Saturday, March 8, 2014

The One With The Party Debate

[Shri Ishopanishad]“The path of religion is actually meant for self-realization, and economic development is required just to maintain the body in a sound, healthy condition. A man should lead a healthy life with a sound mind just to realize vidya, true knowledge, which is the aim of human life.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shri Ishopanishad, 11 Purport)

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Benjamin was waiting anxiously inside at the front door. Then he started pacing around, back and forth. “She always does this!” he murmured to himself. Walking around here and there, he finally let out a loud sigh. “Honey, what’s wrong? Are you okay?” asked his wife from upstairs. “Oh, I’m fine. Do you know how much longer you’re going to take? I think we’re going to be late,” he said. “Don’t rush me,” she replied.

This wasn’t out of the ordinary. Benjamin seemed to always be waiting for his wife when they were set to spend a night out. Tonight they were headed to a party at a family member’s home. While his wife was carefree and didn’t worry much, Benjamin was just the opposite. He would rather arrive early to an event than late. He didn’t like the pressure.

“This is getting ridiculous. I’m going to watch television,” said Benjamin to himself as he headed to the other room. A few minutes later he heard his wife yelling from the front door. “What are you doing? Let’s go already. How can you be watching TV when we’re supposed to be leaving? Come on.”

With the two of them finally in the car, they headed for the party. Along the way, Benjamin shared some of his concerns to his wife:

“You know, I really don’t like going to these things.”

“Yes, I’m well aware, but you need to get over it. It doesn’t look good when you sit there and sulk in the corner. You should be more social.”

“Well, that’s easy for you to say. You go into the room with all the other women and pretend to be friends with each other. I’m left stuck in a room with the guys who think they know it all. They will fight about anything. There’s always some debate going on, and each guy tries to top the other in stupidity. It’s no picnic for me to sit there and hear all that nonsense.”

When they arrived at the party, as per usual Benjamin’s wife adjourned to the room with all the ladies. He then took his seat in the room with the men, who were already deep into a debate over politics and economics. There were two in particular, Benjamin’s cousins, who were arguing vehemently.

“The rich should be taxed to the hilt. They make too much, as it is. They should sacrifice more for the common good,” said Benjamin’s cousin Dan. “You sound like a communist, you know that? Who are you to tell someone else how much money they should earn and what they should spend their money on?” retorted Benjamin’s other cousin John. Dan then kept the debate going:

[House of Representatives]“You don’t need to resort to insults. You know that the government needs money. Are you in favor of no government at all? Do you want to shut down the government permanently?”

“No, now you’re the one distorting things. I never said that. I believe in the peaceable and voluntary exchange of goods and services. People should be free to buy and sell whatever they want, provided they respect property rights and follow the rule of law.”

“What does that mean? What does that have to do with the rich?” asked Dan

“Let’s say you go to the store and you pick out something you want. The government should have very limited say in that situation. They shouldn’t manage the price, provided that you weren’t forced into buying that item. They should make sure that the seller is honest; that what they claim is genuine actually is. The government should also make sure that the buyer is honest; that the money they use is not counterfeit and that they pay back any credit they take from the seller.”

“But that does nothing to protect worker’s rights. The consumers will get shafted on price, and they’re left with no other choice. Your policy is very conservative, and we see exactly what the conservatives have done to the country lately,” accused Dan.

[Friedrich Hayek]John was not about to back down. “Actually, this philosophy is known as classic liberalism; it’s not conservative. It can be traced back as far as the French philosophers known as the Physiocrats, who were prominent just prior to the Industrial Revolution. It was further developed with the famous Adam Smith, and through the years it’s been championed by economists like Friedrich Von Hayek and Milton Friedman. This has nothing to do with liberal and conservative or favoring business and the like. It’s based on fairness and what’s just.”

Benjamin, who had been sitting there trying not to listen was then asked his opinion by Dan. “Hey Ben, what’s your take on all this? I know you’re into that Krishna stuff, but what about these kinds of things?  Is there a spiritual point of view on economics or do you just shun it altogether?”

“I really don’t want to get involved in this,” Benjamin replied. “Can we just talk about something else?” “No, I’m interested to know too,” interjected John. “Which viewpoint do you support?” Benjamin then decided to weigh in, though he had no desire to further the debate.

“Well, for starters, what you’re discussing is economics; how to produce food, clothing, shelter and the like. In the grand scheme, such topics are reserved for third class men. Not that it’s unnecessary, but economics isn’t given much weight in the philosophy that focuses on realizing the self. This is because in the worst case, you could just go up to a tree and take its fruits for your food. You could live in a cave, wear torn rags for clothes, and bathe in rivers. So what need is there for economic schemes, taxes and the like?”

“So you don’t have an opinion on this at all?” asked Dan, who seemed to completely ignore Benjamin’s words. “You’re not going to say which one of us is right?” prodded John.

Benjamin further elaborated: “Well, both of you are kind of right. The consumer shouldn’t be exploited. And exploitation is the natural tendency when in the material consciousness. ‘I want to succeed’ means I want to beat others. The businessman doesn’t tell the consumer what the profit margin is on a sale. So this is a kind of cheating, a form of dishonesty. The consumer also doesn’t say how much they’re willing to pay for something. They will try their best to get something for free; so they are also dishonest to some extent. With respect to taxes, those should always be low. Taxes are only high when government is not functioning properly. It is said that in the present age of Kali, taxes will be very high because the governments will be run by people who are unfit.”

“See, I told you I was right! “ said John triumphantly. “Our swami buddy here confirms it.”

“But John, you should know that taxes aren’t everything, “ continued Benjamin. “If you have low taxes and allow business to conduct commerce, you will surely get a large output of goods and services. There is no denying that. But that doesn’t solve much really. If anything, the resultant situation fosters envy, which leads to dishonesty. We have the highest standard of living in the history of mankind supposedly, and is everyone happy? Does every person who has a job feel satisfied? Actually, everyone is angry all the time. Everyone is also arguing about everything, which is another symptom of Kali Yuga. People even argue at parties and get their reluctant cousins to join in, ruining their fun.” Benjamin winked as he said this.

He continued, “The real aim of life is to become God conscious, which is a much more difficult task than lowering the unemployment rate or earning a lot of money. That’s the real thing to focus on, and so when one is God conscious they naturally figure out how to solve the economic problem. It’s not that hard, really, just some attention to Krishna through chanting His names.”

[Japa beads]Benjamin continued on for a little longer until it was time to eat. He wasn’t sure if he got through to his cousins, but his philosophical discourse was deep enough to have gotten them to stop arguing. Later on in the night, he again waited for his wife. Benjamin was ready to go home, but he stood waiting by the front door for quite a while. “My wife likes to go on a tour of goodbyes. She visits everyone, tells them how much she loved seeing them, and then invites them to our home for dinner,” he said to a fellow partygoer, who was also waiting to leave.

On the car ride home, Benjamin’s wife asked him how the night was for him.

“It wasn’t so bad, dear,” Benjamin replied.

“See, I told you. Were you nice? Were you friendly?”

“Well, yeah, and I got sucked into a debate too. But I took the opportunity to talk about bhakti-yoga, Krishna consciousness, and the science of self-realization.”

“How did that go over?”

“At the very least, it made me happy. Not sure how they took it. It did stop them from arguing and boring the heck out of me, though. So I guess I won.”

“That’s great,” she said. “Krishna always wins.”

“He sure does. That’s why He’s known as Ajita. This might be my new strategy.”

“That’s not a bad idea. You can try it out again tomorrow night. I invited the Ashbys over for dinner.”

“You did what? You know I can’t stand them. Sweetheart, you’re killing me, you know that?”

With a cute smile on her face, his wife responded, “Hare Krishna.”

In Closing:

How proper government should act?

High or low taxes to exact?


On this to debate til face to turn red,

Wise focus on the soul instead.


To animal is provided every need,

Not reliant on scheme for stomach to feed.


So in this human birth opportunity take,

To learn of God and best fortune make.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The One With The Winter Storm

[Krishna's lotus feet]“All our senses are imperfect. We claim to observe everything and anything, but we must admit that we can observe things under certain material conditions only, which are also beyond our control. The Lord is beyond the observation of sense perception.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.8.19 Purport)

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“I just bought the tickets,” Dennis texted his brother. “They weren’t very expensive; I was surprised. I went directly to the box office to get them, so as to avoid the convenience charges.” These were tickets to a hockey game; Dennis’ favorite team was coming to town. Fortunately, his brother was also in town at the time, so the two could go together.

[Hockey game]The tickets were bought a week in advance, and as the day of the game approached, the weather forecast grew more and more ominous. “The first winter storm of the year,” read the headlines on the local news channels. The forecast called for between six to ten inches of snow. Making matters worse was the fact that the snowfall was predicted to begin right at the time of the game’s start.

“We’ll be driving home just when the snow is starting to accumulate,“ Dennis complained to his brother. “This is terrible. Maybe we shouldn’t go. Or maybe we could leave after the second period.”

“It’s just ten inches, right?” his brother asked. “That’s not very much. Don’t you remember that time many years back when we drove in that real blizzard?”

“Oh yeah! I totally forgot about that. That was insane. It was at night, and it looked like we were driving into nothingness.”

“There were no lights on that road, either. When we leave the game, at least we’ll be able to see. It might take a while, but I think we should be able to get home fine.”

“Man, that night was crazy. I remember just laughing at how we had no idea where we were going. We couldn’t even read the exit signs.”

[Blizzard]Dennis and his brother went to the game and had a good time. And sure enough, the snowfall started picking up as they headed towards their car in the parking lot. “Maybe you should drive home,” Dennis said to his brother.

His brother happily agreed, and the ride home was no picnic. The only thing in their favor was that there were barely any cars on the road. Others must have heeded the many warnings from state officials to remain indoors.

The brothers had to drive very slowly, and some of the roads weren’t ploughed at all, but they eventually made it home safely. Then came a new problem: where to park. The local roads were in much worse shape than the highways they had used to get home. There were already two cars in the single lane driveway, and parking in the street was going to be very difficult. It would also make the car vulnerable to being buried in the snow through the ploughing that would occur the next morning.

“I have an idea,” said Dennis’ brother. “You go and try to push the other two cars up as far as possible in the driveway. Then I’ll take the third car and see if it fits.”

“That’s not a bad idea,” Dennis replied. He then proceeded to move each car up as far as possible, with his brother serving as the handy guide outside making sure no contact was made with either the garage or the cars in front.

[Clearing snow]“Would you look at that?” Dennis said happily as he saw that the third car fit into the driveway without a problem. “That car fits just fine. It doesn’t even jut out into the street. You know, I’m so stupid. Last year we had that snowstorm that was much worse. We got like three feet of snow, and I left my car in the street. It didn’t occur to me to try to fit it in the driveway.”

“Well, now you know. Next time you won’t have the same problem, “ said his brother.

“Yeah, but I wish I would have known this last year.”

This exchange triggered an insightful reflection in the mind of Dennis’ brother:

[Shrila Prabhupada]“What you’ve just learned today, how and where to park your car for a snowstorm, in the works of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is referred to as the ascending process of knowledge gathering.”

“What does that mean?” asked Dennis.

“Basically, you work your way up towards higher knowledge. You figure something out today and then use that knowledge tomorrow. You figure out something else tomorrow and add that on top of what you previously learned. This is how the entire field of material science operates. A long time back they didn’t know anything about electricity. They did various experiments and the like. Then a printer from America proposed some tests to see if lightning was electricity. The experiments confirmed the hypothesis, and the knowledgebase for electricity thus expanded.”

“So if you work your way up, you’ll eventually reach full enlightenment?” asked a curious Dennis.

“That’s the thing. You won’t. The ascending process is limited. It is said that the way to understand the Absolute Truth is the descending process. You take knowledge from the top that is then passed down. Like what you learned about the parking of your car during snow, you could pass that on to someone else. They wouldn’t have to run the same experiment. They would accept the knowledge from you, and the knowledge would be perfect. So knowledge of God is meant to come down in the same way. There is no experiment to find Him, because He is beyond the perceptions of the material senses. That is what the name Adhokshaja means.”

[Lord Krishna]As he had been doing his whole life, Dennis again learned from his elder, wiser brother. The rest of the night was spent in discussion on more topics covered by His Divine Grace in his many works, the most famous of which are the Bhagavad-gita As It Is and the Shrimad Bhagavatam. Those works themselves are part of the descending process, links in the chain to provide the transcendental light to the soul otherwise trapped in the blinding blizzard of the material world.

In Closing:

Fearful of oncoming storm of snow,

How with car on roads to go?


Problems from there not to quit,

Then how cars into driveway to fit.


In this way knowledge to ascend,

But for God must from top descend.


Adhokshaja one way He is known,

Revealed to one by His mercy alone.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The One With The Indoor Picnic

[Krishna's lotus feet]“He who is temperate in his habits of eating, sleeping, working and recreation can mitigate all material pains by practicing the yoga system.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.17)

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Bhagavad-gita, 6.17It was midafternoon. After having waited for a while, John heard that everyone was finally ready. He quickly changed out of his lounging clothes and into ones more appropriate for public viewing. This was an opportunity to wear that new shirt he received as a gift for Christmas. With everyone in the family changed and ready, he went downstairs, where he ran into his nephew Frankie, who was particularly excited.

“Uncle, we’re going on a picnic,” he said.

“Oh, really? Where?” John asked.

“To the restaurant. Everyone is going. Come on, let’s go.”

John’s brother Howard, their mother and father, and the excited young Frankie all huddled up in the car. Frankie was Howard’s son and they were visiting the family that week during the Christmas holiday. Where Howard lived there weren’t very many good pizza restaurants. Therefore he made it a point during his stay with his parents to go out to eat at their favorite pizza place at least one time.

[Crayons]While at the restaurant, which was dubbed an “indoor picnic” to keep Frankie excited, John noticed some interesting behavior in his nephew. The young child had no interest whatsoever in eating. After taking their orders, the waitress brought over a few sheets of paper and crayons. This kept Frankie occupied and interested, while the rest of the family conversed as per usual.

When the food finally came, Frankie continued to play. Though everyone else happily dug into the piping hot pizza, Frankie was not enticed enough. It was only at the cajoling of his grandfather that Frankie began to eat anything.

“Grandpa, I don’t want any.”

“Just have a little bit, you’ll like it.”

“But I want to play.”

[Pizza]The grandfather was very clever. Taking little pieces of the pizza and breadsticks every few minutes, he found a way to feed the young Frankie. John was a little astonished by this, but then his brother Howard filled him in that this was not out of the ordinary.

“Oh, he hates eating. That’s why he’s so skinny. The other kids in his class in school are all more plump than he is. You have to trick him into having anything. He’s always interested in what’s on television, the book he’s reading, or the cars he’s got in his hands. Mom was complaining that he’s not eating enough, so we have to keep finding new ways to get him to take his meals.”

The proverbial “hard drive” immediately went to work in John. He got to thinking how strange it was that the same person when they grow up and become more mature will put so much stock in eating. Howard noticed the smile on his brother’s face.

“What’s so funny?”

“It’s just interesting,” replied John. “One time I heard a recorded lecture from His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada that seems applicable to this situation.”

“Oh yeah? What was he saying?”

[Shrila Prabhupada]“Basically that any type of regulation on eating and sex life found in scriptural texts, regardless of the tradition, has a specific purpose in mind. We don’t really need to be taught how to eat, sleep, mate or defend. Therefore all the regulations are there to restrict only.”

“Hmm, that’s interesting.”

“Yeah, and so in seeing Frankie here today, I immediately thought of how we, as adults, put so much value on eating, such as where to eat and how much. We’re always worried about diet and exercise and also how to improve the quality of our sleep. The fact of the matter is that these things aren’t so important. Frankie doesn’t care at all about eating, and he seems to be just fine.”

Howard was in agreement. He had often wondered the same thing.

“I’ve noticed that too. On days when I have a lot of work to do, I don’t really care what I eat or how much. Sometimes I’ll even forget to eat.”

Hearing this reminded John of the brothers Rupa and Sanatana Gosvamis.

“Yeah, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the two famous brothers who were disciples of Lord Chaitanya. They were so immersed in bhakti-yoga that they forgot to eat and sleep. They would maybe sleep a few hours each night, and that underneath a tree outside. It is said that Sanatana Gosvami, the elder brother, would beg for a little bit of flour each day from a village home. He would then walk to the Yamuna River, take some if its water and mix it with the flour, and then bake the compound in a makeshift oven. After offering it to his Krishna deity, he would honor the prasadam. This was all he would eat on a given day.”

[Offering to Krishna]While the brothers were immersed in this pleasing conversation, the indoor picnic was drawing to a close. When the bill was paid, they all happily got in the car and returned home. John then took the impetus to make an offering to the Supreme Lord. Instead of considering what was important to him to taste, he remembered the verse from the Bhagavad-gita, where Shri Krishna says that even a little water or some fruit is sufficient to satisfy Him, if the offering is made with love and devotion.

“I may not be able to have full control over my eating, but I’ll at least try to satisfy God with my work,” John thought to himself. “This devotional service really is powerful. I see the glory of the teachings of His Divine Grace more and more each day. Only bhakti-yoga could turn an adult back into a child, matching enthusiasm with real intelligence. All glories to the Vaishnavas, and all glories to their beloved Krishna.”

In Closing:

Since always engaged in play,

“I’m not hungry” child will say.


Why not in adult the same to find?

Why thoughts of eating to consume the mind?


To eat enough to survive is the teaching,

And not to point of dullness reaching.


Like Sanatana, loving offerings to Krishna give,

And in this way with controlled eating live.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The One With The Heavy Cargo

[Rama's lotus feet]“Janaka did all the rituals and made all the preparations for the departure. Then Rama with His brothers went to the king’s palace.” (Janaki Mangala, 164)

sakala calana ke sāja janaka sājata bhae |
bhāinha sahita rāma taba bhūpa bhavana gae ||

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Dev was a little tired, but the fatigue wasn’t enough to overcome his excitement. Having just arrived back home from travelling across the country, he was set to leave on another journey shortly. Youthful exuberance was still with him, so the fatigue from the cross-country travel wasn’t about to stop him from visiting his aunt, whom he hadn’t seen for several years.

She had been recently diagnosed by one doctor with a serious illness. Dev’s father was a doctor himself, so the son was going to accompany the father to see how the aunt was doing. “I haven’t seen her in so long,” Dev reflected. “I hope she is okay. She is my favorite aunt for sure, though I should never admit that to anyone else. She was there for me when I was a young child, and I always appreciated her gentleness, kindness, and the compassion she showed for everyone in our family.”

[Airplane landing]Dev’s just concluded trip was a solo one. He went to see a special, one night-only concert performed by his favorite band. He hadn’t seen that band in a while either, as they had almost broken up due to infighting. This concert was their reemergence, and Dev had a great time welcoming them back into the spotlight.

Though the distance of that trip was lengthy, Dev did not have to pack much for it. “A few shirts, a few pants, and my computer. What else do I need?” Dev told his brother on the phone just prior to leaving. Indeed, he didn’t require even that much. He liked to travel light, and so that trip was no problem for him. He anticipated the same for this trip to his aunt’s house.

As had happened many times previously, his plan got foiled by his mother. Moments before leaving for the airport, she stopped him. “Just one second son, don’t leave yet,” said Dev’s mom as she ran up the stairs to her room. “Mom! You ALWAYS do this. Stop already,” Dev responded in frustration. His mom returned shortly with a few items in her hands and some important instructions:

“Okay, give this shirt to your uncle. This shirt is for your cousin, and this other one is for his younger brother. If there is a problem with the size, they can switch them up. These bangles are for your auntie.”

“Mom, I don’t have room for this. I don’t want to carry so much stuff.”

“Oh, and take these sweets too. They can offer them on the altar and then everyone can eat it as prasadam.”

[Box of Indian sweets]Not happy at all, Dev went upstairs to his room to grab a larger suitcase. With it he was able to fit the new items to be given as gifts. Since there wasn’t any time to argue, Dev didn’t give voice to his objections, but he was steamed throughout the journey. “I don’t understand this tradition at all. I’m sure they have plenty of shirts. They know how to make food, too. They don’t need any of this. What the heck?” he thought to himself.

Upon reaching his aunt’s house, he and his father received a hearty welcome. The whole weekend went very nicely, as Dev got to spend time with his aunt, uncle and cousins who were so dear to him. On the first day there, he sheepishly took out the gifts his mom had given him. “Uncle, this shirt is for you. And these shirts are for you guys,” he said to his cousins. “And auntie, my mom told me to give you these bangles.” Dev didn’t offer these gifts with any type of presentation at all; he was almost annoyed by the whole thing.

“Oh your mom always knows what to give us. She knows that I like these bangles. She is a special lady,” Dev’s aunt said upon receiving the gifts. Indeed, everyone was happy. “That little inconvenience really wasn’t so bad after all,” Dev thought afterwards.

[Sita and Rama's marriage]The entire episode came to his mind again many years later when reading the Janaki Mangala of Goswami Tulsidas. There is one scene in that work where the host, King Janaka, prepares so many gifts to be packed and sent along with the guests who are about to return home. Janaka’s daughter Sita had just gotten married to Rama, the guest from Ayodhya. Rama’s father and a host of other important people from Ayodhya also visited Janaka to witness the marriage ceremony.

By no means did Rama’s family need any of these gifts. They lived comfortably in their opulent kingdom of Ayodhya. Janaka followed protocol, however. He knew of the tradition of gift-giving, especially to newlyweds. Rama’s three younger brothers were also married in the same ceremony, so Janaka was packing gifts for four new families. The offering was well received by everyone involved.

“So THIS is where the tradition comes from,” Dev realized when reading this pastime in Tulsidas’ beautiful work. “This is the origin of the tradition followed by my mother and her mother and her mother’s mother, and so on.” At the time of reading this pastime, unfortunately that favorite aunt of Dev’s was no longer on this earth; she did not survive the illness. But hearing of Janaka’s generosity reminded Dev of that trip from many years back. It reminded him of his mother’s insistence, and how the slight discomfort of carrying extra luggage was outweighed by the joy the gesture brought to others.

[Sita and Rama]Dev reflected further: “As Shri Rama is the Supreme Lord, giving to Him is always worthwhile. As our friends and family appreciate the little gifts we give them, so too do the Supreme Lord and His entourage. I’m very proud to follow some of the traditions that date back to the great King Janaka, and I hope I can please the Supreme Lord in the same way that he did.”

In Closing:

“Why so many gifts to give?

With such things they already live.


Whilst travelling prefer to pack light,

These bags barely to fit on flight.”


Despite objections gifts gave still,

So much joy in their hearts to fill.


King Janaka for all the way did pave,

When gifts to Sita and Rama he gave.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Giving Shape to a Concept

[Krishna against Kamsa]“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion - at that time I descend Myself.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.7)

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Bhagavad-gita, 4.7So, you’ve got an idea for a new car engine. This is unlike anything that’s on the market. The car industry has been particularly hit hard in recent times in an area of the country where it once thrived. So many classic cars used to come out, year after year. People still long for those cars. In recent times, with fuel economy standards and competition from overseas, the cars made just aren’t as good.

This new idea of yours will bring interest back. Putting your custom-designed engines in domestic cars will spark renewed interest, a revival in purchasing. Your engine is powerful; more powerful than anything out there right now. Also, it is fuel efficient. It meets every standard imposed by the government. You pitch your idea to various car manufacturers and they seem very interested. The issue, of course, is that this is only a concept. They want to see some proof. They want to see a physical object. Without something tangible in front of them, they will have a hard time believing what you are selling.

[Kevin James in the Dilemma]Indeed, this is the nature of sales. The demand for tangible proof is there in bhakti-yoga as well, where the practitioners hope to get everyone on board the train of devotional service, which has stops in every location and can carry an unlimited number of passengers to that great destination in the spiritual sky. The appeal of bhakti-yoga is that it is for everyone. No longer do you have to belong to a specific church or organization. No more are you immediately looked at as the worst kind of sinner who is targeted for punishment by an angry and vengeful God.

In bhakti-yoga, the people with the pure vision see you for who you really are: spirit. Spirit is great. It is small and yet can do the most amazing things. It is in fact the size of the tip of the hair divided into thousands of parts. Though spirit is impossible to perceive with the naked eye, we have evidence of it in front of us every day. Your ability to read or hear these words indicates that you are spirit. The ability of the cars travelling down the road outside shows that there is spirit. The fact that you and I can decide when, where and what to eat for dinner tonight reveals the existence of spirit.

[Mother Yashoda with Krishna]In bhakti-yoga, the souls in the pure consciousness see the immense potential that you, as spirit, have. They know that more than anything you want to love. Love and service are synonymous in this sense. You serve because you love and you love because you want to serve. There is only one individual capable of receiving endless love. He is your ideal match, and He can accept your love in a variety of ways. If you like to glorify particularly through written word, you can write and write forever about His glories. If you like to cook, you can prepare the most amazing food dishes to be offered to Him. If you like to pontificate and study the science of science, you can philosophize endlessly about how amazing He is and how men from all walks of life are inherently seeking His company.

Though bhakti-yoga is inherent to the spirit soul, which can be found in any creature, with respect to our earthly history its origins trace back to the region today known as India. In that sacred land the ancient sages held on to the confidential information of bhakti-yoga and passed it on to their worthy disciples. There are specific areas still sacred to this day because the practice of bhakti-yoga flourishes there. But as mentioned previously, this system is not sectarian. It is not reserved for any single group of people. The concept is that everyone is meant to love God, who is a personality originally.

So these are two wonderful concepts to accept: love for God and God being a personality. But how do we prove them? Where are the tangible examples?

First the latter: The Supreme Lord has descended to earth many times in the course of our history. History itself is not limited to this single creation. The material universe, with its many planets and stars and population of creatures, goes through cycles of creation and destruction. This is not the first time the earth has been in existence, nor will it be the last. In each creation, whenever He so chooses, especially when there is a decline in religious practice and a rise in irreligion, the Supreme Lord descends to the earthly plane as Himself, though the visible manifestations may not always be identical.

[Matsya Avatara]He comes as a fish during a great deluge. He comes as a boar to lift up the earth. He comes as a tortoise to be used as a pivot in the churning of an ocean of nectar. He comes as a half-man/half-lion to protect a five year old prince, whose only crime is his devotion to God. He comes as a warrior prince to do away with a powerful man-eater who has immunity in fighting against most creatures of the world. He comes as His original self, the handsome youth named Shyamasundara, to protect the devoted parents Devaki and Vasudeva and deliver the Bhagavad-gita, the king of all education, to a hesitant warrior named Arjuna.

Depending on the specific tradition of the Vedas you follow, you will have different terms to describe these appearances. The appearances can be described as avataras, meaning “those who descend.” The avatara is not a concoction. It is a real personality, immune to the effects of birth and death that plague the spirit souls who are otherwise pure.

These appearances are also known as the saguna forms, which is more pertinent to our discussion. God is both nirguna and saguna. Both terms actually mean the same thing to Him, but to us in one description we can’t see God so well and in the other we can. We can think of it like the full and dark moons. The full moon shines bright in the sky, and the dark moon is difficult to see. The moon is the same in both instances; the difference is only in our perception. In the same way, the saguna forms only look like they are ordinary living entities; this is for our benefit. In the saguna forms we learn what nirguna actually means; that God is not bound by any of the three modes of material nature: goodness, passion and ignorance.

[Shrila Prabhupada]For proof of the former concept [love for God being meant for everyone], we need look no further than the amazing efforts of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and all those who have succeeded him. Also known as Shrila Prabhupada, the swami took the flawless concept of divine love meant for all and travelled to the Western world with it. In infusing the bhakti spirit in so many wonderful souls, he showed that devotional service to God is indeed meant for everyone. It can be practiced by any person, regardless of their background. In ages past, the same concept was proven by the supreme devotion of forest dwellers working for the Lord in His avatara as Shri Rama and by the love of village women living in Vrindavana towards Shri Krishna.

[Krishna with the gopis]Thus there is so much shape to the concept of bhakti-yoga. By taking up devotional service in earnest, one provides further evidence to those who are skeptical. By always chanting “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” one does the best service for their fellow man, as divine love is what every person inherently seeks. The virtues of honesty, cleanliness, austerity and compassion are a pleasant added bonus, qualities which are otherwise very difficult to maintain and exhibit. Thus in all respects everyone is benefited when further shape is given to the glorious concept of one guiding mentality for all: God consciousness.

In Closing:

Concept that in devotion one should live,

But need proof, shape to theory to give.


Otherwise how in words to trust?

Some evidence therefore a must.


From history to descents of the Divine look,

As fish, boar, or when flute in His hands took.


Prabhupada, gopis, and Vanaras just a sample,

Of devotional success, take faith from their example.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Talking About Independence

[Radha and Krishna]“God does not interfere with the little independence of the living entity. In Bhagavad-gita, the Lord has explained in all respects how one can elevate his living condition.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 18.63 Purport)

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Knowledge Seeker: Hey man, how’s it going?

Well-wishing Friend: Not bad, how about yourself?

KS: Okay; just hanging in there. Another work week. You know how it goes. So hey, I was reading up on some of the Vedic philosophy you were telling me about.

WF: Yeah? That’s great. How are you liking it so far?

KS: It’s very interesting I must say. Totally different from anything else I’ve ever read. I’ve studied a lot of philosophy in my life, from the famous French guys like Voltaire and Descartes to Hume and Locke.

WF: Right. That’s one of the things I love about the Vedas. While there is a strong devotional aspect, which is integral for success in fact, there is a philosophical foundation as well. And since the philosophy wasn’t concocted by anyone, it stands unique amongst all the philosophies ever discussed on this earth.

KS: One aspect has me kind of baffled, though. Correct me if I’m wrong, but for the origin of the creation, the original cause is the desire of the individual living sparks of spirit to dissociate from God?

WF: Correct.

KS: Okay, I get that. But if God is all-perfect, why would He allow these souls to leave Him? Being omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent and every other “omni” under the sun, shouldn’t He have foreseen the danger that leaving His world would cause?

WF: The explanation is that there is independence for everyone, from the smallest ant all the way up to the creator of all creatures. That independence is not granted; it is part of the makeup of spirit. God is the origin of the sum collection of all spiritual fragments, so He also has independence.

KS: So we are godlike, but not God Himself.

WF: Yeah, we have eternality, bliss and knowledge. We have independence. It’s just that our exercise of such attributes isn’t on the same level as God’s.

KS: Shouldn’t God have advised us otherwise? I get that we have independence, but then so do young children. The good father will not allow his child to use their independence for harm. That’s why there are curfews, times set aside for doing homework, and punishments for breaking the rules.

WF: Actually, all of these things apply in the relationship to God as well. The guiding hand of protection is there only for the souls who want and accept it, though. The issue comes down to desire. God cannot control your thoughts.

KS: Why not? If He’s God shouldn’t He be able to do anything? Pardon my contentious tone; I do find this puzzling.

[Pizza]WF: No worries. Consider the dinner we went to last week. I wanted to eat pizza. You said you were sick of pizza. You wanted to eat Mexican food. Now if I had more power over you and exerted that power, would it be to my benefit? Essentially, if I could control your thoughts, would I want to?

KS: Well, why not? Then you would get what you wanted all the time.

WF: There would be no joy in association, however. It’d be like going to dinner with a piece of metal, an empty box, or a brick. Where would the fun be in that? In that famous movie, Castaway, the guy is stuck on a deserted island and makes a friend out of a volleyball. He calls it Wilson and has conversations with it. It is both humorous and sad. If he did the same thing under any other circumstance, people would consider him crazy.

[Wilson from Castaway]KS: So my ability to think independently is basically part of what makes me who I am. “I think therefore I am,” as a famous philosopher Descartes once said.

WF: Right. If God controlled our thoughts, we wouldn’t be living entities. We would be like robots. The fact that we can think for ourselves is what makes the devotees so dear to Him. They choose, completely on their own, to be devoted to Him.

KS: And from there comes the protection, like the father looking out for the child?

WF: Exactly. Mind you, the protection isn’t always obvious. It’s not the easiest thing to discern. If I push you away from oncoming traffic on the street, everyone can see my kind act. With God, sometimes it looks like He’s doing harm to us. He’ll take away a friend or family member. He’ll make us poor. It’s not always the same kind of protection; it’s tailored to the individual and their circumstances.

KS: So how do we know that the protection is there? How do we know that God is guiding us?

WF: If you’re thinking about Him more and more, then you know His hand is in your life. Have you heard of Shrimati Radharani?

KS: Is she the goddess who is standing next to Krishna in pictures and in temples?

[Radha and Krishna]WF: Yes, she is considered the perfect energy of God. She has full independence, but she only uses it in devotion. There is no chance for her leaving the devotional consciousness. In their very intimate dealings, Krishna does not always stay by her side. Sometimes He runs away, as He knows this will further increase Radha’s attachment for Him.

KS: So the more we think about God, the better off we are? That makes sense.

WF: And through that constant thinking, at the end of life the grave errata of voluntarily leaving God’s association during some past point in history is finally corrected.

In Closing:

When away from God turned,

Material life spirit soul earned.


As Supreme Father could stop,

But then independence to be not.


If all others my commands to follow,

Then no joy, in loneliness to wallow.


So glorious are they who devotion choose,

Their freedom for pleasing God they use.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Standing Before Kings

[Hanuman with Rama]“In the Shrimad-Bhagavatam it is stated that even the lowest, who are called chandalas (dog-eaters), can be elevated by association with a pure devotee. Therefore devotional service and guidance of a pure devotee are so strong that there is no discrimination between the lower and higher classes of men; anyone can take to it.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 9.32 Purport)

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Social status has been of issue since time immemorial. The typical situation is that one side considers it to be of great importance and the other derides its inherent discriminatory nature. Indeed, many of the great conflicts of the past few centuries have been over the issue of inheritance versus merit when determining who should have access to the different enjoyments in life. With the Supreme Personality of Godhead the issue has long since been settled. Whether you are a pauper, a prince, a street sweeper or the greatest orator known to the land, you always have the opportunity to meet with the king of kings. The lone eligibility requirement is the right consciousness.

Bhagavad-gita, 9.32“O son of Pritha, those who take shelter in Me, though they be of lower birth - women, vaishyas [merchants], as well as shudras [workers] - can approach the supreme destination.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.32)

Consider the following scenarios:

[Rosa Parks on the bus]1. A woman takes her seat on a bus. Ready to be driven to her next destination, she gets startled when someone objects to her action. “Ma’am, could you please move to the back of the bus? This section is for people of a certain race. Your skin color, being darker, requires that you sit towards the rear. Thank you for your compliance.”

[Marie Antoinette hosting Benjamin Franklin]2. A famed foreign diplomat meets with the king in his palace to negotiate a treaty of alliance and friendship between the two nations. In the after-dinner entertainment, the queen retires to a side room to play various games. She is joined for a brief moment by this diplomat. She thinks to herself, “I’ve heard that this man was a printer in his nation. That is a very lowly profession indeed. Certainly he could have only risen the ranks in his nation. In our great country, the person the likes of him would have stayed at the bottom of the social strata. He certainly wouldn’t have been allowed to meet my husband.”

3. A sincere spiritual seeker visits a place of pilgrimage in a famed part of the world. In that area is a shrine established to worship the Almighty in one of His many forms. The pilgrim waits on line with the others to enter and pay his respects. When it comes time to walk in, the guard stops him. “I’m sorry sir, but you are not allowed in. Only members of a certain caste can enter the temple and worship the deity. You will have to wait outside.”

In these instances there is discrimination based on factors that hardly anyone can control. We inherit our skin color from our parents. The only difference it makes to us is in how quickly the rays of the sun will burn us if we are exposed to the sunlight for too long. Other than that, we are the same as everyone else. We feel, will, and do. We think, we eat, and we feel happiness and sadness. Why should our skin color matter? The same goes for our caste, which is nothing more than a hierarchy established by birthright. Our occupation, too, doesn’t necessarily determine our character. One person answers the phones in a company and another negotiates multi-million dollar deals, but then who cares? How are they any different as people? Why should one be allowed to meet an exalted ruler and another not? Are not both persons offered protection by that ruler?

Of the above mentioned scenarios, the denied entry into the temple is likely the most egregious offense. Surely the author of everything in this world would not make distinctions between His many children? The proprietor of the temple may argue that distinctions are needed so that those envious of God will not take the wrong impression from the deity.

“If you don’t know who God is, you will think that the worshiped figure is a plain statue. You will consider the practice to be idol worship and then give a bad name to something so fundamental to the changing of consciousness for the better.”

These may be valid concerns, but how does one determine worthiness simply off appearance? Just by skin color alone can one decipher the level of culture in a person?

[Lord Krishna]In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna says that with respect to achieving success in devotion to Him it does not matter what one’s gender or occupation is. The four basic occupations integral to a well-functioning society are priest, administrator, businessman and laborer. The level of difficulty decreases with each; hence there are many more laborers than there are priests, sort of like how there are many more students studying biology than there are biologists. Because of the level of difficulty attached to the occupation of priest, those in that occupation are generally afforded a higher status in society. People go up to them and seek their blessings. In certain portions of the world, the honor is passed on to future generations, though in fact honor actually ascends instead of descends. If it were to descend, then it would have to divide as well, which means that the honor originally passed on would eventually dwindle to the point of being barely discernible.

For the truth of equal eligibility, Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, provides the philosophical basis in the Bhagavad-gita. He also gives practical evidence with His personal pastimes. During His advent on this earth, some five thousand years ago, many people stood before Him. A poor and lowly brahmana named Sudama once visited Him while He was ruling over the kingdom of Dvaraka. Warriors, businessmen, and even ordinary laborers had the honor of seeing Him and getting His favor.

[Shri Hanuman]In Krishna’s previous appearance on earth, as Lord Ramachandra, even monkeys were able to approach the Lord. The most famous devotee of Lord Rama is Shri Hanuman, who visibly manifests in the body of a monkey. Hanuman’s bodily constitution does not matter. That he lives in the forest with his fellow monkey friends also isn’t important to Rama. The Lord looks for the love in the heart; nothing matters beyond that.

In this sense we can safely say that no one is more liberal than God. He gives the original definition of “liberalism” and also “upward mobility.” Whether one comes from a lot or very little, whether they are a man or a woman, a Rhodes Scholar or a high school dropout, if they have love for God, as it is reawakened through bhakti-yoga, they are eligible for elevation to the topmost planet, where Krishna consciousness is the only consciousness.

In Closing:

Whether you have got a lot,

Or very intelligent you’re not.


Whether having a high birth,

Or living in poverty of dirt.


Supreme destination you can reach,

For eligible is living entity each.


Devotional consciousness all that is needed,

Like in Hanuman, who in pleasing Rama succeeded.