Hindu faith, that He can’t be your God as well, then at least remember Him within the heart. This feature is known as the Paramatma, or Supersoul. It has a form as well, but if you don’t believe that, at least know that it’s there. Since the Supersoul is God, He has no interest in temporary things. He has no interest when there is no interest in serving Him. It makes sense if you think about it. Food, shelter and clothing are there for the animals. They don’t think about morality at all. They don’t worry about the poor or how to protect the innocent. They are more or less focused on their own desires, which are based on instinct. They are provided everything, so why should the human being make these worries their primary focus in spiritual life?

“Rather, the advanced intelligence of the human being is specifically earmarked for God consciousness. If you can’t think of Him within the heart, know that He is the universal energy of spirit. Every living being we see is spirit at the core. The nature we are controlled by is also originally spirit. All fragments of spirit are the same, and taken together they are known as Brahman. In the case that you can’t believe in a personal God, at least know that there is Brahman. Become Brahman realized by thinking of spirit and not matter.”

Such good advice will largely go ignored if one is focused on something false. The false objects typically fall into one of three categories. The category with the most objects is karma, or fruitive activity. Think of money. If you’re around family life so much, all you’ll hear about is money. “This car costs that much. This house is escalating in price. This relative bought such and such car. This person is so cheap. This company tried to rip me off.” Money is the primary focus, and it is something false because it doesn’t bring the person to where they think they are going. You think that if you win the lottery that all your problems will suddenly vanish, but actually so many new problems crop up.

moneyThe false objects in fruitive activity ultimately relate to sense gratification. “With more money I can eat better. I can sleep better. I can spend more to attract a better mate. I can spend more to protect my stuff. With all this stuff, I’ll be able to enjoy perpetually, without having a care in the world.” This is all false because sense gratification is not the ultimate objective for the spirit soul. In so many cases less is more. If you limit your sense enjoyment, you will actually find so much pleasure.

This brings us to the second category. It is the inverse of the first. This mindset tries to negate everything. “Money, wine, women, sense pleasure in general – they all suck. Let me get rid of all these things. Then I will be happy.” This is also a false objective because the end result is a state of nothingness, or void. You cannot remain in the void for too long. As is the nature of spirit, eventually there will come a time where activity is craved.

The third category has hints of the first two. In this one the individual desires mystic perfection. “Let me meditate so that I can block everything out. Eventually I will reach a status where I can do amazing things, like become very light or heavy. I can travel outside of my body and then return. I can read minds and predict the future. How cool will all of that be?” If there is no tangible purpose served by these abilities, what is the use in having them? It’s like buying an expensive car that will only sit in the garage, never to be driven.

All three categories can have hints of religion. The fruitive worker can pray to get money. The person who wants to negate everything can think of Brahman and hope to eventually merge into the transcendental light. The mystic yogi can recite specific mantras and holy names in order to stay focused in their meditation. Since these objectives are ultimately unreal, or mithya, the processes used to attain them don’t bring the best result.

Sita DeviThe devotees of the Lord always present something real. They are not afraid to speak the truth, and they find ways to inject cogent points into even the oddest of circumstances. From the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, we get one such example where good advice is offered. Here Sita Devi ponders the thought that Ravana, the king of Lanka, might be rejecting the wholesome advice of the wise people in his country because his mind is being drawn towards something false. That mistake will lead to the destruction of his entire clan, the Rakshasas.

The false object was Sita herself. Ravana looked at her with an eye towards sense enjoyment. He wanted her for his wife. The problem was that she was already married, and to someone who wouldn’t lose in a fair fight. The bigger problem was that Sita can never be with anyone except her husband. He is Rama, the same Krishna but in His avatara form famously known through Vedic works like the Ramayana. If you see enough false things, if you are so deluded that you won’t listen to anything reasonable, you’ll descend to the point where you’ll even try to enjoy with God’s wife, who is also known as Lakshmi.

Despite his blindness, Sita tried to counsel Ravana. She told him to let her go and return her to Rama. Then all would be forgiven. This would be an act of service, a kind gesture towards Rama. The same offer is there for everyone. At any point, in spite of many lifetimes spent chasing false objects, if the turn is made to Rama in earnest, the situation can flip in one second. Rama is the ultimate reality, but seeing Him properly is very difficult. Therefore so many procedures and policies are instituted by the keepers of religious traditions. If we’re so accustomed to not seeing things right, how will we accept wise counsel when it is offered to us? The person stricken by a disease will spit out food that is perfectly prepared. When the disease is cured, the same food then tastes exquisite.

In devotional service, the remedy for both the sick and the well is identical. Just chant the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Hear from divine figures like Sita, Hanuman, Lakshmana and those who follow their example of devotion. If you can’t understand right away or if your chanting seems like it’s not very rewarding, just keep going. You taste the association of false objects all the time and somehow think that the next time the taste will be better, though it never is. As God is the ultimate reality, He is worth trying to find.

In Closing:

A little trouble at start never mind,

Ultimate reality worth effort to find.


Bitter things of maya already taste,

In hoping for better only time to waste.


Seeing things as false we’re accustomed to,

In devotion a perspective gain fresh and new.


To fiend Ravana queen Sita advice gave,

Sadly not even sound words his kingdom could save.

Monday, July 1, 2013


Sita holding lotus flower“Or you do not accept the good words spoken by the wise, as your mind is led towards something false. This will bring the destruction of the Rakshasas.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.10-11)

vaco mithyāpraṇītātmā pathyamuktaṃ vicakṣaṇaiḥ ||
rākśasānāmabhāvāya tvam vā na vratipadyase |

In Sanskrit, the word “mithya” means false. The word is quite prominent in books of higher knowledge, as it is used to explain the material energy, particularly with respect to how that energy is viewed by the person who doesn’t know their true identity. The words “neti neti” are also found quite often, which point to the fact that the real truth is “not this” and “not that.” Though some things are indeed false, it doesn’t mean that the objects which they pretend to be are non-existent. Here the princess of Videha warns the demon-king Ravana that his mind is set on something false. That something is the princess herself. And yet if the princess weren’t real, she couldn’t speak these words. Therefore it must be that the impression Ravana has of the princess is what is unreal.

Sita says that since his mind is driven towards mithya, he must not be listening to the pure advice of the saintly people. We should be familiar with this effect, as throughout life we make so many mistakes that are unseen by us but which others can spot out immediately. “Why are you hanging out with such and such person? They are bad news. You need to cut them out of your life immediately. Don’t buy that shirt. It is ugly. You won’t look good in it. You don’t have to have another beer. You will not be able to control yourself afterwards. Don’t have that extra slice of pizza. You’ll regret it later on.”

pizzaBecause of the false image in our mind, we reject the advice. For the man, the embodiment of the illusory potency of the material energy is the woman. Many a powerful man has been brought down by the influence of a woman. The sight looks like something that it is not. It looks like something that will provide endless enjoyment. It looks like something that the man can love without inhibition. It looks like the gateway to happiness.

If the man is not of the proper consciousness, that false vision can lead to his ultimate destruction. Rather than stay on the straightened path, he can go down the route of sense gratification, which is not the real business of the human being. In the other species, there is no restriction on sense gratification. If you are a dog or a monkey, who is there to stop your chase for sex life? What harm is there if you’re not celibate? In the human species, however, the more you can control sense desire, the more powerful you will be. This is known especially by the wise saints, who either shun sex life completely or only follow it within the bounds of religiosity.

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

Lord RamaHere, Ravana’s lust will bring about the destruction of the Rakshasas. Though he already has so many beautiful women as wives, his mind is driven towards something false. He thinks that the princess of Videha, Sita, should be his wife. He thinks that he will love her as his chief queen and then finally be happy. This vision is false on many fronts. Sita can only be with Rama, who is the Supreme Lord in His avatara fit for the Treta Yuga. Rama is a powerful and chivalrous prince. He and Sita are together for eternity. She is His wife both religiously and in spirit. Nothing can break her resolve in this regard. Imagine trying your whole life to move a pillar that cannot be moved. If you spend your life in this way, you will waste so much valuable time. You could be doing so many other things.

In Ravana’s case, the damage would be twofold. He would be wasting his time in trying to win over Sita, who couldn’t be won over. His lust would also lead to the destruction of his praja, or protected citizens. If you can’t move the pillar, you bring in reinforcements to apply more force. And if you can’t win over a woman, you try even harder. Ravana’s extra effort involved kidnapping and coercive techniques employed by his attendants. Because of these two transgressions, his entire kingdom would be smashed to dust. The punishment was completely fitting, and Sita warned him many times what was going to happen.

When your mind is driven towards something false, what can be done to save you? You must get the right vision in order to turn things around. The Vaishnavas, who follow the devotional attitude of Sita, try to give everyone in the world the proper lenses with which to see. They don’t say that everything is false. Rather, it is just the current way of seeing things that gives the impression of falsehood. The tree and the sky do exist. When we take them to be objects only for sense pleasure devoid of God consciousness, then the images are false. When we use them to glorify the origin of matter and spirit, then they are surely real.

Sita DeviSita’s good counsel found here in the Ramayana are sound vibrations recreated through seeing them in written word. The words presented in ink or in digital form are part of the material nature, and one who thinks nothing of them or considers them only to be part of some great literary work sees a false vision. The wise saints, who always offer wholesome advice, see these words as a way to associate with the sweetheart wife of Shri Rama. They see these words as sagacious advice that every person can take to heart. Thus what they see is real, and from that vision they can help others to see the reality as well.

Brahman is truth and everything else is false, or mithya. Brahman is the source of everything as well; therefore what it produces must also be real to a degree. The false turns into truth when its relationship to Brahman is understood. The reality is quickly found when one knows the source of Brahman as well. That source is Sita’s husband, and He is known by many names in the Vedas. Krishna and Rama are two of the primary names, and another name for Sita is Hare. They are all addressed in the maha-mantra: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

Chanting this mantra in the devotional attitude, where one realizes who God is and the need for serving Him, brings one towards the ultimate reality. In that mindset, one takes good advice. Instead of leading to the destruction of their dependents, they rescue them from the cycle of birth and death. The material creation is part and parcel of God, though it is separate from Him at the same time. It can be used to further forget Him or to go back to Him. Ravana used it to stay as far away from Him as possible. He was so deluded that he couldn’t recognize Sita or Rama for who they were, and so he met with destruction. On the flip side, if you know the reality then you can see God all the time, even though He may not be standing right in front of you.

In Closing:

When mind set on something real,

For myself destruction I will seal.


Stunning woman of beauty so fine,

Will think she is for enjoyment only mine.


All objects of this world seen the same,

Deluded by maya, ultimate result is pain.


Ravana had chance of Sita Devi’s sight,

In delusion couldn’t see her right.


Destruction for him, but easy to turn around.

When seen as Rama’s beloved vision on solid ground.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Activities In Liberation

Bhakti-yoga“The jnani division of spiritualists go on speculating only to distinguish the soul from matter, but they have no information of the activities of the soul after being liberated by knowledge. It is said that persons who only mentally speculate to know things as they are and who do not engage in the transcendental loving service of the Lord are simply wasting their time.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.6.33 Purport)

Liberation in the spiritual sense is the release from the cycle of birth and death. Upon taking birth you are immediately confined. You are forced to sleep at a certain time, eat at periodic intervals, and suffer through heat and cold in order to remain alive. Who would actually choose such a life? Wouldn’t you rather be free to do as you wish? Wouldn’t you like to feel like the skydiver who momentarily sees the world from high up in the clouds, not having a care in the world?

It is not surprising, therefore, that religious life would tackle the issue of liberation. Gaining release from the cycle of birth and death can often be the main impetus for approaching a bona fide discipline of spirituality. “There has to be more to it than this. Tell me why do we exist. I’d like to think that when I die, I’ll get a chance, another try.” But what about stopping all the tries? That would be even better. No more spinning through the cycle; just a state of pure being.

To achieve liberation, it seems that knowing things as they are would be required. If I want to escape from a room, I need to know where the door is. Either I find it for myself or someone shows me where it is. If there is someone guarding the door, I need to figure out a way around them. This also requires knowledge, as one needs to observe and then predict the tendencies of the guard.

CheesecakeIn this pretend scenario, is mere knowledge enough? Shouldn’t you have to act off of the knowledge in order to make it worthwhile? If I know how to make cheesecake and I really have a craving for cheesecake, should I not go into the kitchen and take a shot at making it? Of what use is my knowledge if I don’t take the impetus to work.

Better yet, once I escape from the room, shouldn’t I have something to do? In the liberated state, am I just going to sit there, bodiless? Am I supposed to have no more thinking, no more feeling, and no more willing? Will I be like a rock? If that’s the case, what is so great about liberation? Why would that be what I want? I need to act; that I have noticed from my own time on earth.

From this quick review we get an idea of why one needs to go beyond mere knowledge of things as they are. In Sanskrit, the knowledgeable person is known as a jnani. Their knowledge doesn’t relate to solving math equations or building rocket ships per se. It relates more so to the difference between matter and spirit. A jnani knows the truth of aham brahmasmi, which means “I am Brahman.” The jnani knows that Brahman is spirit, the full collection of it. The individuals are sparks of Brahman, and thus they are spirit as well. The bodies of the living entities are material; hence they don’t form the basis for identity. The truth is not aham maya. Maya is that which is not, so by its very definition it cannot define our existence.

If you are a jnani, you should take to some kind of action. Otherwise, what is the purpose to your knowledge? In true knowledge of spirit, where you see the same spiritual identity within all life forms, you are technically liberated. You are no longer bound to the dictates of the body, which work to cloud the consciousness into falsely associating with maya. At the same time, there must be activities. If you don’t find the right ones, you can again take to activities in maya.

If I don’t follow service after I attain full knowledge, I’ll need something to do. Then I might come up with my own forms of service and lump them into the category of spiritual life. “Service to man is the real religion. I will open hospitals, schools, and charitable institutions. I will help the poor. I will heal the sick. I will try to elevate the condition of those who are really in need. The poor are God’s children after all, so helping them is the way to make God happy.”

These intentions may be noble and the work may indeed serve a viable purpose, but what exactly about the activities ties to spiritual life? Someone who doesn’t know Brahman could just as well take the same route, with the exact same level of compassion. Indeed, someone who is wholly addicted to sex life could easily stumble upon this route. Sex life devoid of religious principles is the quintessential activity of those who are in maya, or illusion. The body of the member of the opposite sex is taken to identify them, and it is also seen as the primary vehicle for enjoyment. That body is destined to deteriorate, however, while the individual within will remain the same. The attractive features, therefore, don’t identify that person.

“Maya has many activities, and in the material world her strongest shackle is the female. Of course, in actuality we are neither male nor female, for these designations refer only to the outer dress, the body. We are all actually Krishna's servants. In conditioned life, however, we are shackled by iron chains in the form of beautiful women. Thus every male is bound by sex life, and therefore when one attempts to gain liberation from the material clutches, one must first learn to control the sex urge. Unrestricted sex puts one fully in the clutches of illusion.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Introduction)

Shrila PrabhupadaThe “service to man” route also does nothing to elevate the spiritual consciousness of anyone. It is simply help of the material variety. The person engaging in such activity shows no signs of being liberated and neither are the beneficiaries given any chance for liberation. And yet the “service to man” route is very popular. This is because the jnani, like anyone else, craves activity. They have the theoretical knowledge, but no field of activity to practically realize it.

This doesn’t mean that the field isn’t there. The next step is bhakti, or devotion. It ties together everything else. Whether one is a karmi [fruitive worker], jnani [mental speculator], or yogi [mystic], bhakti is the culmination to their activities. It is where the ideal service takes place. One can remain bodiless and still act. That action also doesn’t have to create material consequences in the future. King Janaka was a perfect example in this regard. He was known as Videha, which means bodiless. He had perfect knowledge of Brahman. He acted on that knowledge by ruling over his kingdom with detachment. He served his fellow man by following his occupational duties as a king. And then he went further by following bhakti, accepting Shri Ramachandra as his son-in-law. This was all due to Janaka’s pure heart. He was both bodiless and sinless, and he still had so much deference for the Vedas that he remained faithful to his occupational duties. Therefore, seeing his eagerness to act in the right way, the Supreme Lord created conditions for his bhakti-yoga to flourish. The field in his kingdom was both symbolically and literally fertile, as it produced the goddess of fortune, whom Janaka took in as his daughter. She would then wed Shri Rama.

Bhagavad-gita, 3.20“Even kings like Janaka and others attained the perfectional stage by performance of prescribed duties. Therefore, just for the sake of educating the people in general, you should perform your work.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.20)

King Janaka and his daughter SitaThe Supreme Lord, who is known by such names as Krishna, Rama and Vishnu in the Vedas, is the origin of Brahman. He is the lone destination for all righteous souls looking for activity to correspond with their high knowledge. Whereas mentally speculating on what to do after reaching high knowledge is a waste of time, bhakti-yoga never is. In the present age, its most effective implementation is the chanting of the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Chanting this mantra with love and devotion does the highest service to the individual and to their fellow man. The mantra carries the names of God, which liberate both the rich and poor man alike. It can give them the gift of divine service, which is what every person is actually seeking.

In Closing:

Want to go outside soon,

But must first get out of the room.


That door is there I know,

But towards it I must go.


Otherwise from knowledge nothing to gain,

Time spent contemplating only in vain.


From knowledge of Brahman one step more,

Must know God, whether of two arms or four.


Service to Him from names always chanting,

Then best benediction to fellow man granting.