Saturday, January 18, 2014

Human Joke Machines

Sita Devi holding lotus flower“From both directions, taking the names of the grooms and brides the ladies kept offering different jokes while they were eating, and this flooded that night with beauty and joy.” (Janaki Mangala, 160)

dehi gāri bara nāri nāma lai duhu disi |
jenvata baḍhayoṃ ananda suhāvani so nisi ||

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In the early history of American television, there was one actor in particular who was famously known for his skill at making jokes. Affectionately known as the “human joke machine,” he could take any word, phrase or subject and immediately come up with a suitable joke. This talent was valuable in that time period, as many homes did not have television. Therefore get-togethers and dinner gatherings often featured live entertainment, where some of the guests would perform sketches, act out plays, and sing and dance. From this verse from the Janaki Mangala, we get an example of a similar practice, where the names of the brides and grooms in a marriage ceremony were taken and jokes made at their expense.

Morey AmsterdamWho likes to be made fun of while having their meal? Just hearing someone else speak with food in their mouth is annoying enough, so to be constantly jabbed at by others while trying to enjoy food seems like harassment. The scene referenced above can be likened to a meal outside at a restaurant with friends and family today. To lighten the mood, surely some jokes will be made. Not everyone will be serious on a night out, where the goal is to have fun.

In this scene, the newlyweds and their wedding party are being fed by the host of the reception, King Janaka of Mithila. The custom in these kinds of weddings is to offer delectable food dishes of different varieties. The dishes were of the variety that could be sucked, licked, chewed, and drunk. The food kept coming too, so there really was bhojana, or enjoyment, from this eating.

During this time, the ladies assembled started taking the names of the brides and grooms. There were four of each. Originally, there was only one couple to be joined. Janaka held a contest of the bow in Mithila to find a suitable husband for his daughter Sita. So pleased was he by the victor in the contest, Janaka arranged to have Sita’s husband’s three younger brothers get married at the same time.

There were four couples to choose from, and the people taking the names then used those names to make songs. These songs were in jest; they made fun of the people named. This is an art that requires skill. A joke of the wrong tone can offend. And who can make an appropriate curse of someone else using only their name? Those assembled that day most certainly could and from the descriptions of Goswami Tulsidas we see that the curses only increased the bliss of the moment. Everyone was quite pleased, especially those who were the target of such jokes.

Taking the names and making curses out of them is appropriate in an intimate setting. But in places where the divine natures of the targets are not known, the practice is to take the names and make informative discourses out of them. These lectures praise the spiritual attributes of the people in question. Along with lectures and discussions, there are melodious songs of praise as well.

Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati ThakuraA famous spiritual master of recent times, who was known as the lion-guru for his fearlessness in spreading and defending the timeless principles of divine love, was known as a kind of human verse machine. On a whim, without reaching for any book, he could quote an appropriate verse from the Vedas that served to support his argument. His arguments were always in favor of devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, which means that he was always praising God in some way. Without any advance notice he could find a verse suitable to the discussion, a verse that would ultimately praise the Supreme Lord and His personal form.

From this verse from the Janaki Mangala we get another reminder of how powerful the name of God is. There can never be one name, as no one aspect known to our limited understanding could ever completely describe God. From famous texts like the Brahma-samhita and Shrimad Bhagavatam, we learn that Krishna is the most complete name for the Absolute, as it means all-attractive. Still, other names are used as well. Govinda, Gopala, Rama, Janaradana, Keshava, Achyuta, Damodara, and so many other names are also spoken by those who are favorable towards God. Though no name ever suffices to completely describe everything, one single authorized name uttered is enough to bring God’s presence.

Sita and Rama deitiesAccompanying the presence of God is His unlimited potency. Therefore from the name itself one can create a perfect discussion on some aspect of nature. From the name itself one can compose a beautiful song that reminds others of the divine sports of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who always enjoys with those who love Him without conditions. And from the name itself one can even make verbal jabs that increase the joy the guests feel at a famous wedding, one where the host arranged everything just right.

In Closing:

From just the name to take,

Ladies perfect jokes to make.


The joy of the guests to enhance,

When on this path to advance.


Since love for Rama they had,

Newlyweds nor others to get mad.


To bring His presence the holy name use,

So much potency, and from so many to choose.

Friday, January 17, 2014


Prasadam meal“With the four types of food, of so many different varieties, the King of Ayodhya and the barata party took their meal.” (Janaki Mangala, 159)

cahu prakāra jevanāra bhaī bahu bhāntinha |
bhojana karata avadhapati sahita barātinha ||

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There is no doubt that one of the top sensual enjoyments in life is eating. For those living in industrialized nations, where food is easy to find and so much of it is around, where and what to eat often make for the most pressing questions of the day. “Where will I get lunch today? I had pizza the last two days. I had Mexican food for dinner last night. I could pick up something quick, like a bagel, but then that is only one item. I’ve noticed that eating full meals is better. I especially like to pick at different things, alternating between the items. I am actually able to control my eating better this way. I don’t have to eat as much when there is variety.” For a host a long time ago, there was great satisfaction in feeding the guests. He gave them every kind of food dish imaginable, and in large quantities. Though the guests took part in the meal, the bhojana, and thus enjoyed themselves, the real pleasure was for the host.

FeastIf you are a host, you feel good when your guests eat to their satisfaction. You feel this way based simply on your own experiences. That one time you visited someone’s home when you were hungry and they offered you a nice meal made you feel so good that you won’t forget it. You weren’t expecting it, and since the food was offered as part of the most genuine welcome, it made the eating process that much more special. When we were younger, perhaps many times we didn’t think the occasion called for food. And yet that time when our mother showed up with a sandwich and a drink after we had just completed an important exam is something we’ll never forget.

Indeed, one of the principal ways for an affectionate mother to offer her protection is to hassle the children about food. One of the most famous mothers in history, Yashoda, used to constantly worry about her son’s nutrition. He was a precocious young child who loved to play in the field all day with His friends, who were of or around the same age. The boys had the basic task of tending to the young calves of the farm community. As is common with young children, something that an adult would take to be work is viewed as good fun. Since Yashoda’s son was with them, everyone was happy. The mother was blissful as well, but in a different way. She always worried that Krishna had not eaten enough. Therefore she would feed Him very well when He would come home. She would offer Him the best food in the world, of many different varieties, and then take Him to a comfortable place to rest.

Mother Yashoda feeding KrishnaHere King Janaka has similar sentiments, including affection in a friendly way. He has just welcomed four new sons into his family, for they have married his daughters and those of his brother. Janaka hosted the ceremony initially only to get his daughter Sita married. So pleased was he in her choice of Shri Rama that he decided to get Rama’s three younger brothers married as well.

A Vedic ceremony is not complete until there is the taking of prasadam. The Sanskrit word means “the Lord’s mercy,” and in this special occasion the food was offered directly to God. The mercy was in the chance to feed Him and take great pleasure. Rama is the Supreme Lord in His incarnation as a warrior prince. He is the same Krishna loved without motivation and without interruption by mother Yashoda. He is the same Vishnu who is always served by the goddess of fortune Lakshmi. He is the same impersonal Brahman which the spiritualists in the mode of goodness try to understand. He is the same Supersoul residing within the heart whom the meditational yogis wish to see.

Stack of pancakesJanaka’s connection was superior since He got to see God and serve Him. There were four kinds of food offered, chatur-vidha. There was food that could be licked, food that could be sucked, food that could be chewed, and food that could be drunk. Goswami Tulsidas says that there were so many kinds in each category. The variety helps in both enjoyment and the ability to consume more. If you are at a restaurant and told to eat so many pancakes in one sitting, it will be quite difficult. You can put as much maple syrup and butter on it as you want, but you will still have a hard time. If you throw in some other items, however, like toast, potatoes, cereal, and the like, you will have an easier time consuming everything.

So the four kinds of food allowed Janaka to offer as much as he could to his beloved guests. Their bhojana was very enjoyable, and through their eating Janaka was spiritually satisfied. The Vaishnava is unique in their attitude to always seek God’s pleasure first. Rather than ask for this thing or that - fame, money, wealth, women, wine - they want only that God be satisfied. If He is pleased, then they are pleased. Based on Janaka’s supreme happiness, we can understand that his offerings were wholeheartedly accepted by Rama’s father, the king of Ayodhya, and his party.

In Closing:

For a full meal to eat more,

Helps with foods of kinds four.


This offering to Dasharatha made,

When king and family in Videha stayed.


Janaka of this occasion the host,

In seeing bhojana his joy the most.


Vaishnava desires God’s pleasure to see,

Happy when pleased by their work is He.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

He That Would Thrive

Marriage of the four brothers“The king returned to the guest house with his sons and their wives, like getting the four rewards in life along with the four sadhanas.” (Janaki Mangala, 158)

ge janavāse rāu sangu suta sutabahu |
janu pāe phala cāri sahita sādhana cahu ||

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Having paternal affection for four sons who are expansions of the Supreme Lord Vishnu is a much higher reward than anything the material world can offer. Love gives meaning to life. It is the reason for living. Without love, there seems to be no reason to get up in the morning. The issue, of course, is where to repose that love. Where should one’s undying affection turn? If the affection is undying, then it would make sense to find a corresponding object that never ceases to be. That object should remain in its attractive state for as long as the affection is offered. This qualification belongs only to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and so Dasharatha’s affection represented the greatest boon in life.

To reach the state of loving God is very difficult. It can take millions of lifetimes even. The allures of the material world are very strong. There is an illusion that strengthens the attraction to all things “not God.” To help the individual in their struggle to find transcendental love, religious doctrine is passed on. Not everything is revealed in the opening pages. The spiritual master, who keeps the information safely with him, not selling it for money and cheapening its value, tests the disciple first to see if they are sincere. Even then, the information is shared slowly, with more value coming from the realization of knowledge after hearing the principles and truths.

Shrila PrabhupadaTo one who has not yet achieved the mature fruit an existence has to offer, four rewards in life are taken to be paramount. They are dharma, artha, kama and moksha, which translate to religiosity, economic development, sense gratification and ultimate liberation. To receive all of these rewards in one lifetime is very difficult. Sometimes one reward gets in the way of another. To be religious means to suppress your pursuit of money. To be wealthy means to want to enjoy a lot, which leaves less time for religion. And after spending a lifetime enjoying the rewards of hard work, how is one supposed to get liberation, which is the relinquishing of not only everything accepted during this lifetime but also the desire to ever go through the cycle of birth and death again?

So to achieve these rewards in one lifetime is very rare. To help the process along, there are the four sadhanas, or means to achieving the reward. The four means are being able to tell the difference between material and spiritual things, renouncing material things, developing six qualities conducive to godly life, and desiring liberation. These sadhanas help one to achieve the four rewards. So as rare as it is to obtain the four fruits of life, getting the four sadhanas to help you along at the same time is even more rare.

Goswami Tulsidas references these four fruits and their sadhanas in the above quoted verse from the Janaki Mangala to show how rare it was for someone to get such a gift as that which came to King Dasharatha. The king’s eldest son Rama was married to the daughter of King Janaka. Sita and Rama married in a grand ceremony in Mithila, and here the festivities have just completed. Dasharatha was the guest party; he had travelled from Ayodhya. Janaka was the host. Dasharatha had three other sons as well, and Janaka was so liberally minded that he arranged for their marriages as well.

Lord RamaRama is God; an incarnation of the Supreme Lord who holds a bow in His hands, wears an enchanting smile on His face, and is always ready to defend the innocent who are practicing their spiritual life. Loving Him is the highest fruit of an existence. Love for God is known as bhakti, and the exercise of that love is known as bhakti-yoga. Bhakti-yoga is above dharma, artha, kama, moksha, sadhanas, attachment, detachment, humility, kindness, strength, nonviolence, peacefulness, truthfulness, and other such virtues and objectives. One who practices bhakti may have one or many of these qualities or rewards, but it is their love for God which dominates.

Nevertheless, the comparison made by Tulsidas is very informative. The brothers are the four rewards and the wives are the sadhanas, which means that the wives help to bring and maintain the rewards. It is considered a great boon to have a faithful wife who is dedicated to helping her husband in his quest for spiritual enlightenment. Great statesmen like Benjamin Franklin quoted the proverb, “He that would thrive must first ask his wife,” which has a similar meaning. As these were wives of the Supreme Lord Vishnu and His expansions, they weren’t ordinary and thus not required to follow duty in the traditional way. Still, they set the proper example by supporting their husbands, who were tasked with upholding dharma, or righteousness, in society.

Sita and RamaFrom this verse we also learn that love for God automatically incorporates every other reward.

So does this mean that if we love God, we automatically get a brand new flat screen television? If we chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” will we get to eat pizza every day prepared by the world’s most famous chef?

Though there may not be a specific material reward received, the enjoyment is superior. With whatever thing we desire, it is the enjoyment from obtaining it that really matters. The four fruits and the four sadhanas bring different kinds of enjoyment, and one who has bhakti automatically receives these enjoyments. In fact, their pleasure is far greater, to a degree immeasurable. Dasharatha had the four fruits and the four sadhanas and so much more, for his mind was always fixed on the lotus feet of Shri Rama.

In Closing:

For four fruits of life to be seen,

The four sadhanas there as means.


For one who bhakti does not know,

Rewards become important ever so.


But pure love for God so much more,

Than rewards of material existence four.


Vision of Dasharatha’s sons and their wives,

Enough to keep devotional fire always alive.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Charity and Respect

Barata party“With love he offered charity, respect and supreme respect to completion. Dasharatha and the barata party accepted everything politely.” (Janaki Mangala, 157)

dāna māna paramāna prema pūrana kie |
samadhī sahita barāta binaya basa kari lie ||

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So many interesting truths one learns from a single review of the Bhagavad-gita, the short ancient Sanskrit text nestled inside a massively comprehensive work known as the Mahabharata. The fundamental lesson, the most basic truth required for understanding the higher truths, comes from the opening remarks of the speaker, teacher, and always realized soul, Shri Krishna. He declares that all living entities are equal in their original constitution, for they are spirit souls.

Bhagavad-gita, 2.25“It is said that the soul is invisible, inconceivable, immutable, and unchangeable. Knowing this, you should not grieve for the body.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.25)

What does it mean to be spirit? For one thing, it means that the individual never dies. Just as the body changes from boyhood to youth to old age, the same soul similarly passes into another body at death. This individual is thus constant. This makes sense if we think about it. We don’t consider ourselves to be different today than we were yesterday. Perhaps this morning there is a muscle spasm in my left leg that wasn’t there the day before. Perhaps I don’t have as much hair on my head as I did five years ago. Yet from these changes alone to think that I am a different person is silly. Just as I have not changed my identity from five seconds ago, I am the same person I was when I was the size of a tiny pea in my mother’s womb.

The Changing BodyAll living entities are souls. We think others are different because of the outward covering. Sort of like a Halloween costume party, where everyone is dressed differently, from the perception granted to us by the eyes we make distinctions based on outward appearance. There is another similarity to all creatures as well. In addition to having the individual soul residing within, there is something known as the Supersoul. In Sanskrit the word for soul is atma. Atma can also mean body or mind, but it is generally used to reference the soul.

Though all souls are spiritual, there can be different types. The individual soul is known as jivatma. This other soul is paramatma. One is ordinary and the other supreme. An ordinary soul is obviously still amazing, for it retains its vibrancy throughout the changes in life, including the greatest change known as death. Paramatma is more amazing because its influence spreads to all creatures. Moreover, Paramatma, though residing within all the countless living entities, is still singular. Paramatma is one person. This means that I have something else in common with you. We both have Paramatma living inside of us.

Bhagavad-gita, 18.61“The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone's heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material energy.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.61)

Krishna with ArjunaFrom further study of the Bhagavad-gita, whose principles are not limited by faith and sectarian boundaries, we learn that the Supreme Lord is the very paramatma; it is one of His features. It is not His complete feature, though, for His actual transcendental attributes are not visibly manifest to the conditioned soul. From hearing I can get perfect knowledge. If someone tells me that putting my hand in fire will burn my hand, that is perfect knowledge. If I accept it, then I possess some knowledge that is free of flaw. In the same way, if I hear about the paramatma living inside of me and every other creature, I have perfect knowledge of it.

However, I still can’t necessarily see what Paramatma looks like. To get a vision of the attributes of the Supreme Lord, I need Bhagavan. Bhagavan is the same as Paramatma; the distinction between more complete and less complete is with relation to our external vision. On a cloudy day we can’t see the sun as clearly, but this has no bearing on the sun. The sun is always the sun, regardless of whether we can see it or not. So the same holds true with the Supreme Lord.

Since Paramatma is within everyone, we might make the mistake of treating everyone exactly the same. In mind I can understand that God is in the heart of the dog and in the heart of the priest, but to treat each the same way is silly. I wouldn’t ask the dog about the key questions of life and death. I wouldn’t go up to a priest and start rubbing its belly and asking it to go fetch a tennis ball.

Rubbing a dog's bellyIn the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, King Janaka exhibits behavior that follows realization of the divine vision. He is self-realized, so he both knows about Paramatma and can see it. Still, his behavior is tailored to the time, circumstance, and person. Here it is said that he offered charity, respect, and supreme respect to completion. This was right after his daughter married the eldest son of the king of Ayodhya. Janaka was the host of the ceremony, and from Ayodhya came a large contingent. They were so happy to see their beloved Rama wed the daughter of King Janaka, Sita.

Janaka too was so thrilled, and so he gave away beautiful brides to Rama’s three younger brothers as well. After the ceremonies were complete, he gave charity to those who deserved it. Charity is to be given to those who are in an inferior position. This only make sense. One of the common complaints of citizens living in democracies is the practice of handing out government money to wealthy businesses and businessmen. Commonly known as corporate welfare, this practice is frowned upon and yet still employed to maneuver power in government.

To those in the superior position, one offers respect, or mana. Dana is for the inferior and mana for the superior. Janaka also offered paramana, or supreme respect. There was a diverse crowd at this wedding. Dasharatha was in an equal position with Janaka, but the king from Ayodhya also had his family priests and his royal attendants with him. Janaka did not offer each of them the same treatment. He knew they had God living inside of them, and so he respected them in the proper way. We respect our teachers by hearing from them and carrying out their requests. We respect our children by guiding them, by imposing limits and protecting them. There is respect in both instances, but the implementations are different.

Sita and Rama's wedding in JanakpurJanaka’s behavior was indicative of his high consciousness. To have God consciousness is to reach the pinnacle of a material existence. It is said that a life form is superior to matter, something which shows signs of life superior to that, something with consciousness superior to that, something with sense perception superior to that, and so on. When you reach an object that has God consciousness, true awareness of the Supersoul and its origin, then you have reached the height of the evolutionary chain. In that supreme state, one offers respect to God through so many ways, including with how they treat others. It is no wonder then that the supremely intelligent Janaka received Rama, Bhagavan in His avatara as a warrior prince, as his son-in-law.

In Closing:

Though consciousness of Supersoul stayed,

Same offerings to all not made.


Charity to the inferior,

Respect to the superior.


From Janaka’s behavior to see,

Known as the way it should be.


To have consciousness of God evolution’s height,

No wonder that king welcomed Rama of arms of might.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Generous Dowry

Pile of gifts“From the in-laws they received too many gifts to count. Included were male and female servants, horses, elephants, gold, clothing and jewels.” (Janaki Mangala, 156)

dāija bhayau bibidha bidhi jāi na so gani |
dāsī dāsa bāji gaja hema basana mani ||

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External features alone do not distinguish a material existence. One may be rich, poor, young, old, male, or female, but it is the consciousness which gives the real indication on the type of existence. In a material existence one is always fearful. Consider the animals. They are in a precarious condition since they don’t have great intelligence to use in defending themselves. A dog cannot make a call to the local security company to install an alarm system to surround the perimeter of its home. The cat cannot pick up a rifle to defend itself from attack. The human beings have these advantages, but in the material existence they are also fearful. This fear permeates all aspects of life, including marriage.

In looking around, you think you have good reason to fear. Where are the jobs? Where is the security? Just one accident while walking outside could leave you stuck with a debt in medical bills impossible to pay off in a single lifetime. Financial hardship is a moment away, and when it comes how is one expected to cope? Even if you pay off the mortgage on your house, you still have to pay taxes annually. The larger your house and the more affluent the neighborhood, the larger the burden that must be paid each year. In effect, the beginning portion of the work year is spent in just paying the debt of taxes. Who says slavery is abolished, as one must work in order to be allowed to live in the area they do?

CouponsTherefore, not surprisingly, money is a major concern. “How will I save money? Let me clip these coupons. Let me shop where there are deals. Even if this deal is supposedly expired, let me haggle with the salesperson to see if they can cut me some slack. Let me threaten to cancel my phone service so that the company will lower my monthly bill. Let me purchase items from a big box retailer, use them for a while, and then return them to the store. The store has a very liberal return policy, so in this way I’m renting things for free instead of buying them outright.”

As the fearful soul in a material existence is constantly concerned with money, they can’t help themselves when it comes to marriage arrangements. Vedic marriages are notorious for the concept of a dowry, which today is taken to mean a payoff. “I’ll only allow your daughter to marry my son if you pay me a certain amount. Make me an offer I can’t refuse. Without a handsome dowry, this marriage isn’t going to happen.”

From the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala we get the real purpose to a dowry. It is nothing more than a gift. Indeed, even in weddings that are not arranged by the parents, there is still great concern for money. The hosts of the reception, typically the bride and groom, eagerly anticipate the gifts that are to come in, often openly stating their preference to receive cash instead of items.

Cash wedding giftThe dowry in the original sense is a gift from the father of the bride to the newlyweds. A gift is better if it comes from the heart, if it’s given out of love instead of obligation. Janaka had the most love in his heart for his beautiful daughter Sita. He was so pleased that she was marrying the eldest son of King Dasharatha, Shri Rama. The first hint of Janaka’s enormous generosity came when he gave away three more beautiful princesses to Rama’s brothers. Thus four marriages took place simultaneously. Rather than fret over what gift to give or how much he had to pay, Janaka then liberally donated so many things.

Here it is said that the gifts were too many to count. There were servants, both male and female. We can think of these people to be like butlers and maids, but more well-wishers than hired help. Instead of simply getting a paycheck for their work, they received a sustainable livelihood in a royal kingdom. They were very happy to serve the new couples. These servants were very close to the members of the kingdom. Sita had her own attendants as well, and they always looked after her.

There was gold, jewels, horses, elephants and clothing. Janaka gave the best gifts to the new couples. Since the men who were getting married were the Supreme Lord originally and three partial incarnations of Him, Janaka’s offering was one in devotion. In pure devotion, bhakti-yoga, or Krishna-prema, there is no motivation and no interruption. Nothing can check someone who wants to serve God. The abundance of gifts wasn’t required here, but Janaka had it to offer. He was not afraid of losing anything, for by serving God one gains the whole world.

Sita's marriageWhether one has a lot or a little is of no concern to the Supreme Lord. It’s the thought that counts, and here Janaka showed how pure his thoughts were. Even in the material existence, where circumstances give cause for constant fear, one can still make kind offerings simply through chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” A single instance of chanting the holy names purely, without motive, is more valuable than any material offering that could be made.

In Closing:

How to protect my stuff so dear,

Gives cause for my constant fear.


Even in marriage from debt to lift,

Couples anticipate handsome gift.


For Janaka nothing in reserve to save,

Liberally to four new couples he gave.


Since to Rama, this offering to God was made,

In pure devotion no cause to be afraid.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Fruit of an Existence

Rama's younger brothers“Just as Rama was married, so the three brothers became married in the same way. Through all the rituals they were given the fruit of their lives and the fruit of their eyes.” (Janaki Mangala, 155)

rāma bibāha samāna bibāha tīniu bhae |
jīvana phala locana phala bidhi saba kahan dae ||

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If you see a new child emerge from the womb, typically you hope for good things for it. Especially if the child is yours, you want it to experience all that life has to offer. You want it to reach the ultimate objective. But what if you don’t know what that objective is? What if you have been searching for transcendence your whole life and have yet to find it? No need for panic, as the Vaishnava saints reveal to us the mature fruit to an existence. Within that existence are other gifts, such as eyes, ears, legs, a nose and a face. There are specific fruits tied to each of these things as well.

Bhagavad-gita, 4.34“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.34)

Shrila PrabhupadaIn the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna says to approach a spiritual master. “By inquiring from him submissively and rendering service unto him, the self-realized soul will impart knowledge unto you.” The specific qualification of the spiritual master mentioned here is that he has seen the truth, tattva darshinah. A byproduct of seeing the fruit is tasting it. I can see the pizza pie that’s fresh out of the oven sitting on the kitchen table, but that isn’t really experiencing it. I’ll only know the wonderful taste once I decide to eat part or all of that pie.

The spiritual master has tasted the fruit an existence has to offer because they took to serving the Truth after seeing it. This truth is absolute. It is beyond duality. As such, it is not the truth only for the Hindus. It is not the truth only for the intelligent. It is also not the truth only for the human beings. It is the truth in all time periods and all situations.

The living entities face dual conditions and circumstances. One child is born into wealth, considered to have a silver spoon in their mouth. Another child is born into poverty, living in squalor. One person is given the chance for a good education, while another is forced into difficult labor at a young age. Regardless the circumstances, the Absolute Truth can always be seen.

Hanuman worshiping RamaThe benefit of seeing Him is serving Him subsequently. Service takes place through one or all of nine different methods that belong to the discipline described as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Seeing the truth is one step, but serving Him is far superior. Following bhakti-yoga allows even the conditioned soul blinded by ignorance to one day see the truth. And hopefully from that vision their resolve in serving Him only becomes stronger. Shri Hanuman, likely the most famous of the deities of the Hindu tradition, saw God face to face. He saw the Absolute Truth in His incarnation as Shri Ramachandra. Hanuman then didn’t end his life. He didn’t consider his work to be done. In fact, he took even more initiative in serving the Supreme Lord, essentially pouncing on the opportunity.

That service is the true boon to an existence. In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, the people of the city of Janakpur all received the fruit that life has to offer. They accepted this wonderful gift through the performance of marriage rituals. Seems odd, for sure. After all, we’ve never been too keen on attending a marriage ceremony for someone we don’t know very well. Even if we know one of the parties, the other may be a mystery to us.

Here the people felt supreme love because the women getting married were daughters to the king and his younger brother. These princesses were like the children of the community. They were cared for and loved by everyone under the protection of King Janaka. The fruit of their lives came from the fact that these princesses got to marry Shri Rama and His three younger brothers. The wives were ideal in every way. They had beautiful features and the perfect behavior suitable for marriage. The men were ideal as well, chivalrous princes who never shirked responsibilities. They never were afraid to fight to defend righteousness and righteous people.

The loving sentiments of the people were a kind of offering. Thus this qualified as devotional service, which is the fruit to an existence. They also received the fruit of their eyes by witnessing the marriage ceremony. Just as we may wish to be temporarily deaf on days when there is a loud car alarm outside or someone sitting next to us chewing their food with their mouth open, depending on what we see sometimes we may wish to not have eyes. Just because we can see doesn’t mean that everything within our vision will be pleasant. Indeed, so many visions can be traumatic, things we wish to purge from our memory.

Sita and Rama marriage ceremonyThe fruit of having eyes is getting to see God. Seeing His marriage ceremony during His appearance on earth as an incarnation is the same as seeing Him. His absolute nature is passed on to those who serve Him as well. This explains why there is so much joy in meditating on pictures of Shri Hanuman, who is always involved in some kind of devotional service. Thanks to Goswami Tulsidas, here the mind can concentrate on the wonderful marriage ceremony for the four brothers and how everyone who witnessed it became supremely delighted.

In Closing:

New couples so much to adore,

Rejoicing in marriage ceremonies four.


Following love for God are the wise,

Divine vision the fruit of the eyes.


Rama married to Sita for all to see,

Janaka happily arranged for other three.


Basking in the vision so rare,

Blessed were all who were there.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Liberal Donor

Shri Lakshmana“Sita’s younger sister, who was also very beautiful, was given to Lakshmana. Shrutakirti, who had every virtue and good quality, was given to Lakshmana’s younger brother.” (Janaki Mangala, 154)

siya laghu bhagini lakhana kahun rūpa ujāgari |
lakhana anuja śrutakīrati saba guna āgari ||

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Any parent with multiple children around the same age knows the issue with gift-giving. As soon as one child gets something, the other one wants it. Typically the younger voices their displeasure more than the older. As the younger ones get what they want more often, rather than explain the triviality of the issue, the parents get the same toy for the younger one. Then the older one naturally complains: “It’s not fair. Why do you always give them what they want? This is my toy. I got it for my birthday. Why should they get the same thing? When I used to cry for things you would just tell me ‘No.’ Now they do the same thing and you give in.”

Such are the ways of sibling rivalries, and not much can be done to stop the competition. The best bet for the parents is to always purchase the same toy in pairs. Another way is to designate a specific toy for the enjoyment of all, a sort of shared ownership. The parents behave this way because of the love they feel for the children. They don’t want any particular child to feel slighted. Though the parents may be more lenient with one than another, it does not mean that they love any one of the children more than the others. It would be like someone asking you if you loved your father more than your mother, or vice versa. In a typical situation, you love both of them equally.

Dasharatha with childrenThe parents don’t choose which one of their children to love more, and so they try their best to not show favoritism. This attitude in its purest form was exhibited by a father with his new son-in-laws a long time ago. The sons belonged to the King of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dasharatha. They were four brothers who loved each other equally. What guided the three younger ones was their utmost respect, compassion, and concern for the eldest, Shri Rama. They were more than thrilled at His marriage ceremony, which was not arranged in the typical fashion.

In the time period in question, the Treta Yuga, kings would give away their daughters to other princes for marriage. This was how the marriages were arranged. There was no free intermingling between men and women. This was done to protect the women. Rather than leave them vulnerable to the perils of illicit sex, where one is more or less used for the bodily pleasure they can provide, the fathers would find a lifelong protector for their daughters when the age was right. This system also helped to keep the men focused, as they didn’t have to worry about how their family lines would continue. They didn’t have to worry about finding someone to support them in their religious efforts, which were taken to be the most important duties in life.

Rama would have been the ideal choice for any king looking to marry off his daughter. Rama was kind, sweet, gentle, strong, brave, courageous, and very respectful. These seemingly contradictory qualities appeared in Him in full. King Janaka, who had the most beautiful daughter named Sita, would have chosen Rama in a second, had he known that the eldest son of Dasharatha was roaming this earth.

Rama lifting Shiva's bowUnaware of Rama’s presence, Janaka held a contest instead. This way the chosen husband for Sita would be known to be the strongest person in the world. As his daughter was very attractive, winning this contest would at least give pause to other kings who might think of stealing her away. A beautiful woman is a magnet for men; this is just nature’s way. If she likes, she can fend off suitors more easily by wearing a wedding ring. The presence of her husband will serve as the strongest deterrent for others looking to go beyond friendship with her. To win this contest required lifting an extremely heavy bow originally belonging to Lord Shiva. Thus the winner would have the most strength to use in defending Sita.

Rama won that contest. He got to marry Sita. For the ceremony, His family from Ayodhya came to Janakpur, the city ruled by King Janaka. The king was so happy to give Sita away to Rama that he felt the need to be more generous. Sita has every good quality. Think of every virtue you would want in a person. Now imagine that they exist at the highest levels and are always on display. Though this combination seems impossible, it is found in Sita, who was thus the perfect daughter for the righteous Janaka.

Janaka didn’t want to part with his precious daughter, but he did so to follow protocol. Moreover, Shri Rama is the Supreme Personality of Godhead in His avatara as a warrior prince. A sincere offering to God never goes in vain. One is never a loser by sacrificing something for the pleasure of the Supreme Lord. Indeed, Sita is Rama’s eternal consort, so it was due to the benevolence of the couple that Janaka got the chance to make the offering to Rama.

Shatrughna and BharataJanaka didn’t want the three younger brothers to feel slighted. Janaka’s younger brother had two beautiful unmarried daughters. They were then given away to Bharata and Shatrughna respectively. Bharata’s wife is described as parama manorama, which means “supremely pleasing to the mind.” Here Goswami Tulsidas says that Shatrughna’s new wife, Shrutakirti, had every virtue and good quality. While all four brothers were sons of Dasharatha, Lakshmana and Shatrughna were the youngest two and they appeared from the womb of Queen Sumitra. Therefore here Shatrughna is referred to as Lakshmana’s younger brother.

Lakshmana, who was with Rama during the contest of the bow, received Sita’s younger sister Urmila as a wife. It is said here that she was also very beautiful. The brothers were already so happy for Rama to wed Sita. There was no sibling rivalry amongst them. If there was ever any competition, it was in how to please Rama. Janaka treated all four brothers like his sons, and so he made sure that none of them would feel slighted. All four brothers were matched with ideal wives. The generosity of Janaka knows no bounds, as he gave everything to Rama and His family. In the process, his devotion continued to flourish, which is the best possible reward to any activity.

In Closing:

When having young children two,

Gift-giving causes bind for you.


While pleased with toy is one,

For the other happiness is none.


From this dilemma to be freed,

Two gifts, so that both are pleased.


For happiness of all brothers to ensure,

Janaka made sure wives for all four.


Not needed since in love all to unite,

Still, scene to give all spectators delight.