Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Gift of Reason

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

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[Bhagavad-gita, 4.34]The human being is endowed with the gift of reason. Reasoning comes from the intelligence, which is higher in the human species than in any other. This allows us to hold off on that second plate of pasta, for we know that though we think we are not full right now, eating that little bit more will bring discomfort later on. Reasoning tells us to hold off on consuming alcohol and other intoxicants while we are pregnant with child. Though we can’t see it right now, eventually a child will emerge from the womb. This reasoning can only take us so far, however, and in many instances it gives us an excuse to do the wrong thing. The true potential for the human birth is realized only when the reasoning ability is coupled with the bona fide spiritual master, who gives the missing puzzle piece known as realized knowledge.

[Benjamin Franklin]Benjamin Franklin is one of the famous founding fathers of America. You can’t pin him into one category. He was many things. He was a husband, a father, a statesmen, an inventor, a philosopher, a gentlemen, and other things. As a wise man, he was always seeking the truth, and so he applied reason to his decisions. In his autobiography, he explains how he dabbled with vegetarianism at a young age. As if inherently knowing that it was beneficial to him, he makes mention of the benefits the diet brought to him. At the same time, he did not stay a vegetarian, and the excuse he used at the time was that fish ate so many other smaller fish, so why shouldn’t he eat fish as well? Realizing that this wasn’t very sound thinking, he made a joke at himself by pointing out that the human being uses its reasoning ability to find justification for doing whatever the mind likes.

“So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.” (Benjamin Franklin)

Yes, this is indeed the pitfall to reason. The alcoholic justifies their behavior by thinking that they won’t be able to function without their adult beverages on a daily basis. The killer justifies their behavior by keeping in mind whatever injustices were previously done to them. The burglar thinks that the victims of the crime can part with their items, that they can afford to live without them. The thief in government has a similar logic; to win votes they take money from one group of citizens and give it to another. They think that this is okay since they are in government, which makes the laws. “Whatever is legal is alright,” is their mentality.

In the Vedas, the ancient scriptural works of India, we find many debates which are full of cogent philosophical points. The bad guys, the asuras, will often debate with the suras, the good guys. The bad guys try to justify their behavior. They throw out this quote and that to support their position. The good guys have knowledge on their side, but the ways of reasoning are such that anyone can find an excuse to justify their behavior.

[Lord Krishna]The knowledge of the spiritual master is different. It is realized knowledge, and it is supported through the vision of the truth. The self-realized souls have seen the truth and thus they can impart knowledge unto others. This is what Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita. He is ultimately that truth, though He doesn’t appear the same way to everyone. To the wise souls whose vision of the truth has its limit at the impersonal Brahman, Krishna is seen as a light of truth. He is seen as the spiritual spark within every living creature. He is also perceived as the energy to the creation, the vital force that gives life to everything.

Other wise souls see Krishna as the Supersoul within the heart. They attain this vision through deep meditation. This is fixed concentration with strict austerities. Think of a life with no distractions, with no pressing engagements. In the quiet of loneliness, one has full shelter of the Supersoul within the heart, which they contemplate upon at all times.

Krishna the person is the full manifestation of the truth. It is very difficult to see Him, and not because He does not make Himself available. Rather, the distractions of the material existence make the perception very hard. Rare it is to find a soul who has seen Krishna and basked in His sweet vision. Even those who see painted images and carved statues of Him haven’t really seen Him. Without the eyes of devotion, the true vision of Krishna does not clearly manifest.

[Brahma-samhita, 5.38]“I worship Govinda, the primeval Lord, who is Shyamasundara, Krishna Himself with inconceivable innumerable attributes, whom the pure devotees see in their heart of hearts with the eye of devotion tinged with the salve of love.” (Brahma-samhita, 5.38)

[Shyamasundara]Reason becomes wholly beneficial when matched with the realized knowledge of the guru. With the missing piece of the puzzle in devotion to God, one suddenly realizes that their reason can be used for maintaining the most sacred vision, one that gives real life. The first birth is through the womb of the mother, but after that there is little knowledge on how to proceed. As the saying goes, “He who hesitates is lost,” without a firm conviction in the mission of life, all are left to wander aimlessly in vain search for said mission.

The second birth is through the association of the spiritual master. This life is eternal because it is spiritual life. This life is the engagement for the soul, which lasts well beyond this current lifetime. Whether or not I eat that slice of pizza today will not matter in one hundred years, but my chanting of the holy names certainly will. My hearing from the guru on the topics of devotion, which automatically include knowledge and renunciation, will benefit me even a thousand years from now.

[Shrila Prabhupada]The reasonable creature that is the human being who finds the devoted soul who teaches the glories of bhakti-yoga uses their reason in the following manner:

“I know that life in this material realm is temporary. Birth and death flow in a cycle and no one knows for sure where they will end up next. Each day within such an existence is like a birth, and each nightfall a death. We can make plans for ten years out, but we never know really what is going to happen tomorrow. Therefore I will take to devotion today, for that will make me happiest. The soul is pleased when it is serving, and in devotional service the soul has the best person to serve all the time. It is a top-down approach, wherein the inverted tree is watered at the root, leading to nourishment of all the branches and leaves. That root is Krishna Himself, and with my intelligence, which is sharpened by the instructions of the spiritual master, I will find a way to always serve Him. I will find a way to always think of Him, despite all the obstacles I encounter. And whether I go to heaven, hell, or the spiritual world afterwards, I will continue in that service, for that is the best reward to seek.”

In Closing:

Human endowed with reasoning ability,

Thus can find excuse for every proclivity.


Truly not useful made,

Until obeisance to guru paid.


From their realized knowledge coming,

Assertive in life’s path becoming.


Reason then for devotion to use,

The wisest of paths to choose.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Healing The Healthy

[Krishna's lotus feet]“Out of many thousands among men, one may endeavor for perfection, and of those who have achieved perfection, hardly one knows Me in truth.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.3)

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[Bhagavad-gita, 7.3]Do you want to go through life sad and depressed? How about wandering aimlessly in search of that one thing that will give you lasting happiness? Do you ever see others who seem to have no problem getting out of bed, while you struggle to find a purpose to your existence? These are the problems facing the healthy, those who are not stricken by a disease immediately attacking their physical form. The “immediately” qualifier is necessary since everyone is on the verge of death. Kalah, death as it is known in Sanskrit, is thus far undefeated. Whether you have the will to win, whether you’re ready to take it on the chin, or whether you don’t want to be the loser since the winner takes it all, it won’t matter. Death will defeat you.

So the relatively healthy are those who are not on the immediate verge of death due to an illness. Still, they have their problems. They are not always happy. They do not know how best to use the healthy life with which they are blessed. The only answer comes from the Vaishnava saints, who live eternally to serve the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Since they have got the describing spirit, wherein they always increase the praises of the Supreme Lord and His consorts in some way, they have actually got life. And like a fire that can spark other flames, these servants can pass on the same eternal life to anyone, provided they are ready to accept the cure.

You’ve likely heard the pitch from the telethons and radiothons that occur annually in support of a particular health issue. They usually go something like this:

“Thanks to your kind donations over the years, we’ve made a lot of progress in the fight against such and such disease. Only a few short years ago, being diagnosed with this disease meant a death sentence. Now this is not the case. So many people are surviving now. The five and ten year cure rates are much higher. But there is still a lot of work to be done. With your help hopefully one day we can totally wipe out this disease.”

Indeed, such work is rooted in great compassion. Many of the promoters have been affected by the disease themselves. They saw others close to them suffer so much and eventually die. Therefore they tried in some little way to help out. They have compassion for others who are suffering.

Of course there is competition in this area. Man does not die from a single disease alone. There are many diseases, and so there are many causes competing for support from the sympathetic public. Who is to say which disease is more important? If my loved one passed on from a particular illness, I will consider that to be the most important. But then someone else was affected by another disease, so they have a different opinion.

But what about the people who are healthy? What about the people who get cured? What should they do with their life? The common answer is “live it to their heart’s content. Be happy every day. Be thankful for God’s blessings.” Indeed, this is valid, but how does one stay happy? How do they make their heart content? The Vaishnava saint says that the only way is through bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. This is not sentiment. This fact is validated through personal practice and thousands of years of tangible evidence, both within the bhakti realm and outside of it.

Outside the realm we see the evidence of so many people from the past who succeeded materially. They got enough money, enough food, and enough association with the opposite sex. Still, they weren’t happy. So someone struggling so hard to reach a destination that others already know isn’t the summit to an existence isn’t a very wise choice.

[Haridasa Thakura]Within the realm of bhakti we have the saintly characters themselves, who were always blissful in devotion. Their transcendental radiance spread throughout, like a bright light to dissipate the darkness of night. They showed their devotion in acts of kindness, in the compassionate treatment of other living entities, and in the sharing of eternal wisdom from sacred texts like the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam.

Everyone needs something to do. The healthy person has more time on their hands, with no disease to worry over immediately. Therefore they need more things to do. The urgency is greater to find a lifetime engagement. Devotional service provides that. It allows one to praise someone else all the time. The features of the adored object are inexhaustible and inestimable in greatness. This is a blessing for the worshiper rather than a curse. It means that at any time and at any place one can glorify God. They can record their glorifications to keep progress and to also pass on valuable information to others. And to fill the air with a good aura, they can always chant the holy names, which is the elixir for the distressed mind looking for meaning to a healthy life: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

[Radha and Krishna]There is no loss in taking to devotion. One might fear that by following bhakti-yoga other causes will get ignored, but actually the percentage of the population that will take up devotion in earnest is very small. There is no shortage of scientists looking for cures, and comparatively speaking the number of people soliciting for help in curing diseases is very large. To the larger point, the cure offered by the Vaishnava saint is much more valuable, and it is applicable to both the healthy and the sick. Death will arrive for all, and the consciousness at that most important moment determines the type of life one will find next. The cure of bhakti gives a life of devotion in the subsequent birth, which means more and more bliss in serving the Almighty. No other cure gives such a benediction.

In Closing:

Unfortunate are the sick,

When this disease to lick?


Society members asked to give pause,

And in generosity to support the cause.


But what then for the healthy?

For problems not solved even when wealthy.


The Vaishnava giving the cure for all,

Happiness when holy names to call.


Solution for finding life’s real meaning,

Eternally with devotional light beaming.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Era of Misconceptions

[Lord Krishna]“O scion of Bharata [Arjuna], O conqueror of the foe, all living entities are born into delusion, overcome by the dualities of desire and hate.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.27)

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[Bhagavad-gita, 7.27]In the Bhagavad-gita it is said that the living entities in this world are born into delusion. Dualities arise from desire and hate, which then lead to bewilderment. This makes sense if we think about it. If we have a strong desire for something, we are likely to ignore key facts that might help further our intelligence. Then there is the famous phrase, “blinded by hate,” where someone can’t see clearly due to their intense dislike for someone else. In all cases, the purifying agent is the Supreme Lord Himself, who passes on that potency to the association of His devoted servants, who are known as the Vaishnavas.

It is not uncommon to think wrongly about so many people. Take this occurrence for example. You’re in a post office waiting to send out a letter. The person in front of you at the counter starts yelling and screaming. They demand to see a manager. They are being very rude to the clerk. After a short exchange, things seem to settle down. The impression you’re left with is that the person is mean. But in fact a few minutes later he approaches you outside. “Excuse me, sir, but this fell out of your pocket.” He hands you a twenty dollar bill. So in fact that person is not completely mean. Perhaps the clerk said something inappropriate to him first. Perhaps he is struggling with a tough day and suddenly lost his cool. After all, you are known for losing your temper from time to time.

[Money on the ground]In another occurrence, you think that just because someone is from a particular race, they are automatically prejudiced towards members of your race. You think they are a bigot, when in fact you are the one prejudging them. This latter truth doesn’t occur to you, since you have your mind made up. But when a person from that race is nice to you later on, when they show no hints of racism whatsoever, your previous assessment becomes invalid.

In another instance you see someone meditating and think that they are a pseudo-spiritualist. “They probably don’t know anything. That’s why they’re sitting there doing nothing. They probably think that God is this formless energy, that we are all God. They are probably chanting the sacred syllable of om over and over again, thinking that it will bring them to enlightenment. They are likely an impersonalist.” Then, when you happen to run into them later on, they speak only of the glories of the personal form of God. Their meditation is their preferred means of worship of Him.

[Bharata worshiping Rama's sandals]Delusion gives rise to misconceptions. Since the bewilderment comes from desire and hate, the obvious cure is to get rid of these things. But in fact, there is no way to stop desire. And that which gets in the way of that which we desire automatically becomes disliked. So how do we break free from the delusion? The trick given by the advanced spiritual teachers is the association of the Supreme Lord, in His personal form. The more one stays attached to Him, the more their intelligence sharpens. That is, the more one has a desire to be with the personal form of God, the more they eschew ordinary desire and hate.

The most advanced spiritualist in this regard is known as a paramahamsa. They extract the essence that is the Supreme Spirit from any and all situations. Instead of seeing someone as a racist, they see them as a potential victim of the false identification that is concomitant with birth in a material body. Instead of seeing someone as mean, they see them acting out on their frustrations, which are bound to occur in a land where no one always gets what they want. Instead of seeing someone as an impersonalist right away, they know that the preferred method of worship is only external, and that it is the consciousness which determines whether one is properly associating with God or not.

[Lord Krishna]Most importantly, the paramahamsa does not see anyone as separate from God. They understand that everyone is spirit, and that spirit is part and parcel of the Supreme Lord. The storehouse of the spiritual energy is known as Krishna, and He is a distinct personality. The paramahamsa sees Krishna within everyone as well, since the Lord resides within every heart in His nonvisible manifestation known as the Supersoul. In this way the paramahamsa is ready to offer respect to everyone and does not expect it in return.

To be a paramahamsa is to always be thinking of God and to also always be seeing Him. To help in the process, to help foster the original desire of Krishna consciousness, there is the trusted method of chanting the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Attachment to the name itself is enough to bring about the proper desire. In this desire there is no bewilderment, and the previous delusion soon gives rise to enlightenment, which provides the clearest vision for navigating the otherwise turbulent waters of the material ocean.

In Closing:

Swayed by constant desire and hate,

Leaves mind in bewildered state.


Despite studying others for long,

To be left with impression wrong.


Instead with Shri Krishna stay,

And gradually find enlightenment’s way.


Presence of Divine in all beings see,

When chanting holy names with offenses free.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The One About Worshiping Someone Else

[Krishna's lotus feet]“In any case, everyone should worship the Supreme Personality of Godhead, for He will fulfill everyone's desire. The advantage of worshiping the Supreme Person is that even if one has desires for material enjoyment, if he worships Krishna he will gradually become a pure devotee and have no more material hankering.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.21.15 Purport)

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Shivani was getting along in age. Though not a senior citizen by any stretch, and still treated as the adorable child by her parents, she reached a point where her friends were already married, with most of them having kids. She wondered when her day would come. “I need to focus on this now,” she thought to herself. Previously, school and career took priority. Personal life was neglected.

[Lord Shiva]While growing up, she had heard that to get a good husband a girl should worship Lord Shiva, one of the three principal deities in charge of the material creation. Shivani, though having a beautiful name that means the wife of Shiva, did not know much about Mahadeva or the process of worshiping him. Through asking around, she got the basic understanding. She set aside a particular day and followed the specific rituals. She made a prayer of her own at the end:

“Please, great god, grant me a good husband. I desire to start a family, with wonderful children to surround me. I know how tough it is out there to find the perfect match. Even when people do, they have a difficult time staying together. Please match me up with someone who is ideal for me, who will stay with me until the end. I will be very grateful to you if you can make this happen.”

Well, things worked out for Shivani. She got married to a husband who seemed pretty good. The next major issue in her life was finding a house to live in. After an extensive search and a few near-matches, she and her husband found the house of their dreams. Upon moving in they held a prayer ritual, where they worshiped Lord Ganesha, who is one of Shiva’s sons. He is particularly known for removing obstacles from the path of the devoted souls. So she again did the ritual and mentally offered her own prayer at the end:

“Please, Lord Ganesha, the king of elephants, the devoted son of Shiva and Parvati, remove the obstacles from our path. Married life is difficult, and I especially want my future children to be safe and sound in this home. Make sure everything goes okay, because I’ve heard of the nightmares of owning a home. Thank you.”

[Ganesha]Everything turned out fine in the home, but a few years went by and there were no children yet. Then Shivani, who was again in anxiety, held a formal worship for goddess Parvati, the wife of Lord Shiva. In a very disturbed mood, she offered her prayer and eventually nice children came her way.

Many years later Shivani reflected on her previous experiences in religious life. She was starting to notice that her desires were not going away. She always thought the worship she was performing was the final one. Sort of like the child who begs their parents for a toy, “Mom and Dad, I won’t ask for anything ever again. Please.” But then after a short while, they want another toy. And so Shivani felt unsatisfied in her religious life.

She brought up these issues one day to her good friend Padma. Padma was known to worship Lord Krishna, whom Shivani considered another Hindu god. Shivani also wondered why no one had previously advised her to worship Krishna. They had ample opportunity to suggest so, but they never did.

[Lord Krishna]“That’s because your desires were all material,” said Padma.

“What do you mean? What other desires can there be?” asked Shivani.

“Material means the temporary. Like a good husband, a safe home, lots of wealth - these things don’t last. They don’t stay around forever and certainly don’t provide lasting happiness.”

“So people who worship Krishna, what do they ask for?”


“What do you mean?”

“Well, as you probably know, in Hinduism, which is actually just the Vedic tradition or sanatana-dharma, there are many gods. The term “deva” refers to god. It isn’t like a buffet restaurant where you just pick and choose what you like and you get satisfied in eating. There are specific things each deva can offer, and so depending on what you want, you pick which deva to worship.”

“Yeah, I guess that’s sort of what I did.”

“And so despite there being many gods, there is a supreme god still. He is known as Vishnu, Krishna, Rama, Narasimha, or by so many other names. He has different forms, but He is the same person. And He is always above the other gods. There are many ways to see that He is supreme and one of them is in the rewards of worship. If you worship Him, eventually your material desires go away. That’s because the true benefit of worshiping Krishna is getting Krishna. He is beyond the material realm. He lives forever, and so His devotees live in service to Him forever.”

“So if I worshiped Krishna instead all this time, my mindset would have changed?”

“For sure. I’ll let you in on a little secret. Those figures you worshiped previously actually worship Krishna themselves. They are wonderful devotees, and the glories of their service know no end. If you had worshiped them in that vein, asking them to help you in devotion, the result would have been different as well.”

“So does everyone know this? Why isn’t everyone worshiping Krishna or Vishnu?”

[Lord Krishna]“They don’t want to be with Him, that’s why. They want money, wealth, fame, beauty, prestige, etc. Inherently they understand that Krishna might not give them these things, that He looks out for the wellbeing of the devotee first. Whatever the case, you can take to worshiping Him at any time and see for yourself what happens. The best way to worship Him is to recite His names, like those found in the maha-mantra.”

“Oh, that Hare Rama, Hare Krishna thing?”

“Yes. Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”

In Closing:

As they grant rewards I know,

To other devas first I’ll go.


That desires to vanish I presumed,

But instead by more my mind consumed.


Worship of Krishna for His association,

Eternally blissful in His glorification.


Even if mind with many desires still filled,

Chant His names with discipline instilled.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Deity Is Expression

[Flower offered to Krishna]“We are offering obeisances to the Deity and at least trying to become His devotees. And we are worshiping the Lord with fruits, flowers, incense, and so on. None of this is difficult. Anyone can collect a flower, a fruit, or a little water and offer it to Krishna.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Quest for Enlightenment, 2d)

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Perhaps you’ve heard that deity worship is strictly prohibited in many popular religious traditions around the world. You can do any other kind of worship, including of the material variety through philanthropic ventures, but the one thing you cannot do is prostrate before a physical manifestation of the Supreme Lord which depicts His transcendental features in all their glory. But applying a little logic, the restriction does not make sense, for this form of worship is merely another means of expression. And to express love, gratitude and honor in an artful way means to reach the pinnacle of an existence.

[Spring]It’s a fresh Spring day. The weather is neither too warm nor too cold. This past winter was particularly brutal. While in previous years the high temperatures dipped below freezing only in January, this year it seemed to be that way all throughout the winter months. You thought Spring would never come. But it finally did, and on this day you decide to take a walk through the city streets.

The air is crisp, but the sun’s shining rays negate the cool breezes. You walk past the various shops, one by one. Then something catches your eye and you suddenly halt. This store has an interesting display. It’s a bakery, and they’ve laid out cookies and cakes in the most decorative fashion. You decide to go inside and peruse a little further. After studying the artistry, you understand that through baking the shop owner has found their own means of expression. “This is her way to speak to the world,” you think to yourself. “Some people express through music, others through poetry, and some through painting. Though she is running a bakery, this is just as much an artistic display as what we see in an art gallery. Her emotions are thoroughly expressed in this variety of food. There is no end to the wonders of the mind.”

[artistic cupcakes]In bhakti-yoga the idea is to express the love that rests deep within the heart. It’s so lodged in there that we don’t really understand it. We know that we have to love, but we can’t realize on our own to whom that love should be directed. Therefore we find random objects of interest. We get hooked to the television soap opera. We follow the saga of a relationship between two celebrities. If we don’t have a significant other, we bring a dog home to care for. And through the random objects of affection, we find ways to express our love.

But in fact that love is meant for the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Our love for Him is what makes us love in the first place. The pure love is known as bhakti, and when it gets muddied in the conditioned living entity it turns into kama, which is lust. The difference between the two is that kama doesn’t last. We say that we love pizza, but we likely couldn’t eat it every day. We say that we love someone else, but if that were eternal there would be no such thing as infidelity or divorce.

[pizza]Bhakti is forever. This is because the recipient of the affection remains manifest forever. We change our form constantly. To us there is no such thing as a fixed form. I am different right now than I was five seconds ago. I just can’t notice the difference until I see pictures of myself taken between larger gaps of time.

The Supreme Lord’s body and soul are one, and so He never changes. This is another reason that the process of deity worship is authorized. In His original form, God is a beautiful and charming youth who holds a flute in His hands, wears a peacock feather in His hair, and sports an enchanting smile. The Sanskrit word to describe this form is Krishna, which means all-attractive. That name befits the form, which never changes.

[Lord Krishna]For sure we could worship this form in the mind. We could keep it at the forefront of our consciousness and offer kind thoughts to it. Simply thinking of it is enough to constitute proper worship, for thinking is a sacrifice of some sort. We could be thinking of so many other things, but if we’re thinking about God we’re not thinking about those other things.

Yet in the mind the mode of expression is limited. With the deity, the options increase. One can use their artistic ability to craft the most stunning dresses, which can be put on the deity daily. Just as the stereotypical woman is known for having a closet full of many pairs of shoes, so the Supreme Lord in His deity form can be known for wearing so many different dresses, all provided by the devotee wishing to express their love.

The same cooking ability can be used in worship of the deity, with the endless variety of dishes in the mode of goodness offered in a timely fashion for the Lord to eat. He eats with His eyes and returns the offering to the worshipers with a special bonus: a spiritual infusion. The person who wishes to express their love through music can sit in front of the deity and chant the names of Krishna in endless ways. Using the main ingredient of the maha-mantra, Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, the singer can come up with different melodies, put to the call-and-response format. This allows others who are too shy or not yet willing to fully express themselves to at least get a chance at worshiping by repeating the holy names, as they are presented by the leader of the singing.

[Radha Vrindavanachandra]Just by looking at the deity, the intelligent person can compose beautiful poetry and string together cogent words of praise and philosophy in support of the Supreme Lord, who has all good features. With this endless variety, we see that the deity is expression itself. And to deny such worship through blanket sentimentalism or misbeliefs due to narrow-mindedness is to suppress the natural love that one feels towards God. Therefore the Vaishnava saints strongly recommend expression of bhakti to the souls looking for the true meaning to life, and deity worship nicely provides a wonderful outlet for such expression.

In Closing:

Worship all creatures, large and small,

But never in front of deity humbly fall.


Logically invalid is this restriction,

Suppresses innate loving expression.


Your love for God through deity show,

And become more conscious of Him so.


That form to the eyes most wonderful gift,

Into transcendental life forever to lift.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Honor Ascends

[Lord Krishna]“According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me. And, although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.13)

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[Bhagavad-gita, 4.13]Perhaps you’ve heard of the caste system that India is infamous for. You know, the thing where you’re born into a specific class and remain stuck there for the duration of life. If you emerge from the womb of a mother who is married to someone in the highest caste, then you’re set. There is even the lowest class, called the untouchable, and no one dares go near them. While indeed such discrimination is practiced not only in India but elsewhere around the world throughout the course of human history, the original system of division, which is scientifically based, makes total sense. And through applying a little intellect, the system of automatically inheriting honor becomes nonsensical.

[Bhagavad-gita]Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the author of everything good and wonderful in this world, first put forth the system of four classes of men and their accompanying four stages of life at the beginning of the creation. He spoke of this system again to a distressed warrior known as Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra some five thousand years ago in a conversation today widely known as the Bhagavad-gita, or the Song of God.

Krishna lays out four social orders: brahmana, kshatriya, vaishya and shudra. The classes go in ascending order of priority. The brahmanas are the first class. They are the wisest. They know Brahman, or the eternal spiritual force that pervades all of space. They know that every living entity is Brahman; thus they know that distinctions based on outward appearance alone are foolish. They know that the aim of life is to be spiritually conscious, especially at the time of death, the point at which the next body type is determined.

The kshatriya class brings with it a hint of discrimination. The warrior must decide who is an enemy and who is a friend. They must be passionate enough to act in favor of an outcome known as victory. This is for the benefit of others. They must give abundantly in charity to those worthy of it, namely the brahmanas, who ideally do not work for a living. The kshatriyas must be courageous and they must not shirk their responsibilities. The vaishyas and the shudras have even more discrimination, as the vaishyas seek material gain through business ventures and the shudras look for sense satisfaction through service to the other three classes.

When Krishna describes these four orders, known as varnas, He does not say that they are determined by birth. In fact, He does not say this anywhere. The exact words He uses are guna and karma, which translate to “quality” and “work.” The quality is what determines the initial order and then the subsequent work maintains that order. I may be born with a character full of courage and strength, but if I don’t act in the proper way to defend others, I am not a kshatriya. I may try to act in such a way that shows that I am spiritually realized, but if I don’t have the qualities to avoid discrimination then I am not a brahmana.

As the living entity is born into the darkness of ignorance, it is not surprising that the dominant tendency in history has been to pass honor along to future generations. If someone is a famous brahmana, all of their descendants then become known as brahmanas, honorable men due to their family ancestry. This practice is not exclusive to the area today known as India. In colonial America the same issue was discussed with respect to the practice of the monarchies in Europe, which passed down honor automatically to future generations. A wise printer in America named Benjamin Franklin strongly disagreed with this practice. In supporting his arguments, he cited the Chinese, who were known to pass honor upwards, towards the parents.

“For honor, worthily obtained is in its nature a personal thing, and incommunicable to any but those who had some share in obtaining it. Thus among the Chinese, the most ancient, and from long experience the wisest of nations, honor does not descend, but ascends. If a man from his learning, his wisdom, or his valor, is promoted by the Emperor to the rank of Mandarin, his parents are immediately entitled to all the same ceremonies of respect from the people, that are established as due to the Mandarin himself; on the supposition that it must have been owing to the education, instruction, and good example afforded him by his parents, that he was rendered capable of serving the public.” (Benjamin Franklin)

[Benjamin Franklin]And actually, this argument is both logically valid and confirmed by shastra, the scriptural works that describe both the Supreme Lord and His teachings. It is said that if one becomes a first class-devotee, always worshiping God and thus surpassing even the material designations of the four orders, they rescue many previous generations of family members. This truth was relayed to a young child named Prahlada one time.

[Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.10.18]“The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: My dear Prahlada, O most pure, O great saintly person, your father has been purified, along with twenty-one forefathers in your family. Because you were born in this family, the entire dynasty has been purified.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.10.18)

Prahlada was born in a family of demons known as Daityas. His father was in the kshatriya order; he was a king who ruled the world with a strong and feared hand. Thus under the hereditary model, Prahlada should have been taken to be a bad fellow, for if honor is to descend then so must dishonor. But in fact Prahlada had all the godly qualities; he was naturally attracted to devotional service from birth. Devotional service, which also goes by such terms as bhakti-yoga and bhagavata-dharma, transcends the four social divisions of society and the accompanying four spiritual stages. Devotional service is available even to the helpless child, who can prove God’s existence by remaining steadfast in devotion through some of the most difficult circumstances.

[Narasimhadeva blessing Prahlada]So Prahlada earned honor all by himself. His father did not give it to him. None of his teachers in school did, either. He remained conscious of Krishna even when others tried to get him to act otherwise. They tried to force that devotion out of him by killing him. But that force did not work. The honor in Prahlada was so strong that eventually Krishna Himself came to remove the obstacles from the boy’s way. Prahlada earned such a high stature that God was ready to give him anything. The boy asked for pardon for his sinful father, and Narasimhadeva, the fierce and unique form of Krishna who appeared to save the day, informed Prahlada that not only was his father getting liberation but so were many previous generations in his family. This confirms the fact that honor ascends, and so one who takes to devotion with full faith and sincerity does the best service for those who came before them.

In Closing:

Of caste system likely you’ve heard,

Disappointment in you it stirred.


But real system from Krishna learn,

How from work and quality each order earned.


Also honor only ascending known to go,

Worthy those who played a hand in it so.


Prahlada for himself not wanting boons any,

Supreme Lord liberating his ancestors many.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The One With The Random Objects of Attention

[Krishna's lotus feet]“Every living entity has the propensity to love someone. We can see that if someone has no object of love, he generally directs his love to a pet animal like a cat or a dog. Thus the eternal propensity for love in all living entities is always searching for a place to reside.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Lord Kapila, Vs 38 Purport)

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The philosophy of the Bhagavad-gita is that one should love God. To love is to live. Indeed, love maintains life. The affectionate mother nature provides the necessities for life to continue. The protection of the birth mother enables the otherwise helpless child to cope in the difficult early years. The strong, guiding hand of the father keeps the less intelligent child from going astray.

[Mother Yashoda with Krishna]The spiritual guide offers affection that allows the eternal life of devotion to flourish. This spiritual guide is a direct representative of the Supreme Lord. Therefore the affection of the guru is actually the affection of God Himself. The worthy disciple reciprocates by offering their own affection to God. It is this love that sustains them going forward. In no matter what situation they find themselves, they can maintain that love through chanting the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

Johnny had been practicing bhakti-yoga under the guidance of one of the Lord’s representatives for many years. It dawned on him one day that previously both he and his wife would often give attention to random objects and subjects. To Johnny, this proved that the individual is naturally inclined to love. They want to care about something. He explained this concept to his wife one day by relaying a story from their past.

Many years ago, I came home one day and found you sitting here very dejected. You might not remember exactly which day this was, as who among us isn’t sad from time to time? Perhaps you found me to be quite surly on occasion when I arrived home. You remember how horrible a boss I had back in the early years of our marriage. The movie “Horrible Bosses” would have to wait many years to manifest, but it was like their story was taken from my life. That’s how bad things were at work sometimes.

Anyway, I came home this day and found you to be quite upset. You were sitting at the dining room table going through the mail from the day and you didn’t seem yourself. I asked you what was up.

“You don’t even want to know,” you said.

“It’s okay, dear. Maybe if you talk about it you’ll feel better.”

“Okay, but you have to promise not to laugh.”

“Alright, I promise.”

“Well, Billy and Alison broke up. I can’t tell you how awful that makes me feel.”

“Do we know a Billy and an Alison?”

“From Melrose Place, silly.”

[Melrose Place]Yes, yes, silly me, how could I have forgotten? That was the popular nighttime soap opera of the time. I even watched some episodes with you. Billy and Alison certainly were very endearing. As a compassionate soul, I held my tongue, but when you told me my first instinct was to laugh. “You are getting upset at a television drama,” is what I wanted to ask. Instead, I tried changing the subject.

Then, another time I found you to be upset again. This time it was over the death of a famous celebrity, I can’t remember exactly who. Likely noticing from my Melrose Place reaction that I wasn’t too interested in this kind of thing, I heard you lamenting over the phone with someone. You two were discussing how sad it was that this person died so young. You watched their funeral on television, and you couldn’t stop thinking about the event.

Then, another time I found you glued to the television set watching the finale of some reality show. You were so invested in the outcome. You wanted your favorite person to win and you wanted the people you didn’t like to get voted off. A few days later you totally forgot about what happened, but at the time you were really into it.

During some of these moments, I even saw you crying. But in fact, none of these connections were real. The emotion towards the soap opera was the strangest of all. That show was known to be fictional. So the idea of investing such emotion in a random object was to do just that: invest emotion. The same thing occurred with me so many different times. As the days went by, we simply shifted our attention towards other things. This meant that the connections weren’t real. The emotions surely were, but we could quickly shift them elsewhere.

As he concluded reminiscing in this way with his wife, Johnny remarked how love of Krishna, or God, was real.

[Lord Krishna]“Now we know what the real thing is, don’t we,” he shared with his wife. “We are all looking to love someone, so why not make it the Supreme Lord? There is much to love. He has an all-attractive transcendental form. He plays the most wonderful music with His flute. He is beautifully decorated by His mother, Yashoda. The friends in Vrindavana give Him so much pleasure.”

“And if we want to worry,” he continued, “we can be concerned with how so many others are missing out on the true boon of life that is devotional service. We can worry over how they will take to so many other things before they give bhakti a serious chance. We know that they want to love someone or something. We know that they want to be invested in outcomes. If only that investment were in the Supreme Lord and devotion to Him. Then there would be lasting satisfaction, a true purpose to life. Therefore we will continue worrying in such a way, until the whole world is filled with jubilant voices melodiously singing the glories of the Lord of Gokula.”

In Closing:

To love someone is a must,

In this fact from experience trust.


From this and that moving swift,

Now from temporary attention lift.


Towards all-attractive Lord go,

So much about Him to praise and know.


If to worry, then over saving’s endeavor,

On how others to find devotion forever.