Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Honest Path

[Lord Krishna]“Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, wisdom, knowledge, and religiousness - these are the qualities by which the brahmanas work.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.42)

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Bhagavad-gita, 18.42You can tell that the path of the asuras is not rooted in righteousness based on their general lack of honesty. Asura is a Sanskrit term to describe those who are against the godly principles. Compassion, austerity, cleanliness and truthfulness are the four basic virtues of a righteous person. The asura is ultimately after the post of ruler of the universe, though they may be unaware of it. At least within their small circles, they are after the post of top enjoyer.

[Business]The asura is not compassionate. They have no problem stepping over the helpless and innocent in order to get ahead. Indeed, in the field of business, one of the key ingredients to success is lack of emotion. The more you can stay detached from the human aspect of the business, the better off you will be. The goal of the business is to earn a profit, and in this area it is better not to let everyone know how much profit you are making. It is advisable to keep a good public face, where you discuss your support of various social causes. Behind the scenes, however, you are only interested in getting ahead, which often times means destroying the competition.

There is hardly any austerity in the asura. This accompanies their attitude of “enjoy as much as possible before death arrives.” Since death is the great eraser, another accompanying pursuit is the extension of life. “Try to find any way possible to stay alive, for you can’t enjoy anything when you are dead.” The lack of austerity also facilitates exploitation. “Eat more than you should. Spend more time frivolously than you should. Enjoy as much as you can, for otherwise someone else will enjoy and you will lose out.”

“If a bag of rice is placed in a public place, birds will come to eat a few grains and go away. A human being, however, will take away the whole bag. He will eat all his stomach can hold and then try to keep the rest in storage.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Nectar of Instruction, 2 Purport)

[Pigeons eating]The example of goods falling in the street illustrates this perfectly. If pigeons see a pile of food in the street, they will take what they need and then move on. The human being, especially one of the asura tendency, will likely hoard all the goods lying in the same street, considering it a boon to safeguard against future destitution.

The asura cannot have cleanliness due precisely to the way they think. In order to compete with their fellow man for resources, they must cast aside empathy. I know that I have trouble with life, with its many ups and downs. I have a difficult time dealing with attachments. I, too, have worries over the future, in how I will support myself. But if my sole desire is to exploit, I will not have the time to consider that others have the same issues to deal with. Therefore my mind is unclean; it cannot perform optimally.

There is also no honesty in the asura. Under the model of “exploit as much as you can from this world,” honesty is not helpful. The snake oil salesman does not say, “Hey, what I’m selling you here is worthless. It has no value whatsoever. You could get the same thing from the nearby river. That water doesn’t cost anything. I’m selling this to you because I want to make money. I know that people are innocent and gullible, so by giving my pitch, it will be easy for me to rake in profits.”

[Politics]The politician is especially hurt by being honest. They will say that such and such program will help such and such people, but they never reveal the unintended consequences. They never discuss the effect their legislation will have on the budget. Nor do they bring to attention the past history of similar legislation. Rather, the primary objective is to stay in office, and in a democracy the best way to do that is hand out money. Anyone who calls them out on this duplicity is immediately taken to task. The dissenter is destroyed in the public arena, giving warning to others of what they will face should they speak the truth.

The sura, on the other hand, is quite open about their objectives. At the highest level, they think only of God, who is the author of everything great in this world. Honesty is a representation of Him, for He is the Absolute Truth. He is always God. He is not the supreme controller only some of the time. He is not the strongest person only on a particular day. His achievements last a lifetime. When He lifts a bow of considerable mass in the assembly of King Janaka, others know that He is the strongest person in the world. But actually, He was the strongest before that incident occurred. And He is still the strongest today, even if others are not aware of that historical incident.

[Rama lifting the bow]The devoted soul has one objective: to be God conscious. They direct all of their activities towards meeting that goal. They are generally honest, for honesty does not hurt them, nor anyone else. If others feel threatened by the sura’s pursuit, they can easily take up the same mission, for every spirit soul is meant to be God conscious. My God consciousness will not threaten yours. In fact, the more I chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” the more spiritual benefit there is for those around me. The Supreme is limitless, so there is not only so much of Him to go around. He can reside in my consciousness as well as yours.

In my head He may stand tall in His transcendental form of Shri Ramachandra, the protector of Janaki and the loyal son of Maharaja Dasharatha. In your mind He may be resting in His four-armed form of Lord Vishnu, being massaged by the beautiful Lakshmi Devi. In another’s mind He may be playing His transcendental flute in His original form of Shri Krishna. In another’s mind He may be in His childhood form drinking milk from mother Yashoda. In the mind of another He maybe on the battlefield of Kurukshetra delivering the king of education to the distressed warrior Arjuna, who relates with all the conditioned souls by exhibiting doubt as to the proper course in life.

[Lord Krishna with mother Yashoda]In others, the consciousness may be only of a nameless, faceless person who is acknowledged to be the proprietor of everything. Even this limited understanding is so beneficial and qualifies as God consciousness. In all such cases, the fortunate soul having consciousness of God can be honest with others, even if it may give rise to negative reactions. A five year old boy during an ancient time was taken to the woodshed for his honesty in this area. Still, everyone around him, including the aggressors who tried to kill him, were ultimately benefitted. Real honesty starts with acknowledging that we are spirit souls, part and parcel of God. In truth, we are meant to serve Him; all other service derives from this truth.

[Prahlada Maharaja with Narasimhadeva]Conversely, dishonesty begins with denying the true position of the soul. From that dishonesty we get speculations as to the meaning of life, whether there is a God, and what identifies someone. In the asura mindset, honesty is not helpful, which means that it cannot be the righteous path. The devoted souls are always honest about their mission in life, and so others can offer their full trust, which is to their ultimate benefit.

In Closing:

Full honesty of intention in one,

In another not a trace, there is none.


Asura of God does not know,

So their personal fortune try to grow.


Their success to come at another’s expense,

So dishonesty to them a worthwhile defense.


Devoted soul truthful in their motives to tell,

Success for all to take, most valuable is what they sell.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Good Humiliation

VarahadevaHis valor thus frustrated, the great demon felt humiliated and was put out of countenance. He was reluctant to take back the mace when it was offered by the Personality of Godhead.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.19.12)

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Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.19.12Though we may not like it when we are on the receiving end, embarrassment is sometimes the best thing. Reactions alter behavior. If I repeatedly taste a specific dish that gives me indigestion later on, if I have any brains I will eventually avoid that dish in the future. The reaction tells me to act a certain way; it guides me in a particular direction. The root cause of all negative conditions that we encounter in this present life is an ego that falsely identifies with the temporary body. Repeated humiliation that results from constantly misidentifying thus becomes a very good thing, provided one is able to decipher the pattern.

What are some examples of this humiliation? Let’s say that I think that the summit to an existence is to earn a lot of money. With this mindset let’s say that somehow or other I am able to succeed, but only temporarily. Then one day I lose everything. I thought that things were in my control. I assumed that I would be at the top of my field forever. Though I inherently understood that death would approach and thereby take everything away, since the same thing is slated for everyone else, my goal was to be at the top when life ends.

Scrooge McDuck counting his moneyAnother instance of humiliation is when I make an approach towards another person based on attraction to their physical features. I think that they will reciprocate the sentiment, but often times they don’t. If they reject me after having been with me for a while, after having seen me for who I am, the pain is quite acute. The other person is essentially saying that I am not good enough for them. This body that I thought was attractive is not appealing to everyone. Thus I am a loser in this scenario.

In the false identification with the body, I look to find opulences such as strength and fame, and I hope to possess them indefinitely. Coupled with the pursuit of these opulences is the drive to extend life. I hope to live as long as possible. I support exploration into new frontiers, such as outer space, in the hopes that a secret potion to extend life can be found. I support scientific studies to see what can be done to eradicate disease. There are still accidents that occur that can end life abruptly, so I try to play it safe by avoiding risky situations.

Outer spaceMy false identification is nothing but a defect in vision. I fail to see that my misplaced ego leaves me destined for humiliation. In fact, my very birth is a kind of humiliation. It means that in the previous life I falsely identified as well. I’m not sure where that previous existence was. Perhaps it was in a heavenly realm, where there were increased material enjoyments. Perhaps it was in the company of the origin of matter and spirit, where there was no reason to have a faulty vision. Perhaps it was in circumstances that I would kill to have today, such as with a loving family.

Nevertheless, by taking birth in this body I was humiliated. Whatever ill-conceived hope I harbored previously was shattered with destruction at death. After death comes birth. This is the mysterious truth revealed to us in the Bhagavad-gita. It is also found in other Vedic works, and though it comes to us through a chain of disciplic succession of teachers, even as an assumption it is actually quite reasonable. After the death of a day, there is the birth of a new one. After the death of childhood, there is the birth of youth. And when youth dies, there is adulthood.

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)

ReincarnationDeath as we know it is the complete change of bodies, where the subtle elements of mind, intelligence and ego travel with us to a new form. This granting of a new vessel is a kind of way for material nature to humiliate us, to check our false ego. We know this because there is nothing we can do to stop the change. It is an automatic transformation when the false ego is present. When we get the body, it’s as if the higher forces are saying: “You want another shot at being God? Here you go. Here’s another form to use to try to gain wealth, beauty, strength, fame, wisdom and renunciation to the highest degree. Perhaps you didn’t have enough time in the previous body. We’ll give you another crack at it. You can do better, don’t you think?”

A battle between a boar and a demon a long time back perfectly embodies this humiliation. The demon was named Hiranyaksha, and he was very powerful. The boar was named Varahadeva, as it was a divine incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Varahadeva is the object of attention in the pure ego. When suffering from the false ego, one doesn’t recognize the Supreme Lord at any time, even if He stands right in front of the direct line of sight.

GarudaHiranyaksha suffered from the false ego, and so he tried to attack Varahadeva. The demon was very proud of his strength, and so he thought the fight wouldn’t be a problem. At one point he hurled his mace at Varahadeva. The Lord remained where He was and caught the mace with ease. The comparison is made to Garuda catching snakes. Garuda is the bird carrier of Lord Vishnu, the Personality of Godhead who has four-arms and is opulently adorned. The snakes have no chance against Garuda, who carries them away without effort. Garuda is also a godly personality, a devotee of the Supreme Lord. Therefore the reference to him is fitting in a discussion of the actions of Varahadeva.

To add insult to this already embarrassing defeat, Varahadeva then kindly offered the mace back to Hiranyaksha. The subtle gesture was a kind of taunt. “Here you go. You can try again. Your weapon is so great, so perhaps you erred when you first threw it. Try it again. I think this time you will have more success. I know that you think you will do better next time, so I am giving you that chance.”

Varahadeva fighting HiranyakshaHiranyaksha was reluctant to take back the mace, embarrassed by the gesture. He continued to fight until he was eventually killed by Varahadeva. This is a very glorious death, as by seeing the Supreme Lord while quitting the body the cycle of birth and death ends. Thus Hiranyaksha was very fortunate to be humiliated by God Himself. Only someone who is always a devotee gets this benediction. Hiranyaksha actually lived in the spiritual world previously, and so his stint in the material world wasn’t technically a fall down in consciousness; it was an act in a play done to teach as well as to please the Supreme Lord.

Hiranyaksha’s actions are instructive. The atheist similarly tries to hurl maces at God by forgetting that He exists and transgressing His laws laid down to govern man’s behavior. Repeated births are a great humiliation, and one who sees them as such is very fortunate. They then take the impetus to make this birth the last one. By serving God in bhakti-yoga instead of challenging Him, the ego becomes pure again, and the humiliation of the present birth turns into a great benediction, one to cure all ailments.

In Closing:

Though beaming with potential is birth,

Know that in this land not the first.


Repeatedly, again and again to try,

To be undying, into eternity to fly.


From birth unsuccessful was last life know,

With false ego into further humiliation go.


Take bhakti and love God instead,

And no longer into embarrassment be led.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Beyond An Art

Page from Bhagavad-gita“This supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way. But in course of time the succession was broken, and therefore the science as it is appears to be lost.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.2)

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Bhagavad-gita, 4.2If you ask someone to go grab a book of knowledge, where will they go? The shelves on the bookstores are divided into sections. There is the section for computer programming. There is the section for cooking. There is the section for history. Each section is filled with books, which have knowledge in them. His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada refers to the knowledge in these categories as arts. Real knowledge is of the absolute variety, something which is not subject to interpretation. Bhagavad-gita gives that knowledge, and so it can be considered an authority source to guide all of life’s actions.

History booksLet’s say that someone wants to write screenplays for movies and television. They are intrigued by what they see already released, and so they eventually want to do more than just consume. They want to become a content creator. Those already in the business suggest taking a class or too. The classes distribute some type of knowledge, but the information is not absolute. For starters, there is not just one way to write a screenplay. A person may have pioneered a new style and therefore one or more classes at a university can cover the inner workings of that style, but this doesn’t mean that this is the ONLY style. Art is not limited in such a way.

In addition, a true artist always looks to break the mold. They don’t follow an assembly line model, where the exact same piece is replicated by the thousands for the sole purpose of turning a profit. Indeed, a genuine artist tries their best not to repeat themselves; they try to break the boundaries of convention. The famous recording artist who has a popular album gets ridiculed for changing their style later on, but in fact the same artistic attitude that went into creating the previous hit is what goes into the making of the music that is different. In art, the more one repeats themselves, the more they dilute their body of work. Their older pieces then lose their uniqueness; they aren’t appreciated as much.

Metallica albumsArt does not apply only to paintings, music and film. Understanding the human mind is also an art. So is trying to grasp the complex nature around us. Even medicine is an art. We can say that one food is bad for people in general, but then there are always exceptions. Some are able to eat “unhealthy” foods their whole life and live for a very long time. Others can follow all the recommendations of the diet experts and still be stricken with disease at a young age.

Real knowledge never changes. What is an example of this? “The Absolute Truth is the source of everything: janmadya asya yatah.” This aphorism is found in the Vedanta-sutra as well as the Shrimad Bhagavatam, which is the natural commentary on the former. There is a single source from which everything has come into existence. This truth is not subject to interpretation. We see that everything has a beginning. Everyone has a father. When you climb up the chain of ancestry and reach a point where there is no father, you have the ultimate source.

“The Absolute Truth” is one way to describe this source. There are so many other truths to supplement this one undeniable fact. The things which emanate later on are always tied to the original source in some way. We have parents, which means that we are not the source of everything. We are thus tied to the Absolute Truth. In ignorance we find more interest in relative truths. We ponder theories on how a football team will achieve victory in the upcoming week. We support this political group today and tomorrow support the opponents. We are never fixed, as external conditions always change.

Throughout the changes, we remain the same. Our essence is eternal in its existence. We can realize this flawless claim with great difficulty or we can accept it from the chain of disciplic succession. In the Bhagavad-gita, the personality who is the original father, the Absolute Truth, explains how transcendental knowledge is passed on through a chain of teachers and disciples. It is never created. It is not an art form that has fads and trends. It is not up for revision by a more “enlightened” being to appear in the future. The source is the only being who is fully enlightened, all the time. He is kind enough to pass on transcendental knowledge, but only to those who are fit for receiving it.

Krishna speaking to ArjunaThose who wish to challenge the Absolute Truth can never assimilate transcendental knowledge. Their very attitude indicates that they would rather craft their own art, where they will hopefully rise to the topmost position in the universe. Indeed, so many historical personalities have risen to prominence, thinking that they would dominate the world forever. The cruel hand of time destroyed their art, though the unintelligent can’t see the flaw. Unaware that transcendental knowledge exists, they seek to replicate the art form, tweaking things here and there.

Departments of knowledge that are nothing more than arts are limited in their application. Biology, physics, chemistry, sports medicine, history, social studies, language arts and the like will not help me to figure out how to make the most of this auspicious human life. Philosophy ponders the most puzzling questions, but it only makes guesses as to the cause of everything. Transcendental knowledge is absolute in its truths and is also applicable in all spheres of life. If I know that the Absolute Truth is a personality, I’ll behave in such a way that He’ll recognize my work. If I know that I am an eternal spark emanating from that truth, I won’t be so puzzled by birth and death, which are nothing more than the changing of bodies, like a shift in clothing. If I know that trying to live forever in this body is a waste of time, I’ll put more emphasis on making the most out of my time in this human birth.

Enjoying with KrishnaAs pleasure is what ultimately guides all activity, it also plays a central role in the life of the person who has accepted transcendental knowledge. The benefit to knowing the Absolute Truth is using your thoughts, words and deeds to feel transcendental pleasure, enjoyment which goes beyond the six senses, the gross body, and the manifest duration of life. Transcendental knowledge gives the mature fruit of a divine consciousness, which is never destroyed. The exact application of the principles of transcendental knowledge can be an art form, where what works for one person may not for another, but the truth that the Personality of Godhead is the source of everything is never up for interpretation, and neither is the fact that one is happiest when serving Him.

In Closing:

If to get knowledge where to start?

All sections in bookstore just an art.


Indeed, artist mold tries to break,

Conventional path try not to take.


Transcendental knowledge same for all of time,

I am a spark of Brahman, temporary is body of mine.


Art in how those principles to implement,

But truth of tie to God not up for argument.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Question and Answer

Sanatana Gosvami"Who am I? Why do the threefold miseries always give me trouble? If I do not know this, how can I be benefited?” (Sanatana Gosvami speaking to Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 20.102)

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Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 20.102It is in the nature of the human being to ask questions. It begins during childhood. The child asks so many questions of the father. “Dad, where are you going today? What time will you be home? What is that? Can I play with it?” They ask the mother so many questions as well. “Mom, can I go play outside? Can I have something to eat? What are you making for dinner? How did you make that taste so good?” The tendency continues into adulthood, but the perfect question is not asked until one inquires into their own nature. “Who am I and why do I have to die?”

Interview microphoneThe journalist asks so many questions of the powerful personality. When interviewing an athlete, the queries typically relate to performance. “How were you able to make that shot at the end there? Did you feel the pressure from the fans and the media? How have you adjusted to your new surroundings? How did it feel when you got traded last year? Can you talk about what it’s like playing for a new coach?”

Indeed, news stories on websites and in magazines and newspapers are nothing more than extended question and answer sessions. The journalist reporting on a breaking story looks to answer the questions of who, what, where, when, why and how. The autobiography from a famous celebrity is often composed through a question and answer session with a writer, who then turns the transcript of the lengthy interview into prose, organizing the content to make chapters of a book.

So there are always questions asked and then answers given, extending all the way out into the most difficult subject matters. And yet through it all, one question is glossed over: who am I? If asked, the typical response to this question is one’s name, for that is the identification used in dealings with their fellow man. But this name is given by the parents. It’s just a form of address. It has no meaning beyond that. A person can change their name very easily. Sometimes a person has a nickname that they go by. The name given by the parents is what goes on government documents and the like, but the nickname is how others grab their attention.

Earvin "Magic" JohnsonIf I can change my name very quickly, it must mean that the name cannot identify me. If the name doesn’t identify me, it doesn’t identify others either. After all, everyone else is more or less the same as me. We all took birth from a mother, who was impregnated by a father. We all went through childhood, where we had so many hopes and dreams of a bright future. We all go through adulthood, where we typically work to maintain a living. We all think that we’ll never get old, but we do eventually. One day we wake up and find that different parts of our body don’t function as well as they used to. Just by turning the wrong way we can throw our back out. Just by sleeping in the wrong position overnight we can injure our hip and have a difficult time walking.

As the name does not completely identify us, the same applies for the body. We see that the body is always changing. Did my childhood form represent me or does my body today suffice? I can’t freeze my form today. Eventually it will change; though in fact it is changing at every second. We just can’t perceive the changes until a significant period of time has passed, allowing for clearer comparison points, a before and after.

If my body doesn’t identify me, it means that whatever I do with this body can’t identify me either. If I’ve raised and shepherded multiple children into adulthood, I am praised for being a good parent, but this was all done with my temporary body. If I was the leader of a great nation, taking it out of the depths of poverty and lifting it into prosperity, again my effort was the result of work done by my destructible body. Since I still have a body, I still have the opportunity to cancel out my previous good effort. A famous football player who is honored one day in the Hall of Fame may one day later commit a heinous crime that tarnishes their reputation forever. There is the saying that there is no sinner without a future and no saint without a past. This means that one’s status determined by body can change at any time.

The “who am I” question is answered by the Vedas. The simple answer is aham brahmasmi, which means “I am Brahman.” This is the only correct answer because it is true at all points in time. It is true whether I am alive or dead. Being alive means that someone else can see where I am. Being dead means I have gone somewhere else, into another body that may or may not be within the visible vicinity.

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)

Brahman also has a deeper explanation, which means there are other answers to the question of “who am I,” yet where the meaning to the answers is always the same. Brahman is spirit. More specifically, it refers to the complete spiritual energy. The dog, the cat, the ant, the cow, the deer, the infant, the adult, and the senior citizen are all Brahman. They are all spirit. They belong to the total energy known as Brahman. Thus aham brahmasmi can also translate to “I am a spirit soul, part and parcel of the complete spiritual energy.”

Brahman has a source. It comes from Parabrahman. Parabrahman has spiritual attributes, which are identifiable for understanding. They are also used for identification, but that identification is never specifically tied to those attributes. This means that Parabrahman does not have a name, but names are used to address it nonetheless for the benefit of the sparks in Brahman. The names given to Parabrahman bring its association, and since there are many names no one is excluded from associating with Parabrahman.

In this way we see that there is a relationship between the two Brahmans. When the features for Parabrahman are identified and drawn out, we see that it is a personality. It is full of opulences, so it is also known as Bhagavan. A more fitting description for Bhagavan is “Supreme Personality of Godhead.” The relationship between Brahman and Parabrahman is servant-master. Therefore we get another translation to aham brahmasmi: “I am a spirit soul who is eternally a servant of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.”

Again, we can further expand on this definition. Service can take place in different moods. A term to describe that service is bhakti-yoga, which is divine love. I can serve God through hearing, chanting, remembering, worshiping, and other methods. As I am Brahman forever, I can follow this service forever. In fact, I will always follow some kind of service, even if I am temporarily forgetful of my original identity.

This brings us to why we die. If we don’t know our true identity, we wade through the turbulent waters of the material ocean. This is obviously a negative. In all other aspects of life, if we fail to identify ourselves properly, we will be harmed. If someone calls out my name when I’m waiting for a table at a restaurant, and I don’t identify with that name, I will miss my chance to be seated. If I don’t know my government identification number, I won’t be able to apply for a job. If I identify with the wrong team in a competition, I will fail to complete my assigned tasks properly.

Wedding seating cardsWhen we forget that we are eternally a servant of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, we find so many difficult situations. Immediately we get changing bodies. With the changes, it is easier to forget who we are. We are bewildered by attachment and aversion. One second we are happy in the company of our closest friends and the next they are gone, never to be seen again. One second we are happy playing with the latest tablet computer and the next we are frantically trying to get rid of it since a newer model has come out.

Death is stopped when we remember our true position. The key is to remember it at the time of death, when consciousness becomes most important. The aggregate of our thoughts and desires from the just completed lifetime make up our consciousness when quitting the body. That consciousness then steers the ship of reincarnation, determining the next type of body. The living entity who remembers that they are a servant of Bhagavan gets a body suitable for executing that service. Since Bhagavan is full of features that never leave Him, service to Him is endless. Therefore the soul conscious of Him gets an endless body, one that never changes. It becomes identical with their person, showing that they have realized their true self.

In Closing:

Though of government post’s fame,

Sanatana to Mahaprabhu came.


Posed question of “who am I”,

And suffering threefold miseries why?


Life of questions and answers a series,

And issue of identity missing in these queries.


Know that as spark of Brahman meant to serve,

Supreme Lord, so consciousness of Him preserve.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Unanswered Prayers

Vishnu's lotus feet“Demons have lost all intelligence because they do not know what is actually their self-interest. Even if they have information of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, they decline to approach Him; it is not possible for them to get their desired boons from the Supreme Lord because their purposes are always sinful. It is said that the dacoits in Bengal used to worship the goddess Kali for fulfillment of their sinful desires to plunder others' property, but they never went to a Vishnu temple because they might have been unsuccessful in praying to Vishnu.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.19.1 Purport)

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The natural partner of a belief in God is prayer. If you have firm faith in the existence of the highest power, the author of everything good in this world, you will surely seek benedictions from Him. Put more simply, you will ask Him for things. “O Lord, please give me the strength to fight through this. O God, please grant me the ability to succeed in this venture. O father, please hear our prayer.” What if the thing requested doesn’t arrive? What if fate takes a different turn? Does it mean that there is no God? This is a common reaction to the unanswered prayer, but from the Shrimad Bhagavatam we get the accurate understanding.

Garth BrooksA famous recording artist of recent times authored a song that praises the Lord for having not answered one of his prayers. This person later on realized that they wanted something different. They were in ignorance the first time, and they saw the light later on. Not necessarily relating to the true identity of the soul or the nature of this temporary world, but their knowledge increased on some level during the process. Therefore they were thankful that their first prayer was denied. They were glad that the man upstairs didn’t agree to their initial request.

The occasion and purposeful denial of requests makes the Supreme Lord unique from all other worshipable entities. If you simply ask God for things, you’re essentially viewing Him no differently than you would an order supplier. Like an online retail outlet that features a shopping cart, next day shipping, and one-click payment, the Supreme Lord is seen as the person who can provide any goody. You simply kneel down in front of your bed, compose some heartfelt words, and voila, you get what you want.

Praying handsBy definition things cannot work this way. For starters, there is the issue of duality. There is only one television set left in a store. Two people want it. Both go home at night and pray to God to grant them their wish. Since there is only one television, one person must be denied. This doesn’t indicate a flaw on God’s part, but rather in the request itself. If one person gets the television, the other person does not. This means that one person’s happiness comes at the expense of another’s. Is this an issue for God to resolve? If He is considered all-loving, why would He make decisions that are guaranteed to make someone unhappy?

From the Shrimad Bhagavatam, we see that the Supreme Lord Himself stands above this. There are other divine figures who can grant rewards. Their interactions with their devotees are similar to business transactions. First come, first serve. If you have enough cash, you’ll get what you want. They don’t take into account the nature of the person. If you’re purchasing a new smartphone, the retailer doesn’t do a background check to see if you have a criminal history. If you’re buying groceries at the supermarket, the cashier doesn’t ask you if you plan on eating all the food and not throwing any leftovers away.

Point of sale transactionOne of the many names of the Supreme Lord is Vishnu. This addresses His personal form, which is the original. Personal references a personality, a distinct entity who can hear, taste, touch, see and smell. As Vishnu is the highest being, He is free to do as He wishes. Therefore He doesn’t have to answer a prayer if He thinks the request is inappropriate. Those who know of Vishnu inherently understand this behavior of His. Therefore they won’t go to Him to fulfill their material desires. They know that Vishnu will sometimes say “no.”

And actually, these occasional denials show real mercy. Only Vishnu is kind enough to look into the future to see the ramifications a specific reward will have. In our ignorance during youth we think that our parents are mean for not giving us so many presents for our birthday. But actually, the more requests they deny the more good they are doing for us. They are loving us so much more by controlling our behavior and curbing our material enjoyment.

Vishnu acts in the same way for His devotees. He sometimes takes away everything from the devotee if it helps them to become more attached to Him. Vishnu takes the helm and brings the devotee towards a point where their attachment for Him can only increase. Attachment to Him is the greatest boon in life, for then one has complete reliance on the only all-powerful and all-benevolent being. Vishnu is without flaw, and He is all-pervading. He can hear prayers from any place, coming from any person. In His original form He is all-attractive, and so attachment to Him automatically brings unending pleasure.

Lord VishnuAs attachment for the Supreme Personality of Godhead increases, so does the purity of the requests made to Him. Therefore, in one sense the pure devotees never have their requests denied. This is because they only wish for good things for the Supreme Lord. They desire to remain in His association in thought, word and deed. They wish for Him to display His transcendental strength when the occasion calls for it. They ask that He reveal to the world His unmatched potency and splendid beauty. They pray for His victory, and since the pleas are heartfelt and serve the ultimate good for everyone, they are never denied.

In Closing:

Despite all sincerity applied,

Sometimes prayers denied.


This by Supreme Lord is done,

Unique behavior, like others none.


With business served who first initiative took,

Winner takes it all, loser elsewhere to look.


Despite motive, with Vishnu all to gain,

Since with outcome attachment to attain.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Natural Inspiration

Krishna's pastimes“O son of Kunti, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.14)

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Bhagavad-gita, 2.14“You’re not really sick, man. It’s all in your head. You’re not really cold or hot, either. You should be able to get over this. Just tell yourself that there’s no pain. Then you can fight through it.” Perhaps we’ve heard this advice from one of our friends. Seems a little silly when you have a fever, a runny nose, and a nagging cough. It’s hard to take stock in these words when it’s below the freezing point outside and we can see our breath as we walk to our car. It’s especially difficult to understand this when we are feeling fatigued, when we desperately want to take some rest.

Cold winter“I can’t function without my morning coffee. Until I have my first cup, I won’t be truly awake.” We know that this is a common sentiment based on how much coffee is sold in convenience stores in the morning. The mind thinks that it can’t do this or that without a specific chemical, but the “mind over matter” concept does have some truth to it. Not that fatigue is part of our imagination, but there are ways to get through it. And these ways don’t have to involve chemical stimulants. Both personal experience and the Bhagavad-gita confirm this.

We’ve heard of the mother who can suddenly lift a car to save her baby. Again, this seems a little ridiculous, but there have certainly been times in our lives where we did amazing things when suddenly called into action. The first time we opened our new smartphone or tablet we likely played with it for hours. Despite staying awake into hours we normally would be tired, we remained active, charged by the enthusiasm. Just hearing some good news can do the same. If someone informs us of something that gets us excited, we suddenly don’t feel the outside conditions so much. We may be extremely tired in the morning, but if we’re afraid of missing our train to work, we’re able to wake up.

Exploring a new tablet computerDevotion to the Supreme Lord brings this capability all the time. Serving God in a loving way is known by many terms, with bhakti-yoga being one of them. Bhakti-yoga is the discipline of uniting the individual soul with the Supreme Lord through love especially. This love cannot be checked and it is not motivated. What we normally consider love lacks both of these features. Love of anyone else is checked by at least the time factor. Love is also motivated by the reciprocation we hope to receive.

When you remove the motivation and the impediments, you get something that makes you happy all the time. You are able to get that warm feeling inside at any moment, during even times of trouble. One person who is always in bhakti-yoga is Arjuna. One time, through divine arrangement, he shows ignorance so that the Supreme Lord can offer sound words of advice. Arjuna’s questioning of Krishna is also bhakti-yoga, as it is an act of love. Krishna then addresses Arjuna by so many different names, with Gudakesha being one of them.

“Gudaka means sleep, and one who conquers sleep is called gudakesha. Sleep also means ignorance. So Arjuna conquered both sleep and ignorance because of his friendship with Krishna. As a great devotee of Krishna, he could not forget Krishna even for a moment, because that is the nature of a devotee. Either in waking or in sleep, a devotee of the Lord can never be free from thinking of Krishna's name, form, quality and pastimes.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 1.24 Purport)

ArjunaGudakesha means that Arjuna is the conqueror of sleep. He doesn’t have to sleep if he doesn’t want to. Not that he’s trying to win a contest, he simply forgets about it since he is engaged in devotional service. His primary means of service is courageously fighting against enemy forces on a battlefield. Arjuna serves as the lead warrior for a particular side in the greatest war in history. To fight valiantly requires one to be alert. Those trained in the military are not shown how to sleep long hours throughout the day. Instead, they are trained to go off little sleep, for that toughens them up for the difficult situations they will face.

War is indeed difficult, but it is the devotion which allows those like Arjuna to conquer sleep. In one of the many instructions offered to Arjuna, Krishna says that happiness and distress come and go like the winter and summer seasons. The recipient feels them due to sense perception only. Krishna does not say that the happiness and distress are fake. He does not say that one should pretend that they don’t exist. He advises Arjuna to tolerate them without being disturbed. This means “carry out your duty despite the outside conditions.”

This is another way of describing how devotional service is unmotivated and uninterrupted. The happiness of a temporary victory should not dampen one’s enthusiasm to serve God going forward. The same goes for a devastating defeat. Arjuna would indeed face both of these, and though he accepted both, he did not let them disturb his fixed concentration on following Krishna’s orders.

Lord KrishnaHearing about Krishna, who is the personal aspect of God, the origin to the material creation, the spiritual world, the concept of an all-powerful being, and the highest philosophy presented in scriptural texts, brings a natural high. One can hear of Him by simply chanting His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” Hearing and chanting are the foundation of devotional service, and they bring such joy that the devoted soul is no longer disturbed by outside influences. They can easily stay away from meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex, since these are not necessary to make it through life. The child goes through the early part of life just fine without these things, so why should there be addictions to them in adult life?

And what if the chemicals are not around on a specific day? What if there is a strike of workers that leads to a shortage of coffee? What if there is no beer at the local supermarket? What if there is no money to purchase expensive meats? The human being can survive just fine without these things, and that survival is made much easier when there is the natural high of devotion. Arjuna experiences it all the time, and through hearing what he heard, so can we.

In Closing:

Heat and cold conditions to find,

Matter only, make strong the mind.


Information from Bhagavad-gita received,

That such states only from senses perceived.


Consider how when joyous news heard,

Conquering fatigue into action spurred.


By chemicals not in work inspired,

For devotion all that Arjuna requires.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Free From Oppression

Lord Brahma“Each and every one of the living entities within this universe has this minute independence, but Brahma, being the chief of all living entities, has a greater potential of independence than any other. He is the representative of Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and has been assigned to preside over universal affairs.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.18.20 Purport)

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When delving into the annals of the history of the world, the theme of “liberty versus tyranny” is peppered throughout. It’s a common story:  some government became too powerful and started to oppress its people. Those people then hoped for liberation, to be free from the iron fist of tyrannical rule. This theme is present in religious works as well, which often describe historical events from ancient times. Freedom is certainly what everyone desires, but actually that freedom is always checked. Moreover, the issue becomes how to make the best utilization of that freedom once it is gained. From the person who is the freest, who has the most ability in using their independence, we see what the best use of it is.

TravellingImagine that you had no one telling you what to do. No nagging wife in the home. No domineering husband to check your behavior. No kids that warranted attention. No job denying you vacation time. You had the ability to do whatever you wanted, whenever you desired. What would you do? Would you take up a hobby? Would you travel the world? The travel option seems appealing. You could visit place after place, experiencing new things every day. Even without physically moving from their home, so many follow this path already. Television and film allow an individual to escape from their present surroundings, to be part of different settings. It is nice to go to a new place every now and then.

Though we may not know it, freedom is always checked, even after there is so called liberation. One nation goes to war with another and uses the justification of wanting to liberate the oppressed. “We must free the oppressed people. If our nation doesn’t do it, then who will? Who will come to their rescue? Man should not have to live under the rule of a dictator. Man should be free to choose his own destiny.”

But what happens after the liberation? Does strife suddenly vanish? Are there no arguments anymore? Is everyone fully content all the time? Actually, without knowing how to properly use that freedom, there will always be trouble. The person living in the purportedly free country has constant worries. They are concerned with the deteriorating conditions of the public schools. They walk around knowing that at any moment a medical catastrophe could leave them bankrupt. They worry over paying the credit card bills, the mortgage, and taxes.

Mounting billsThis is not to mention the physical limitations every person has. We have some independence, but we can’t live forever. We can’t stay awake for an entire week. We can’t go without eating. We can’t keep the body from aging. Therefore our independence is very limited. The animals even have some independence, but their exercise of it is more limited. They cannot make as many conscious decisions as the human being can. The human being has more intelligence to use in how they will act.

From Vedic literature we learn of a character who is the most independent of the conditioned living entities. We also learn how he acts. This person is the creator of all creatures. Depending on your point of view, you will think that this person is God Himself or a series of chemicals that randomly collided. In either case, the original entity is understood to be very powerful.

Bhagavad-gita, 8.17“By human calculation, a thousand ages taken together is the duration of Brahma's one day. And such also is the duration of his night.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.17)

Lord BrahmaBy approaching someone who has seen the truth, who is self-realized, we learn that the creator is godlike but not God Himself. He is known as Brahma by name, and his duration of life is very long. His one day consists of billions of years. As he has the power to create, his independence is as great as it can be. It is still not complete independence since he has to leave his body eventually, but from our perspective we could never imagine having that much independence.

From works like the Shrimad Bhagavatam, we can get an idea of how he uses that independence. On one occasion, he went to the place where a great fight was taking place. This conflict was between a powerful living entity named Hiranyaksha and a boar. Was this like watching a wrestling match on television? Was it like going to a sporting arena? Actually, the boar was the real attraction. He had a transcendental form and was previously engaged in holding up the earth from a flood. Hiranyaksha was the aggressor, desirous of battle against this boar who wasn’t bothering anyone.

Since this boar was an incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, it was beautiful in every way. A person looks their best when they are offering love to someone else. Here Varahadeva was loving His devotees by dealing with a shameless aggressor. Lord Brahma, the most independent living entity, decided to go to the scene to witness the event. No one told Brahma to go. He could have used his independence for vice, but he chose not to. He was quite selfish in this regard, as he knew that witnessing Varahadeva’s fight against Hiranyaksha would make him happiest.

Varahadeva battling VarahadevaHis choice is quite insightful. In the absence of God consciousness, the living entity looks for personal success, some kind of achievement in a material field. Be it the accumulation of wealth, the strengthening of the body, or the association of an attractive partner, the independence is used to reach a place where there is more happiness. Brahma is the most independent, and so he can do whatever he likes to be happy. He already has the greatest ability in populating the creation with creatures. Technically, he is already the most successful. He has no longing for anything. No one tells him what to do. Thus his use of independence is the model for the rest of the world.

His independence is used in voluntary surrender to the Supreme Lord. That surrender is in consciousness, where all actions are done out of love. He makes the choice to always serve the interests of the Supreme Lord, who reciprocates by displaying wonderful transcendental forms and activities for the pleasure of the surrendered souls. Dependence on God is the greatest use of any independence we have, as was shown by Brahma himself.

In Closing:

In independence to act I’m free,

In Brahma the proper use to see.


His creative powers make him foremost,

In actions he has freedom the most.


Went to watch demon most immoral,

Against boar an epic quarrel.


Varahadeva protecting a pleasurable sight,

Victory over demons, removing demigods’ fright.