Saturday, July 20, 2013

The In-Laws

lotus flower“As the barat procession approached the city, the people happily came to welcome them. Looking at each other and meeting, it was like love became complete.” (Janaki Mangala, Chand 15.1)

niyarāni nagara barāta haraṣī lena agavānī gae |
dekhata paraspara milata mānata prema paripūrana bhae ||

Few situations in life are more awkward than the initial meeting with the in-laws. They are your new family. Though you may know your future spouse, you likely don’t know their family as well. No matter what you do, no matter how you act, they will always love your spouse more than they will love you. They are not guaranteed to like you, either, as they are naturally protective of their family member about to get married. In Janakpur a long time ago, strangely there were no awkward motions or inhibitions when the in-laws met each other prior to the wedding. This was due entirely to the nature of the participants.

In a traditional marriage, undoubtedly the bride-to-be has a tougher task ahead of her as it relates to the relationship with the in-laws. The groom may get a hard time from the bride’s father, but her father isn’t expected to live with them. The term “being given away” is not merely symbolic. The husband takes charge of protecting the woman once she gets married. She leaves the family of her father.

The wife, on the other hand, must coexist with her husband’s family. Tensions can especially rise with the mother-in-law. For the mother, her whole life her job has been to care for her son. Now a new person is expected to take over that role. The bride wants to make sure she does a good job, but at the same time she doesn’t want to diminish the importance of the mother-in-law. As a mother’s love for her son is very strong, any apparent deficiency in the bride’s duty to her husband becomes prone to correction. And in adulthood who likes to be corrected by anyone else, let alone your husband’s mother?

Sita and RamaSita and Rama had the ideal marriage in so many ways. She was going to enter a family that had three mothers for the one groom. There was only one biological mother, but kings during those times often had more than one wife. This was not a problem since the wives were protected. They were happy living with the king, so who was to say that it wasn’t pious? Indeed, to protect a woman in marriage is a highly chivalrous act on the part of a ruler.

The groom’s party, for their part, didn’t know the bride’s side very well. They hadn’t specifically arranged the marriage. To the eyes of the world, Sita and Rama were joined by chance. Sita was so beautiful and precious that her father decided that she couldn’t be wed in the ordinary way. A contest of strength would determine her future husband. Rama, the eldest son of King Dasharatha of Ayodhya, happened to be at the contest. At the insistence of the sage Vishvamitra, He tried His hand at lifting the bow in the arena. And wouldn’t you know it, He won.

In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, the barat procession that came from Ayodhya is approaching the city of Janakpur. The barat procession is the marching of the bridegroom’s party towards the site of the wedding, which is typically the bride’s home. Here we see that the bride’s party welcomed them with great enthusiasm. It wasn’t a formal gesture, either. The two parties were so genuinely happy to see each other that it was like love became complete.

Indeed, Rama is the Supreme Lord and Sita His eternal consort. They appear in the earthly realm every now and then to enact pastimes. I may not always live with my brothers, but wherever we are, we always stay brothers. In the same way, Sita and Rama may not always be together physically, but they are still eternally linked. When they meet, others feel so much happiness. They are overjoyed because they are devoted to the divine couple. They know how much Sita loves Rama and how much Rama loves Sita. They know how pious King Janaka is and how courageous King Dasharatha is.

King DasharathaDasharatha’s name means one who can fight ten chariots coming from the ten different directions [north, south, east, west, the four corners, up and down]. Dasharatha is a protector of dharma, or virtue. Similarly, Janaka is famous for being self-realized. He carries out his work, but he is not attached to the results. This is how we should act, because we don’t have control over the outcomes to action. Two people may both be morally situated, but they will not always find equal circumstances. Two people may work hard at running their businesses, but both of them are not guaranteed to be successful. Better to carry out your prescribed duties with a cool head. No one was cooler than Janaka, and so it was fitting that his family would be joined with Dasharatha’s.

The same joyful greeting is given by devotees who worship Sita and Rama in the temple. The same greeting is given daily by Shri Hanuman, who chants their names nonstop. The same joyful greeting is given by the devotees to other devotees, for they carry the message of Godhead with them. Goswami Tulsidas here beautifully depicts a wonderful scene, where love comes to life through the meeting of the energetic Supreme Lord and His energy.

In Closing:

The barat procession about to meet,

With smiling faces they will greet.


Awkwardness there was none,

In desires all participants were one.


So joyful when families did meet,

Looked like love finally to be complete.


To natures of Sita and Rama this was due,

Pleasantness to their devotees extended too.

Friday, July 19, 2013

That Sound Around the Corner

Celebrating Sita and Rama“Playing the drums and sounding the auspiciousness and goodness of the occasion, they were getting close to Sita’s native city of Janakpur.” (Janaki Mangala, 120)

bājahiṃ ḍhola nisāna saguna subha pāinhi |
si naihara janakaura nagara niyarāinhi ||

When you’re eagerly anticipating the arrival of someone else, you can’t help but look out the window or wait by the phone. Any indication of their approach will make you even more excited than you already are. In Janakpur a long time ago, the indication of the arrival of anticipated guests was the beautiful sound of drums, which also sounded to mark the auspiciousness of the occasion. And auspicious it would be, as news of Sita and Rama’s marriage would quickly spread throughout the world.

“I have heard, O Sita, that your hand in marriage was won by the renowned Raghava on the occasion of the self-choice ceremony [svayamvara]. O Maithili, I wish to hear that story in detail. Therefore please narrate to me the entire sequence of events as you experienced them.” (Anasuya speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 118.24-25)

Anasuya meeting SitaAnasuya, whose name means one who is not envious, many years later asked Sita, the bride, to describe the details of her marriage. Anasuya already knew these details, but since the event was so glorious, more auspicious than any other occasion, she wanted to hear the story again, this time from Sita, who was a key participant. Anasuya lived during a time where there was no radio or television. Newspapers did not exist, and there was no easy way to broadcast messages to a large population dispersed thousands of miles apart. She lived in a hermitage with her husband, Atri Rishi, and they one day had the good fortune of meeting Sita and Rama.

She knew of the story prior because news of God always manages to spread. That is because it is the most auspicious news, information that never becomes old or stale. Today’s newspaper is discarded once tomorrow’s is released. If the newspaper had valuable information, it wouldn’t be tossed aside so quickly. Even the clothes we wear have a longer shelf-life. Yet the newspaper’s temporary value is what makes it intriguing in the first place. Real news that will have a meaningful impact isn’t so sought after. It is not until one has exhausted all of their material desires that they truly take an interest in that which goes beyond birth and death.

Bhagavad-gita, 7.28“Persons who have acted piously in previous lives and in this life, whose sinful actions are completely eradicated and who are freed from the duality of delusion, engage themselves in My service with determination.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.28)

Imagine then how qualified one must be to actually participate in the events that generate the headlines that remain relevant millions of years into the future. The people of Janakpur were all pious souls during this particular time period. They relished Sita’s wedding. She was the daughter of the king, Janaka, and the king was loved and respected by all, as was Sita. She was marrying the right man; someone who had no blemishes. If there were any negative aspects to Rama’s image, it was in the worry His seemingly contradictory features caused. How can a flower penetrate through steel? How can a youthful body with delicate features display immense strength? This caused worry in the citizens because they wanted Rama to win the contest that would determine Sita’s husband. That worry quickly turned to felicity when Rama effortlessly lifted the bow. This was the mark of strength required to win the contest drawn up by Janaka.

Rama lifting the bowIn the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, the bridegroom’s party is approaching Janaka’s city, where the wedding will be held. Rama’s family was from Ayodhya, and when the people there heard what had happened, they were thrilled as well. King Dasharatha, Rama’s father, stopped everything to give full attention to the wedding. The parties arrived in typical fashion, with elephants and loud drums letting everyone know of their arrival.

If you’re stuck at home without any car to take to go to the place you need to go, you will anticipate the time that the car returns. Perhaps a family member has taken it without your permission. Perhaps they told you they would return at a certain point in time and they then were running late. Instead of just waiting patiently, you’ll likely peep out the window, trying to edge your face against the glass so that you can see as far down the street as possible. This way you’ll know right away when they are about to come home. Every car you see gives you hope, but not until it is the car you’re looking for do you feel happy.

Marriage ceremony of Sita and RamaThe people in Janakpur were just as anxious, except they were waiting for Shri Rama’s family. In this way they had an eagerness to see God and share in His triumphs. Such desires never go unmet. Holding the same desires today will get you association with the same event. Physical separation is of no issue and neither is the long gap in time. Shri Rama, as the Supreme Lord, is timeless, and so are His events. His name, form, qualities and pastimes also extend to all of humanity, to every single person, irrespective of their religious tradition inherited at the time of birth. Men, women, children, priests, servants, and royalty alike heard the sound around the corner of Rama’s family arriving, and with that sound their excitement grew even further.

Similar sounds are generated today by those who are devoted to the same Rama. He is also known as Krishna in His original form, and Sita is addressed as Hare, for she represents the Supreme Lord’s energy. Devotees play mrdangas and kartalas, and chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” to give everyone the good news that the Supreme Lord has arrived on the scene. Though He is all-pervading, we can’t recognize His presence unless our consciousness is pure. Hearing of Him is the most effective way to clear consciousness of all dirty things. Hearing of Him is also a way to directly connect with Him. Thus one who hears these sounds, which are non-different from the Lord, knows that auspiciousness is right around the corner, like it was in Janakpur a long time ago.

In Closing:

Coming from that corner around,

What is that most auspicious sound?


Karatalas and beating of drum,

Many arriving in jubilant fun.


Rama and His family it must be,

Their blessed faces we can’t wait to see.


Hand of Sita in marriage the Lord to take,

Memorable forever this day to make.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Best For Your Son

Worshiping Lord Ganesha“King Dasharatha left aside all work and began making all the wedding preparations. Making the barata procession, he first worshiped Lord Ganesha.” (Janaki Mangala, 119)

rāu chānḍi saba kāja sāja saba sājahiṃ |
caleu barāta banāi pūji ganarājahiṃ ||

The father tries his best to ensure that his son avoids the same mistakes that he made. The father has more experience than the younger dependent, so he can pass on knowledge that the child can use to steer clear of discomfort, pain, heartache, sadness, and risky situations. This type of transfer of knowledge is known as the descending process, and it is superior to the ascending process, especially with respect to spiritual life.

Can a father pass on spiritual wisdom to his son? Does not the fact that he has a son indicate that he is not fully enlightened in the spiritual sense?

What we generally know as love is referred to as kama in Sanskrit. Kama is actually desire, or, in the perverted sense, lust. Kama is what keeps the population of the earth intact. Without a desire for relations with the opposite sex, life would not continue. Actually, only the visible manifestation of life would cease. The spirit soul is the operating force within each living being, and it does not ever die or take birth. What we refer to as birth and death are merely visible appearances and disappearances, sort of like the sun rising and setting each day. The time interval between those periods for the sun is very small in comparison to the typical lifespan of the individual human being, but the duration has no bearing on the existence. Whether the human being lives for one day or one hundred years, the comparison to the rising and setting of the sun is still appropriate.

Bhagavad-gita, 7.11“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)

the sunIn the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna says that He is the sex life that is not devoid of religious principles. This means that sexual relations for the purpose of raising children who follow dharma, or religiosity, is itself religious. It cannot be classified as kama in the normal sense. Therefore we see that there is most certainly a way to keep the population of creatures visible on the earth while simultaneously staying free of the influence of lust.

A father can thus also be truly enlightened and still have children. Famous Vaishnava saints of recent times included householders, people who were married and had children. While maintaining a family, they still were able to author wonderful books on bhakti-yoga, which is the highest dharma, bhagavata-dharma. They were able to distribute information about bhakti-yoga both locally and to the larger communities around them. They were never accepted to be normal human beings; they were enlightened souls sent to this earth by God Himself to help the people.

Bhaktivinoda Thakura, a householder spiritual masterKing Dasharatha was also a householder saint, though he wasn’t necessarily in the religious order. This means that one can be enlightened both as an ascetic and as a father living at home, and also as a priest and as a non-priest. Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita that the sublime wisdom He passed on to Arjuna was originally passed on in a chain of disciplic succession beginning with saintly kings. They followed the teachings of the Bhagavad-gita, which is considered the essence of Vedic wisdom, and then passed on that tradition to their descendants. Though they were in the royal order, the proper guidelines were put into place by the brahmanas, or priests, who advised them. Thus the kings listened to, understood, and protected Vedic wisdom.

Bhagavad-gita, 4.2“This supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way. But in course of time the succession was broken, and therefore the science as it is appears to be lost.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.2)

King Dasharatha was in the line of kings coming from Ikshvaku, who heard the Bhagavad-gita from his father Manu, who heard it from his father Vivasvan, who heard it from Krishna. Thus Dasharatha was no ordinary soul, and neither was he an ordinary father. He wanted the best for his eldest son Rama, who came to him in an unusual way. As a pious king, Dasharatha was not swayed by kama, so even if his sons did come to him through the conventional method, that wouldn’t disqualify him from being considered enlightened. Rama and His three younger brothers appeared in Dasharatha’s family as a result of a sacrifice. The three queens ate the remnants of a particular sacrifice, and from that food they got pregnant.

Dasharatha taking remnants of sacrificeRama is the same Krishna, but in an incarnation form. He is the Supreme Lord for all of mankind. He is not a sectarian figure reserved for the Hindus. Dasharatha, nevertheless, wasn’t aware of Rama’s real identity, which was fine because it allowed him to act with parental affection, which is a mood of devotional service. Dasharatha wanted the best for Rama, and so he always took good care of Him. In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, he is preparing for a wedding. He has heard the news that Rama will marry Sita, the daughter of King Janaka. Upon hearing that news, Dasharatha dropped everything and focused only on his beloved eldest son’s upcoming marriage.

Here it is said that he set up the barata procession. This is the portion of the marriage ceremony where the groom’s family travels together to the bride’s home, which is where the wedding will take place. There is great pomp; sort of like a large procession with a marching band. The notable participants ride on elephants, and everyone is in a festive mood. Prior to arranging this, Dasharatha worshiped Lord Ganesha, who is a famous divine figure of the Vedic tradition. He removes obstacles from the path of his devotees. In this case Dasharatha prayed to have Rama’s marriage go smoothly. The king just wanted the best for his son.

The Ramayana and other derivative works give many such examples of worship of divine figures for the benefit of the Supreme Lord. We tend to ask God for things for ourselves or for other people. “O Lord, please take care of my children. My friend is really sick, please see him through this. I’m in danger right now, please save me.” This attitude is very nice, and certainly prayers to the original Personality of Godhead never fall on deaf ears. But as the material nature is temporary in its position, nothing will last forever. And neither is any condition universally auspicious. Therefore sometimes we don’t get what we want after praying. Karma, or fruitive activity, has its own results to provide. Also, the temporary wellbeing of me or my family doesn’t solve all the problems of life.

The ultimate aim is bhagavata-dharma, devotional service. When following that dharma, the mood is so pure that you actually pray for God’s welfare. You approach powerful personalities and ask them to be favorable to the Supreme Lord. While this seems illogical, the sentiment is so much appreciated by the Supreme Lord that He never allows such a sincere soul to fall out of His favor. Dasharatha is always with Rama in mind, and this is due to Rama’s grace, who is the king’s favorite son.

In Closing:

You passed your parents’ own test,

And so now I want for my son the best.


O Ganesha, to you I will now pray,

To remove obstacles from Rama’s way.


You know that He is my cherished possession,

Let there be auspiciousness on barata procession.


With Sita let Him happily live,

This blessing please to me give.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Temple In Every Home

Rama Darbar in a temple“When the city heard, they became blissful and started singing congratulatory songs. They decorated auspicious kalashas and constructed pavilions.” (Janaki Mangala, 118)

suni pura bhayau ananda badhāva bajāvahiṃ |
sajahiṃ sumangala kalama bitāna banāvahiṃ ||

The purpose of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is to change consciousness. Without a notable shift in the way we think, practice of the yoga of divine love will not be any different from any other kind of practice. One person goes to the store, rents a movie, and then comes home and watches it. Another person attends a gathering where the holy names are sounded, discussions are conducted to delve into the meaning of such a practice and the names contained within the chanting, and sanctified food is eaten. If in both instances the consciousness does not change as a result, the practices are nearly identical. The verse quoted above from the Janaki Mangala gives us one way of telling whether or not consciousness has changed for the better.

If you spend time with miserable people on a regular basis, will you not eventually become miserable too? If they take alcohol and drugs all the time, will not you be swayed into their behavior a little bit? Perhaps if you are strong willed you will not imitate their actions, but your consciousness will still be focused on such a lifestyle. It would make sense then that if you wanted to become pure of mind, increasing your knowledge in the process, you would look to change the type of association.

The mind is the measuring stick to see whether the association is having an effect. The association doesn’t necessarily have to involve physical presence. Television and radio are examples that show how this works. Just by hearing or watching something, our outlook on life can change. If we constantly hear and see these things, then they will be at the forefront of our thoughts. Our thoughts then drive our activities, which are the final indication of the shift in consciousness.

In bhakti-yoga, one should start thinking of the Divine. Why? Because from that thought process all other unwanted things go away. Anartha is the Sanskrit word for an unwanted element. At its root, it means the negation of artha, which means that which is profitable. Everyone desires profit. This doesn’t have to be of the financial variety, wherein you start a business and make money selling a good or service. The worker is as much interested in profit as the owner of the establishment. The profit for the worker comes in the form of a salary. For the farmer it is the yield of the crops. For the loving mother it is the protection of her children. For the husband it is the blissful association of his wife. For the leader of the country it is the satisfaction and wellbeing of his citizens. Since everyone wants profit, everyone inherently tries to avoid anarthas, or things which are not profitable.

leaky roofAn anartha is like having a leak in the roof. If you erect a building to live in, it will have a roof on top. The roof protects you from the scorching rays of the sun in the summer and the chilling snow and rain in the winter. If the roof has a leak in it, its profitability diminishes. Imagine if you did all the hard work to install the roof yourself. The desired profit is a stable and secure home. If the roof is faulty, then your work was not profitable. It ended up being a waste of time.

Similarly, to live a life full of hatred, anger, despair, envy, chaos, tumult, and dread is not profitable for the living spirit, who is full of vitality. We have a life force for a reason, and it is not to eat, drink and be merry. The seemingly magnetic pull of intoxicants shows a desire to escape from the life solely devoted to sense gratification, which provides no lasting happiness whatsoever. Chemicals will not change the situation, though. Only a genuine shift in consciousness, towards an object who is completely pure, will eliminate anarthas and keep one steadily balanced in thought.

We can tell whether practicing bhakti-yoga, as it is passed on since time immemorial by the keepers of the faith who are not envious of the Supreme Lord and who consider Him to be the best well-wishing friend, is having an influence based on our outward behavior. To see how this works, we can look to the example of the residents of Ayodhya. A long time ago, they got the news that their beloved Rama had won a contest of strength in the kingdom of Janakpur. He was set to marry Janaka’s daughter Sita.

Rama was the eldest son of King Dasharatha, and so He was to one day take over the throne. By getting married, He would have a beautiful wife to help Him in His religious observances. Ruling over a kingdom is considered a religious duty if one follows protocol. Even farming and doing menial labor are aligned with spiritual life if the consciousness is properly situated. Such was the case in Ayodhya, as the people started singing auspicious songs, filling up kalashas, and erecting pavilions upon hearing the good news.

Sita and Rama deitiesFrom this verse from the Janaki Mangala, we can tell that everyone in Ayodhya tasted the fruit of bhakti-yoga practice. They essentially had a temple in every home. If you were a passing stranger, you could knock on any door and meet a person who was God conscious. As a result, any person would be kind, sweet, humble, generous, and extremely knowledgeable. They may not have known the theory of relativity, but they knew that Shri Rama was great and that His happiness equated to their happiness. That was more than enough knowledge for them. They knew that service to Him was the highest occupation for any spirit soul.

Rama is God, an incarnation of the original Personality of Godhead. He is the detail behind the abstract conception. He is ever youthful, extremely beautiful, and full of transcendental features. Thinking of Him is bhakti-yoga. To start thinking of Sita and Rama all the time is the best way to change consciousness. Keeping them in the mind is the effect from chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” and maintaining good association. It is the fruit of hearing from the Ramayana and other Vedic texts which describe their activities.

In Ayodhya, the people had the best association in Rama’s company and the influence of His brothers and parents. Today, we can keep the same association by hearing about Rama’s activities. Even hearing of this reaction in the people of Ayodhya is a way of keeping good association. And when that association leads us to start thinking of God all the time, worshiping Him in our home, thereby making it a kind of temple, then we’ll taste the fruits of bhakti-yoga practice.

In Closing:

To know if practice is real,

A change in consciousness must feel.


Bhakti-yoga for this purpose is meant,

In bad association no more time spent.


Anarthas gradually to wash away,

And Sita and Rama in mind to stay.


People in Ayodhya Rama in mind kept,

At chance to hear of Him they leapt.


Joyous reaction when good news did sound.

Then turned every home into sacred ground.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Good Tidings

Ganesha writing“When the king heard, he came forward and worshiped his guest and welcomed him. Given the letter, the auspicious news was heard and the king became very happy.” (Janaki Mangala, 117)

nṛpa suni āge āi pūji sanamāneu |
dīnhi lagana kahi kusala rāu haraṣāneu ||

Parents with children in the military have a unique struggle. As the material body is mortal, death can come at any moment. This is effected by natural forces, among which is disease. The terminal illness can be discovered at any moment, and an accident can end life in an instant. Old age takes longer to develop, so its impact isn’t as sudden. As these are the harsh realities of life, if your son or daughter serves in the armed forces, at any time you can get sad news, information that will take your breath away. A king a long time ago faced a similar situation with his beloved eldest son. The news he received one time was so auspicious, however, that he couldn’t help but feel elated.

The issue of sudden-death is also faced by the police officer’s family. If your father is a cop, you know that he faces danger every day. When you come home from school, there is the chance that he might have been injured during the day. When he goes out at night for a late shift, there is the chance that he might not come back. Surely there is the possibility of the same occurring for any person, but the law enforcement official is in the thick of criminal activity, where guns and nefarious characters who wield them are present. Therefore the risk is increased.

King Dasharatha and familyThe parents are typically more apprehensive because they are supposed to protect the children throughout their lives. When the child enters into military combat the risk of losing life is the greatest. And since the parents aren’t on the field of battle with them, they can only hope to not hear bad news. Anytime someone from the military comes to them, anytime they get news of their deployed son or daughter, they have to hold their breath.

King Dasharatha’s son Rama did not volunteer to go into combat, but He was groomed since childhood to defend the innocent. Dasharatha himself was an expert fighter. His name means one who can fight in ten directions with a single chariot. As he graced this earth many thousands of years ago in the Treta Yuga, military combat took place using bows, arrows and swords during his time. You got around on a chariot driven by horses.

A ratha is a chariot, and in military combat it represents a single foe. The more expert fighters could go against multiple rathas at a time. Think of it like the handicap match in professional wrestling, where you have one guy going against two or three other guys. Dasharatha was special because he could fight simultaneously in ten directions: north, south, east, west, the four corners, and up and down. He was also on the side of the good guys. He only fought against wicked characters dedicated to flaunting the code of morality passed down since time immemorial. Because of his good nature and fighting ability, Dasharatha was the ideal man for ruling over the sacred city of Ayodhya.

Though he had four sons, Dasharatha’s favorite was Rama. Isn’t it just like the hand of Providence to snatch away someone we’re so attached to when we least expect it? The sage Vishvamitra one day came to Ayodhya and asked Dasharatha to have Rama accompany him in the forest. The vile night-rangers were harassing the most innocent in society. Fiends who masked their real appearance, cannibals with no scruples, were attacking the peaceful sages during their religious observances. Vishvamitra wanted the best protector, and so he asked for Rama.

Rama and Lakshmana fighting TatakaThe request was a little strange, as Rama was not yet a teenager. Dasharatha was ready to bring his whole army into the forest to give protection, but Vishvamitra insisted on Rama. As a pious soul, Dasharatha always deferred to the counsel of the priestly class. He reluctantly allowed Rama to go. Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana went along too. Whenever you get Rama, you get Lakshmana also. Lakshmana is just as capable a fighter, and he never leaves Rama’s side.

So we can imagine how Dasharatha must have felt afterwards. He not only lost the personal association of his favorite person in the world, but he had to live knowing that they were in constant danger. Rama and Lakshmana were going to fight these wicked creatures, and the only comforting thought was that Vishvamitra would guide them. All faith was invested in the sage, and without that faith Dasharatha would have nothing to give him comfort.

In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, Dasharatha is welcoming another priest into his home. This time Shatananda from Janakpur has arrived. He is the family priest of King Janaka. After being worshiped, he gives Dasharatha a scroll, which when read aloud brings the king so much joy. The scroll has news of Rama’s upcoming marriage. No news of any harm to the king’s eldest son. No news about Rama never returning. No news about any injury to Lakshmana. Rather, Rama has accomplished the amazing feat of lifting an extremely heavy bow in a contest in Janaka’s kingdom. No other prince in the world was able to move the bow, and yet Rama lifted it with ease. He won the hand in marriage of the beautiful Sita Devi, Janaka’s daughter. Thus Dasharatha was proud of his son and also excited to attend the wedding. He gladly gave his permission as well, which we know from Sita’s recounting of her marriage story in the Ramayana.

“Thereupon, after inviting my father-in-law, the elderly King Dasharatha, to Mithila and receiving his approval, my father gave me away to Rama, the knower of the self.” (Sita Devi speaking to Anasuya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 118.52)

Sita and RamaThe pious leader of Ayodhya got news that day that sent the entire city into a joyful frenzy. Many years later, separation from the same Rama would cause him to leave his body. Death is inevitable, however, and one who thinks of Rama at that time has the most auspicious end to life. Rama is the Supreme Lord, non-different from the original. From Dasharatha’s character, we see why God chose him as His father during one of His plays on earth.

In Closing:

Infant son along the floors to scurry,

Their innocence in parents makes endless worry.


When sent off to fight enemy attack,

No guarantee they’ll ever come back.


Dasharatha’s eldest son to forest went,

King then worrying many a night spent.


When from Shatananda news to hear,

King joyful over fate of Rama so dear.

Monday, July 15, 2013

One Billion Holy Names

Maha-mantra“After the muni reached Ayodhya, he took bath in the auspicious rivers. Shatananda achieved the fruit of reciting a billion holy names.” (Janaki Mangala, 116)

ge muni avadha biloki susarita nahāyau |
satānanda sata koṭi nāma phala pāyau ||

If you want to become a better runner, you should run on a regular basis. No big surprise there. If you want to cook something very nicely, you’ll need some practice. The first time you try it might get burned. Perhaps you’ll cook it for too long, you won’t mix it well enough, or you’ll forget a key ingredient. The ovens can vary, so whatever recipe you took, it might not be suited towards your situation one hundred percent. Practice makes perfect, especially if the practice is ideal. Therefore it shouldn’t surprise us that in order to increase our spiritual strength, practice of a particular method is recommended. That practice brings such a wonderful fruit as well. Whereas in ordinary strength training exercises, there is fatigue and vulnerability of burning out and having all the effort go to waste, such is not the case in the highest discipline of spirituality.

Treadmill runningIf my goal is to run a marathon and I currently don’t run at all, perhaps I’ll start off with running only one mile as my routine. The first day will be very difficult. I might be huffing and puffing my way through the exercise. The whole time I will be thinking of when it will be over. “I can’t wait until I get home. I’m going to sink into the couch and do nothing. From this day forward runners have my utmost respect. I don’t know how they can do this on a regular basis.”

The next day I will be very sore throughout my lower body. I will likely have trouble walking down the stairs. Nevertheless, through enough practice, things will get better. Pretty soon I won’t be so frantic while running. A single mile will seem as easy as taking a walk. My body won’t get fatigued so quickly, either. I will thus become stronger in a particular field through practice. The same holds true in other areas as well.

When we shift the focus to spiritual life, the obvious question is what goal we should try to achieve. In running, the end is pretty simple: work up to the point that you have enough endurance to run long distances. In basic exercise the point is to get a lean and fit body. In cooking the goal is to be able to prepare sumptuous dishes without worrying so much about ruining them.

Lord ChaitanyaIn spiritual life, to know the proper aim one must first know who they are. One route towards answering this question is to go through every single spiritual book ever authored and see what you can decipher. Another is to accept the basic truth of achintya-bhedabheda-tattva so kindly presented by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. He is a famous saint from India during the medieval period. He is believed to be non-different from God Himself. This fact is corroborated in sacred texts like the Mahabharata and Shrimad Bhagavatam.

Even if you are skeptical of the claims of His divinity, that doesn’t bar you from scientifically analyzing His philosophy. If you break down the words, you get a translation of “simultaneous oneness and difference, a relationship that is inconceivable to the mind.” As it is achintya, or inconceivable, you don’t need to wrack your brain trying to understand how it is true. It is better to just act off of the relationship, where the validation will come later on, as an eventual realization.

The oneness and difference is in comparing the individual’s identity to the higher power’s. The individual is spirit, or Brahman. The individual is not their temporary body. That means that while I’m in a human form right now, I won’t be forever. Previous to this life I was in a completely different body. After this life, I will be in a different body again. Throughout the shifts, my identity doesn’t change. The higher power is described as Parabrahman. Both His body and His spirit are changeless. He also expands to reside within every living being; thus He is all-pervading. He is simultaneously individual and collective.

From achintya-bhedabheda-tattva, we get the ideal relationship of servant to master. We are the servants and the higher power is the master. We can try to ignore this all we want, but it will only be to our detriment. Once we make the acknowledgement, however, our fortunes can turn around. The aim of the practice in the highest discipline of spirituality is thus twofold. First, one should truly accept the relationship of servant to master. After that, one should stay in that relationship, never breaking from it. This is for the benefit of the individual. All the rituals, regulations, funny dresses, odd-sounding chants, and places of pilgrimage are ultimately meant for bringing pleasure to the individual; there is no other purpose.

Maha-mantraOne of the best ways to serve the higher power is to constantly repeat His name. In an objective analysis, one would have to conclude that this is the superior method of all practices in spiritual life. That is because it can be practiced by any person, at any time and at any place. You are never precluded from chanting the holy names. Based on your country of origin, you may not be allowed in a specific temple. If you are not very intelligent, you won’t be able to understand the high philosophy that helps one to empirically come close to the conclusion nicely presented by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. If you live in an oppressive regime where the government tries to play the role of God by handing out gifts to citizens by first confiscating wealth from the producers, you will have a hard time practicing spiritual life.

In any of these situations you can still chant the holy names. Which names should we chant? There are billions of names, too many to count really. This should make sense, because if the higher power is really supreme, His features would have to be unlimited. If there is no limit to His glories, there would be no limit to the number of names used to describe Him. Lord Chaitanya says that the best names are Krishna and Rama and that the energy of God should be addressed at the same time. For this reason He recommends the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” as the best mantra to chant, the best way to realize the relationship to God and stay connected to Him in service.

In the Vedic tradition there are practices based on this chanting of the holy names. There are the thousand names of Lord Vishnu, which when chanted bring great auspiciousness. The result of saying any one of the names is an increase in spiritual strength, which is namely due to the potency of the name itself. The name is non-different from the person it addresses. This only works with God. Someone from thousands of miles away can call our name, but that doesn’t mean that we’ll rush to where they are. With God that is not the case. He immediately arrives when His name is chanted.

Lord RamaIn the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, the sage Shatananda has reached the city of Ayodhya, which at the time was the home of King Dasharatha. Dasharatha is the chosen father of Rama, who is an incarnation of God. Rama is one of the names in the maha-mantra, and it can refer to Rama, the son of Dasharatha, Rama, the elder brother of Shri Krishna, or just the Supreme Lord Himself, who is the source of all transcendental pleasure.

Shatananda went to Ayodhya to tell Dasharatha the news that his son Rama had won the bow contest in Janakpur and was thus slated to marry the daughter of King Janaka. We see that upon arrival the sage bathed in the holy rivers. In Ayodhya the holiest river is the Sarayu. By so doing, Shatananda received the fruit of chanting one billion holy names. One billion holy names obviously takes a while to recite, especially if one hears the names as they are recited. That chanting represents one billion steps taken towards the Supreme Lord; so the fruit is not chump change. The same was granted to Shatananda upon arriving in Ayodhya. This was due to the holiness of the city, which at the time was inhabited by pure devotees. All the residents there, including the king, lived the master-servant relationship with God. Though they may not have known that Rama was God, they nevertheless served Him. Even the father, though in an apparently superior position, was a great servant. To act as the Lord’s father during His pastimes on earth is a wonderful service, performed in the mood known as vatsalya-rasa, or parental affection.

The same fruit that Shatananda, Janaka’s family priest, received by arriving in Ayodhya and bathing in the rivers certainly comes to those who hear the accounts given by Goswami Tulsidas in his Janaki Mangala. The mood is especially what made the benediction come to the priest, as he was so happy travelling to Ayodhya to report on the festive occasion. Similarly, if one recites the holy names regularly with love and attention, they will get to be in the association of Rama’s closest devotees. Indeed, hearing from Tulsidas is just as good as being with him, and his association is just as good as being in Ayodhya during that sacred time.

In Closing:

Stranger wandering in a strange land,

How real identity to understand?


Lord Chaitanya eternal truth gives,

Inconceivable, better in it to live.


God is the master, we’re meant to serve,

Full of pleasure, our attention He deserves.


Chanting holy names process the best,

For with knowledge and association to be blessed.


From bathing after lotus feet in Ayodhya to set,

Shatananda fruit of one billion names said to get.


From poem of Tulsidas get reward the same,

His association and love for Rama easily gain.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Ways to Remember Krishna

Krishna holding His flute“O son of Kunti [Arjuna], I am the taste of water, the light of the sun and the moon, the syllable om in the Vedic mantras; I am the sound in ether and ability in man.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.8)

The ways to remember Krishna are many. The different ways are found in activities that can be grouped into four categories: religiosity, economic development, sense gratification and ultimate liberation from action in karma. These are often referred to as the four rewards of life, or the purusharthas. As there are seemingly endless ways to pursue these rewards, remembering the origin of life and matter, the person whose association is a reward far greater than anything we could conceive, is not as difficult as it may seem.

Dharma is religiosity. Think of it like doing things the right way. More than just a way to come up with a list of sins and pious acts, dharma is the system of laws aimed at bringing a better condition. In dieting there are so many laws. “Don’t eat after a certain time of the day. Avoid this food and that. Lower your carbohydrate intake. Increase the amount of protein that you eat. Stay away from saturated fats.” The fatty foods are even playfully described as “sinful”, which means that they lead to something bad.

In the same manner, if we’re not following religiosity the stuff we’re doing is bad. If we go to church once a week, we’re supposed to be good. If we’re praying five times a day, then we’re saved. If we avoid meat for a certain time period of the year, we’re okay. If we don’t have sex before marriage, we’re in the clear. These are the commonly held beliefs, anyway. The mind can easily become consumed with following such regulations, all the while forgetting their ultimate purpose.

PrayingArtha is economic development. In governments around the world today this is the primary focus, or at least this is what the politicians say they are concerned about. In industrialized nations food production is not a problem. In fact, so much food is produced that the farmers are given subsidies to hold back their production; this way they’ll stay profitable. A lower supply means less competition, which means more profits, which means the farmers will stay in the business of farming longer.

Artha can consume the mind of someone who has no interest in dharma. “Let me get a good job. Let me do what I really want to. Let me start a business selling a product that I really like. Then I will be happy. This way I’ll have enough food to eat, a beautiful home, fancy cars, and a way to support my family.” It is easy to go on thinking like this until the end of life, not worrying about anything else.

Kama is sense gratification. In a life devoid of genuine God consciousness, this is the real purpose to following dharma and artha. “Let me follow religion so that I can ultimately enjoy my senses. Let me produce economically so that I can enjoy the fruits of my labor.” Kama is very tricky, as one of its meanings is also lust. Lust is never satisfied. Think of it like really wanting a slice of pizza. You have one today, and tomorrow you will want another. The next time the satisfaction will be even less. Then you’ll look for something better, as your senses need to be satisfied. Each time the itch is scratched, it gets worse in intensity the next time, requiring even more scratching.

pizzaMoksha is liberation. When kama has left such a disgusting taste that one completely swears off of everything, they want a way out. “No more of this hell. I don’t want to keep wanting stuff. I’m sick of working. I’m sick of following rigid religious principles. I’m sick of hankering after food and sex. These things only lead to misery. Just get me out of here. I no longer want to be. I just want to remain in a state of freedom, where I don’t have to do anything.”

In this way a single lifetime can be spent entirely in pursuit of rewards that don’t bring lasting satisfaction. Mind you, this is only in the human species. In the other species there is only kama. The intelligence isn’t there to pursue dharma, artha or moksha. These four rewards can consume the mind of the individual for many lifetimes over, making it very easy to forget that there is a Supreme Controller, a person who instituted all of these practices and guidelines with the hope of one day reclaiming His lost souls.

Not that He couldn’t find them, but they did choose to remain away from Him. Remembering Him is therefore the best activity, as it brings His association. In that association, there may or may not be dharma, artha, kama and moksha, but these factors are of little concern. The remembrance itself brings the highest pleasure. That remembrance is known as God consciousness, and it is the real form of liberation. It is the liberation of the consciousness, which means that the individual can peacefully survive under any circumstance.

Remembering God really isn’t that difficult. The lotus flower is the smile of Krishna. Just look at it and remember that the Supreme Lord is all-attractive in His original feature. His position is not determined by sectarian sentimentalism. It is not determined by one’s blind faith, either. It is scientifically based, as in He has properties that can be understood through basic tools of perception. Granted, the magnitude of those properties is immeasurable, but through beautiful objects like the lotus flower we get a slight understanding of the transcendental features found exclusively in the origin of matter and spirit.

Lord KrishnaKrishna’s smile is as beautiful as the lotus flower. It calms the raging mind consumed with worry over the next quarter’s earnings report. It soothes the burning for sense gratification. It eases the worry over following this religious guideline and that. It allows the mind to forget about liberation from birth and death. If you’re seeing Krishna’s smile, why would you care about leaving your present situation?

You can remember Krishna by looking at the dark raincloud. It is of the precise complexion of Krishna’s body. And that body is the most beautiful. The complexion of the Supreme Lord’s original form was not concocted by Vedic scholars and writers. They merely jotted down what they saw. We have never seen anyone with the shyama complexion, so the description seems like mythology. But we can look at the dark raincloud or the tamala tree and understand immediately how beautiful Krishna’s complexion is. We can also understand that His body is real.

By looking at the tree we can remember Krishna. In Vrindavana it gives shade to both He and His close friends. The tree also produces the flute that Krishna enjoys playing. Thus through a simple object from nature, an object that we may see so many of in the course of our commute to work each morning, we can remember God.

As Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita, He is the taste of water. Who doesn’t drink water? Even if you drink something else, originally that liquid is based in water. Therefore everyone can remember Krishna every day simply in their consumption of liquids. Though it’s very easy to forget Him, the ways to remember Him are many as well. The ways to remember are kindly taught by the merciful spiritual masters, who represent Krishna’s interests in this world. Through their instruction, either written or spoken, one can learn the art themselves and apply it to achieve the highest end.

In Closing:

From dark raincloud that is blue,

Remember Krishna’s bodily hue.


From opened lotus flower’s sight,

Remember Krishna’s smile so bright.


In of drinking water course,

Remember Krishna is taste’s source.


Endless actions there in pursuit of rewards four,

So use them to remember Krishna more and more.