Saturday, January 4, 2014

An Understanding of God

Krishna showing universal form“Although understanding God is very difficult, it is not difficult when God Himself gives us His own knowledge. Actually that is the only process by which we can understand God. To understand God by our own speculation is not possible, for God is unlimited and we are limited.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Science of Self-Realization, 1c)

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“As a preacher, it’s my job to bring members to the congregation. ‘Increase the flock,’ as they say. In gauging the efficacy of our work, it’s better if there are more members than not. In addition to bringing new people in, I need to keep the current members actively engaged. If they just come to the sermons and sit there without thinking, they will not find the experience too enjoyable. If they don’t find it enjoyable, they will look for other ways to pass the same time.

“The problem is that people would rather do so many other things. They would rather watch the pregame shows for the football games on Sundays. They would rather spend time with their cat or dog. They would choose to instead enjoy the late-morning start in bed with their significant other. You see, these other things are easy to understand. The owner knows what their pet looks like. They know what their pet likes to eat. The fan knows where to find their favorite game on television. The film buffs know where the local movie theater is and they can see the different actors on the screen. I can’t seem to get the same connection with my members. I’m at a loss as to what to do.”

preacherIn this scenario, the root of the problem is quite clear. There is no understanding of God. The line of “worship or go to hell” falls on deaf ears, as it doesn’t make logical sense. Why would someone be compelled to worship? That goes against the nature of love. With the progress in the material age, with industry having a strong dominance over agriculture, the idea of worshiping a higher power to get things also doesn’t hold water. Why worship God when you can study instead? Why worship when you can do good works to see the tangible results?

The issue is resolved through personalism. Not that the idea of a personal God was created as a way to solve the problem of dwindling members in a congregation, the distinguishable features of the Almighty have always been in existence. They are just difficult to accept, let alone notice. If I see someone with brown eyes, I know that they don’t have blue eyes. If I find blue eyes attractive, I will consider the person with brown eyes to be less attractive. From a single distinguishable feature alone I see that there are distinctions, relative superiority and inferiority.

blue eyesIf such features could be assigned to a higher power, they would be similarly limiting. In addition, human beings are fallible. The animals aren’t so smart. Due to a lack of intelligence, some among us don’t even consider them to be life forms. The animals eat, sleep, mate and defend like humans. They are also in a lot of instances much wiser than the infant human being. So all creatures, human and animal alike, which are qualified through attributes, are imperfect. Therefore how can a higher power have distinguishable features?

Fearing this fallibility, when there is a belief in a higher power there is the tendency towards impersonalism. “I am God. I am truth. I am bliss. I can find all of these things inside of myself.” Another tendency is to make God to be anything that suits the whims. “He takes care of me. He wants me to enjoy this one life that I have. We only get one life. This means that I should enjoy it to the full. This is what God wants me to do.”

There is some validity to both of the above viewpoints. There is bliss inside of me. There is truth as well. Also, God can be understood in terms of my experience through life. However, there is always a separate personality. He lives inside of me as the Supersoul, or Paramatma. He lives inside of you in the same feature. We are not God, but we are with Him all the time. Bliss comes from connecting with Him. One of the ways to know Him is through the description of “sach-chid-ananda.” This applies to His vigraha, or body. He is forever blissful and knowledgeable. This means that anyone who decides to connect with Him will find inexhaustible bliss.

If my experience through life focuses on constant enjoyment, I can know that God holds all transcendental pleasure. Therefore He is known as Rama. If my experience focuses on worship of a higher power to get rewards, I can know that God is the Supreme Personality amongst all the divine figures. Thus He is known as Bhagavan. This word means that He holds all opulences, making Him the chief living entity. He is a person like you and me, but He is the topmost. He is the superior person, Purushottama.

Lord KrishnaI flock towards things that are attractive, and so the Supreme Lord can be known as the most attractive, Krishna. He prefers to enjoy with others, and so the energy which always enjoys with Him is known as Hare. Just by chanting a simple mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” I can know so much about God. In hearing further from authorized works like the Bhagavad-gita, Shrimad Bhagavatam, and Ramayana, I can know what He likes, what He prefers to do, where He lives from time to time, and how I can connect with Him no matter where I am. Whether I am at a place of worship or sitting in an empty room, I can have the same connection.

We can’t properly worship God if we don’t have an understanding of Him. Is this not true? Therefore the Lord is kind enough to provide that understanding through His many sacred texts and the saints who live out the teachings of those texts. Complete understanding never is possible for the human being, but even the slightest glimpse of the reality of the spiritual world is enough to keep the attraction to the Supreme Krishna for the remainder of this life and beyond.

In Closing:

Without even a little of God to know,

Into other activities mind to go.


If understanding only of abstraction,

Then limited to be the attraction.


My experiences and world to relate,

To Supreme who in all categories great.


From understanding take to worship proper,

Those connected to Krishna in this life to prosper.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Food For a Crow

Shrimad Bhagavatam“Asuras do not know that their bodies consist of the five elements of material nature and that when they fall they become objects of pastimes for dogs and vultures.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.17.31 Purport)

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One who doesn’t know their true identity is less intelligent, or even unintelligent. This is the consideration of those who do understand their true identity. When lacking this most vital knowledge, one takes the appearance of their body to be very important. Fancy clothes, expensive jewelry, so many pairs of shoes - these things don’t determine who a person is. Indeed, they are coverings for a body that will one day be food for the vultures. As such, what wise person would assign so much importance to the body or decorating it?

Healthy eatingWe have to look at our body in the mirror. We have to feel the discomfort of wearing clothes which are too tight. These clothes fit just fine a few weeks ago, but since there hasn’t been much attention paid to diet and exercise, now they are not the right size. In addition, if we don’t watch our fat and salt intake, we could be forced to suffer from heart disease and high blood pressure later on. In this sense the body is important; it’s what keeps our consciousness intact in the present life.

However, there isn’t much significance to the body beyond the ability to maintain life. One person is heavy and another slim. One person is tall and another short. The differences don’t make the person. The heavy person could be very mean and the slim very nice. The tall person could be very stupid and the short intelligent. More importantly, at the end of life the bodies will no longer matter.

Do we give much importance to dog food? Do we see it and anticipate how wonderful it will taste? Do we go rummaging through garbage looking for scraps from last night’s dinner? Do we eat food that was prepared two weeks ago and accidentally left out on the kitchen counter? Obviously not, as these things are rotten; unsuitable for human consumption. And so the covering of earth, water, fire, air and ether surrounding the soul is destined to rot as well.

What keeps it from decaying right now? The spirit soul. When the soul is present in the body, the vultures stay away. There is heat within the living body. There is the ability to move, to autonomously act. There is life. Death is the absence of the soul only. The rest of the body may remain as it was previously. However, with a single flight of the soul from the body, that previously living body then immediately transforms.

The wise person can see into the future. Not that they necessarily predict the winner of this year’s Super Bowl, but the lack of immediate vision does not preclude them from seeing the destiny of their body. They know that one day the hands, legs, eyes and ears will either be burned to ashes or buried in the ground. Therefore they act without delay for securing the best future for the soul.

The soul ended up in its current situation based on karma. Karma is work. There is an action and then a subsequent reaction. This isn’t very difficult to understand. I eat too much food for dinner and I get heartburn and indigestion later on. I work out constantly and don’t eat very much, and then the weight of my body decreases.

The reaction for the soul goes through the conduit of the consciousness. The lasting reaction to any work is the effect on consciousness. Whatever state of being one remembers at the time of death, that state they will attain without fail. This is the statement of Shri Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita. This answers the questions of “before” and “after.” We were somewhere before because we are somewhere right now. We will be somewhere after because we are here now and were somewhere else before. The soul is the constant, and it chooses where to go based on consciousness.

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

While this body is not yet food for a crow it can be used to remember God. It can be used to understand Him, learn His qualities, figure out how to think of Him at all times, and serve those who are dear to Him. The entire suite of devotional activities, from start to finish, is provided by the kind souls who are already wise enough to see beyond the temporary body. They see God all the time through their work. As they see Him now, they will see Him at the time of death. This means that they will be with Him in the future.

Shrila PrabhupadaThey have no prejudice for travelling alone; they are more than happy to bring so many others along with them. They catch the interest of the sincere spiritual seeker by spreading the sound of God. They always chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” They defeat the arguments of the asuras, who either purposefully ignore the destiny of the body or are not yet wise enough to see it. The servant of Krishna gives this most insightful vision, and having seen it other wise souls make the best use of the temporary body by always serving the Supreme Lord Krishna.

In Closing:

Though right now with body to live,

Back to nature eventually to give.


After death body soon to be rotten,

By vultures and beasts to be eaten.


Destiny for the soul rather make,

By transcendental wisdom to take.


For spiritual destination let me strive,

While with this body I am now alive.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Destined To Rule The World

Narasimhadeva slaying Hiranyakashipu“One may become as strong and puffed up as Hiranyakashipu and bring under his control all the three worlds, but there is no possibility of continuing life eternally or keeping the conquered booty forever. So many emperors have ascended to power, and they are now lost in oblivion; that is the history of the world.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.17.19 Purport)

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“The first thing I did was study hard in school. I didn’t like where I was living. Everything was too simple. People didn’t have enough money for indoor plumbing even. Sure, we ate breakfast, lunch and dinner without issue, but I couldn’t imagine living like that forever. How others settled for such a life of mediocrity is beyond me. Most of them never ventured outside of a two mile radius from their homes. It’s like they were happy with very little.

“As soon as I finished primary schooling, I got into the best college in the country. This was my initial ticket out of my village. Doing very well at the university, I got a job with a top company. They were able to place me in a different country, one that was industrialized. Then I climbed the corporate ladder. Eventually I made CEO of the company, and so today I earn a lot of money. I am known throughout the business community. Members of the board trust me to steer the company, with its thousands of employees and billions of dollars in market capital, in the right direction.

“I hope to have a future in politics. I plan on running for city council, and then from there state governor. One day I may even be president of the nation. All of this because I worked hard and kept my sights high. Thank God I left my hometown, for if I was still there I wouldn’t have been exposed to the rest of the world. I’d have been stuck with a wife and kids at a young age and a job that didn’t pay much. I wouldn’t have enjoyed all that life has to offer.”

Congressional hallThis is a common mentality when one is unaware of the true objective of life. Completely denying the existence of a personal God, what else are they supposed to think? To rule the world is the last word in material advancement. But think about it for a second. What if you did reach this end? What if all your work eventually brought the reward of control over the entire population of the earth? Would you be happy? Would you be satisfied?

There are many ways to get answers to this question. One way is to look at past history and see if the different powerful rulers were satisfied. Moreover, how long did their reign at the top last? Another way is to take another hypothetical instance. In this one a person growing up in the same small town decides to stay there. They accept a simple occupation, like say farming. They remain with friends and family in a close knit circle.

This kind of life is certainly not out of the ordinary. In fact, it is more common than the life of climbing up the corporate ladder all the way to chief executive. In the end, is there any real difference between the two people? Both of them are eating. Both of them are sleeping. Both can have a spouse. Sure, one lives in a palatial building with many rooms and thousands of square feet. The other lives in a tiny hut, with maybe one or two rooms. Does living in small quarters automatically equal misery? College students are often crammed together in dormitories. They likely have to share a tiny room with another person. The wealthy person’s closet is often larger than that room, and yet in adulthood one looks back fondly on the college days. All the friends were close by. The room didn’t seem that small because there wasn’t much needed from it. A desk and a small bed sufficed. The majority of the time was spent outside of the room.

College dorm roomThe same can be said of the person living in the small village. If they see their friends and family all the time, what does the size of their home matter? If they have plenty of space for their children to roam in the outdoors, what is there to lament over? Indeed, in the urban and suburban areas raising a child is a difficult chore. Money is required for everything, and the new child brings so many new expenses. In a rural area, a new child isn’t as much of a financial burden.

Of course, we know both individuals will die. The ruler of the world will eventually have to relinquish their post. They can’t bask in their opulence forever. The same will happen for the person living the simple life. Therefore how are they any different? If neither met the real objective in life, they essentially lived the same.

That objective is God consciousness. A true understanding of God is where one decides to serve Him with their thoughts, words and deeds instead of serving their own interests. Personal interests bring temporary results. I can work my whole life to become leader of the nation, and from there I may enjoy the post for eight years. After that, I am again left searching for true happiness.

In God consciousness, I get to serve all the time. Service is my birthright. It is my true calling. The question is who and what to serve. In God consciousness, one serves the Supreme Lord by chanting, hearing, remembering, offering prayers and other such devotional activities. There is no check to this. The rich person can serve God and so can the poor person. Whatever one has in life can be used as an offering to God.

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, Bhagavad-gita, 9.27)

Prahlada Maharaja with NarasimhadevaEmperors of the past like Hiranyakashipu worked so hard to ascend to power. Then they lost everything. Every material objective is but a derivative of the goal achieved by Hiranyakashipu and those like him. Thus the lesson from the emperors applies to everyone. The rich and lasting reward of the devotional consciousness is the true objective in life for all living entities. The conditions of this chaotic age of Kali Yuga, where a person is considered great for having a lot of money that can never buy them happiness, make reaching the valid objective very difficult. Therefore in this age the Supreme Lord Himself has said that there is no other way but the chanting of the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

In Closing:

Objective for knowledgeable and fool,

Is to gain materially, the world to rule.


But what then when the goal to attain?

Loss destined despite greatest gain.


For human being single real objective set,

That consciousness of God to get.


Service to Him to continue whether rich or poor,

Like with Prahlada, maintenance of devotee is sure.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Crying Over Sandcastles

Sandcastle“There are two classes of men in the world; one is called the demon, and the other is called the demigod. The demigods concern themselves with the spiritual upliftment of human society, whereas the demons are concerned with physical and material upliftment.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.17.16 Purport)

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“Oh no, what happened to my sandcastle? It was here a few moments ago. Do you know how long it took to build? Do you know that my first few attempts were utter disasters? I had no idea what I was doing. I had to work hard at it. Once I figured out the technique, the difficulties still didn’t end. It’s like knowing how to plant a seed to get a crop. Once you’ve figured it out, the long work of planting all the seeds necessary for a good harvest lays ahead. In the same way, once I figured out how to build this castle, I had to do the physical work all by myself. I had to apply a lot of “elbow grease” to get it done. Now it’s all gone. I’m so sad. I wonder what happened.”

This example perfectly illustrates the life cycle of material advancement, from start to finish. It also illustrates the mindset of the individuals within that cycle. The sandcastle is nothing more than material and physical upliftment, both literal and figurative. The castle goes up through hard work, and there is some pleasure in seeing the end result. Through the laws of nature, however, everything gets erased. Sometimes without prior warning even, all that past work is wiped out. A wave comes to the shore, a tropical storm hits the coast, or an unsupervised child runs through the area and destroys the beautiful structure.

Waves hitting the sandIn the sandcastle example, what is the wise choice going forward? Should the person rebuild the sandcastle, taking the same effort? Should they move on to something else? Should they build a sand fort? What about playfully burying one of their friends in the sand?

We bring home a dog to serve as a pet. We have to housebreak them, making sure that they learn that their crate, the living room floor, or even the kitchen is not a bathroom. If they have to relieve themselves, they are to wait until they are outside. In return for good behavior, the dog accepts the affection of the owner. The owner offers unconditional love.

As the average lifespan of the dog is much shorter than the human’s, there is every likelihood that the dog will pass on while the owner is still alive. Then what? There is sadness for sure. There is grief. Not surprisingly, the next step is often to get another dog and repeat the cycle. The same holds true for failed marriages, heartbreak in relationships, indigestion from eating, hangovers from drinking, and so many other interactions in material life.

The wise souls target spiritual upliftment. This means to improve the lot of the spirit soul. The best reward would be to escape the cycle of birth and death completely. Get out of this misery of acceptance and rejection, building and destroying. Spiritual means not material. Material means not spiritual. The two are never the same until one becomes completely spiritual. That is the case with the origin of matter and spirit. He is neither spiritual nor material. He is completely pure. The dichotomy is for His innumerable sparks. They are spirit by nature, but they can choose between spiritual life and material life.

Knee injury in footballWhen they choose material life, they opt for building and rebuilding so many things. This is not exclusive to external objects, either. The body itself can be built and rebuilt. Think of the person who gains a lot of weight and then loses it through diet and exercise. Think of the person who shatters their knee playing football and then slowly brings it back into shape through surgery and rehabilitation.

At the time of death, the entire body goes away. Then a new one is given, in new circumstances. The cycle therefore repeats. Material upliftment can do nothing to end this cycle. By its very nature, it is meant to bring rewards that are temporary and thus perishable. When something is destined for destruction, the individuals who are attached to it must suffer.

Spiritual upliftment brings something permanent, namely a consciousness. God consciousness does not have to break. It travels with the individual from lifetime to lifetime. Actually, the ordinary consciousness does as well, for it determines the kind of nature we inherit at the time of birth. With the material consciousness, however, nothing is permanent. So even if we were an expert physician in a past life, in this life we don’t have any knowledge of that. We may even grow up in a family of physicians, but since we are prone to attack from material forces, our retention of medical knowledge is not guaranteed.

God consciousness stays with the individual. The reward for possessing this consciousness at the time of death is residence in a land conducive to that consciousness. The person who always thinks of God gets to be with God. It’s that simple. In the spiritual land there is endless play. One day people are playing with the Supreme Lord in His childhood form of Damodara, and the next people are listening to the beautiful sounds emanating from His flute. Because of His expert ability to play this instrument, He is known as Muralidhara.

MuralidharaEvery aspect to Him is attractive, so He is most commonly known by the name Krishna. The demigods in this world, who are saintly and thus after the spiritual upliftment of society, teach us how to know Krishna. By knowing Him, we can think about Him. By thinking about Him, we can get God consciousness. With God consciousness we return to the spiritual land, where the only concern is how to please the Supreme Lord. His happiness brings happiness to others, so it’s a win-win situation.

In Closing:

Castle on the beach to build,

With sand and effort it’s filled.


Then with just one crashing wave,

Castle gone, helpless are attempts to save.


This example with others the same,

Loss to follow any temporary gain.


With Supreme Lord, wielder of flute, not so,

To His permanent abode the devoted souls go.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

With Limits With Laws

Nature“There are many scientists and great workers in this material world who have wonderful creative force, but they act and create only according to the direction of the Supreme Lord. A scientist may create many wonderful inventions by the direction of the Lord, but it is not possible for him to overcome the stringent laws of material nature by his intelligence, nor is it possible to acquire such intelligence from the Lord, for the Lord's supremacy would then be hampered.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.20.17 Purport)

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The wise person doesn’t try to fight the laws that have governed man’s behavior since time immemorial. In fact, those laws are for all species and were not crafted by a blue-ribbon panel or commission of experts. The laws don’t change; they operate like clockwork. The less intelligent animals don’t try to fight them, but the supposedly more intelligent man, who has the ability to conduct experiments and thus expand his knowledge pertaining to the external, dedicates so many years to trying to skirt these laws. This pursuit only takes place when the most important knowledge is lacking.

Baseball batThe child finds ways to pass the time that are baffling to the adult. As an example, if no one else is around, the child may play baseball alone in the backyard. He pretends that he is the different hitters on a team, for he has memorized their lineup. He can mimic the different batting stances as well. With his left arm he generates the pitches, quickly transitioning to the bat in order to hit the pitch. Where the ball lands determines the result of the at-bat. In this way, playing pretend, an entire game completes.

The child hasn’t really played baseball. It is merely pretend, a way to pass a few hours on a sunny afternoon. For the adult, playing baseball would involve a real game, with other players around. The child hasn’t accomplished anything in this regard; they have merely found a way to survive on a day when there is nothing better to do.

In a similar manner, when an adult spends billions of dollars to create a spacesuit to be used in outer space, they haven’t really accomplished much. Surely intelligence is required in the construction. Indeed, the smartest scientists are needed to figure out how to get the spacecraft into outer space, beyond the earth’s atmosphere. This isn’t like adding two plus two or doing long division. This involves strong command of physics and mathematics. There is a reason that the rocket scientist is invoked when playfully deriding someone’s lack of intelligence.

Outer spaceIn outer space, the astronaut subverts gravity. In the home with the air conditioner, the occupant temporarily escapes the heat of the summer. With the automobile, the driver finds a way to increase the speed of travel against what can be done by using a horse and buggy. With the television the eyes can witness events taking place thousands of miles away. With a video recording device, one can relive events that took place long ago. With the internet, one can witness events that were recorded in someone else’s home.

Despite all these accomplishments in getting around the laws of nature, there is no permanent escape. Eventually the astronaut must return back home. Eventually the heat will have to be tolerated, as well as the cold of the winter. Eventually the individual must exit the automobile and figure out something to do at their destination. The same with the person who watches television and surfs the internet.

Nature’s laws apply to all. Gravity cannot be stopped. Perhaps one can escape its influence after much effort, but that escape is only temporary. The birds are made to fly and the fish to live in the water, so for the humans to try to follow similar behavior is not very wise. The advanced intelligence in the human species exists for a reason, and it is not to figure out a way to defeat the material nature. That nature has never lost, as it has a closer which comes out of the bullpen. This closer has never blown a save and always wins the game. It is known as death, and it has yet to be defeated.

The wise souls use their intelligence to understand why the nature exists. Mere speculation alone will not solve the mystery. There is no dearth of individuals who have attempted this route. Philosophy books that line the shelves of libraries and bookstores show how much time has been spent in trying to figure out why there is life, why there is nature, and why there is death.

Bhagavad-gita As It IsThe wise souls accept the explanations from the Bhagavad-gita. Like anything else, this work can be discounted as mythology, mental speculation, religious sectarianism, and so forth. But from actually understanding the work through someone who knows it themselves, a new perspective comes. In this work it is said that the individuals, found in the animals and other species as well, are part of a superior energy. This is in comparison with the energy of matter, which is what nature is. Earth, water, fire, air and ether don’t have brains of their own. They have no individuality. They are dull and lifeless. They combine to subdue us through the forces of nature.

There are controllers of that nature, with an original controller who created the nature in the first place. Only He can escape its influence. Indeed, for Him there is no need to work to get away from anything, as the nature operates under His command. Not directly all the time, as He has managers handling life and death and the results to action, but if He should happen to appear in an area governed by that nature, He is not subject to its influence.

The living entities can get the same immunity, provided they take the shelter of the original controller. This is the sticking point. For one who does not know about the Supreme Controller, how will they know where to find His shelter? Others are naturally inclined towards figuring things out for themselves, trying to become the greatest controller there is. The wealthy person thinks they have reached such a point, but even they are frustrated in so many endeavors. The person who seems to always get what they want eventually reaches a point where they are denied a desire. Thus life without shelter from the Divine ultimately leads to frustration.

Lord KrishnaThe wise souls seek shelter through the words of the Bhagavad-gita. These words emanate from the original controller, who is known as Krishna because of His all-attractiveness. Though Krishna discusses many different ways towards transcendence in this famous work, His final recommendation is to surrender everything. Dedicate all words, actions and thoughts to Him. Everything that one does should be dedicated to the Lord. Since He only accepts certain kinds of actions, the devotee’s behavior naturally adjusts into piety, so as to please Krishna.

Absent service to God, there is no way to control the material nature. Despite long hours in the laboratory and expedition after expedition into outer space, man is no closer to figuring out the mystery of life and death on their own. The person who accepts Krishna’s instructions and recommendations knows a little more, and with just a little knowledge they find a way to escape birth and death permanently, landing in the realm of no miseries, Vaikuntha.

In Closing:

In rocket ship lifting from the ground,

Into space gravity to go around.


But escape to last for how long?

After all, man to earth belongs.


Nature dull, controlled by superior,

Man to higher forces remains inferior.


Just some knowledge of supreme controller get,

And in Vaikuntha all of nature’s forces forget.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Which Bias To Take

Lord Krishna“I am seated in everyone's heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness. By all the Vedas am I to be known; indeed I am the compiler of Vedanta, and I am the knower of the Vedas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.15)

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Bhagavad-gita, 15.15“I don’t like too much editorializing in my news coverage. Just give me the facts. Don’t have a bias, please. I don’t want your opinion on what happened in Washington. I don’t want to hear why certain politicians are bad. I don’t want to hear your stance on a particular issue. Keep these things to yourself at least during the news portion of your coverage. If I want opinions, I will go to the editorial page. There at least your bias is clear. Then I can judge things accordingly.”

NYT editorial pageThis sentiment is popular enough to warrant a separate section for opinion in newspapers and on news websites. In dissecting the matter further, however, we see that there is no such thing as objective journalism. The concept cannot exist for the mere fact that billions of events take place on a daily basis. Even if the focus is limited to the realm of politics, sports, weather, current events, health and lifestyle, there is too much going on every day to report on. Therefore bias exists in the very choice of the stories themselves.

For instance, today we see a story on a new technological gadget. There are already so many gadgets in the marketplace. The company releasing the gadget obviously wants their product covered in the news. The person reporting on the release will be favorable or unfavorable to it. Depending on their opinion, they will choose to highlight certain features and omit others. The same goes for the latest hot-button issue in the nation’s capital. There is filtering, especially in news segments that are limited by time. The journalist votes as well. They have an idea on how government should act. Therefore they will choose which arguments to present and which ones to mask. Indeed, they may be so steeped in their position that they don’t even cover the other side of the story.

Steve Jobs presenting iPhoneNews is a business after all. Their business is presentation, which is no different than what the salesman does with their business plan or product presentation. If you’re getting a pitch from a salesman, you know they are biased. You know that they want you to invest in their idea. The same holds true for the news, as they often have the action line set up going in. They then choose those stories which fit their action line. “Never let facts get in the way of a good story,” is how the famous saying goes. If the journalist has an agenda to uphold, facts aren’t always helpful.

As there is bias in all presentation, the question then becomes whose bias to choose. Which person has the ideas that are the best to follow? An easy way to judge is to see which bias benefits the most people. The news anchorperson in favor of pushing a certain health product obviously has a limited scope of interest. Their organization may have the manufacturing company as a sponsor, and therefore promoting that particular product helps their bottom line. The self-help guru wants to sell books. The politician wants to get elected and stay in office so that they can distribute the hard-earned money of the tax-payers to citizens who will then vote for them. Even the religious leader has an interest; they want others to join their institution.

Choosing a pathThe saints of the bhakti tradition can also be thrown into the discussion, for they have a bias as well. Their goal is to make everyone happy. That’s easy for any person to say, but how do we test the claim? Well, how is it that one becomes happy? Is it through earning a lot of money? Is it through marrying the person of their dreams? Is it through raising a family? Is it through playing a particular sport on a professional level? Is it through enjoying succulent food dishes and intoxicants?

In studying those who have experienced such things, we see that the achievements themselves don’t bring lasting happiness. The romance quickly fades in a marriage if focus is lacking. The children eventually leave the home. Food and drink cause so much pain, first physically and then mentally. Gambling and sports are in the mode of passion, which leads to a neutral result. The memory of the championship victory is quickly erased when the next season starts. The same goes for the devastating defeat.

Bhagavad-gita, 14.7“The mode of passion is born of unlimited desires and longings, O son of Kunti, and because of this one is bound to material fruitive activities.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.7)

The saints of the bhakti tradition say that everyone is happiest when serving God. Not that one necessarily has to join a particular institution, becoming a sworn defender to it. Not that one has to always chastise others who are not loving God for their sinful ways. Service to God is known as bhakti-yoga, and it has nine basic implementations. Any or all suffice for bhakti, which is also known as divine love.

The saints of the bhakti tradition say that all varieties of love and affection are derived from the natural desire to love God. In simpler terms, bhakti is at everyone’s core, but in the present circumstances most don’t know it. Therefore they try to love everything else, all the while not knowing that their desire to love stems from their inherent link to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. It is seen that even the hardest heart can be melted by the pet dog in the home. There is no other reason to get a pet other than to offer love. That same affection is meant for God, and when it is offered to Him the love naturally extends to others, even to so-called enemies.

Six Gosvamis of VrindavanaThe saints of the bhakti tradition do not want money. They believe so much in the happiness that devotional service brings that they dedicate all of their efforts towards getting others to practice it. This sometimes means even giving up everything for others. The famous bhakti saints of the past lived on practically nothing. They voluntarily became homeless, jobless, and penniless in order to strengthen their religious practice and help others in the process.

It’s difficult to be envious of someone who lives underneath a tree and wears torn rags for clothing. It’s hard to have hatred for someone who has not a penny to their name. It’s difficult to find fault with someone who has no desire for money, fame, women, or enjoyment. The heart then completely melts when seeing the dedication these saints show in helping others to find bhakti-yoga.

These saints are biased for sure, and their favor is for the Supreme Lord, who is within everyone’s heart as the Supersoul. Only with bhakti-yoga does that supreme soul become visible, revealing its transcendental features to be contemplated on, remembered, worshiped and served. Only in bhakti-yoga does such a form have accompanying names which can be sung and glorified without end: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

In Closing:

Bias in news I don’t like,

Keep your opinions out of my sight.


Just describe the events straight,

Your opinion for the editorial page wait.


But in truth with bias all to live,

Filtering facts the news they give.


Issue then of which bias to take,

Which interest happy all to make?


Bhakti saints bias for God maintain,

Know that devotion life’s highest gain.


In full humility transcendental light to spread,

For real benefit choose their bias instead.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Lowest Among Man-Eaters

Lord Rama“Since you have spoken such sinful words to the wife of the immeasurably resplendent Rama, to what place will you go to be free, O lowest of the Rakshasas?” (Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 22.15)

rākṣasādhama rāmasya bhāryāmamitatejasaḥ |
uktavānasi yatpāpaṃ kva gatastasya mokṣyase ||

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In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna describes how the naradhama, or the lowest among mankind, do not surrender unto Him. Even if they hear that He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the detail behind the abstract conception of a supreme being, they choose to find their own path towards transcendence. They fail miserably in this endeavor, and since they received the chance to know Krishna and serve Him, they are considered worse than the middle tier class of men, who may not know any better. In this verse from the Ramayana, Sita addresses Ravana as the lowest among the Rakshasas, which is a pretty strong indictment considering the fact that Rakshasas eat human beings.

Bhagavad-gita, 7.15“Those miscreants who are grossly foolish, lowest among mankind, whose knowledge is stolen by illusion, and who partake of the atheistic nature of demons, do not surrender unto Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.15)

In the modern world eating meat is very commonplace. It is such a staple of the many societies and communities that those who eat only vegetables, fruits, milk and grains are given a special title. They are known by such terms as “vegetarian” and “vegan.” They are out of the mainstream, though all they are doing is choosing to eat living beings that don’t eat, sleep, mate or defend. They choose to eat plants and vegetables, a choice which doesn’t require violence towards other creatures. While the meat eaters carefully protect their pet cats and dogs, the non-meat-eating population chooses to extend that compassion to all animals, especially the cow, which produces milk out of love for its calves.

Lord Krishna with cowsIf you kill your dog you are a criminal, but if you kill a cow it is no issue. Eating cats and dogs makes you an oddball, while eating other kinds of meat is acceptable. Eating other human beings earns you the title of cannibal. Cannibals are considered the lowest among men. They are very hard to find in the world, as a civilized person would choose to eat other meat first.

The Rakshasa is a species of living entities that generally has bad qualities. A person can be a Rakshasa in behavior also. While the human being is supposed to be more intelligent than the animals, you can still find human beings who behave like animals. You can also have human beings who behave like Rakshasas, though they may not be born into the species.

So, based on their habit of man-eating alone, a Rakshasa is pretty low. To be the lowest among the Rakshasas means you must be really bad. This is the point made by Sita here, as Ravana had addressed her in a sinful way. He first behaved sinfully towards her, taking her away from the side of her husband in secret. A wife is a dependent of the husband, at least under ideal circumstances. If a husband is dependent on a wife, it means that he is weak. Weakness in a man is not meritorious, like promiscuity in a woman.

Ravana then used sinful words against Sita after she repeatedly refused his advances. She had no desire to be with him. He didn’t even fight for her fairly. If Ravana had taken on Rama, a fellow warrior, in battle, Rama would have defeated him soundly. Here Rama is described as immeasurably resplendent. Tejas can also mean strength, so Rama’s strength cannot be measured by any instrument. This is a feature found only in the Supreme Lord. Rama is the same Krishna but in a different manifestation, an incarnation specific to the time period in the Treta Yuga when Ravana roamed the earth. God has beauty, wealth, strength, fame, wisdom and renunciation at immeasurable levels. Since His transcendental features cannot be measured by blunt instruments, one name for Him is Adhokshaja.

Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.8.19“Being beyond the range of limited sense perception [adhokshaja], You are the eternally irreproachable factor covered by the curtain of deluding energy. You are invisible to the foolish observer, exactly as an actor dressed as a player is not recognized.” (Queen Kunti speaking to Lord Krishna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.8.19)

Lord RamaWith that immeasurable resplendence, Rama can distribute His energies anywhere. If I can speak very loudly, it means that someone across the room can hear me. If I can teach very well, it means that even the person with the least intelligence in the classroom can understand what I am saying. If I have more renunciation than anyone else, it means that I can live without friends, family, fine food, water, a fancy home, and so many other things for a very long time.

Rama’s strength can penetrate any area. This means that Ravana had no place to find comfort. Sita asks the rhetorical question of where he will go to escape Rama’s wrath. There indeed will be wrath since Ravana behaved sinfully towards Rama’s beloved wife. Other Rakshasas simply ate human flesh, drank wine, and sunk further into ignorance. They were low in terms of the spiritual evolutionary scale, but they still weren’t the lowest. Their leader in Lanka had exclusive claim to that title, and the reward for his behavior would be the swiftly coursing, well-jointed arrows of Rama’s penetrating his body.

In Closing:

More than just any kind of meat,

Flesh of man Rakshasas specifically eat.


Of carnivores this makes them low,

With Ravana we see further can go.


First took her and then spoke in sinful way,

Forcing her away from her husband to stay.


Sita on Rama having full dependence,

Soon to arrive in all His resplendence.