Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Perplexities of Life

Dark raincloud“A pure devotee of the Lord like Brahma and persons in his disciplic succession are always unhappy to see the perplexities of the conditioned souls, who are suffering the onslaughts of the threefold miseries which pertain to the body and mind, to the disturbances of material nature, and to many other such material disadvantages.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.9.8 Purport)

“It’s strange if I think about it. When I was younger, I was under constant pressure. I had this nagging fear that I would be left back in each grade in school. I always wondered how I would handle such failure. Because of this fear I made sure to work hard. I studied in a timely fashion and finished all of my homework as soon as I came home from school every day. If I had a paper or a project due, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was like this nagging problem that followed me wherever I went.

“I enjoyed the summer vacations precisely because of the relief in pressure they brought. No more assignments due. No more worry over passing the grade. I could just sit at home and relax. These summers were okay until I got a little older. Though I thought life would be easy after completing school, it wasn’t. It only became more difficult. The pressures were there constantly instead of just during the school year.

“When I finally got a job, I thought it would be smooth sailing. A steady paycheck, some responsibility, and the ability to buy things that I wanted - who could ask for more? And yet the pressures continued. I thought I would be happy in the association of a member of the opposite sex. I enjoyed time spent with such people, but I noticed that the more time I spent with them, the more in anxiety I became. I thought friendship would be nice as well, but as familiarity increased, so did the arguments. If I failed to agree with a single opinion or just one time didn’t feel like doing what the friend wanted to do, an argument would arise. In thinking back, I was probably happier before venturing into these territories. And yet going in I thought I would find so much happiness.”

Indeed, these are the perplexities of life. We think we solve one problem, but in fact another one arises immediately. This holds true for both our own journey through life and the journeys of others. The miseries are due to the forces of nature, the influence of other living entities, and the effect of the body and mind. The Vaishnava knows that these miseries are always there, so the remedies they provide are a little different.

How so?

Lord VishnuA Vaishnava is a devotee of God in His personal form. Vishnu is the name of the object of devotion, and this object isn’t a personality assigned worshipable status only out of sentiment. There is a Supreme Controller; otherwise there wouldn’t be intelligence to the workings of the universe. Since we are able to decipher patterns and then predict events, it means we have intelligence. Since we had no hand in creating ourselves, there was a higher force that is more intelligent. The foolish choose to ignore the existence of this higher force because they purportedly can’t see it. The slightly envious try to gain the favor of this higher force in order to improve their own condition.

The truly non-envious worship such a force without any personal motive. They only want to continue to worship, which in their case is in the mood of love. Hence they get the adjective “pure” attached to their devotion. Part of this pure devotion is helping others. This help is not intended to keep one baffled by the perplexities of life. Instead, one is helped in overcoming them. This help is in the form of offering the tools to practice the same devotion. And in that devotion one understands the perplexities a little better.

air conditionerOne way I can help someone is to give them an air conditioner. Especially if the affected party is stuck in a building without cooling, in the summer months an air conditioner would really help. So I go to the store, buy a unit, install it in the home, and then leave feeling satisfied. I helped someone else. But did I really? Because they have a comfortable climate in the room now, have all their problems in life suddenly vanished?

The air conditioner is a small example, but take something more significant, like curing a disease. If someone is stricken with a deadly disease, and I help them to beat it, surely I’m doing something worthwhile, no? But again, the perplexities of life will continue. Some disease will crop up again. Moreover, in the healthy condition the living entity needs worthwhile activity. Otherwise the miseries from the mind will crop up, making the healthy condition just as hellish as the diseased one.

The Vaishnava is unhappy to see this constant misery, so they try their best to give the most glorious activity, bhakti-yoga. This is a way of life, not just a once a week profession of faith done to maintain an institution. In its English form, bhakti-yoga can be taken to mean Krishna consciousness. Krishna is the name for God that means all-attractive. Consciousness means constant awareness. Bhakti-yoga can thus also mean “always seeing God.” And since God is all-attractive, wouldn’t seeing Him all the time be really great?

Lord KrishnaSeeing the all-attractive God would be better than seeing an enemy. It would be better than seeing the constant miseries from the past. It would be better than worrying over the future misfortunes that are bound to come no matter what. It would be better than arguing with a friend over a trivial issue. It would be better than working so hard to get enough food to eat. It would be better than trying to drink yourself into oblivion because you have nothing better to do.

The Vaishnava knows that God consciousness is better than all such things. It is above the perplexities of life because it is spiritual. The only perplexity that remains is how from just chanting a specific mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” the all-attractive supreme power’s presence is granted, thereby automatically changing consciousness.

This consciousness is the most precious gift, because it carries over from lifetime to lifetime. It continues into the future, unlike the temporary goals we strive for today. With superior longevity, this consciousness is the most valuable asset, and so the Vaishnava tries to create it in as many people as possible. It is the original consciousness, so keeping it isn’t that difficult once we’re reminded of where to get it.

In Closing:

Pain from others, disease, and the weather,

Without God keep digging for something better.


Original consciousness Vaishnava helps us to find,

Solves perplexities, including pain of body and mind.


With daily all-attractive God seeing,

Vibrant in activity always being.


All problems previously never were solved,

To practice bhakti-yoga now I have resolved.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Knowing Every Side

Lord Chaitanya“The word ‘hetu’ [‘cause’] means that a thing is done for some motive. There can be three motives. One may act to enjoy the result personally, to achieve some material perfection, or to attain liberation.” (Lord Chaitanya explaining the Atmarama verse, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 24.27)

Knowledge is power. Supposedly, the more you know the better off you will be. If I’m playing hockey, if I know the strengths and weaknesses of the opponent, it will be to my benefit. If I know their game plan, I will be even more benefitted. In Presidential politics, information of the opponent’s strategy is so important that sometimes there are moles who steal such information and then transfer it over to the opposition. In one particular discipline, the knowledge acquired is so vast that all arguments are learned. Before someone even argues against your particular viewpoint, you know from where they are coming. And therefore you are able to assess different arguments and be more confident in your position.

The discipline is bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Defining the distinct terms, we get love and devotion and the linking of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul. You can hammer a nail in different ways. The point is to get the nail into the object so that it will stay there. You can hammer gently. This will take a long time. You can hammer haphazardly. This might be quicker, but there is more chance for error. If you hammer with great attention and good technique, you will get the job done.

Hammering a nailWith respect to bringing the individual soul together with the Supreme Soul, bhakti is the latter method. Indeed, it is the constitutional method; it is the one that brings the ideal culmination in the shortest amount of time. All other kinds of yoga are meant to end in bhakti. Without devotional love for the Supreme Soul, yoga is not complete. In this union, where the individual understands their position as servant and God’s as master, knowledge of all desires is automatically acquired.

Desires are what make arguments. As an example, one side is arguing in favor of abortion, while the other is against it. So many different points will be made:

“A woman has a right to privacy. She has a right to treat her own body as she so chooses. This is a women’s health issue. Men should not have an opinion on it.”

The other side will say things like:

“It’s an innocent life. Killing is bad. Abortion is killing without seeing. Just because you don’t see the death doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen. This isn’t an issue of privacy. It’s one of morality. When the child exits the womb then it’s not okay to kill, but just moments prior it is? That doesn’t make sense.”

In practicing bhakti-yoga, the desires of both sides are understood. Generally speaking, the side in favor desires kama, or sense gratification. An unwanted pregnancy is the negative consequence to unregulated sexual affairs, and ending the pregnancy is one way to remove the negative consequence. Nevertheless, the initial desire is for sexual relations, which is based on lust. In sexual relations that aren’t lusty, which don’t violate the principles of religion, there is no desire to end the pregnancy.

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 side against abortion has a desire rooted in righteousness. They are in favor of some kind of dharma. In this particular instance, assessing the two desires we see that dharma trumps kama. Dharma is an essential quality. The foremost quality of spirit is to serve, and so dharma is the system that allows that service to take place. Within the broader scheme, there are rules and regulations specific to circumstance. Protecting innocent life to the best extent possible is one of those rules that is part of an overall march towards the divine consciousness, which manifests in service.

Kama was seen in the abortion argument, but it is prevalent in so many other areas as well. Anytime there is a desire to enjoy money, wine, women, gambling, or eating, there is kama. The specific desire in kama is known as bhukti, or the pleasure of enjoyment, in Sanskrit. Sometimes even the side supported by dharma has their desire rooted in bhukti. The opposite of bhukti is mukti, or the enjoyment of liberation. With mukti someone wants to get rid of stuff. “No more distractions in the way. No more annoying spouse. No more pressure-filled job. No more burdens brought on by a material existence. Just let me out.” There is also siddhi, or the enjoyment from attaining a mystic perfection. This is similar to bhukti, except the enjoyment doesn’t necessarily have to come through gross sense objects.

Those who desire such things do not know bhakti. Perhaps they have heard of it, but they will discount it as a vehicle for the simpletons used to achieve an end they are already on their way to. The person in bhakti-yoga, however, knows all about bhukti, mukti, and siddhi, for they have reviewed each and determined that they are inferior to devotional love.

And who can argue with their assessment? In bhakti-yoga you get the divine vision of Shyamasundara, the beautiful youth with a blackish complexion. You get the strong hand of Girivaradhari, the lifter of mountains, to protect you. You get the enchanting sound of the flute of Muralidhara to bring pleasure to your ears. You get the wonderful fragrance of the flowers offered to Damodara, the beloved son of mother Yashoda.

Mother Yashoda with KrishnaThese three names refer to the same personality. He also happens to be God. In bhakti-yoga, knowing this last point isn’t so important. God is the Supreme Being, so it is a given that someone whose association is so beneficial would be supreme amongst all others. In service to Him knowledge comes as well, revealing the flaws in the arguments borne of inferior desires. Kama has limits. It does not bring lasting satisfaction. Mukti isn’t the end; it is merely a temporary release from the pressures of a material existence. It is not a viable position. Siddhi must have a use for it to mean something. How it is to be used is unknown to one who doesn’t know Krishna, who is the all-attractive Supreme Lord. For one in bhakti the puzzle and all its pieces make sense, and so with confidence they are unwavering in their devotion.

In Closing:

Since towards devotion they go,

Bhaktas all arguments to know.


Each side from a desire to make,

From bhukti, mukti, siddhi all take.


Bhakti beyond all of these,

From material miseries it frees.


Without devotion full knowledge not to find,

Only lover of God to know everyone’s mind.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Immunity From Material Miseries

Shrila Prabhupada“The highest perfectional work of charity is to give people in general immunity from the anxieties of material existence. This can be done only by performing activities in devotional service to the Lord.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.7.41 Purport)

Devoid of a meaningful relationship with another personality, even those who are supposedly religiously inclined take to the “service to man” route as their way of life. To them, to serve their fellow man is their way to serve God, for they don’t know for sure who God is or what He likes. In breaking down the actual service that takes place in such scenarios, it is seen that material miseries are still present. The service is offered, there is some good feeling on the part of the donor, but then the recipient is still left with miseries. Only in service to the real God, who is the complete whole, will lasting benefits trickle down to the general populace. One of those benefits is immunity from material miseries.

“The threefold miseries are (1) those miseries which arise from the mind and body, (2) those miseries inflicted by other living beings, and (3) those miseries arising from natural catastrophes over which one has no control.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.1.2 Purport)

rain on the horizonThe miseries of life can be grouped into three categories. There are those caused by natural forces. Hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis and the like cannot be controlled by man. Of course the foolish, who don’t understand the presence of a higher controller, will try to blame automobiles, gasoline, political leaders, and even nations as a whole for causing changes to the weather patterns, but in fact such forces of nature are so strong that no collection of ordinary living entities could ever influence them. These events are grouped into the miseries known as adhidaivika, or those controlled by the divine forces.

Then there are the miseries caused by other living entities. Someone cuts into our lane without signaling and we get angry. Someone is driving erratically because they are talking on their cellphone. Someone yells at us for no apparent reason. Someone strikes us in a violent manner. These are miseries caused by other living forces. These miseries are known as adhibhautika, or those caused by other bhutas, or living entities.

Then there are the self-inflicted wounds. I know that I shouldn’t worry about my favorite hockey team’s upcoming game in the Stanley Cup Finals, but I am concerned nonetheless. It is silly, I know. It’s just a game. The results are often determined by which way the puck bounces. One team gets good fortune, while the other doesn’t. This year’s champ is next year’s chump. In spite of knowing all this, I still get very sad when my team loses, especially if they were so close to winning. This misery is borne of the body and mind, and it is known as adhyatmika, or that coming from the self.

NHL handshake lineService to man does nothing to stop any of these miseries. If I open up a hospital, perhaps I can put a temporary hold on adhyatmika miseries. Disease comes from the self, so by treating the individual, I can ease the burden of such pains. If I open a shelter, it helps others from miseries caused by nature, such as the chilling cold and the blazing heat. If I teach others to be kind, to be cool-tempered, and to not hit their spouses, some adhibhautika miseries will be alleviated.

Yet nowhere in this service is there immunity. You cure one disease, but this doesn’t stop disease from coming again. You give some relief from hunger, but then what? The person must eat again. And what about the people who are eating just fine? Are they not susceptible to other miseries? Indeed, the wealthy business mogul has to constantly worry about maintaining his empire. A competitor can rise up and knock him off his pedestal. Think of the cellphone wars. One company is on top today, but so many others are vying to unseat the champion. If that happens, the stock price of the leader will fall. Having once been at the top, the fall to the bottom is mighty painful.

Service to God, which is what every person inherently wants to do, does grant immunity. It comes both in the present term and the afterlife. Examples of this are found in history. The residents of Vrindavana a long time ago weren’t very wealthy. They didn’t have much strength, nor were they cunning enough to align with more powerful forces in government. They were innocent farm people. One time, through no fault of their own, they were hit with a torrential downpour that threatened to wash them away. The Supreme Lord, in His personal form, arrived on the scene and granted protection. This was due to the residents’ service. They served God at His direction, and because of this they were immune to the miseries borne of the higher forces of nature.

Krishna lifting Govardhana HillFrom this service miseries of the mind are also eradicated because the greatest source of mental discomfort is uncertainty over the future. In service to God, the future destination is known with certainty. Statements from authorized texts like the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam give both a general and detailed description of what awaits the soul who is God conscious at the end of life.

Bhagavad-gita, 8.5“And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.5)

That fruit of thinking of God at the time of death brings a permanent end to the threefold miseries. You attain whatever state you think of at death. If you think of someone who is immune to the threefold miseries, you will join Him. If He is immune, He makes sure that His associates are immune too.

Activities in devotion include hearing, chanting, remembering, worshiping, and offering prayers. They give relief from the anxieties of material existence because they cast aside the concerns over eating, sleeping, mating and defending. If I am not God conscious, I will always worry about how I am going to eat, how I am going to sleep, and how I am going to enjoy. The animals get all these things in due course, and they don’t have to worry about them. Therefore why should the more intelligent human species be so concerned with basic necessities?

In fact, without God consciousness there is only worry. From top to bottom, from rich to poor, there is only anxiety over the struggle that is life. There is hankering over what one wants and lamentation over what one doesn’t have. If in charity I give someone only more sources of anxiety, am I really helping them? On the other hand, if I give them the gift of devotional service, bhakti-yoga, I offer them an endless engagement, something that invigorates the soul. It is something that can be practiced by any person under any circumstance. The same can’t be said of any material activity. Material is limited to the specific circumstances, whereas spirit can remain vibrant anywhere.

Chanting japaExplicit instruction is obviously the best gift in this regard, but simply following devotion in one’s own life sets a great example. Regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” respecting innocent life by not eating meat, keeping the mind sober by avoiding intoxication, and remaining focused by avoiding illicit sex instantiates the theoretical high-quality life for others to replicate. The sound of the holy name is the most important, as it purifies both the chanter and anyone listening. Chanting in love is bhakti-yoga, and so by itself it is an effective means of charity, one that eventually grants immunity from material miseries.

In Closing:

Disease, oppression and tornadoes set free,

Material life’s miseries in categories three.


If charity to someone I will give,

Must ensure in anxiety not to live.


If threefold miseries still there,

Not fruitful is my attention and care.


In bhakti-yoga reach the way out,

Find God, who resides within and without.


Know that by miseries He’s not affected,

Same for His devotees, like in Vrindavana protected.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

One Against Twenty

Rama battling Tataka“After having rested on the worshiped arm of the Lord of the world, how can I now take rest on the arm of any other?” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.16-17)

upadhāya bhujam tasya lokanāthasya satkṛtam ||
katham nāmopadhāsyāmi bhujamanyasya kasya cit |

Just one arm on Shri Rama was more valuable to Sita than the twenty on the mighty Ravana, whose name was given to him by Lord Shiva because of his terrifying roar. One arm was good enough to provide complete protection and comfort during the most vulnerable period that is sleep, while twenty arms weren’t enough to save Ravana nor the city of Lanka, which was in its own state of slumber, one induced by the mode of ignorance. One arm was so glorious that the person who took rest on it would never think of choosing another, giving us an indication of the true purpose of devotional service.

What other purposes can there be?

Why do people take to religious life? Because they are scared of the afterlife? Because they need to find a meaning to their time on this earth? Because they like what they hear in religious sermons? Because they are looking for wealth or the removal of distress? Any of these may form the basis for the initial interest in transcendence, learning of that which is beyond birth and death. Though the methods of entry may vary, as may the initial paths chosen, the destination is always the same.

This doesn’t mean that everyone will know the destination. In the Bhagavad-gita, the object of service, the transcendental light at the end of the tunnel, says that it takes many, many lifetimes for one to properly understand Him. Those lifetimes can be spent in the body of a pig, a fish, a cow, a dog, or even a human being. They can be spent in the body of a famous head of state, a world renowned scientist, or even a religious man. The body itself isn’t so important; it’s what happens to the consciousness that matters.

In that rarely achieved pinnacle of knowledge, there is an understanding of the destination. That understanding then drives activity, in which there is a taste, or rasa. If there is no taste, there is no impetus for the activity. I work hard at the job so that I can taste the enjoyment of home life. I work hard in school so that I can taste the enjoyment of having a high paying job later on, or at least a job that I like doing.

Wayne Gretzkky jerseysSpiritual life involves activity, so it would make sense if it had a corresponding taste. The spiritual transcends the material. The spirit soul inside the body is what identifies the individual. When we say “individual,” we’re automatically referring to the soul. When we’re sitting in the stands of a hockey game, we identify the players based on the numbers they wear on their jerseys. The number is used to do a mental look up. For instance, back in the day if we saw a player wearing number 99, we would know then that it was Wayne Gretzky. Wayne Gretzky refers to the person, the individual, which is the spirit soul. The jersey may change, and the number may also, but the individual does not. Whether he is on the Edmonton Oilers or the Los Angeles Kings, he is still Wayne Gretzky. This is one way to understand how spirit transcends matter.

Correspondingly, spiritual life transcends material life. In material life we experience tastes that are palatable one second, but then not so the next. One week I like eating pizza, and the next week I like eating burritos. One day I enjoy heavy metal, and the next I’m into classic rock. In spiritual life, the tastes don’t change because they are the highest. If you have experienced God through knowing Him and then serving Him, you will never go back to material life. It may seem to others that from time to time you are materially afflicted, but in fact you can never be separated from the object of service.

Case in point Sita. She was married to Rama, who is an incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Rama’s body is transcendental. With that body He performs wonderful activities. His arm serves the dual purpose of annihilating miscreants and protecting those surrendered to Him. Sita is His intimate friend, so she takes rest on that arm from time to time. Rama’s body is very delicate, though it is full of strength. Rama is beautiful, though He can be as ferocious as a lion when necessary. In all respects, Sita takes great pleasure in relying on that arm.

Sita and RamaIn the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, she is seemingly separated from Rama. We can think of it like a priest being taken out of church and forced to remain in the company of devout enemies of God. You would think that this means that you can’t practice your spiritual life, but actually all you need is consciousness. In Sita’s case, there was a nagging pest around who kept trying to get her to convert to a different way of life. He wanted her to become his wife, though she was already married. When she refused, he kept trying to persuade her, employing torture tactics as well.

Here she tells Ravana that she already has taken rest on the worshiped arm of Rama, who is the Lord of the world. Ravana was the lord of Lanka, automatically making him inferior to Rama. Ravana’s arms weren’t worshiped by anyone, either. Sita essentially tells him that she already has found a higher taste. Life with Rama is her only life. She will never accept any other protection. Thus from this single verse we get a full understanding of the ideal result of spiritual life.

Sita does not mention wealth. She does not talk about being saved from going to hell. She does not speak of peace of mind. She only mentions taking rest on that worshiped arm. This rest is a means of surrender. The surrender is defined by two conditions: the relinquishing of the battle to vie for supremacy and the handing over of your emotional wellbeing. Ravana was a direct enemy. He had offended God in the worst way by causing harm to His wife. Ravana surrendered his emotional wellbeing to Sita, though only with conditions. Thus his surrender was in kama, or lust, and not in prema, or divine love.

Shri Rama’s worshiped arm is more valuable than all the wealth in the world and more powerful than all the military might of the world’s armies combined. It is the most beautiful arm as well, kindly adorned by the even more beautiful Sita, the beloved daughter of King Janaka.

In Closing:

With twenty arms to fight,

You’d think it’s of greatest might.


Take rest on it Sita would not,

Already a protector she’s got.


From that single arm many destroyed,

Raised heavy bow like it was a toy.


On that beautiful arm Sita takes rest,

Thus enhanced by king’s daughter the best.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Worshiped Arm

Shri Rama's arm“After having rested on the worshiped arm of the Lord of the world, how can I now take rest on the arm of any other?” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.16-17)

upadhāya bhujam tasya lokanāthasya satkṛtam ||
katham nāmopadhāsyāmi bhujamanyasya kasya cit |

That worshiped arm learned the art of hunting while growing up in the royal order in Ayodhya. Though it was powerful and dexterous from the time of birth, to give respect to the honorable teachers in the royal kingdom, it perceivably honed its skills through instruction. When the person the arm belonged to was still not yet a teenager, the arm was called upon by the venerable Vishvamitra Muni to defend the innocent sages in the forest against the attacks of the deadliest creatures. That worshiped arm did not let the sages down.

It was used to take down Tataka and Subahu. Without fear or hesitation, it quickly dispatched the evil Maricha, hurling him hundreds of miles away into an ocean. In the assembly in Janaka’s kingdom, the beautiful Sita saw the strength in that arm for the first time. The world knew of it instantly once it lifted the amazingly heavy bow, the object central to the contest. The daughter of the king, Sita, then took protection from that arm through the covenant of marriage. She was very familiar with it, as she used to take rest on it. That arm was then used to protect her in the forest, where she resided with her husband and His younger brother, Lakshmana. That arm is all that one needs for protection, survival, and enjoyment in life. It belongs to the Lord of the world, and so it is not an ordinary arm. One who has really taken protection from it will never seek another arm for rest. This was something the fiend Ravana could not understand.

Is it possible to take false protection from that arm?

Rama lifting up Shiva's bowWhen symbolically relying on that arm, or even literally in the presence of others, my heart may not be in it. Someone may buy me some designer clothes and I may wear them occasionally, but this doesn’t mean that I like them. If I am not so keen on the clothes, I can quickly change and start wearing something else. Thus I change the protective covering on my body. I didn’t really take protection from the other clothes since I had no attachment to them. The clothes may have been fine, but since I wasn’t so dedicated to them, I jumped ship and chose something else.

If you take the protection of someone, but you’re not really dependent on them, then your desires can easily change. This somewhat explains the practice of religion. One adopts a certain kind of faith, but if the faith isn’t real, it is easy to change. Also, if the object of faith isn’t fully capable of protecting the person who invested the faith, then it is easy for the person to change their object of protection.

The arm in question belongs to Shri Rama, who is the Supreme Lord in His manifestation as a prince in Ayodhya, the eldest son of Maharaja Dasharatha. Everything comes from God. This only makes sense. At the same time, this doesn’t mean that everything is God. I can’t go up to a parking lot and pretend that I’m in God’s kingdom and enjoying His association. Sure, He created the elements that are used in the parking lot, but this doesn’t mean that the lot directly represents Him. All trains are generally made of the same materials and they all typically have the same behavior. This doesn’t mean that the trains all go to the same destination. To go where I need to, I must board the right train.

Lord RamaRama is the right train when one is interested in connecting with God directly. There are other non-different manifestations of the original Lord, and they are all equally as worshipable. All other personalities are not. The many gods mentioned in the Vedas are not the same as Rama. To say so is utter nonsense. The purported uniformity is not mentioned anywhere in shastra; it is a mere concoction of those who are too envious of Rama to accept His superior position, one confirmed by Sita herself.

Sita took protection from Rama’s arm. She had sole dependence on it for protection. That is why she comfortably took rest on it. At the time these words were uttered, that worshiped arm had done so many amazing things already. It belonged to the Lord of the world, someone who was the kindest person in the world as well. If you take rest on that arm, you will not take rest anywhere else. Think of it like having the most comfortable bed to sleep on and then having to spend a night elsewhere. You wouldn’t volunteer for this option. You might suffer through it if there is no other choice, but still you miss your bed at home.

The difference between getting real protection from that arm versus only partially depending on it is nicely explained in a short song from Goswami Tulsidas. He is a saint from the medieval period in India, and Shri Rama is his worshipable figure of choice. In this song, Tulsidas describes different kinds of people and why they have trouble sleeping. It is a technique used often now in television and film. If you show different people having trouble falling asleep and then finally turn to someone who is sleeping peacefully, the situation leading to the last person’s peace is highlighted. The specific condition is more pronounced than if you were to try to have the person explain it.

Tulsidas says that the king is worried about ruling over his kingdom. The strict ascetics, which include the yogis and the sannyasis, are worried over staying renounced while having to live in this world. The fruitive workers are always consumed with thoughts over amassing more and more wealth. The mental speculators stay awake from having to study all the time. While all such people stay awake, Tulsidas has no trouble sleeping. This is because he has full faith in Shri Rama.

Sita and RamaThe same faith was there in Sita. She directly took rest on Rama’s arm, while others take rest on His names, forms and pastimes. There was no way that Sita was now going to take rest on any other man’s arm, as Ravana was proposing. He wanted Sita to become his wife. He already had many wives, but he wanted Sita to be the chief among them. She never gave him any hint of interest, but that didn’t stop him. He forcefully took her away from Rama’s side in secret, for in the presence of that worshiped arm Ravana would not survive.

Those who take shelter of that arm and really rely on it for protection never waver in their devotion. They cannot be bribed to change their ways. Since their decision is rooted in the highest truth, the one person whose protection spreads across all boundaries, they are protected through their fidelity.

In Closing:

That strong arm a precious gift,

One time Shiva’s bow to lift.


Against Rakshasas trying to rattle,

Did away with them in battle.


Sita thought arm was the best,

Comfortably on it took rest.


On another arm now for her no way,

This to fiend Ravana she did say.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Selling Your Soul

sun and radiance“It is not possible for me to be tempted by opulence or wealth. I am undeviatingly with Rama, like the radiance with the sun.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.15-16)

śakyā lobhayituṃ nāhamaiśvaryeṇa dhanena vā ||
ananyā rāghaveṇāhaṃ bhāskareṇa prabhā yathā |

When someone says that they sold their soul to get what they want, it is understood that they traded long-term benefit for short-term benefit. This is usually not what you want; hence the negative connotation to the expression. The full expression is “selling your soul to the devil,” with the devil being someone who behaves opposite of how one should. The devil is bad, and by giving in to him, you’re essentially tricked into getting that something that you want, when what you’ll end up with later on won’t be good for you at all. In this verse from the Ramayana, the devil is the King of Lanka, Ravana. There was no selling of souls, but the request was made. The recipient of the offer would never think of such a thing, for ignorance cannot touch her.

“The sage Agastya is of such a purified nature that in his hermitage a liar cannot live, nor a deceitful person, nor a wicked person, nor one that is committed to sinful activity.” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 11.90)

In an earlier section of the Ramayana, Shri Rama explains to His younger brother Lakshmana some of the glories of Agastya Rishi. In the Vedas, this rishi, or sage, is very famous. His name means one born of a jar, and it is a literal meaning. The rishi’s father one time was accidentally too aroused by the sight of another woman. The bodily fluids he released divided, with one part going in a jar. Agastya was thus born, and keeping in line with his family lineage, he was of a very high character.

High birth alone doesn’t make a person respectable. You have to have the good qualities in order to be considered good. I may be the son of a doctor, but that doesn’t automatically make me a doctor. I need training in order to treat patients. I need to prove my ability through work in order to earn the right reputation.

Similarly, someone in the priestly order should exhibit the qualities of compassion, honesty, cleanliness and austerity in order to make their title mean something. A governing board can elect them to a high post, but at any time someone can fall down. We elect a person to run the country, but the election doesn’t automatically immunize them from sinful reactions. If they do something bad, they suffer the consequences. Their high post enables them to act properly for the betterment of everyone, and the ability exercised is what is used to judge their character.

Agastya RishiAgastya lived up to his status from birth and then some. He was so powerful through his austerities that the sinful were afraid to come near where he lived. This is possible if you are really strong in your spiritual life. Upon the mere sight of you, the most sinful will be terribly afraid. The strong prey on the weak; this is nature’s law. If the spiritually inclined are weak, they will be susceptible to the attacks of the non-spiritually inclined. They will be defeated if the non-spiritually inclined are set on changing their ways. Agastya was so strong that no one even thought of trying to mess with him.

The same strength was there in Sita. From serving the Supreme Lord one’s resolve becomes very strong. Though it may not be visible to all, there is a reciprocal benefit to such service. The service cannot continue if there is no benefit; that only makes sense. The object of service in bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is full of the best qualities. He is kinder than the kindest. He is gentler than the gentlest. He is smarter than the smartest. He is more beautiful than the most beautiful. He is also stronger than the strongest. That strength appeals to those who need protection.

The wife is protected by the husband. This is also nature’s arrangement. In serving her husband, Sita derived great pleasure in being protected by Him. His strength in battle nicely complemented His other features. He was also very beautiful and very kind. He was the most renounced, though He never gave up His concern for those devoted to Him. Since He is eternal, those attributes exist in Him to this day. Never was there a time when He was divested of any of these attributes. Nor was there a time when they came into being. Because of this, He is God.

You can only sell your soul to the devil if you don’t know any better. If you are in knowledge, then nothing can entice you to go down the wrong road. This applied to Sita, and she more or less said the same to Ravana. This was in response to his repeated advances. Sita was already married to Rama. Ravana wanted her to be his chief queen. He used the most force that he was allowed to. He tried force through words and conditions as well. None of it worked.

Sita and RamaHe tried to entice her with wealth and opulence. It would be like if the devil came up to us today and asked us to abandon our friends and family in order to enjoy a palatial building and fancy cars. What would we do with such things if our family wasn’t around? If we were ignorant, we would sign up for the deal, not foreseeing the pain and misery of loneliness that awaited us. If we were wise, however, we could not be enticed.

No one is wiser than the devotee of the Supreme Lord. This is because they engage in the best activity, that which is most worthwhile. All living entities are looking for something to do. This is a byproduct of being alive. To be means to have the potential to act. The point of contention is on exactly how to act. Should we try to eat as much as possible? Should we drink until we are “bombed” or “hammered”? Should we chase after members of the opposite sex? Should we look for thrills in gambling?

Shastra, or scripture, says to make your life dedicated to God. This is easy in theory, but difficult in practice. Therefore a wise five-year old son of a king one time gave nine different ways to live out that dedication. Only one is necessary to constitute a life of service, but an additional eight processes are there to account for variety in desire. Hearing and chanting are the foremost of the processes. We already hear and we already repeat things, so why not shift them towards the divine realm? With that transition, ignorance slowly dissipates and knowledge prevails.

Sita here compares herself to the sunlight. She is always with the sun, who is Rama. It is like having a magnet that cannot be removed from the object it is attracted to. The Supreme Lord is all-attractive, so He is known as Krishna as well. There is only one God; the different faiths of the world speak of the same person, though the respective followers may be unaware. Ravana saw God’s eternal consort right in front of him and couldn’t recognize her. He thought she was as dumb as he was, that cheap fame and meaningless wealth would be the only things she cared about. Just like Agastya Rishi, nothing could touch her; not even the vile Ravana.

In Closing:

Fiends from his ashrama stay away far,

Powerful is sage who was born in a jar.


Because of her dedication so much,

Ignorance in Rama’s wife not a touch.


Same power as Agastya sage,

Not afraid of terrible Ravana’s rage.


Like devil soul attempting to buy,

To lure Sita Ravana tried.


Failure for him only to be found,

Victory of Sita’s husband soon to abound.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

You Don’t Know Me

sun and radiance“It is not possible for me to be tempted by opulence or wealth. I am undeviatingly with Rama, like the radiance with the sun.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.15-16)

śakyā lobhayituṃ nāhamaiśvaryeṇa dhanena vā ||
ananyā rāghaveṇāhaṃ bhāskareṇa prabhā yathā |

“I don’t really desire anything. That’s probably why it’s so easy to persuade me in so many directions. I don’t need to be encouraged. A simple invitation will do, as I enjoy pretty much everyone’s association. Why wouldn’t I? I don’t have many needs. I get to worship the Supreme Lord every day. I do so with my primary work, and then I continue on with my thoughts. No one sees those thoughts and no one can stop them from coming. They are completely mine. Since they are of the best person in the world, I am satisfied in my existence. Nothing can tempt me.

“What will I do with tremendous wealth? I’m at the point where I actually prefer eating less. I remember the previous times when I was excited to eat something. I remember when I travelled far to have a specific dish at a specific restaurant. I also remember the discomfort I felt afterwards. I didn’t like that feeling of having eaten too much. From memory of past experiences, from the observations that constitute informal scientific experiments, I know that I don’t care so much about food. I know that I can go a long time without needing to stuff myself.

cheese pizza“If I had wealth would I buy a large house? What need do I have for that? Whether I’m sitting in a tiny room or on a large patio, what difference does it really make? I need something to do. I need something to think about. I already have those two things. Therefore where I live doesn’t really matter. Sure, I need a place to live, as does everyone, but as long as there is a roof I’m okay.

“What will opulence gain me? Do I want attention? In the past I thought I did, but the attention only made me feel worse. I felt so guilty that others would think I am superior or something. I hated being praised for things I am not really good at. I still hate it. I would rather praise others. I would rather others take the spotlight when they deserve it. In opulence, others will adore me, and I wouldn’t like that. It is not in my nature to be worshiped.”

Such a mindset is possible to reach for an ordinary human being. There are people in the world right now who have such sentiments. In the ancient time period of the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, there were many such people around. The fiendish king of Lanka, Ravana, encountered many of them. As he was consumed by lust, which was a fire fueled by his ignorance strengthened by his regular intoxication, he was not able to understand the nature of such people. He also wasn’t able to properly identify it in the woman he tried to seduce with opulence and wealth.

RavanaRavana was a Rakshasa, which can translate to mean a man-eater. We don’t think such people roam the earth in abundance today, but in the age referenced here there were many such people. They exist today, but their habits are a little more refined. They don’t have to necessarily eat humans. Eating any kind of animal flesh in large quantities, where the animals are not killed in a religious way, makes one Rakshasa-like. The behavior is symptomatic of the mode of ignorance, which is the lowest mode of material nature. Activities can be in goodness, passion or ignorance. Passion is most commonplace, while goodness is rare. Ignorance is the most dangerous, as it leads to destruction.

Ravana and his Rakshasa friends would regularly attack peaceful sages living in the forests. These sages had sentiments similar to those mentioned above. They didn’t desire anything materially. To make sure they couldn’t act on those desires if they should happen to arise, they would live in remote areas. They were forced to worship God. Sort of like having an alarm clock just in case you sleep too late, the wilderness was conducive to an austere lifestyle. These sages were quite happy. They would perform sacrifices regularly without any distraction. That is until the Rakshasas came.

The sacrifices had rules to them. They needed to be completed in order to bear fruit. The Rakshasas would attack in secret, at the last minute, to foil everything. Think of working hard to build a house and then having it knocked down just before the final pieces are put in. This is what happened to the sages. The saboteur Rakshasas didn’t leave right away. They would kill the sages and then eat them. Seems unspeakable, but this was becoming more and more common.

Ravana and his attendants didn’t notice that these sages didn’t require material opulence. The sages voluntarily gave all that up. They weren’t weak either. Austerity brings strength. One needs an extended vision, that sees beyond the immediate term, to understand. I see that eating that pizza pie will satisfy my hunger right now, but I don’t foresee the pain of a stuffed stomach later on. Austerity requires one to foresee; otherwise faith in vows will be lacking.

Because of their strength acquired in austerity, the sages could curse the Rakshasas. The problem with this route is that their accumulated spiritual merits would diminish. So instead they asked the protector of the citizens of Ayodhya to come and protect them. At the time He happened to be in the forest with His wife Sita and younger brother Lakshmana. He was actually their worshipable object. He came to earth to delight the pious and protect them. Part of that protection involved annihilating the miscreants.

“By the powers gained through our performance of religious austerities, we are certainly capable of killing these Rakshasa demons. But at the same time we don’t want to waste our ascetic merits, which took such a long time to achieve, on these demons. Oh Raghava [Rama], these demons are always putting obstacles in the way, making it impossible for us to concentrate on our performance of austerity and penance. Therefore, even though we are being eaten away by the Rakshasas, we do not curse them.” (Sages speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 10.13-14)

Lord Rama - The Shelter for the SaintsThe mindset of the sages could be discovered quite easily; it was not a secret. Sita’s mindset was pretty easy to read as well. If she voluntarily went to the forest for fourteen years with her husband Rama, she obviously didn’t place too high an importance on money and fame. In fact, one of her favorite activities was going to the forest with her husband and distributing charity to the brahmanas, the sages of the priestly order. She loved to give. She had no desire to take fame or credit. She didn’t care where she lived, as long as she was able to worship her husband, who is the Supreme Lord Himself.

Therefore in the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Sita’s words don’t mark the first time anyone discovered her characteristics. Anyone who cared to understand her quickly realized that she was like Rama’s shadow. She could never be separated from Him. Why would she be tempted by wealth and opulence, if it came with the price of having Ravana’s association? The fiend had taken her away from Rama in secret while she was in the forest. After committing such an unspeakable act, he was under the illusion that she would become his chief queen. That illusion was first symbolically knocked down by Sita’s words and then physically removed by Rama’s arrows.

In Closing:

That from material desires she was free,

Any person with interest could see.


To the forest with husband she went,

After full charity to brahmanas spent.


What would opulence and wealth to her mean,

When lotus feet of Supreme Lord previously seen?


From offer to Rama’s wife one could tell,

Ravana completely under illusion’s spell.