Saturday, February 1, 2014

Say It To My Face

Lord Rama's hand“You are not ashamed to speak against the Lord of the Ikshvakus, for as long as He is not within your vision.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 22.17)

sa tvamikṣvākunātham vai kṣipanniha na lajjase |
cakṣuṣorviṣayam tasya na tāvadupagacchasi ||

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You’re at the office late one day. Things have been sketchy there in recent times. It doesn’t look like the company will survive for much longer. Not many employees are left, and the boss doesn’t seem to be telling the truth. One day he says he will do this, and the next he changes his mind. He makes promise after promise, only to break them later on. In a situation like this, it’s understandable if the employees complain.

You have one coworker who is a kind of informant. He seems to know everything about everyone. He fills you in on the details every day. He is not afraid to speak brashly about the boss. He gives him curses, calls him names, and vows never to trust him again. Similar sentiments are echoed by other employees, but interestingly enough, the behavior is noticeably different when the boss is around. No one dares to say any of this to his face. They instead pretend to be loyal employees, ready to work hard to help the business.

The difference in behavior is understandable, for if the boss heard all the complaints then the jobs of the employees would be in jeopardy. If the employee wanted to lose their job, they would quit outright. Obviously they must want to keep their position if they are willing to restrain from giving voice to their negative sentiments when the boss is around. By choosing to speak only when the company leader is not around, the employee subtly acknowledges their subordinate position. A long time ago in Lanka, however, the tough-talker said that he was better than everyone else. He didn’t think there was anyone superior to him. Sita Devi, the beloved wife of Rama, correctly pointed out the flaw in the assertion.

RavanaThe puffed up man was the leader of Lanka. Named Ravana, he boasted of exploits constantly to draw the attention of Sita, who was the most beautiful woman in the world. Ravana wanted her very badly. He took her physically to his kingdom of Lanka, but in spirit she was never with him. She refused to give in to his advances. With each rejection, he tried harder. Typically, if in a negotiation neither party wishes to break from their stance, the talks go nowhere. Here Ravana kept inching closer to what any woman should want. He offered Sita opulence after opulence. He boasted of his fighting prowess, while at the same time diminishing the rest of the kings of the world.

Ravana did not understand that Sita is not a typical woman. Externally she is a female, but in devotion to God external designations do not matter. Any person can be under the protection of the Supreme Lord, provided they are sincere. No one is more sincere than Sita, so she is always under the care of the Lord of the Ikshvaku dynasty, Shri Rama. Featured in surrender to the Divine is a shift in priorities. No more is the temporary assigned higher status than the permanent. No more is garbage preferred to real gold. Sita had Rama’s association. She had the ability to practice devotion to Him at all times. There was nothing that Ravana could offer as a suitable exchange. Her gift was priceless, as was her association. Only Rama can have it in the way that Ravana wanted.

Sita DeviRavana spoke ill of Rama, but only when the Lord wasn’t around. Just like the employee with the boss, this inherently meant that Ravana was inferior to Rama. Otherwise, why the need to hide from the son of King Dasharatha? Rama was living in the forest at the time. He had humble surroundings and wasn’t bothering anyone. Ravana, meanwhile, supposedly had so much. Why would he have to fear Rama?

Sita knew why. It is one thing if you’re in the middle of a crime and your conscience is telling you to stop. It’s another if someone else calls you out on your mistake after the fact. The rebuke stings even more when the other person brings attention to your character flaws. The pain is made worse when the insults come from someone you are trying to please.

Ravana’s behavior is symbolic of the atheist attitude. Since they cannot see God, they feel free to speak ill of Him. They either rail against His injunctions or they deny His existence outright. They meet Him nevertheless, at the time of death. In that tense moment, the bravado takes a backseat to outright fear. Instead of speaking against God, the dying atheist begs for only a few more moments in their temporary existence, not realizing that the Supreme Lord, in His all-pervading feature of time, has come to defeat them.

Bhagavad-gita, 11.32“The Blessed Lord said: Time I am, destroyer of the worlds, and I have come to engage all people. With the exception of you [the Pandavas], all the soldiers here on both sides will be slain.” (Bhagavad-gita, 11.32)

The devoted soul, on the other hand, has no reason to alter their behavior. When God is apparently not within the vision, they chant His names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. At this time, Rama was far away from Sita, and yet she still praised Him to no end. Her determination in denying Ravana reflected well on Rama; it was an extension of His potency. When the Lord is in front, the devoted soul offers direct service, often composing wonderful prayers also. Thus in all situations they remain dear to Him, who is the sun of the solar dynasty.

In Closing:

To jokes and curses to give sound,

All fair when boss is not around.


But when he’s there never to say,

Instead with a smile “how was your day?”


Ravana of his prowess so often to boast,

But never in front of Rama, of glories a host.


Devotees the same, whether far or near,

Omnipotence of God to them always clear.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Climbing Aboard

Rama's arrows“Like a proud elephant meeting a rabbit in the forest, Rama is like the elephant and you, O vile one, are like the rabbit.” (Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 22.16)

yathā dṛptaśca mātaṅgaḥ śaśaśca sahitau vane |
tathā dviradavadrāmastvaṃ nīca śaśavat smṛtaḥ ||

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If you are a sincere spiritual seeker, you will surely get excited to meet an elevated personality. Others have assigned them that lofty status. “They are so great; you HAVE to meet them.” When there is much fanfare surrounding the person’s visit to the town, you will be interested to meet them. A key teaching from the Bhagavad-gita says that the meeting alone doesn’t necessarily change things. Indeed, any person, regardless of the depths to which they have sunk in terms of behavior, can be rescued, but the key is to follow the instructions offered by the elevated personalities. The indication of that acceptance is knowledge, which manifests in behavior. In the Ramayana, the same concept is validated many times, including in interactions between Sita and Ravana.

Bhagavad-gita, 4.36“Even if you are considered to be the most sinful of all sinners, when you are situated in the boat of transcendental knowledge, you will be able to cross over the ocean of miseries.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.36)

Bhagavad-gita As It IsThe particular verse in the Bhagavad-gita says that a person who is considered the most sinful of the sinful can transcend the life of misery after misery if they find themselves in knowledge. There are many ways to define sinful, but the common thread that runs through the variance is that a sinful person is bad. A murderer, a thief, a rapist, a mean person, a liar - all are considered bad. Sinful can also be defined as one who goes against the laws of God.

This is where the controversy starts. If someone else doesn’t believe in God, how can they consider others who share the same belief to be sinful? But actually, sin is much easier to understand than as blind faith or rejection of a specific doctrine. Sin is just doing something the wrong way. It is a sin to eat too much when one is on a diet. It is a sin to get drunk before taking an important exam. It is a sin to put your hand in a fire when cooking. The sins in these instances are not determined by a book, though they may be described in one. The negative reaction is what determines the sin. The consequence is automatic; it is not based on what someone says. It is a real reaction.

Vast oceanIn a similar manner, there are many negative consequences to ignoring the existence of God. The first reaction is birth in an ocean of miseries. Think of being stuck out in the middle of the ocean with no one to help you. If you are the most expert swimmer, you will still be in a lot of trouble. The material world is like an ocean of miseries, and the impious soul continuously takes birth in it. Think of it like waking up day after day and finding yourself in the same large ocean. The day here is the lifetime, the sum of many earthly days. Nevertheless, the cycle is still there, and it is all attributed to ignorance.

Knowledge is the rescue. Knowledge of Godhead is light, and ignorance of Him is darkness. Persons can be situated in different parts of the ocean. Those who are closer to the shore, to reaching a permanent rescue, are considered pious, whereas those who are far away in the ocean are considered sinful. Nevertheless, despite their different locations, the means of rescue is the same. The most sinful person is equally as eligible for rescue as the most pious, though it is generally more difficult for the sinful to accept the means of rescue.

Sita DeviThis brings us to Sita and Ravana in the Ramayana. In the above referenced verse, she refers to him as nicha, which means “very low.” Ravana is already part of a sinful race, namely the Rakshasa. Their tendencies are towards eating any type of flesh [including humans], drinking wine in large amounts, and cavorting with as many women as possible. This behavior automatically makes one more sinful, even if they are pious in nature. The more you drink, the less intelligent you become. The more you sleep, the less capable you are of completing tasks. The more you engage in illicit sex, the more difficulty you have dealing with tough situations.

Sita says that Ravana is the lowest of the low. He has taken away a woman who is already married to someone else. That woman is devoted to her husband in thought, word and deed, so taking her away does no good for the thief. Ravana is the thief, and instead of handing Sita back to her dear husband, he keeps trying to bring her to his side. This has no chance of working, as Sita can never not be devoted to Rama.

The Ramayana, which is an extension of the Vedas, the original scriptural tradition of the world, says that Rama is God and Sita His eternal consort. They appear on earth every now and then to teach lessons, take care of nefarious characters, and give pleasure to the supremely pious souls. As Sita is devoted to Rama, she is an elevated personality of the type mentioned previously. Meeting her should be beneficial.

The key, of course, is to take her instructions. Ravana had plenty of association with her. He took her by force back to Lanka, his kingdom, but still he never became situated in knowledge. When we see an elevated personality, we may meet them, touch their feet, and even talk to them for a while. A difference is only made, however, when there is acceptance of their words and implementation of the principles. The theoretical knowledge is called jnana in Sanskrit and the practical realization is known as vijnana. To be situated in knowledge means there is both jnana and vijnana.

Valmiki writing the RamayanaDespite being the lowest of the low, Ravana had a chance for crossing the ocean of miseries. He simply had to be situated in transcendental knowledge, which Sita offered to him. If he returned her to Rama, he would earn the Lord’s favor. Instead, he ignored her. He didn’t even reach the point of jnana, what to speak of vijnana. Thus for him Sita’s association was not put to good use. But thanks to the efforts of Maharishi Valmiki, her time in Lanka was useful to the world in showing her supreme wisdom and her undying devotion to Shri Rama. Sita and Rama together make the best pair to both worship and accept knowledge from.

In Closing:

When spiritual fulfillment you seek,

Eager for saintly personality to meet.


With attention and eagerness much,

In hearing their feet you may even touch.


But key to be in knowledge’s boat,

Otherwise difficult to stay afloat.


Ravana the most saintly person saw,

But valuable lessons from her not to draw.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Running Scared

Lord Rama's lotus feet“Like a proud elephant meeting a rabbit in the forest, Rama is like the elephant and you, O vile one, are like the rabbit.” (Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 22.16)

yathā dṛptaśca mātaṅgaḥ śaśaśca sahitau vane |
tathā dviradavadrāmastvaṃ nīca śaśavat smṛtaḥ ||

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A warrior takes pride in their ability to fight. Fighting isn’t easy, as going in you understand there is the chance of defeat. Defeat is the result of one or many blows offered by the enemy. A blow to the body hurts, so the warrior understands going in that there is a chance of feeling a lot of pain. Often times this understanding acts as motivation. “Let me attack as swiftly and strategically as I can, so as to avoid a beating.” To call a warrior a coward, therefore, is a great insult. It means that they are too afraid of the potential attack to come their way. It also insults their manhood, from which they take great pride. Sita knew this vulnerability in warriors, so she strategically attacked a famous fiend with the proper insult at the proper time.

Consider the enforcer in the National Hockey League. The objective for a team in hockey is to score more goals than the opposing team. Seems simple enough. There is an issue when one team has more skill than the other, however. The team deficient in skill to score goals will have to employ a different strategy. Rather than get beaten outright, their objective will be to limit the offensive performance of the other team. One way to do that is to act more physical. Throw more body checks on the opposing team, especially to the skill players. Get them off their game. Make them worried about being hit. If they are worried, they won’t play as well offensively.

Bob Probert - Tie Domi fightThe team with skill has a way to counter this, though. Enter the enforcer. Their job is to take on the other team’s physical players. The mindset is as follows: “Don’t think you can hit my guy. You’re going to have to deal with me then. I’m not skilled at puck handling and shooting, but I’m big. I can also fight. More importantly, I’m not afraid to fight. If you take cheap shots at my teammates, you will have to deal with me. I don’t care how big you are, either. I’m not afraid to drop the gloves against anyone.”

If the opposing enforcer flees from the challenge, he is considered a coward. He loses the respect of his own teammates. The job of the enforcer is not easy. Going into games they know that they will likely fight against the other team’s toughest player. They can’t back down. There is more respect in a loss than in a retreat. To shy away from battle means to lose your stature as an enforcer.

Sita Devi here compares the king of Lanka to a coward on the battlefield. She says he will run away like the rabbit facing the elephant in the forest. For the rabbit to challenge the elephant is stupid. There is no chance for victory, as with a single, accidental step the elephant can crush the rabbit. The rabbit’s only choice is to run, and run fast. Even then there is little chance for hope, as the elephant can destroy an entire forest very quickly.

The elephant’s ability in this area is so popularly known that it is referenced to describe behavior that quickly destroys something. Sort of like the comparison to demolishing a building, the mad elephant running through a garden is referenced when describing how one can quickly lose something. In Vaishnava etiquette, one is told to avoid offending other Vaishnavas. A Vaishnava is a devotee of Vishnu, who is the personal aspect of the Supreme Lord. To be a devotee of Vishnu is a rare thing; it means earnestly casting aside desires for material opulence. It requires steady determination in difficult practice to remain in the devotional consciousness. And yet the purity of the devotee can be destroyed very quickly when there is an offense made against another devotee. The offense and resulting destruction are compared to the mad elephant running through a garden that was carefully tended to for so long.

“One should be very careful not to commit offenses at the lotus feet of Vaishnavas, of whom Lord Shiva is the best. While instructing Shrila Rupa Gosvami, Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu described an offense at the lotus feet of a Vaishnava as hati mata, a mad elephant. When a mad elephant enters a nice garden, it spoils the entire garden. Similarly, if one becomes like a mad elephant and commits offenses at the lotus feet of a Vaishnava, his entire spiritual career is halted. One should therefore be very careful not to commit offenses at the lotus feet of a Vaishnava.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 6.17.15 Purport)

Mad elephantThe elephant in this battle scenario would be Rama, who is Sita’s husband. Sita is Vishnu’s wife Lakshmi and Rama is Vishnu Himself. They appear differently on earth at different times for specific purposes. In the Treta Yuga, the world was terrorized by Ravana, who was very powerful but also quite evil. Here he is described as nicha, which means low. This didn’t necessarily refer to his species. We know that certain people grow up without culture, so they aren’t very civilized in adulthood. This can happen to anyone, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or income level. Similarly, though Ravana was born in the race of man-eaters, he still had a chance to be pure. Unfortunately, he was the lowest among even his own race, so he took to wicked deeds which earned him a world of hurt soon to arrive.

For survival, the only choice for the nicha Ravana would be running away, like the rabbit in the forest matched up against the elephant. This would be very shameful for Ravana, who was so proud of his fighting prowess. He had defeated many of the world’s greatest kings at the time. And yet to bring Sita back to his home in Lanka he resorted to trickery. He didn’t fight Rama face to face, though Rama was a warrior too.

Lord RamaWhile Ravana had already shown no shame in running away from battle, Rama wouldn’t let him go so easily. Rama wasn’t about ready to quit. Though He had every right to attack in whatever manner He desired, Rama would arrive on the scene and challenge the king to a battle. With no other option left, Ravana would actually fight valiantly, but since he was indeed like a rabbit in comparison to the elephant-like Rama, there was no chance for his survival.

In Closing:

Since chance for victory there is none,

Rabbit away from mad elephant to run.


This for man of warrior class not good,

That they should fight bravely understood.


This part of Sita Devi’s disparagement,

To create in Ravana discouragement.


Rama like a mad elephant in a fight,

To squash rabbit like Ravana with terrific might.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Elephant and the Rabbit

Lord Rama“Like a proud elephant meeting a rabbit in the forest, Rama is like the elephant and you, O vile one, are like the rabbit.” (Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 22.16)

yathā dṛptaśca mātaṅgaḥ śaśaśca sahitau vane |
tathā dviradavadrāmastvaṃ nīca śaśavat smṛtaḥ ||

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There is the famous fable of the tortoise and the hare. Fables are a good way to teach values to young children. Children don’t have as expanded a frame of reference as adults do, so instilling values like humility, perseverance, and courage is a difficult task. Just as the story of the tortoise and the hare teaches a valuable lesson, so does the hypothetical meeting of the elephant and the hare in the forest brought up by a very wise princess a long time ago.

You shouldn’t be too proud of your abilities. If you are, you risk utilizing them improperly. The tortoise and the hare are involved in a race. Another word for a tortoise is turtle. If you say that someone is as slow as a turtle, it means that they are really slow. The turtle takes a long time just to move a few feet. Speed is not their strong suit. The hare is also sometimes synonymous with a rabbit. A rabbit can hop very quickly. It is difficult to catch when running after it. The rabbit is sometimes described as pesky to the person trying to catch it [think Elmer Fudd from the cartoons].

Elmer FuddIn the fable the rabbit should easily win the raise, but due to false pride it ends up losing. It so belittles the turtle’s ability to do anything that it thinks it doesn’t need to work. Since the rabbit had the superior ability, its defeat is embarrassing. It’s like losing a giant lead in a football game. It’s like knowing all the answers to an exam but then failing because you carelessly mismatched the answers with the questions on the answer sheet.

Hearing the story, one learns that false pride isn’t good. “Slow and steady wins the race” is another lesson to take away. If you are perseverant, if you are determined, then you have a shot at defeating someone who is acknowledged to be superior to you in so many ways. Such lessons apply to pretty much every situation except for when the opponent is the origin of matter and spirit. There is no amount of determination in the world that can help a person defeat God. He is known as Ajita, which means that He is unconquerable.

This doesn’t mean that others have not tried or are not trying right now. The spinning wheel of the material existence, the samsara-chakra, continues to turn for as long as one tries to win the race against the Supreme Spirit. The competition doesn’t have to be about speed only. There are other opulences as well. There is the desire to surpass Him in beauty, in wealth, in fame, in renunciation, and in wisdom. The tale of the meeting of the proud elephant and the hare is much simpler to describe and understand. It is the story referenced by Sita Devi in her rebuke of Ravana, the fiendish king of Lanka.

The rabbit is much smaller than the elephant. The size difference is immediately noticeable. The rabbit can scamper about pretty quickly, but if going against an elephant in the forest, there is no chance for victory. Just one step by the elephant will end the rabbit’s life. If the elephant is proud, it will not calm down until the rabbit is dead. There is nothing the rabbit can do to win. Perhaps it can pray to God, look to the heavens for a natural disaster to save it.

Lord RamaThe problem for Ravana was that God was the proud elephant in the battle. Ravana was like the rabbit compared to Rama. Therefore Ravana was finished. It was just a matter of time until everything in his kingdom was wiped away. He had it coming to him, too. Rama is not a vindictive God. He is not really interested in a person’s temporary achievements. Those pale in comparison to His own opulences, so what need is there for concern? Ravana had control over an opulent kingdom in Lanka, which likely had the largest supply of gold in the world. Ravana still wasn’t happy, though. So he resorted to stealing God’s eternal consort, who was on earth at the time as the daughter of King Janaka.

This brazen insult raised the ire of Rama. Sita belongs to Him. She is devoted to Him in thought, word and deed. In trying to make her his wife, Ravana tried to change her nature. He wanted her to worship him instead of Rama. This can never happen, and the failure to turn Sita over to his side was only the beginning of his troubles. Since he refused to return her to Rama, Ravana was in for a world of hurt.

Ravana thought that he was powerful, but he would soon learn that even the most powerful person in the world cannot come close to matching up against God. We have no idea of the full complexity of the material universe. And in the Vedas we learn that the material energy is an energy separate from God. It is not even that significant. How powerful, then, can any person be, for they are unable to comprehend a nature that is of secondary importance to the original being?

Sita DeviSita here addresses Ravana as “nicha,” which means one who is very low. This referred to his behavior, for only a vile person would intentionally keep a beautiful princess from serving her beloved husband. As a rabbit in comparison to the proud and tall elephant Rama, Ravana was also very low. The supremely resplendent Rama would soon trample all over the much smaller Ravana, proving that Sita’s husband has the highest stature and is thus worshipable to all.

In Closing:

Immediately shun false ego’s face,

For slow and steady wins the race.


For king of Lanka not the case,

Perseverance not to save his state.


Ravana to a small rabbit Sita comparing,

And Rama to elephant of pride blazing.


Challenge to the Lord can go on and on,

But never victory to reminisce upon.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Perfect Inventions

Lord Krishna“Because Krishna says so, we immediately know that the cosmic machine, of which the earth is part, is working so nicely and wonderfully because behind this machine is a driver - Krishna. Exactly as behind any machine there is a machine driver, similarly, behind this big machine of material nature there is Krishna.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, the Reservoir of Pleasure, The Perfect Person)

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We are certainly proud of our famous inventors. For whatever reason, they were motivated to think outside the box, to push the boundaries of conceivability, which then promoted the general welfare of the people, at least for the time being. Often times the inventions involved new kinds of machines or improvements upon old ones. Yet through it all, the inventions were all flawed to some degree, which in no way diminished their utility at the time. If such machines and their creators deserve praise, admiration, time, and attention, then surely the inventor of perfect machines deserves even more credit.

Before there was electricity available from the local utilities company, people relied on candles and lamps to get their lighting after the sun went down. Depending on where you lived, you might require a lot of candles every year. And so good citizens devised ways to improve upon the lamps so that they didn’t waste as much wax. This was a conservation of energy. They also proposed ways to modify behavior in order to cut down on usage.

One of the most famous inventors in history one night played chess longer than usual. Upon going to sleep, he noticed that the sun was out. On another occasion, he awoke accidentally in the morning hours, earlier than usual for him. The shades in his room happened to have been left open the night before and so the light from the sun filled the room. Upon making this discovery, it dawned on him that during certain times of the year the sun rose very early in the morning. Writing anonymously to a local periodical, he then proposed to the society at large that if man altered the time that they awoke to match the periods of the sun’s being out, they would save so much in candle usage. In keeping with the conservationist attitude, he even half-jokingly “ran the numbers” to ascertain how much exactly would be saved by a particular city each year.

“I looked at my watch, which goes very well, and found that it was but six o'clock; and still thinking it something extraordinary that the sun should rise so early, I looked into the almanac, where I found it to be the hour given for his rising on that day. I looked forward, too, and found he was to rise still earlier every day till towards the end of June; and that at no time in the year he retarded his rising so long as till eight o'clock. Your readers, who with me have never seen any signs of sunshine before noon, and seldom regard the astronomical part of the almanac, will be as much astonished as I was, when they hear of his rising so early; and especially when I assure them, that he gives light as soon as he rises. I am convinced of this. I am certain of my fact. One cannot be more certain of any fact. I saw it with my own eyes. And, having repeated this observation the three following mornings, I found always precisely the same result.” (Benjamin Franklin, Letter to the Editor of the Journal of Paris, 1784)

Daylight savings timeAnd with this seed of an idea, eventually daylight savings time was born. Some love it and some hate it, but it is one among many such inventions to have come along that aimed to improve society. With the improvement of lamps, eventually the issue of conserving candles became moot. There is electricity now, and so light bulbs are used. Even so, the first light bulb invented by Thomas Edison is currently in the process of being faded out. Known as the incandescent bulb, it is considered by some to be a large consumer of energy, and needlessly so.

Take the first smartphone that was very popular several years back. At the time, it was considered a grand invention, something novel. Now that same model is considered antiquated, a dinosaur. The first cell phone itself looks like a giant brick that would better serve as a power adapter for today’s laptop computer than a device to make phone calls.

Old cell phoneIn this way we see that the machines, while novel, useful, and difficult to conceive, are all flawed. They obviously have some defect, otherwise there would be no need for progress. Indeed, one who says that progress is the aim of society subtly admits that everything they seek is flawed, for that which they look to progress from must not fit the bill if it needs to be improved upon later on.

Now consider the sun. We are using the same one since the beginning of time. The same goes for the earth, which contains the many seeds needed to continue life. The sky contains all the stars, and that sky has been the same since forever. If the author of the most popular smartphone is so famous, shouldn’t the author of the sun, the moon, and the earth get fame, attention, and honor every day?

“Just as within the earth are found every kind of seed and within the sky live all the stars, Tulsidas knows that Shri Rama’s holy name is the reservoir of all dharma.” (Dohavali, 29)

“But how do I honor the maker of the sun? Don’t people fight over this? One group says their deity created everything and that in order to worship Him you must honor the Sabbath, follow fasting days, and pray a number of times in a particular institution. Another group says that you must follow their path or be forever condemned. At least with the makers of the flawed machines I know who they are. I know their names, what they look like, and perhaps even where they live today.”

Edison light bulbFrom these insightful questions we get a way to judge the usefulness of a religious system. The more a tradition explains about the origin of the creation, the maker of the perfect and flawless machines of nature, the more benefit the followers derive from it. In the Vedas the original author is addressed through so many names. The list of names still barely suffices, but at least it has the ability to bring to mind the person who needs to be honored. One also finds out about His appearance, likes, dislikes, tendencies, emotions, and overall desire for each one of us, who are His innumerable children.

The machines created by nature are meant for bringing the children back to Him, the heavenly father. There is no other purpose. If I use electricity to zap my neighbors, I’m not really using it properly. If I take my smartphone to act as a paperweight while reading outside, the best use isn’t there. The invention essentially goes to waste. In the same way, the light of the sun, the refreshing rays of the moon, the energy from grains and vegetables, the fuel and shelter from trees, and the resting places from the ground are to be used in remembering God, honoring Him, and being always conscious of Him. Only then does any invention become useful.

Virtual bookshelfEven the flawed machines are useful in this regard. The smartphone that will be out of fashion in a few short years could still hold words of wisdom from this great author found in works like the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam. In these books you get words spoken directly by the greatest inventor, and so you don’t need to go far to connect with Him. The souls eager for knowledge of Him use whatever lighting instrument is available to always hear about Him, sometimes even into the wee hours of the night. There is never enough information available on the Supreme Author, and so the inventions of the world can never be used enough, flawed that they may be.

In Closing:

New ways to find light,

Ideas from inventors bright.


Though devices not forever to stay,

Progress to improvements to give way.


Still standing strong is the sun,

In potency’s comparison there is none.


The sun, the moon, the earth and water,

Of all these Supreme Lord the author.


So why not to Him honor to pay?

Hear His words, His holy names say.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Forms for Meditation

Vishnu avataras“Even if one concentrates his mind on the boar form of the Lord, that is also yoga. As confirmed in Bhagavad-gita, one who concentrates his mind constantly in meditation upon the Personality of Godhead in one of His many varieties of forms is the first-class yogi, and he can very easily attain trance simply by meditating upon the form of the Lord. If one is able to continue such meditation on the Lord's form at the time of one's death, one is liberated from this mortal body and is transferred to the kingdom of God.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.19.28 Purport)

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“How was my weekend, you ask? It was okay, I guess. Now that I think about it, I’m feeling pretty good today. I tried to block out so many other distractions and just meditate. The weekends are a difficult time for me to relax. It seems like it should be the opposite, no? Since there is no pressure to go to work, I should be able to chill for two straight days, right?

“But what ends up happening is that I can’t stay focused on any one task. There’s always something to clean. All those responsibilities I neglect during the week start to mount. I have to do laundry for sure; otherwise there will be no clean clothes for the upcoming week. I have to pay bills, run to the supermarket, fill the car with gas, and prepare meals. All of this makes it very difficult to relax.

“What I did different this weekend was set aside some time for meditation. I’ve realized that the more I can stay away from my bedroom, the more I can concentrate. I’m actually more relaxed when seated upright, even if it’s just to watch television. So I found myself a comfortable chair and took out my tablet computer. That device in itself invites so many distractions, I know. I can check my email, preview the weather for the upcoming week, watch videos, and even exchange instant messages with friends.

Image of Varahadeva“This time I focused on a specific photo that I had in the camera roll section of the tablet. This photo is of a boar. I meditated upon that photo for hours on end. No, I’m not lying to you. I basically meditated on a pig this weekend. I can’t tell you how happy it made me feel. Where did I get the idea? In an ancient Sanskrit work called the Shrimad Bhagavatam there are descriptions of this boar. One can find out about its activities and appearance. It is also said in that work that mystic yogis, people who renounce the urban lifestyle for the wilderness, try their best to meditate on the personality who is that boar.

“It is said that the yogis have a tough time staying fixed in concentration on that same person who once manifest as a boar. And here I was, in the modern day, where no one has time for anything, meditating on that beautiful form. While meditating I kept thinking about how wonderful that boar was. It held up the earth after it had fallen into the water. While nobly saving the population of this world, it was verbally attacked for no reason.

“The attacker was envious. He was also very powerful, having the name of Hiranyaksha. He was golden-eyed and also golden in his ability to fight, and so he thought no one was there to properly challenge him in this world. He heard of this boar, named Varahadeva, and thought he could get a good fight from it. In the ensuing conflict, the boar absorbed all of the enemy’s blows without being disturbed. He let Hiranyaksha use his full arsenal of weapons. And then at the end Varahadeva took aim at victory. In a swift turn, Hiranyaksha lost his life, and the world of saints rejoiced, for they knew a terrorizing figure was gone.

“Actually, describing this to you right now has been a sort of meditation as well. So you’re wondering if you can pick any pig to meditate on and feel the same way? Can you meditate on just anything and get the benefits of peace and tranquility? Actually, no. There is something special to this boar. He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, which is the more descriptive term used for the entity we typically refer to as God. He is the sum total of everything, and yet He is not directly everything. The tree and the dust on the ground are part of His definition, and yet He is not the tree nor the dust. He is a distinct spiritual entity who can appear in any time and place and in any form He chooses. His personal appearances are always in transcendental forms. This means that the mystics looking to connect with God are actually trying to meditate on the person who appears in various forms, such as the boar.

Lord Krishna“I can do the same meditation by focusing on Varahadeva’s original form of Shri Krishna. Krishna is an attractive male youth who holds a flute in His hands, sports an enchanting smile, and happily plays in the sacred land of Vrindavana. His complexion is dark blue, like the raincloud, and He is beautifully adorned with jewels, a flower garland, and a yellow garment around His waist. His activities are also described in the Shrimad Bhagavatam, and setting aside time for meditating on them is most worthwhile.

“I got this idea for meditation from the works of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. He has actually translated and commented on the Shrimad Bhagavatam in English, which is a huge plus for me. I don’t know Sanskrit and so being able to learn these timeless truths in the language I am most familiar with is such a blessing. We all have this tendency to serve, and we like to contemplate on wonderful people and their attributes and activities.

Shrila Prabhupada“Shrila Prabhupada says that this tendency is purified when it is directed at God. He not only sanctions meditating on Varahadeva and Shri Krishna, but wholeheartedly recommends it. He says that the same meditation can be done through just chanting the names of those respective personalities. And the potency of saying the names of all the incarnations of the Supreme Lord comes with chanting just the names of Krishna and Rama. Therefore He recommends chanting the maha-mantra, ‘Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.’

Krishna lifting Govardhana Hill“You should give this a try, as it removes all doubts. We don’t need to speculate anymore as to how to find true happiness in life. We don’t need to wonder what God looks like or what He wants from us. If we are truly devoted, He will lift mountains for us, as He did with Govardhana Hill. If He sees us in trouble, He’s willing to bear the burden of the entire earth, as He did as Varahadeva. And just by meditating on Him, we become dear to Him, which shows that the path of devotional service is both the easiest and the most effective.”

In Closing:

With attention more and more,

Meditate on picture of a boar.


From strange practice what to gain?

Know that to object of yogis the same.


In variety of forms the Lord to come,

Though differently looking, of personality one.


On Krishna, Boar, Lion, or Vishnu lay eyes,

Success guaranteed for one who this path tries.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Show Me What You’ve Got

Varahadeva“It does not take even a moment for the Lord to kill any powerful demon, including Hiranyaksha. The Lord could have killed him long before, but He allowed the demon to display the full extent of his magical feats. One may know that by magical feats, by scientific advancement of knowledge or by material power one cannot become the equal of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. His one signal is sufficient to destroy all our attempts.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.19.26 Purport)

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“This is it. We better get the job done tonight. We don’t want to go to a deciding game tomorrow. We are up in the series today. Though we are down going into the bottom of the ninth inning, we have to make a rally. Otherwise we will have to face their top pitcher again tomorrow. In this best of seven games series, thus far we have lost only twice. Through five games, we have won three, so we are on the verge of clinching.

“The only two games we have lost were against the same starting pitcher. He will likely win the award for best pitcher of the year after the playoffs are over. We couldn’t figure out where his pitches were going. We thought that perhaps he was cheating. We asked the umpire to check the baseballs that he was throwing. For sure he was scuffing the ball, which gives the pitches more movement, and in his case allowed his pitches to sink even further. A batter in baseball has to make a read very quickly. In a split second they have to determine what kind of pitch is thrown by looking at the stitches on the baseball. Then they have to guess where the ball will end up. After processing all this in a matter of a moment, they must then decide whether or not they want to swing.

Mike Scott“This one pitcher keeps fooling us. We think he is throwing one kind of pitch, but then it is actually something else. We think the ball will end up in the strike zone, but then at the last second it dips. Therefore he strikes us out constantly. This gets to us mentally. If we feel intimidated, how will we succeed? Thankfully, in baseball the starting pitcher cannot go out every single day. The toll on the arm is too much; a starting pitcher requires rest of typically four days. In the playoffs the ace might toughen up a bit and use only three days’ rest, thereby pitching potentially three games in a seven game series. This is what faces us today if we don’t succeed in game six. We HAVE to win today.”

Indeed, this is the nature of competition, extending beyond sports as well. When we apply for a job, we don’t poll the community to see if there are other worthy candidates. There may be many others who are more fit for the position, but if they don’t seize the opportunity to apply, our chances for getting hired increase.

In some cases there is only a vacancy because the previous employee left the scene. Perhaps they got into an argument with the boss. Perhaps they were offered more money elsewhere. Whatever the case, their loss becomes our gain.

Applying for jobsWe don’t necessarily wait until all others have given it their best shot. The other side doesn’t play with this attitude, so why should we? At the same time, this does show a defect. It reveals a flaw in every individual. Man has four defects, with one of them being the tendency to cheat. Cheating is required because man is imperfect; he cannot always get what he wants. He cannot always “win.” Therefore he has to look for an edge from time to time.

This is not the case with the Supreme Lord. One way to understand Him is to know that He is the only being who has no tendency to cheat [though if He does decide to cheat for fun, He is the best at it]. He does not have imperfect senses. He is never illusioned and He never makes mistakes. This makes Him different from every other living entity and also superior to them. As the Supreme Lord is the smartest, He can find the most opportune moment for victory without expending much effort. If He wants to defeat us in something, He can just wait until our guard is down and then pounce. And yet that is not how He behaves. He allows us to display our full range of ability, to engage our complete arsenal. Only then does He give us our defeat, illustrating our inferior nature.

FoodsThe typical lifecycle of the human being is itself an example of this fact. We try our best to prolong life. We try to eat the right foods and in the right amounts. “Today I will give up carbs. Tomorrow I’ll do the low-fat diet. Next week will be the feast or famine diet. Then tomorrow I must exercise as well. I need to cut down on sweets; they’re making my pants fit too tight.” These are innocent attempts at finding a healthy condition, but they are subtle challenges to the laws of nature. Man ventures into outer space looking for eternal life filled with happiness. He makes scientific advancements in order to do the same. He puts the best brains in society in charge of researching the gross body. The covering of the soul always changes, but with enough treatment the hope is to preserve that covering for as long as possible.

But despite the best effort made, there is always defeat. In Sanskrit the victorious force is known as kalah. This translates to both time and death. Time is what destroys. Though today we may be perfectly healthy, as time passes the body will start to deteriorate. Simply taking a walk will cause soreness in the hip and joints. Eating past a certain hour of the night will lead to bad dreams and hours of tossing and turning. Eventually the body is discarded, like the shedding of clothes. This is all due to kalah, which has yet to lose.

Bhagavad-gita, 2.22“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.22)

By allowing us to use everything in our power to try to win over time, the Supreme Lord remains above suspicion. During infancy we are helpless. Someone else could easily destroy us. If our parents don’t protect us, we may not live for very long. Indeed, even with all the protection in the world, there is the chance that we might not make it into adulthood; such are the ways of karma. Still, in the challenge to God, the living entities get independence. They are given the chance to try to win against God. If this weren’t the case, there would be no such thing as scientific advancement. There would be no such thing as medicine.

MedicineWithout having to interfere, the Supreme Lord still emerges victorious. When all the weapons are used against Him and He still wins easily, His superior status is solidified. One time He fought against a very powerful demon named Hiranyaksha. The Lord at the time was in His transcendental form of a boar. Varahadeva held up the earth after it had been immersed in water. While holding up the earth He was harassed by the demon Hiranyaksha. The demon thought that he was more powerful than God.

Illustrating the cheating tendency in man, Hiranyaksha verbally attacked while Varahadeva was occupied in a higher task. The demon tried to earn a cheap victory. Varahadeva then allowed Hiranyaksha to use every weapon in his arsenal. Every ability and strength the demon was proud of was on the table. There was nothing Varahadeva was afraid of. After absorbing every possible attack from the demon, Varahadeva finally killed him.

Varahadeva fighting HiranyakshaAs the original proprietor of this and every other land, the Supreme Lord has every right to choose other moments to attack. As Shri Ramachandra He once shot a powerful fighter in the back while he was engaged in a conflict with someone else. Vali was upset at this attack from the Lord, but Ramachandra did it for the benefit of His devotee and friend Sugriva. Still, in most cases the challengers are allowed to exhibit their abilities they are most proud of. In their subsequent defeat, the world learns how futile the challenge to the laws of nature is. The surrendered soul has the protection of that same undefeated fighter, who has no need to wait for any moment to achieve victory. Therefore the surrendered soul is always in a better position than the doubting and challenging soul.

In Closing:

“So much strength you have got,

Chance for your defeat there is not.


With everything you have come,

I’ll let you fight until you’ve won.”


Supreme Lord to asura this chance gave,

Hiranyaksha no weapons to save.


Despite all effort, Varahadeva to stand tall,

Always victorious, God superior to all.