Saturday, November 2, 2013

Diwali 2013

Diwali lights“From home to home auspicious songs are being sung, and both rich and poor are equally happy. Tulsidas melodiously sings Rama’s glories, which destroy all the impurities of Kali Yuga.” (Gitavali, 309.4)

ghara ghara mangalacāra ekarasa harasita ranka-ganī |
tulasidāsa kala kīrati gāvahiṃ, jo kalimala-samanī ||

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God’s association is for all. If any person has the chance to be by His side, it means that any person is allowed to worship Him. Such worship is encouraged, as the spirit soul’s original position is pure God consciousness. The purity in mood brings the highest pleasure, a level of satisfaction otherwise desperately sought after but rarely achieved. On the occasion of Diwali we remember the heartwarming homecoming celebration for Shri Rama, His beautiful wife Sita, His devoted younger brother Lakshmana, and His many friends who risked their lives in His service. We also remember how in Rama’s kingdom the initial homecoming became its own annual tradition, where rich and poor alike celebrated Rama and enjoyed His protection.

Gold coins stackedThe tendency is to envy the wealthy. “Oh, they have so much. Do they really need that many pairs of shoes? I don’t feel bad for them if they run into hard times. What’s the worst that can happen to them, they have to sell their second yacht? At least when they are destitute they will learn what so many of us have to go through. They have no worries in the world, so why should I care so much about them?”

With the poor, the tendency is to pity. “Oh look at that person and how poor they are. I can’t imagine living like they do. They barely have any possessions. They wear maybe two or three sets of clothes. They eat the simplest food. They must have so much trouble paying the bills each month. It’s not fair that they are struggling while the greedy corporations are raking in the profits. Maybe one day they will find their way out of poverty.”

While it is natural to think along these lines, in the spiritual sense there is no distinction. Think of it like having two children, one who spends a lot of money and buys a lot of things and another who barely has anything. Ideally the parents will love both children equally, not caring for the temporary lots in life. After all, material opulence is just a collection of stuff. It has no bearing on the person’s identity. This must be the case because the wealthy adult likely wasn’t wealthy earlier on. The poor person might also have had a lot a few years prior. Financial dispositions can dramatically turn on the dime. When collecting on unpaid bills, credit card companies often offer a program known as “hardship.” This is to help those who previously had a lot but then suddenly lost it all. It is understood that fortune is chanchala, or always moving.

Whether there is a giant mansion or a tiny shack, God’s presence is still there. He is within every individual as the Supersoul, or Paramatma. God’s presence is within every atom as well, so never is there a time when He is not the witness to events. Since He is everywhere, He can be worshiped by any person, at any time. Unless you are taught about this universal presence and how to take advantage of it, you will think otherwise. The yogi thinks God can only be found through intense meditation and contorting the body in different stretching poses. The jnani thinks God can only be found with great intellect, which is built brick by brick through study of shastra, or scripture. The fruitive worker thinks God can only be found through working hard and accumulating a lot of things; through material success God will be worshiped sufficiently.

Goswami TulsidasGoswami Tulsidas says otherwise. As a saint of the bhakti tradition, he follows devotional service to God. Bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is identical to God. Everything comes from the Lord, but not everything represents Him fully. Some things are separated from Him in terms of interest. Bhakti-yoga represents Him fully, and the person who engages in it is so in tune with the divine consciousness that they cease thinking in terms of explicit religious practice. All they know is devotion, which brings God’s association, so they don’t take their way of life to be out of the ordinary. To them, it is the only way to live.

Whether one can stretch or not, they can stay with the Supreme Lord. Whether they can read Sanskrit or not, they can sing the glories of God. Whether they can earn a lot of money or not, they can honor the Supreme Lord and feel tremendous happiness. The scene in the above referenced verse is Diwali in Ayodhya. Diwali is a popular Indian tradition today, often celebrated as a social occasion, similar to the way Christmas and Thanksgiving are viewed. Its actual origin is religious, an event where the Supreme Lord was welcomed home after being away for fourteen years.

Rama and friends riding homeHe appeared in Ayodhya in His incarnation of Lord Rama, the eldest son of King Dasharatha. Rama showed all good qualities, especially exhibiting fearlessness in following righteous principles and defending the innocent. The citizens of Ayodhya loved Him very much, and they anxiously awaited His return home after He left for fourteen years. Rama brought back Sita and Lakshmana, His two closest associates, along with forest-dwellers who helped Him rescue Sita from the clutches of the fiendish king of Lanka named Ravana.

Rama was installed as king after he returned, and during His reign that first Diwali became an annual celebration. In his Gitavali, Goswami Tulsidas describes how Diwali was celebrated during Rama’s time. The homes were decorated with so many lamps. Electricity wasn’t necessary, as fire burning from lamps fueled by ghee was enough to create a heartwarming vision for all the residents.

Tulsidas says that both rich and poor alike were happy. Ekarasa means that they each had the same mellow, which was harasita, or tremendous happiness. In ekarasa, both rich and poor were united, despite their class difference. Rama is pleased by devotion and nothing else. If a person has many lamps they can arrange, then fine. If another person only has one lamp, that too is sufficient. The genuineness of the sentiment is what is taken into account.

Rich or poor was of no concern in Ayodhya, but one may feel that since Rama is not ruling the earth today they can’t celebrate in the same way. Tulsidas clears the doubt by saying that in the Kali Yuga, the present age which is notorious for the rise in quarrel and hypocrisy, the glories of Rama are sung by him melodiously. That singing removes all the faults of the present age. In Kali Yuga men are generally short-lived, unfortunate, and devoid of character. Instead of following the timeless discipline of bhakti-yoga, which is strengthened through respect for the basic principles of religion, man makes up his own rules and regulations, which are all rooted in defiance of God’s will. Since man is ignorant of the truth, he is especially prone to making distinctions based on class, which is not wise.

Tulsidas writing about RamaTulsidas, who appeared on this earth many years after the Diwali celebration in Ayodhya described above, celebrated by singing the glories of Rama, whose activities are thoroughly documented in the Vedic texts. Rama is God for everyone, whether one grows up in the Vedic tradition or not. Since He is full of opulences, He is Bhagavan. One way to test His divinity is to see who is eligible to worship Him. Rich or poor, pure or impure, man or woman - the only qualification is sincerity in purpose, which Tulsidas forever displays through his wonderful singing. He cures the ailments brought on by Kali Yuga by using the potion of Rama’s name, fame, glories, and attributes. On Diwali we honor his singing and his retelling of the festivities in Ayodhya during Rama’s reign.

In Closing:

With rich and poor difference we see,

One with nothing while other in opulence to be.


In Kali Yuga over such distinctions to fight,

But cure is there, one way for all to unite.


Like Tulsidas, the glories of Supreme Lord sing,

Can worship Him even if you own not a thing.


Diwali in Ayodhya, people of sentiments pure,

Ekarasa of happiness for both rich and poor.

Friday, November 1, 2013

To Study Death

Changing bodies“For one who has taken his birth, death is certain; and for one who is dead, birth is certain. Therefore, in the unavoidable discharge of your duty, you should not lament.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.27)

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Bhagavad-gita, 2.27“Let’s study the iPhone. It’s a revolutionary piece of technology. Before it was released, I never saw many people carrying the same technological device. Maybe many people had the iPod, which was the music player made by the same company, but phones were always varied. Then suddenly so many people had the exact same model of phone. This wasn’t the cheapest option by any means. It didn’t have the best service provider, either. And yet people in droves rushed to the stores to purchase them. When a new model comes out, there is a long line just to get into the store. Therefore let us study this phenomenon. Perhaps we can extend our research to the iPad, which had the single greatest launch in terms of sales for any technological device.”

iPad“Let’s study vitamins. Everyone is taking them these days. Do they actually work? Which vitamin supplements are necessary and which aren’t? Is it better to take the supplements or just eat the foods containing those vitamins? Are there any significant health benefits to taking these vitamins? Will people actually avoid cancer and other diseases? We’ll get an experiment set up and monitor the results. Then we’ll report our findings.”

“Let’s do a study on people who do studies. What motivates them? Why do they feel the need to observe others and do a psychological analysis? Is it so they can feel superior? Do they wish to hover above everyone else from their ivory tower? Let’s study whether or not they have any friends. Perhaps they are unsatisfied with life, so they take pleasure in trying to analyze others, all the while exempting themselves from the analysis.”

We see that there are so many studies undertaken. There is even a study of the mating habits of the Australian rabbit. And yet through it all there are few to zero studies about death. Death takes place for everyone. It is likely the single most important event in one’s life, as it erases everything. The hurricane can destroy your home and destroy everything in it. The boss can fire you and eliminate your current flow of income. The teacher can give you a failing grade and squash your chances of going to the college you want.

Still, none of these forces destroy everything; only death does that. Therefore it must be the most powerful force. Everyone is afraid of it to some degree, as who wants to lose everything? Who wants to separate from their friends and loved ones? Who wants to be forced to leave their surroundings that they like? Who wants to jump on to a train heading towards an undisclosed location?

Death takes place nevertheless, despite one’s ignoring it. It may be the elephant in the room, but at the right time that elephant will strike. For this reason in Sanskrit the word for time is the same as it is for death, kalah. Time destroys everything eventually through what we call death. Time destroys right now, little by little, the body we accepted at the time of birth. Therefore death is the complement to birth; when there is birth, there must be death.

HourglassOf course the main reason that death does not get studied is that one cannot see what is going on. You can see the effects of a new technological gadget. You can observe what happens when people eat a certain food. You can see how different animals behave. You can’t see, however, what changes when a person suddenly goes from living to dying. There are some studies into the physical differences, as in the weight of the dying person, but there is no way to see exactly what causes the change. Moreover, why can’t the same person who was alive a minute ago come back to life?

Without knowing these things, man’s knowledge is imperfect. With imperfect knowledge, of what use is knowing so many other things? If I don’t know the most important thing, why should I bother with the least important? The validity of this rhetorical question is substantiated by the behavior of the animals. They don’t perform any studies. They are not wise enough to detect patterns for a large population of creatures. They go by what nature gives them. They act on their instincts. Through this limited intelligence they can eat, sleep, mate and defend just fine.

The study into the higher subject matters, which naturally include death, is meant for the sober human being. If a discipline did actually study death, one would have to assign it a higher importance. It is not surprising, therefore, that the most important Vedic work deals with death right at the outset. In the Bhagavad-gita, the wise speaker, Shri Krishna, speaks of the eternality of the soul and how it is different from the body. The magical change we witness at the time of death is merely the exit of the soul from the temporary body. That soul is inexhaustible in its existence. It does not take birth or die. At birth it enters somewhere and at death it leaves to go somewhere else.

Bhagavad-gita, 2.20“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.20)

Krishna and ArjunaThese truths are straightforward enough. They make sense if we think about it too. To those who say that we only get one life to live, then we also only get one childhood. In adulthood that childhood is gone. Was the childhood wasted, then, if it was spent in study? Did the child waste their time going to school? On the other side, if a child didn’t go to school but rather played all day, did they live a successful childhood life?

Of course such questions are silly because in adulthood the same individual is still alive. The childhood was merely a period of their life. That period is gone forever, however. There is no way to get the childhood body back. There is no way to reclaim that innocence. And yet just because it is gone it doesn’t mean that the individual ceases to be. So the eternality of the soul is easily understood in this comparison. The soul continues to exist into old age, and it will continue after that in the next body, which is subsequent to death.

I know that death will come. From reading the Bhagavad-gita, I know that I will take birth again after death. The question that remains is where that next birth will occur. Do I have a say in where I go? Again, the example of the present life can be used to answer the question. Do I have a say in where I go today? Do I choose where to eat and where to work? I do, and so I can do the same with the next life. The key determining factor is consciousness, another point made by Shri Krishna.

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

Since Krishna discusses these most important topics, providing the only real study of birth and death, He is the wisest person. Not surprisingly, being conscious of Him means going to Him. Actually, being conscious of anything leads to that thing’s association. If I am conscious of eating all the time, I will get a body in the next life that will allow me to eat all the time. If I am conscious of earning a lot of money, in the next life I get a body suitable for business.

These bodies lead again to death, thereby repeating the cycle. A body that associates with Krishna, however, does not take birth again. Krishna’s body and spirit are identical. In His land there is no such thing as birth and death. Time exists, but it has no ability to destroy. It instead constantly creates new opportunities for association with Krishna, who is God in His personal form. In Krishna’s land, there is no need for costly studies. There is only constant enjoyment, bringing back the childhood-like innocence but in its purified form. All of this can come from the quick study of death and much more found in the Bhagavad-gita, the most valuable work for human society.

In Closing:

Upon new gadget’s release,

Variety in ownership to cease.


Study of this phenomenon let’s do,

Take on studies and vitamins too.


But why interest in death not to lend?

For rich and poor alike destined end.


Shri Krishna tackles death and much more,

No more rebirth when His vision in mind to store.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Vishnu’s Carrier

Garuda“That very powerful Garuda in the form of Rama will swiftly uproot the great serpents in the form of the Rakshasa kings, just as Vainateya swiftly uproots serpents.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.27-28)

rākśasendramahāsarpān sa rāmagaruḍo mahān ||
uddhariṣyati vegena vainateya ivoragān |

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In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna gives a list of different important personalities which represent Him. At the time the Bhagavad-gita was spoken, some five thousand years ago, these personalities were well known to the population. In one section, He says that among birds He is Garuda. Garuda is the carrier of Lord Vishnu, and he is known for his speed and the fear he instills in the serpent race. In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Sita Devi makes a similar mention. In Krishna’s case the reference is to show how He, as God, is the life of everything and also the best of everything. In Sita’s case, the reference was a mere statement of fact that might also make the fiendish king of Lanka think twice about his ill-fated plan.

Bhagavad-gita, 10.30“Among the Daitya demons I am the devoted Prahlada; among subduers I am time; among the beasts I am the lion, and among birds I am Garuda, the feathered carrier of Vishnu.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.30)

Krishna speaking to ArjunaGod is one. There can only be one Supreme Being. There can only be one origin to everything. This makes sense. We have only one mother and one father. Others can take care of us and behave in a fatherly manner, but there is still the original biological father. The same goes for the mother. With respect to the entire creation, the mother is the material nature and the seed-giving father is the Supreme Lord.

Bhagavad-gita, 14.4“It should be understood that all species of life, O son of Kunti, are made possible by birth in this material nature, and that I am the seed-giving father.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 14.4)

It’s difficult to comprehend what the origin of everything could be. We are awestruck just looking into the clear night sky during the summertime. If we gaze above for long enough, we’ll realize how insignificant everything around us is. Since there is a limitation on sight, we don’t constantly realize this same fact on a daily basis. We simply can’t see everything. When we’re taking off or landing while on board an airplane, we get a similar extended vision. In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna Himself shows the universal form to Arjuna, which naturally instills fear.

Bhagavad-gita, 11.45“After seeing this universal form, which I have never seen before, I am gladdened, but at the same time my mind is disturbed with fear. Therefore please bestow Your grace upon me and reveal again Your form as the Personality of Godhead, O Lord of lords, O abode of the universe.” (Arjuna, Bg. 11.45)

The universal formThe virata-rupa, or universal form, is the complete picture. It has everything in it. Think of the “panoramic” setting on a smartphone with a camera. You steadily move the camera from left to right so that many images can be taken in sequence. Then the pictures are stitched together to make a panoramic image. This image is wider than the normal one taken by a camera. The universal form is like the widest panoramic image. It extends up and down as well as left and right. It goes into the third dimension as well. One who sees this is naturally awestruck, afraid of how gigantic the sum total is.

To help understand Him better, the Supreme Lord points out different aspects of nature and different personalities which represent Him. Garuda is one of those personalities. He is of the bird species, but his qualities are divine. He acts as a servant of Vishnu, who is the Supreme Lord in His awe-inspiring figure with four hands, which hold a conch, a club, a disc, and a lotus respectively. Vishnu is the source of the creation, and He expands into other Vishnu forms to take on various roles. In the material creation He is the maintainer. Sometimes He is asked to deal with miscreants, and so when He appears He rides on the back of Garuda. Garuda is thus a great servant of the Supreme Lord. He is trusted because of his devotion.

Vishnu with GarudaRama is the same Krishna. He has a different visible manifestation, but as a personality He is identical to Krishna, or God. Rama is an avatara, or incarnation, of Vishnu. Thus Krishna’s comparison in the Gita applies to Rama as well. Among the birds, Rama is Garuda. This is the point made here by Sita. When not directly serving as Vishnu’s carrier, Garuda terrorizes the snakes. This is his behavioral trait. Not all animals are vegetarians. Some kill other animals for food. Though these animals are dangerous in this way, in one sense they can’t be blamed for their violent tendencies; they are merely trying to survive.

The snake attacks without due cause. It bites for no apparent reason. It does so in a sneaky manner as well. When you’re not looking, when you think you’re safe, the snake comes in and attacks. And then it goes about its merry way. Garuda is an enemy to the snakes. He eats them for food. The snakes are thus always afraid of him; Garuda swiftly arrives and carries them away in his mouth.

Lord RamaHere the leading Rakshasas of Lanka are compared to snakes that Garuda will uproot. Rama will act as Garuda in this instance. He will come to kill all the snake-like Rakshasas. Behaving snake-like, the Rakshasas, who are a kind of human species that is known for eating human beings, would regularly attack innocent people for no reason. They could have eaten any other kind of food, but they decided to feast on the flesh of slain sages who weren’t bothering anyone. In this instance, Ravana had taken Sita away from her husband Rama. She had done nothing wrong. Ravana acted like a snake by taking her away in secret, without fighting for her against Rama.

Interestingly enough, the area where Ravana lived had previously been visited by Vishnu and Garuda. The Rakshasas were driven out of Lanka by Vishnu Himself, who arrived on the scene riding on the back of Garuda. Then Kuvera was installed as the leader, and he was pious in nature. Through boons obtained from different gods, Ravana drove Kuvera out of Lanka and turned it into a sinner’s paradise.

As Sita rightly predicts, Garuda will arrive again in the form of Rama. Rama’s arrows fly as swiftly as Garuda does, and so for the snakes in Lanka there would be no chance for survival. Such is the punishment due for one who has offended the Supreme Lord’s beloved wife and neglected all advice for rehabilitation. Garuda’s swift travel terrorizes the miscreants and simultaneously protects the devotees. In the form of Rama and His arrows, Garuda would arrive to save the distressed Sita.

In Closing:

Destruction to come although now calm,

Bird carrier Garuda to arrive as Rama.


Garuda like Krishna, in potency close the same,

Comparison used for us knowledge to gain.


Rama and Krishna identical, difference is none,

His bird-carrier to snakes enemy number one.


Rakshasas of Lanka like snakes they are,

Rama to uproot them though travelling from afar.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Always Increasing

Lord Varaha holding up the earth“When a cloud rests on the peak of a great mountain, it appears to be sustained by the mountain, and at the same time it looks very beautiful. Similarly, the Lord has no need to sustain the earth on His tusks, but when He does so the world becomes beautiful, just as the Lord becomes more beautiful because of His pure devotees on the earth.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.13.41 Purport)

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Though the human species is gifted with a higher potential for intelligence, it can still never truly understand God. Not that it is worthless to try to know Him, for otherwise one will miss out on the greatest gain in life, but simply based on the way things are it is impossible to know Him completely. From the time factor alone, His glories continue to increase. One aspect of His glories is His beauty, and so one can take continuous comfort in that ever-expanding beauty.

To understand the role the time element plays, consider a person who you think is great. They can be of any walk of life; they don’t have to be a family member or friend. They can be a politician, an athlete, a movie star, a teacher, and so forth. The greatness is obviously derived from that person’s activities. They did something in that past that has earned them the lofty stature. When you think of such person’s greatness, you immediately remember their activities. If there is a ceremony to honor this person, the guests invited to speak will surely go over these various activities.

Wayne Gretzky retirement ceremonyAt the retirement ceremony of such person, the glories end. What else can that person do after they have retired from the field in which they are famous? The athlete no longer will take the field. The movie star will not appear in films anymore. The teacher will no longer have students to save from the abyss of ignorance. Take the same principle and apply it to all admired individuals and we see that everyone is limited by the time factor. There is a beginning and end to their manifest lives, and so the scope of glorification is thereby limited.

With the Supreme Lord, there is no difference between body and spirit. He does not take birth. He does not die. We see that He appears and disappears from time to time, but this is strictly for our mercy’s sake. He is always around to some degree; we just have a difficult time noticing Him. Similar to how we think the sun is not out when there is a cloud cover, without seeing an extraordinarily beautiful body that takes to divine activities, we think that God is not within the present vicinity at the moment.

VarahadevaThough the Lord is already all-attractive, and thus addressed as Krishna in the Vedic texts, He still periodically takes to manifest activities, which serve to further enhance His beauty. A long time back He descended as a boar to rescue the earth from a devastating flood. The globe had sunken underwater, and so in the form of a giant boar, the Supreme Lord held it aloft with His tusks. He didn’t need to do this. He could have deputed one of His many energies to handle the chore. Indeed, without the elements of nature He creates, the earth never could have found such a predicament.

And yet from that incident, the devoted souls have another way to appreciate God’s beauty. They have another name to include in their worship: Varahadeva. In the Shrimad Bhagavatam the comparison is made to the clouds that cover mountain peaks. The clouds are independent. The mountains are not responsible for their movement. And yet when the clouds hover above a mountain peak, it appears as if the mountain is sustaining the cloud. Thus both end up looking more beautiful.

Varahadeva doesn’t need to hold the earth up, but when He does He looks more beautiful to the devotee. And that beauty continues to increase through the efforts of said devotees. Their work in spreading the holy names throughout the world, turning people of the worst habits into first-class citizens, reflects well on the person whom they worship. When miracles occur in the lives of the devotees, attesting to the protection of the Divine bestowed upon the surrendered souls, again the Supreme Lord’s glories increase.

Prahlada MaharajaA long time back a young child named Prahlada remained staunch in his devotion, despite the verbal and physical assaults instigated by his father. Despite the odds against him, Prahlada survived, while his attackers did not. In more recent times, Haridasa Thakura faced similar persecution for his devotion. Despite being whipped many times by an envious government, Haridasa survived, with his devotion thriving further afterwards. Today, the maha-mantra, "Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare," is known throughout the world due to the tireless efforts of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, his disciples and his well-wishers.

All such triumphs are due to the grace of God, and since those triumphs continue to arrive with the passage of time, the beauty of God continues to increase. The material is fixed and limited, while the spiritual breaks through the tight bounds of time and space. The Supreme Lord is neti neti, which means “not this and not that.” Never will His glories be fixed, and this absence of limitation is the greatest gift for the surrendered souls, who never wish to give up service to Him, either in this life or the next.

In Closing:

His elements nature’s work to feed,

So to rescue earth He doesn’t need.


Still, descends as avatara to come,

Comparable to His beauty there are none.


His glories on and on to sing,

The devotees to life His beauty bring.


Prahlada, Haridasa and guru not afraid,

Their perseverance to God highest honor paid.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Making the Ideal Song

Music“Taking the names of each, the married women sang auspicious songs. They worshiped Gauri and Ganesha for the wellbeing of the prince and princess.” (Janaki Mangala, 143)

lai lai nāun suāsini mangala gāvahin |
kunvara kunvari hita ganapati gauri pujāvahin ||

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You don’t need much to practice bhakti-yoga. You don’t need a yoga studio, an introductory membership that allows you to attend an unlimited number of classes in the first thirty days, a yoga mat, a bottle of water, an ability to endure one hundred degree heat for over an hour, or a lot of money. You don’t need ability in exercise, dance, or advanced breath control. You don’t even have to be that intelligent. All you need is consciousness, which is shown in the ability to think. A simple way of thinking is singing, which is something most people can do.

YogaBhakti-yoga translates to mean “the linking of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul in a mood of love and devotion.” That is the actual meaning, not an interpretation. Yoga does not have to be about exercise or physical health. It does not have to be about wearing tight outfits and straining your body. That kind of yoga is more technically known as hatha-yoga or ashtanga-yoga. Since the term yoga is still there, there is the ultimate objective of linking with the Supreme Soul, the higher consciousness. That consciousness pervades the entire space; it is not limited to the local area. My consciousness only resides within me; no one else is privy to it. The same goes for your consciousness. The Supreme Consciousness is everywhere, and it belongs to a singular entity who is separate from both you and me.

Just as love for others is not restricted to a specific implementation, so the yoga of love and devotion does not have strict requirements. It is the attitude which matters most. And since it is the only yoga that has no pre-qualifications, it is the superior form of yoga. Since yoga is above any kind of material activity, bhakti-yoga is the supreme occupation. The same bhakti-yoga often goes by other names such as bhagavata-dharma and sanatana-dharma, both of which are sometimes mistakenly taken to mean religion. Indeed, these meanings serve as a way to find some equivalent to the modern term of religion, which is a kind of faith. Yoga is as much about faith as are gravity and the sunlight; namely there is only a marginal dependence on it. Yoga is a scientific discipline and so it applies to everyone.

You can practice bhakti-yoga through eating, sleeping, playing, exercising, reading and the like, but it is still the consciousness that requires altering. Therefore no one specific activity is a necessity; anything that changes consciousness to the point of creating the link to the Supreme Consciousness with love and devotion suffices for bhakti-yoga. From the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala we see how simple bhakti-yoga is to practice and how the attitude of the people practicing it is so heartwarming.

MicrophoneHere married women are singing auspicious songs at a wedding. They are already married, so they are singing of the auspiciousness of the couple that has just joined. The auspicious songs are created on the fly using the names of the bride and groom. This simple act constitutes bhakti-yoga, as the names of the individuals are Sita and Rama respectively. Sita is the name of the incarnation of the perfect energy of God and Rama is the name of the incarnation of God specific to the time in question.

We are also part of the energy of God, but we are not always perfect. Sometimes we choose in favor of personal conquests. We sometimes want to only think about where to eat, what to play, what to watch, and with whom to enjoy. In these pursuits, we forget God entirely. Therefore we are not always pleasing to Him. The perfect energy, however, is always engaged in bhakti-yoga. They are so immersed in love and devotion to God that they don’t even know what the term bhakti-yoga means. They only have one way of living, and it is not a choice for them. If they didn’t love God, they would cease to exist, like the fish out of water.

Singing a song is a nice way to pass the time and improve one’s mood. So what exactly makes a good song? Is it the melody? Is it the words? Is it the arrangement, such as the shifting of time signatures to create a dynamic sequence? Is it the ability to change levels of energy so that the listener will want to go on the same emotional ride over and over again?

3/4 time signatureActually, for the perfect song all you need is the names of God and His energy. Here the names are Sita and Rama, and the people who created the songs were more than happy to continue to sing them. The same names have been happily sung in songs ever since. Sita and Rama are so kind that they give us other names as well. The name Hare also describes Sita, and Krishna tells of Rama’s original form as an all-attractive youth. So just by singing a mantra like, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” you make the perfect song.

The names of Gauri and Ganesha are typically taken by those who are still desirous of enjoyment outside of God’s association. Gauri and Ganesha are divine figures, but they fit the needs of those who want protection from the threefold miseries of life and the removal of obstacles. When in bhakti-yoga, the focus shifts towards God and His perfect energy. At the same time, the mood of the devotee is so nice that Gauri and Ganesha are not forgotten. Their abilities to grant rewards are shifted towards the divine couple. The married women here prayed for the wellbeing of Sita and Rama, and since Gauri and Ganesha give rewards to even the materialists, they were more than happy to answer the call of the devoted ladies who sang the perfect songs.

In Closing:

Easy to practice is bhakti indeed,

Money, intelligence or fame don’t need.


As simple as holy names in song,

To create link to Supreme strong.


Married ladies at couple had a look,

Their names to make blessed songs took.


To Gauri and Ganesha for welfare prayed,

In blissful association forever stayed.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Again and Again

Flowers falling“Looking at the bride and groom, the men and women were so happy. Again and again, songs and drums played and the demigods rained down flowers.” (Janaki Mangala, 142)

dulaha dulahininha dekhi nāri nara haraṣahiṃ |
chinu chinu gāna nisāna sumana sura baraṣahiṃ ||

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Of course everyone was happy. Why wouldn’t they be? Two people were about to embark on the journey of a lifetime. They had each other as support. This world can be a lonely place. Even if you are surrounded by other people, if in your mind you don’t connect with anyone, you might as well be living in a secluded cave. The two people getting married weren’t ordinary, and so the celebration for their nuptials wasn’t ordinary, either. Though so many were looking on, each held a unique affection for the couple.

The affection is actually unique in all of us. The body we have right now does not represent our true form. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out. Take a picture of yourself right now, store it somewhere, and then look at it again in ten years. The same picture will seem very old. Right now it doesn’t seem old at all. It is the present. It is what has just occurred. Through nothing else but the passage of time the same image will seem outdated in the future.

Polaroid camerasThis means that this body is destined to be outdated. As it will expire at some point, it cannot represent our true identity. The difference between the two points in time of comparison for the picture is the change in bodies. The individual is still the same. It is the same “I” when looking at the picture. That “I” is thus constant. In the two images the “I” is surrounded by different collections of matter. You put on one shirt today and a different one tomorrow. The shirt doesn’t define you. You define you.

That “you” has an eternal form, known as a svarupa in Sanskrit. In that svarupa there is a relationship to the original spirit, who is more commonly referred to as God. As Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, a famous saint from the medieval period in India, says, the svarupa of the living entity is servant of Krishna, or God. He doesn’t say exactly what that form looks like. He doesn’t say that the svarupa is identical in appearance for everyone. The mindset, or consciousness, is identical and it manifests in service.

Service can take place in different moods. You can serve someone as a friend. You can also serve someone as a lover. You can offer service by giving protection. You can serve someone just by appreciating them. The svarupa of the living entity can follow any one of these kinds of service. The mood is not forced upon everyone. Every individual has their original mood, and when in the presence of God they get to act on it.

Sita and RamaIn the scene referenced above, many men and women are happily looking at the bride and groom, Sita and Rama. Rama is God and Sita is His energy. God is masculine because the Vedas say so. The Vedas are the original scriptural tradition of the world. The claim of masculinity is supported through a scientific explanation. God is the original purusha, or enjoyer. Purusha dominates. The enjoyed is known as prakriti. The energy of God is meant to be enjoyed by Him, so naturally in its purest form it would be feminine.

We see males and females all around us, and so in various circles there are dominant living entities and those which are dominated. Ultimately everyone is dominated by the Supreme Enjoyer. This means that ultimately everyone is prakriti, which is meant to be enjoyed by God. He takes enjoyment through friendship, service in reverence, and parental affection as well. This means that the prakriti living entity doesn’t necessarily have to assume a female body in the svarupa.

Here both men and women were in their forms fit for devotion. The men got to serve through appreciation. They watched as Sita and Rama joined in an official ceremony. Some took delight as parents and caretakers. Some took delight as friends. Some took delight as dependents. The same held true for the women there. There were friends of Sita who took care of her every need since childhood. Sita was the king’s daughter, affectionately known as Janaki as well, for whom the poem by Goswami Tulsidas is named.

Some worshiped God by singing songs over and over again. Those who were more rhythmically inclined played drums. Not everyone has to sing in order to please God. If you play a basic percussion instrument to accompany singing of the glories of God, then you are equally as valuable in service. In sankirtana parties where the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” takes place, not everyone accepts the same role. Sometimes one person is playing the harmonium, while another is playing the karatalas, or hand cymbals. Sometimes the members switch roles to experience a different taste. In all respects they are engaged in serving God from the position of prakriti.

Harmonium in kirtanaEven those who are extremely powerful in the material sense get to worship God through their post. The demigods are akin to saints of the Christian tradition. They can grant special favors when worshiped properly. They can give money, wealth, fame, beauty, learning, etc. Here they are serving in their desired capacity, that of showing reverence. They rained down flowers from the sky. It may seem like a trivial service, but imagine how great it would be if suddenly flowers fell from the sky as you were getting married. You would certainly appreciate the people responsible for it.

Sita and Rama were of a beauty without compare. Not even Sarasvati Devi, the goddess of speech, could accurately describe it. All the participants, whatever their level of ability and whatever their status in society, were included in the celebration. They got to appreciate the divine couple in their unique way, showing that love of God, bhakti-yoga, is the only religion for one and all.

In Closing:

Specific mood for each individual,

When in spiritual form original.


From Vedas know God as a male,

Enjoys with others on largest scale.


Prakriti that enjoyment to give,

When in devotional service to live.


Men, women, demigods sang and looked

Serving Sita and Rama, their precious vision took.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Blessed in Speech

Sita Devi“Sitting amidst the group of young ladies, Sita looked so beautiful. In trying to compare that beauty, even Sarasvati Devi shyly runs away.” (Janaki Mangala, 141)

jubati juttha mahan sīya subhāi birājai |
upamā kahata lajāi bhāratī bhājai ||

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In the Vedic tradition, Sarasvati is known as the goddess of speech. One may be proud of their writing ability, but they should know that it doesn’t come on its own. Without even mentioning divine figures, to be skilled in writing one obviously has to learn. They have to learn how to communicate in the language, first of all. They have to learn the alphabet and its proper use. They have to attempt to describe events and emotions first before perfecting the art.

When success does come, it only makes sense to appreciate those who helped you. When watching awards ceremonies honoring professional athletes, it’s not uncommon to see parents and coaches thanked. The athlete is the one receiving the award, but they are not so foolish as to think that they suddenly developed great ability on their own. In cases where they can’t think of who to properly thank, they pay homage to God, for they know that their ability is an opulence, a sign of good fortune.

In the verse quoted above from the Janaki Mangala, there is an irony of sorts. Goswami Tulsidas wrote the Janaki Mangala as a way to glorify God and one of His most famous pastimes. The title translates to the “auspiciousness of the daughter of King Janaka.” That auspiciousness particularly related to the daughter’s marriage. The groom in this case was God, the Supreme Lord in a famous incarnation. The incarnations are the same as the original; just the appearance and behavior may be more finely shaped. The incarnation doesn’t mean that God is a human being, a fish, a boar, or a half-man/half-lion. The incarnation means that such forms can be transcendental when on the Personality of Godhead, for the material of the covering is actually non-different from the storehouse of spiritual qualities. Spiritual and material is only a dichotomy for anyone who is not God.

Sarasvati DeviAnytime one is successful in glorifying God in written word, it should be understood that they have received the blessings of Sarasvati Devi. She is the wife of Lord Brahma, who is the first created living entity. We are all brothers and sisters because we can all trace our ancestry back to Brahma. Even if we’ve lost track of who our relatives were four and five generations ago, since Brahma created everyone, we at least know that we are related to him.

As Sarasvati Devi is related to Brahma, she accepts his interests as her own. Brahma is a devotee of God; he understands that God exists and that there is a purpose to body, mind and speech. Sarasvati Devi is specifically the goddess of speech and learning. Students growing up in India often pray to her for success. Since the material is ultimately not separated from the spiritual, even the material sound of speech is meant to be dovetailed with spiritual activity. The attempts of Goswami Tulsidas show this, as all his works are glorifications of God.

“[obeisance to]Guru, Ganesha, Shiva, Parvati, Brihaspati, Sarasvati, Shesha, Shukadeva, Vedas, and the sincere and intelligent saints.” (Janaki Mangala, Mangalacharana, 1)

Sarasvati Devi obviously showered blessings upon him. In his other works, including the Janaki Mangala also, he specifically seeks her favor at the outset, as do many other famous Vaishnavas, or devotees of the personal God, in their works. Because she favored him, Tulsidas was able to write the Janaki Mangala, which included the verse above. In this verse it is said that Sarasvati herself cannot compare the beauty of Rama’s wife sitting amidst a group of young girls to anyone else. Because of her inability, she flees in embarrassment or shyness. What this means is that Sarasvati herself enabled Tulsidas to write a verse that says Sarasvati, the goddess of speech, is incapable of describing Sita.

This is a very nice compliment paid to Sita, and it is not an insult to Sarasvati. Actually, it is not even a deficiency. If we are deficient a certain mineral in our body, eventually an unhealthy condition might arise. If I am deficient the funds necessary to purchase a house, I am somewhat hurt. A deficiency is typically taken as a negative; one wants something and they either don’t have enough of it or are lacking it completely.

Sita DeviSarasvati’s inability to accurately compare Sita’s beauty to anything else means that no glorification of Sita is ever complete. I could spend the entire day writing eloquent poetry in praise of Rama’s beautiful wife. I could go on and on about her virtues. I could keep my mind immersed in her pastime of dutifully staying by her husband and following Him into the wilderness. I could speak for hours and hours about how she is well versed in the Vedas and knows right and wrong better than anyone else. I could write pages and pages about how happy she makes Rama with her devotion.

Even after doing that, I still wouldn’t properly describe her. Sarasvati Devi, who is herself expert in all speech from all languages, is too shy to even try. Nevertheless, she and devoted saints like Tulsidas eventually cast aside that shyness for their own good. Their courage also benefits others, as hearing about God and His devotees is a blessing to the ears. Here Sita did stand out amidst the ladies, for it was her wedding after all. She is always with Rama, and on this day they joined in an official ceremony. That wonderful day could not be compared to any other, but thankfully Tulsidas, utilizing the blessings of Sarasvati Devi, took the time to try to describe it.

In Closing:

Though writing ability I own,

Not my property alone.


Sarasvati fully capable alone,

Her talents to others on loan.


Intended for glories of God to write,

To give even unfortunate divine’s sight.


Though to compare Sita’s vision even goddess shy,

Still the Vaishnava poets dutifully try.