Saturday, December 7, 2013

Feeling Like Family

Sita and Rama“The clever ladies taught the bride and groom all the rituals. Giving curses to the other party in fun, feeding morsels of food to each one equally, they are very happy.” (Janaki Mangala, 149)

catura nāri bara kunvarihi rīti sikhāvahin |
dehiṃ gāri lahakauri samau sukha pāvahin ||

Download this episode (right click and save)

There are many benefits to having a sibling, and one of them is that you have someone with whom you can share your frustrations relating to your parents. If the mother or father consistently does something to irritate you, you can tell one of your friends for sure. But the discussion ends there. If your friend makes any derogatory remark whatsoever, even if it is a sentiment first urged on by you, you will get offended. “Who are you to speak about my parents that way? What gives you the right?” The sibling has the same set of parents, and so not only are you free to voice your complaints, but you can even make jokes about your parents without it hurting anyone. In the scene of the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, all the parties involved indeed felt like family, though they had only been tied together for a short time.

If your grandfather has a peculiar habit that you find hilarious, you can discuss it with your brother or sister. If your mother has a tendency to fly off the handle, you can’t bring it up with people outside of the family. They will get the wrong impression of your mother. They will think that she is tyrannical, whereas you only brought up the interesting behavior because it was a source of humor. In the material world there is duality in every sphere, which means a simple joke can cause both laughter and anger.

The person who is outside the circle of the joke will take offense. Especially if the person making it isn’t a close friend or family member, what else are they supposed to think? If they don’t have the full context of the conversation, they will get the wrong understanding. Indeed, taking humorous statements out of context is a principal tool of destruction used by political opponents. The “camera is always rolling,” so to speak, with a person running for political office. If they should make a joke to their friends while they think the microphone is off, and then someone else picks up on that comment, it can be distributed widely to the public. Others who are not privy to the context will get the wrong impression.

Sita and RamaTo the person in the know, the jokes are very pleasing. Here the clever ladies at the marriage ceremony of Sita and Rama are giving verbal jabs to the opposing side. The bride’s side is making fun of the groom’s side and vice versa. At this marriage everything was done according to tradition. There was no expense spared, as the host was the wealthy and pious king of Mithila. The marriage took place according to dharma, or religiosity. There was no kama, or sense gratification, involved.

The parties felt comfortable making jokes at each other because they were all family now. If you can’t make fun of your family members, who can you make fun of? If you’re not going to enjoy with the people you trust the most, then you are devoid of any enjoyment. All had a good time since Sita was now married to Rama. Indeed, the joke-making made the event more joyous. Sort of like having a band at your wedding or a fully stocked buffet at your get-together, the jokes were very appropriate to the occasion.

The clever ladies also taught Sita and Rama the appropriate rituals, such as feeding a morsel of food to each other. The food consisted of yogurt and rice, and the exchange is customary in a wedding ceremony of the Vedic tradition. It is said that everyone was so happy as a result. Wouldn’t you be thrilled as well? Where else do you hear about God being taught how to feed His wife? Where else do you learn about the beautiful eternal consort of the Supreme Lord being given instructions on how to offer food to her husband in love?

Indeed, such variety is present in the spiritual world, and that variety is replicated when the Divine and His associates appear on this earth in apparently human forms. With variety in form, the many children of God get the opportunity to engage in direct service. Here there was no fear on the part of the clever ladies. There was only boundless love. That love manifested in instruction and the offering of verbal jabs, thereby showing that the all-merciful Supreme Lord allows all to engage in devotional service in the mood of their choice.

Of course the prerequisite is the familial bond. We don’t like it when our friends say anything bad about our family, even if their statements are accurate. The friends are not part of the family, so they don’t get a free pass to lob abuses. The brother and sister are allowed to since there is a lasting bond with them. With God, there is the chance to enter the family since everyone is already in it. Through a lack of the proper consciousness only does one think that God doesn’t exist or that man is evolved today through natural selection of the strongest species. That evolved man no longer has to worry about God, which is a foolish mindset.

With the proper consciousness, one is allowed to reenter the family and from there engage in these wonderful pastimes, the likes of which fill up the voluminous pages of Vedic literature. The ladies took delight in this ceremony and so do the pure-hearted souls who hear with rapt attention, paying homage to the author who took so much time and effort to describe these events that his mind was so immersed in.

In Closing:

Though anecdotes of my family may reveal,

Open to criticizing them don’t ever feel.


Jovial talk for close siblings reserved,

With outsiders some respect need observed.


Felt like family already did ladies clever,

Lobbed abuses in both ways did they ever.


New bride and groom to feed each other taught,

Sita and Rama, their marriage so much happiness brought.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Son of the Earth

Sita's hand“At that time, Sita’s brother came there from the earth. Performing the rituals and giving blessings, he made himself known.” (Janaki Mangala, 148)

siya bhrātā ke samaya bhoma tahan āyau |
durīdurā kari negu sunāta janāyau ||

Download this episode (right click and save)

The wedding in Janakpur a long time ago was so important that the most powerful personalities in the world arrived there to witness it. One would think they had more pressing matters to attend to, but when it comes to witnessing beautiful moments shared between the Supreme Personality of Godhead and His eternal consort, everything else takes a backseat. Here we see that the personality who is the planet Mars arrived on the scene to offer his blessings.

Previously, the goddess of fortune and the personality in charge of guarding the material nature arrived there. The wives of other celestials came as well. They came disguised so as to not distract from the festivities. They were there to enjoy the scene, not to hog the glory. In the Vedas we learn that the higher forces of nature are controlled by intelligent beings. The most intelligent being is God, and everything surely does emanate from Him. This means that all that is bad and all that is good is originally sourced in God.

Natural disastersFrom hearing this one would be tempted to blame God for all the calamities of the world. After all, if He’s going to get credit for everything good, as being the author of all that is blessed and sacred, why shouldn’t He take the blame for the tragedies and painful situations people encounter on a daily basis? The root cause of this temporary creation gives the answer to this puzzling question. The Supreme Lord creates, but that doesn’t mean He invests interest in the outcomes to the actions and results seen in that creation. He creates to satisfy the desires of the independent living beings who choose to not have His direct association.

His apathy in material interests is seen in how the creation is effected. Powerful personalities are put in charge of the various elements of nature. The sun is a person, though we find this hard to believe. The person is purusha, or spirit. Spirit is seen in the fish, the dog, the cat, and the human alike. Why can’t it be in the sun as well? The body type is all that is different. Spirit is still there, so the combination of material elements surrounding that spirit just makes for a different kind of living being.

Sunshine in the winterGood and bad are relative in the material sphere. We can use the sun again to test this theory. The sun diffuses heat and light. It does so perpetually. It does not require an external fuel source. It does not require maintenance. Now, depending on where you live, you either bask in the sunshine or fear its dreaded heat. In the summer months, you’re not pleased with the sun, but in the winter you crave its warmth. The sun is identical in both situations. It does not choose to be favorable or unfavorable upon anyone.

From this example we see that what is good for one person may be bad for another. This concept extends all the way into the afterlife, where one person goes to a heavenly realm and another to a hellish one. Indeed, the present life is the afterlife to a previous term in a material body. And right now we see both heavenly and hellish situations, which means that we don’t always get good and don’t always get bad.

Real good is everlasting, extending beyond the foreseeable and unforeseeable futures. Real good belongs only to the Supreme Lord and by extension those who are tied to Him in service. The occasion of Sita’s marriage is an example of all good. The personalities in charge of the material creation took great delight in the occasion. Though they are residents in a realm of duality, here they momentarily cast aside their duties to witness the beautiful spectacle.

Sita DeviSita is God’s wife in a unique spiritual form. For her earthly pastimes, she appears from the ground of the earth. She has a father in King Janaka, who finds her in the field one day, but she is an adopted child. Janaka has no sons at the time, so it seems as though Sita does not have any brothers. When it comes time for her wedding rites, the different aspects traditionally performed by the brother of the bride would seemingly not occur.

From this verse from the Janaki Mangala, Goswami Tulsidas says that Sita’s brother did indeed appear at her wedding. He is known as Bhauma, or Mangala. He comes from the earth, and since Sita arose from the earth as well, Mangala is her brother. Everyone knew who he was when he started performing the rituals and bestowing blessings upon the newly married couple.

Mangala is the planet known in English as Mars. Like all other planets, Mars intrigues the mind. Its climate and appearance are studied by scientists in great detail. Of course even with so much invested in researching it, nothing of value is really known. One can see the color of the planet and perhaps analyze its atmospheric conditions, but what is gained from such information?

Here we get a better understanding of Mars. It is a personality who was originally nurtured by the earth. Bhauma took great pleasure in seeing Sita and Rama. Rama is the origin of everything in His form of Vishnu, who simply exhales to create innumerable universes that emanate from the pores on His body. Vishnu is opulently adorned and thus worshiped in reverence. The worship through offering service in a marriage is more intimate, and so fortunate personalities were able to serve in greater ecstasy through attending the marriage of Sita and Rama.

The ordinary living entities, who have a difficult time maintaining a job let alone even thinking of managing a planet, can stay very close to the same Sita and Rama by remembering their wedding, taking delight in the fact that so many well-wishers were on the scene, and always chanting their names, like those found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”

In Closing:

Thought that for Sita brothers none,

Then arrived resplendent personality one.


By his blessings in rituals made known,

That he was Janaki’s brother own.


From mother earth he originally came,

Thus had lineage to Sita the same.


In supreme ecstasy same offerings can give,

When in devotional consciousness we live.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Not For Me

Sita and Rama wedding“Looking at the bride and groom, they again and again gave away clothes and jewels in charity. There is no way to explain the happy feelings and jovial nature of that day.” (Janaki Mangala, 147)

nirakhi nichāvara karahi basana mani chinu chinu |
jāi na barani binoda modamaya so dinu ||

Download this episode (right click and save)

God is one. There is not a separate God assigned to each region or a separate worshipable figure specific to which book you follow. Some may think in this way, that “their” God is different from everyone else’s, but in fact the same entity is described just in different terms. In the Vedas so many details are given about this singular divine entity. From these ancient works we learn that He is universal and that there are different ways to know Him. In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, we learn one way to recognize when His physically manifest form is within sight.

Imagine something good happening to you. Let’s say you just got a new job. You are so excited. No more do you have to work for the tyrant you’ve called a boss for the last many years. No more will you have to deal with his lying straight to your face. He tells you one thing today and something totally opposite the next. He tells you that he and the company have no money to spend on salaries, and yet he just purchased a brand new car. He didn’t need this one, either; it was just for fun.

Office cubiclesAt your new place of employment things will be different; at least you hope. To start this job you have to buy new clothes. You want to look good. To celebrate the switch, you want to take your friends and family out for a good time. From this example we see that when something good happens to you, you have to add possessions and expenses. Imagine that your good fortune is a wedding. Again, there is tremendous expense, with the added bonus of the worry over how to fill the brand new home. Even in modern times when the bride and groom often live together before marrying, there is never enough stuff; so the wedding provides a way to bring more things into one’s life.

Here we see the celebratory behavior unique to viewing the Supreme Lord and His beautiful eternal consort. The women gazing upon the just married couple are continuously distributing gifts of dresses and jewels. This was part of a marriage ceremony, and there wasn’t any running tally of the losses incurred. There also wasn’t an expectation of return from the gift. Seeing God makes you act this way. No longer are material possessions important. Better it is to part with those items, donating them to the deserving people of society. Why not donate some nice clothes and jewelry to people who don’t have much and who don’t really require much to be happy?

The recipients here weren’t expected to bring cash gifts to the wedding. They weren’t expected to give anything back. This didn’t matter to the women distributing the charity, for they were surrendered to Sita and Rama, who are the goddess of fortune and the Supreme Lord Himself. In Lakshmi, God has the most faithful and beautiful wife. As Narayana, the Supreme Lord is opulently adorned and worshiped in reverence. He is also known as the source of men. Thus Narayana is not a sectarian figure; He is not a God to be worshiped only by the Hindus.

The more one goes beyond the opulent aura of Narayana, the more the loving feelings within an individual can take over. As Sita and Rama, the same Lakshmi and Narayana appear in enchanting forms that evoke the natural penchant for service found within all of us. To serve them one need use only their mind. They don’t require money. They don’t require wealth. Objects can be used in service, for sure, as they are used here in distributing wealth. At the same time, the worshipers are not concerned over their personal fortunes. If you have the beautiful vision of Sita and Rama in front of you, you are naturally not attached to anything else.

Sita and RamaThe famous saints of the Vedic tradition provide further proof of this concept. None of them are known for their wealth, fame or number of possessions. In addition to their strong devotion, the example they set is of renunciation. The most knowledgeable of thinkers, who accepted supreme wisdom from their teachers and then further elucidated it in beautiful written word, lived on practically nothing. When their devotion was at its most mature stage in the eyes of others, the renunciation was quite pronounced. They didn’t require much in chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” They didn’t need so much money to maintain their writing and distribution of literature. Since they didn’t require so much, they didn’t have to work very hard to maintain a living. Absent the difficult labor that repeats day after day, their time was freed for worshiping God, which brings the most pleasure to any person.

Renunciation is superior to attachment to so many possessions. Thus from seeing Sita and Rama one reaches a better position automatically. This is one test for determining who is God and which activities are devotional. In a material existence, increased success brings increased burdens. In devotional life, the more one serves God, the more renounced they naturally become. They become extremely liberal in distributing gifts, including with the most wonderful gift of all: devotion.

In Closing:

New achievement I’ve got,

But free of burdens I’m not.


New items now must head to buy,

To celebrate also this achievement my.


When Supreme Lord’s vision to earn,

Mindset taking opposite turn.


Donating items, liberally to give,

When in bliss of devotion to live.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Worshiping God Together

Sita and Rama“With the rituals done just as the mind desired, the women became happy. Taking the bride and groom, the friends of the bride led them to the nuptial chamber.” (Janaki Mangala, 146)

Download this episode (right click and save)

mana bhāvata bidhi kīnha mudita bhāmini bhaī |
bara dulahinihi lavāi sakhīṃ kohabara gaī ||

“What is the purpose to a marriage? Is it to facilitate sense gratification? Instead of chasing after woman after woman, hoping that they like you enough to spend time with you, you get one woman for life. This way you won’t have to go far to satisfy your urges for conjugal relations. You won’t have to worry about dying alone. Is this all there is to a marriage? Why not just find a companion and forgo the formality?”

In the Vedas we get answers to these questions. These answers represent the truth as well, as marriage is indeed there to fulfill a higher purpose. The objective for every living entity is the same, but in the human form the opportunity for meeting it is the best. The animals don’t have nearly the same potential, therefore things like austerity, penance, renunciation, knowledge, and rituals are absent in their lives. They are allowed to live like protected children, roaming here and there. Sin and piety do not apply to them. Righteousness is for the human species, and in the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala we get an instance of a very pious rite, one that is meant to help both parties involved.

The two parties are the groom and the bride. They start as a man and a woman. When they unite in holy matrimony, they become a singular entity, while maintaining their individual natures. Essentially the marriage allows two parties to help one another in advancing towards the ultimate objective of God consciousness. Not to be reached out of fear, this consciousness is what provides lasting and real happiness. The bliss that everyone is after only comes from intimate union with the Divine, a bond so strong that no one can accurately explain it in words.

Tying the knotTo reach the point of creating that bond one has to eschew all other favoritism. Every exclusive affectionate relationship, every like and dislike, every attachment and detachment, must be cast aside. Otherwise the bond to the Divine will not be pure. Seems strange then that a relationship that is built on trust for another entity is meant to help one to advance towards God consciousness. If one is supposed to relinquish attachment to this person and that, how are they supposed to reach the vital objective when they accept a partner for life through marriage?

The living entity in the human body automatically has a tendency to form attachments to members of the opposite sex. Marriage, therefore, is a way to curb that tendency. It fixes the attachment on only one individual. In ancient times, some men did accept more than one wife, but again the attachment was limited.

Even in that fixed attachment, there is a singular objective. Like a wife who works to maintain the household and a husband who works to pay for the home’s expenses, the marriage in dharma allots duties to each party. The objective is to maintain a devotional consciousness, one tied to the Supreme Lord. Thus there is work in both instances, but the marriage in dharma has a higher objective; therefore the work is more worthwhile.

Here Sita and Rama, the new bride and groom, are led to the nuptial chamber by Sita’s assistants. Her friends were part of the royal court in Janakpur. Sita’s father, King Janaka, was the leader of the country and the host of the marriage ceremony. Rama was the groom chosen through a contest, and here the rituals relating to their marriage have just completed.

Sita and Rama marriage ceremonyEverything went according to the mind’s desire. A marriage is a stressful occasion for those in charge of organizing it. The parties each have their specific desires. They want a certain place setting, menu, and banquet hall. They want different kinds of entertainment also. In Sita’s wedding, everything that anyone could want was there. The most important element, happiness in celebration, was there at a level never before seen in the world. Sita is the goddess of fortune, who is the eternal consort of the Supreme Lord. Rama is that Supreme Lord in an incarnation specific to a time and circumstance many thousands of years ago.

Sita became a wife through the happily executed rituals, and the first destination for the new husband and wife was the bedroom. This was more than a place for sleeping or enjoying intimate relations. There they would worship the family deities, who had passed on the vital spiritual traditions that allowed everything in life to be ideal. The families were both happy through following dharma, or duty, and so the new members who would carry the torch forward would continue the tradition of worship.

Having someone by your side to support you is always better than going it alone. Perhaps one can get lazy if they don’t have to do things on their own, but provided that one is enthusiastic to work having a partner is beneficial. Sita and Rama are equal in their respect for dharma. They are paragons of virtue, and so they set the ideal example for wife and husband. Shri Rama even remarks in the Ramayana how Sita is His partner in following religious principles. She is a sadharma-charini.

“My dear beautiful wife, what you have said is befitting the occasion and also indicative of the greatness of your family heritage. You are dearer to Me than My life, for you are My companion in the performance of religious duties.” (Lord Rama speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 10.21)

Sita and RamaAs they are the objects of worship for the householder, Sita and Rama don’t require advancement towards a final objective. Still, they set the proper example of how one can happily live in the company of a spouse. The Supreme Lord is all-attractive, and by extension the householders who work together to worship Him on a daily basis are as well.

In Closing:

Help in worship need do I,

Lethargic when by myself to try.


To give spark to my spiritual life,

God sends to me supporting wife.


Like with Sita and Rama shown,

Supports Him even in forest alone.


At their marriage’s end to bedroom went,

There worship to family deities sent.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

To Do Good For All

Raining flowers“As the marriage ceremony happened like this, the three worlds were in happiness. The munis gave their blessings and the demigods rained down flowers.” (Janaki Mangala, 145)

Download this episode (right click and save)

ehi bidhi bhayo bivāha uchāha tihūm̐ pura |
dehiṃ asīsa munīsa sumana baraṣahiṃ sura ||

“Good luck.” It is common to say this to someone else, as it is a kind gesture. When opponents are set to square off in a competition, they may say this to be polite. In fact, the good fortune is not really desired. If the opponent indeed gets fortune in their favor, it doesn’t redound well for the other side. If one side gets a fortuitous bounce that is beneficial, it is not beneficial for the other side. With one person in particular good luck always benefits all. This applies to His wife as well, and so during a famous marriage the three worlds rejoiced, and those who could grant good fortune were more than happy to shower their blessings on the new husband and wife.

The celestials can grant boons. Think of it like asking Mother Nature to be kind. “Please pour down some rain for my farm. This land is my livelihood. I work so hard to make sure crops can grow. The final piece of the puzzle is the rain, which I know only you are responsible for. If you make it rain, I will be so pleased. I will honor you every day with my thoughts.”

Saints can also grant boons. Think of it like getting the blessings of a priest or religious person. They have a preferred status since they dedicate their life to serving God. They are not interested in worldly pursuits. Sure, they could get a job in the marketplace if they wanted to. Then they could haggle over salary and benefits, looking to move up every few years so that their lot improves. Instead, they choose a life of service to God. This is a sacrifice, one for which so many others are benefitted. Getting the blessings of such saintly people is always good.

Praying handsThen there is the issue of who is eligible for the blessings. If a sinful person wants boons from celestials, should they get them? If someone is intent on breaking into an innocent person’s home and stealing their things, should the person in authority hand over the money necessary to carry out the crime? The criminal considers the money a great blessing, and the person beseeched is surely capable of providing it. In this case whatever auspiciousness is granted is limited; it is not absolute.

The saintly person can also give blessings to someone who doesn’t deserve it. The recipient could then use those blessings as an excuse for sinful behavior. “Oh, such and such person died for my sins. Therefore I can do whatever I want. I can kill animals, lie, cheat, steal, and have sex with anyone, even outside the bounds of marriage. I am absolved since I have the blessings of this high personality.”

Duality was absent in the case of the blessings showered upon Sita and Rama. The divine couple is benevolent to all. They are more than just saintly. They are also more than just powerful. As Sita is the goddess of fortune originally, she can donate any amount of wealth to any person. Rama is the Supreme Lord originally, so He is the owner of all matter. He can grant any material benediction to anyone very easily. Rama is beyond duality, so He knows that sometimes a material benediction can turn out to be a curse. Consider getting a drum set for Christmas as a kid. You think it’s great since you can play drums all the time, but the noise will really bother your parents.

Drum setSita and Rama are benevolent to all through their association. They are the best friends anyone could ask for. Do we not prefer to spend time with good people? Who wants to be around misers, cheats, frauds, liars and obnoxious blowhards? No one is kinder than Sita and Rama. Sita especially is of the highest character, and no sin exists in her. Rama is the same way, but since He takes on the role of a warrior sometimes it appears that He does things which are unkind. He prefers to fight from time to time against wicked characters, and so the wives of the slain foes then lament their loss. But even this is beneficial, as death at the hands of Rama is glorious. The wives share in the meritorious end of their husbands, and so Rama gives everyone a boon even through His ferocious form shown on the battlefield.

In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, Goswami Tulsidas describes the emotions of the world right after the rites had concluded at the marriage ceremony of Sita and Rama. He says that the three worlds were in happiness. The earth was certainly happy, as so many of its inhabitants had gathered in Janakpur to witness the beautiful ceremony. Residents of the heavenly realm were thrilled as well, as Rama was their life and soul. Sita was dear to Rama, so she was automatically dear to them too. Even the residents of the hellish realm were thrilled, as every person, no matter how far sunken they are in consciousness, retains a link to the Divine, for that is in their constitutional makeup.

The munis, or sages, gave their blessings very liberally. This wasn’t required, but it kept in line with tradition. Sita and Rama usually grant benedictions, as they are in the superior position. But it is still very nice to be able to wish them well. This practice is unique to bhakti-yoga, showing another way in which it stands above all other kinds of yoga. In bhakti you pray for God to do well, for Him to have good luck. His luck is in the form of Sita’s association. The couple is always together, but sometimes the devotees worry that they may have to be separated. The young child might pray for the parents’ safety prior to falling asleep at night, though the parents are the ones who are charged with maintaining the children. The child’s love explains the sentiment.

Sita and RamaThe love of the sages explains their liberal distribution of blessings upon Sita and Rama. The celestials once again rained down flowers, giving their approval to the proceedings. All were joyful on that day, which is one that can be celebrated infinitely into the future through the timeless works of saints like Goswami Tulsidas.

In Closing:

Faced with so many difficult a task,

So for benefits Supreme Lord you ask.


This reward and that to me please give,

Then forever in happiness will I live.


Of all yogas bhakti stands unique,

Because fortune for God you seek.


Like with beloved Sita and Rama being wed,

Sages blessed, celestials dropping flowers’ bed.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Uniqueness of Bhakti

Lord Rama's lotus feet“Applying the sindura, performing the homa, offering rice, circumambulating the fire, touching the stone - in doing all of this the enchanting murti of the dark-skinned groom stole the mind.” (Janaki Mangala, Chand 18.2)

Download this episode (right click and save)

sindūra bandana homa lāvā hona lāgīṃ bhānvarī |
sila pohanī kari mohanī manaharyo mūrati sānvarī ||

If you’ve never heard of bhakti-yoga before, some of the practices, regulations and stated objectives may appear to be very similar to other religions. In this sense, it is easy to discount as mere sentiment, a kind of faith. And who are we to judge faiths? “One person likes the sports team from New York and another the team from Los Angeles. In the end it is just support without meaning, so there is no reason to compare the two. People who worship God want stuff. We can’t really judge what one person wants since every person is in a different circumstance. Therefore all religions are more or less the same.”

In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, in becoming aware of the context we see how bhakti-yoga separates itself from the pack. It stands tall above even other practices in the category commonly known as Hinduism. Those who practice bhakti-yoga never consider themselves to be followers of a Hindu religion, for religion suggests faith. “Hindu” says that I am part of a particular family lineage that does certain things with respect to faith. Bhakti-yoga is a compound term that is explainable in scientific terms. If I tell someone I am looking at the sun, appreciating its properties, there is nothing sectarian in my practice. There is no “Hindu sun” or “Christian sun.” The sun is the sun; it is there for everyone. Similarly, bhakti-yoga is a practice for all spirit souls. Since every living being is a spirit soul at the core, bhakti-yoga is the only practice that breaks through the barriers of separation created by age, gender, ethnicity, culture, prejudice, and fear of unknown traditions.

Bhagavad-gita, 2.13“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.13)

Email scene from Bruce AlmightyIt is customary religious practice to ask God for stuff. “Give me this, give me that. I’m in trouble, so help me out. I have nowhere else to turn.” In one Hollywood film of recent times, the main character is humorously assigned the post of God for a brief period. On his first morning as God, he hops on the computer to check his email and is greeted with a nice surprise. His inbox is flooded with requests. All these people are asking God for things. And the emails keep coming. Once he opens one email, another fifty arrive. Thus he gets overwhelmed.

As God is the all-powerful, He does not get overwhelmed in receiving the infinite number of requests coming from His children, but the scene in the movie gives us an idea of how God is generally viewed. Here Sita Devi takes a different approach. She steps on a stone and vows to always serve God. She will stay by His side no matter what. Whatever obstacles come her way, she will not be deterred. No material opulence will change her mind. This means that even if she had the ability to get whatever she asked, she still wouldn’t constantly ask God for things.

Interestingly enough, she can indeed get whatever she asks for in the material sense. Bhakti-yoga comes from the Vedic tradition, which is the more accurate name for Hinduism. Hindu is a cultural term, while Vedic is a Sanskrit one. Vedic means coming from the Vedas, which mean knowledge. Following the Vedas means following a system of real knowledge. Knowledge is not sectarian. If I know that two plus two equals four, my understanding is not limited to my cultural surrounding.

In the Vedic tradition you worship people who are not God in order to get material rewards. These people are highly elevated personalities; they are divine in nature. They can give you rewards such as the ability to live thousands of years and beauty to make you attractive. And yet these rewards don’t last forever, which shows that the people granting them cannot be God. One who practices bhakti-yoga automatically is entitled to the material opulence and abilities of these divine figures.

Shrimad Bhagavatam, 5.18.12“All the demigods and their exalted qualities, such as religion, knowledge and renunciation, become manifest in the body of one who has developed unalloyed devotion for the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vasudeva. On the other hand, a person devoid of devotional service and engaged in material activities has no good qualities. Even if he is adept at the practice of mystic yoga or the honest endeavor of maintaining his family and relatives, he must be driven by his own mental speculations and must engage in the service of the Lord's external energy. How can there be any good qualities in such a man?” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 5.18.12)

Sita DeviSince Sita took a vow to be as strong as stone in her service to God, she was automatically entitled to different material rewards. A few times in her life it even looked like she asked for them. One time she prayed to the goddess who is a famous river to give protection to her husband. Another time she prayed to the presiding deities of the different directions to protect her husband along His journey. Another time she prayed to the god of fire to allow a fire on the tail of a monkey to feel as cool as ice. All of her requests were for someone else’s welfare, and namely for someone who was either God Himself or acting directly in service to Him. These divine figures had to oblige; they could not deny her. If they did, they would be accused of getting in the way of her devotional service, which was her avowed occupation.

In bhakti-yoga you vow to make God happy. How does one please Him? Why does He need our service if He is so great? In works like the Bhagavad-gita, He tells us how to please Him. He says to always chant His names, like those found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” He tells us to worship Him at all times and to sacrifice all of our activities for His benefit.

Bhagavad-gita, 9.27“O son of Kunti, all that you do, all that you eat, all that you offer and give away, as well as all austerities that you may perform, should be done as an offering unto Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.27)

In asking God for so many things, it is easy to forget the role personal responsibility played in creating the present circumstances. If I made the choice to eat that extra slice of pizza and I later pray to God to relieve my indigestion, is that very wise? Among all the possible rewards the Supreme Lord could grant, I chose to have stomach pain removed; pain that I brought on myself. When in the consciousness of serving God, be there pain or pleasure, the resolve to continue to please is strong. If the same God can relieve indigestion, He can most certainly ensure that the service to Him continues. In fact, in Sita’s case the resolve is so firm that God Himself, who acts as Sita’s husband in His incarnation as Rama, cannot do anything to stop her. Only in bhakti-yoga does one become even greater than God.

In Closing:

Ask God for this that and the other,

Bhakti-yoga must be a faith another.


But actually above all, a religion unique,

For when something real and lasting you seek.


Like Sita, who on stone stood tall,

Could have reward any and all.


Only to make happy her husband dear,

A wall of resolve not even God can clear.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Like Father Like Daughter

Janaka and Sita“Applying the sindura, performing the homa, offering rice, circumambulating the fire, touching the stone - in doing all of this the enchanting murti of the dark-skinned groom stole the mind.” (Janaki Mangala, Chand 18.2)

Download this episode (right click and save)

sindūra bandana homa lāvā hona lāgīṃ bhānvarī |
sila pohanī kari mohanī manaharyo mūrati sānvarī ||

The Ramayana is filled with characters who are true to their word. Lest they be accused of miserliness or failing to repay good deeds done for them, so many figures make sure that their behavior is beyond reproach. They take the necessary steps to ensure that others, be they friend or foe, cannot find anything to criticize. The easiest way to dismantle your reputation is to be dishonest. If you fail to do what you say, especially if you give an oath, then why should you be trusted in other matters? Why would anyone believe what you say? King Janaka is one of the characters from the Ramayana with dedication to truthfulness, and in the scene referenced above his daughter lives up to his good name.

“Okay, I’m down for lunch tomorrow. I can’t wait to go there. It’s been a long time since all of us have been out together. This restaurant just opened too, filling the void that was created when our previous favorite restaurant closed down. I know that you don’t have one of these where you live, so let’s make the most out of your visit. Fortuitous it is that you stopped by here for work matters. Now we can all hang out like old times. It’s going to be great.”

…a little later on

“Sorry man, something came up. The wife wanted to go to the beach. Plus, I wasn’t really hungry anyway. We ate so much last night. I couldn’t stomach the food at that place. And yeah, I couldn’t really read my phone when we were at the beach. That’s why I didn’t respond to your texts. When you called earlier I was still sleeping. Oh well.”

In this situation, the person has broken a promise, though a subtle one. The intention was that the group of friends would go to eat at a restaurant on a specific day. The one friend decided not to go; he changed his plans at the last minute. He came up with excuses for sure, but then those excuses weren’t put on the table at the beginning. He didn’t say, “Maybe we’ll go tomorrow. Let’s see what happens.” A de facto promise was made, and it was later broken. Hence the word of such a person loses its value a bit.

Now skipping a planned lunch isn’t really going to cause the world to end. The word in this case was compromised, but since the person who made the promise didn’t think it was so important, it’s not the best way to judge their truthfulness. With King Janaka, one time his vow related to the most important person in his life, his precious daughter Sita. This vow was with respect to her marriage, meaning it was a word given about which person would assume the duty of protecting her for the rest of her life.

King JanakaYou can consider this to be the most important issue in Janaka’s life, and despite so much worry, he remained true to his word. He vowed that whoever would first lift a heavy bow at a contest in his kingdom would marry Sita. The initial concern was that no one would lift the bow, and then there was worry that one prince in particular would fail. Janaka wanted this prince to win so badly that the thought of cancelling the contest crept into his mind. Since he gave his vow in front of so many, he wasn’t now going to go back on his word.

As Janaka’s eldest daughter, Sita followed the example of her father. Shri Rama of Ayodhya won the contest. It turned out that the prince that Janaka preferred did indeed get to marry Sita. In the Vedic marriage ceremony, the bride steps on a stone and makes a vow to always serve her husband. The stone is symbolic of the resolve required by the bride. So many obstacles will come along the way. Marriage is not easy in the least. You always have to worry about someone else. They may or may not be nice to you. They may or may not want what you want. Still, you have to make the relationship work, especially if your marriage is in dharma, or duty. The marriage lacking dharma is driven by kama, or sense desire. As even animals are driven by sense desire, without dharma there is no purpose to the marriage. The casual relationship suffices when the sole desire is sense gratification.

Janaka’s vow was attacked from within by fear over the uncertain future. With Sita, never for a minute did she want to go back on her vow. Her issues came from outside attack; others who wanted to prevent her from serving her husband. The outside attack is considered an adhibhautika misery, while fear and nervousness is adhyatmika. Along with adhidaivika, these are the threefold miseries of life. They attack everyone, irrespective of their desires. Whether you are religious or not, these miseries will come after you.

Sita DeviThe difference with the divine associates of the Supreme Lord is that these miseries don’t have an effect; it’s like being attacked by snakes who have no fangs. The fear from within could not break Janaka’s vow, and the fiendish Ravana and his cohorts could not stop Sita from serving Rama. In the worst case, where there is no ability to exercise any kind of outward devotion, one can at least think of Rama, who is non-different from God. One can say the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” as an offering, a way to serve.

The stone is the best representation to gain a slight understanding of Sita’s resolve in serving Rama. We don’t know anything that is completely unbreakable, so in this world there is nothing that accurately compares to Sita’s resolve. She always loves Rama; no matter what. Her father is just as fixed in devotional service. He is a king, so his vows relate to ruling over a kingdom and managing a family. Sita is Rama’s beloved eternal consort, so her vows relate to serving Him in that capacity. Each individual has their svarupa, or eternal form, which follows some type of service to God. In regaining that svarupa through practicing bhakti-yoga, the resolve in serving God becomes unbreakable.

In Closing:

Showing respect for truth like no other,

Not surprising trait shown also in daughter.


When keeping promises made you live,

To others glimpse of your nature you give.


Not so important when small is your lie,

More scrutiny in circumstances that try.


Every hardship to Sita that mind could conceive,

Stayed true to word, perfect for Rama indeed.