Saturday, August 23, 2014

Protecting Yourself First

[Rama holding His arrow]“That chastiser of the foe is a protector of His good conduct and of His people. He is also a protector of all living entities and of righteousness.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 31.7)

rakṣitā svasya vṛttasya sva janasya api rakṣitā |
rakṣitā jīva lokasya dharmasya ca paran tapaḥ ||

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You are on board an airplane. You’re ready to go on your vacation that you’ve thought about constantly for the past few weeks. A lot of people are on this trip, so you were primarily worried about getting everyone together at the right time, meeting everyone’s interests. Now that you’re on board, you can relax. The safety message of the flight attendants is music to your ears. You’ve heard this message many times in the past, and so you usually just tune it out. But this time you decide to pay attention.

“In the event of a drop in cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the compartments above. If travelling with small children, please secure your mask first before assisting your child.”

[Oxygen mask diagram]You ask yourself a question.

“Why do they need to tell people this? It must be because the instinct is to assist the child first. They are helpless, after all.”

Indeed, this is the way of the world. There is the saying from the famous Poor Richard’s Almanac that an empty sack cannot stand up straight. You want someone to be good and fit, but if they don’t have anything to their name, how will they meet the objective? You want someone to be peaceful and productive, but if they have no job and no source of income, how will they be expected to do anything worthwhile?

But then what if it takes you too much time to secure your own mask? Will not time run out? Will not your dependents be left to suffer? Indeed, it is seen in life that it is difficult to have it all. The wife wants to be a career woman and a loving mother at the same time. Usually something must give. The politician seeking the highest office in the land must sacrifice time with their friends and family in order to get ahead. The family man must turn down the higher paying job since it will mean more travel and less quality time spent at home.

[Abraham Lincoln]So facing these difficult choices is understandable. To ere is human, which means that the living entity cannot be perfect. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, you can satisfy some of the people some of the time, but you cannot satisfy all of the people all of the time. This applies to everyone except the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is described in the quote above from the Ramayana. This description is not mere exaggeration from an acolyte eager to impress their object of worship. The description is completely accurate, making its various components astounding.

Here Shri Hanuman says that Lord Rama is a protector of His good conduct. Hanuman is describing Rama to Rama’s wife Sita Devi. In accurately describing Rama’s qualities, Sita will know that Hanuman is on her side, that he is not one of the evil ogres that presently surround her in the Ashoka grove in Lanka. Above all else, Sita knows that Rama is a good person. He has no sin in Him. Whatever He does is good. Though He doesn’t need to, Rama protects His good conduct. He is always mindful of doing the right thing.

[Rama]That doesn’t stop Him from protecting His people, though. So Rama maintains His own good conduct while making sure to keep His people safe. He does not neglect others for the sake of Himself. He is the prince of Ayodhya, so He has many people who look to Him for protection. Rama is the chastiser of the enemy, parantapa. This Sanskrit term is a nice way to praise a warrior for their ability to defeat the opposing parties. In His form of Krishna the same Rama uses that word often in addressing Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita.

[Bhagavad-gita, 2.3]“O son of Pritha, do not yield to this degrading impotence. It does not become you. Give up such petty weakness of heart and arise, O chastiser of the enemy.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.3)

Rama doesn’t limit His scope. He is the Supreme Lord, though appearing in an apparently human form on earth during the second time period of creation. He takes care of Himself, His people, and also all living entities. We know this is true just based on the workings of nature. Through His external energy, Rama gives food and water to the living entities. He gives them rain, which is used to produce grains. From grains alone man can survive. He doesn’t need to resort to violence. Man can lead a full and healthy life from consuming just milk and grains.

The dangers of life arise more frequently when proper direction is lacking. Therefore Rama is the protector of dharma as well. Dharma is religiosity or virtue. Through virtue man can know what exactly to do after their life is protected. If you are cured of a deadly disease, you feel a tremendous sense of relief, but you still need something to do afterwards. If you take to drinking and excessive eating, you will surely find another disease again. To avoid disease, both of the physical and the mental, dharma exists. It gives the cure to birth and death for the spirit soul, which is always tied to the Supreme Lord in some way.

[Lord Rama]Rama protects all of these things and still maintains His greatness. He comes to earth as the warrior prince of Ayodhya, the eldest son of King Dasharatha, and remains simultaneously in the Vaikuntha planets in His opulent form of Vishnu. While creating and destroying universes as Vishnu, He simultaneously remains in joyous play in the holy land of Vrindavana as Shri Krishna. Thus the Supreme Lord can do everything, and one who takes shelter of Him realizes this very quickly.

In Closing:

Though guarding conduct His own,

Rama not to leave people all alone.


To keep watchful eye on creatures all,

On dharma too, from virtue not to fall.


Though appearing and protecting in so many ways,

At same time in Vaikuntha and Vrindavana He stays.


Only the Supreme Lord this can do,

Follow bhakti and realize it too.

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Clear Conception of God

[Lord Rama]“The eldest son to that king was named Rama. He was very dear, had a face resembling the moon, was a knower of distinctions, and was the best among all wielders of the bow.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 31.6)

tasya putraḥ priyo jyeṣṭhaḥ tārā adhipa nibha ānanaḥ |
rāmo nāma viśeṣajñaḥ śreṣṭhaḥ sarva dhanuṣmatām ||

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Through mental speculation, personal effort, meditation, or logical deduction alone one cannot get a clear conception of God. This is due both to the limitations in the individual living entity and the extraordinary qualities belonging to the Supreme Lord. His features are beyond our comprehension. We can only know them slightly from an authority source, who describes everything in just the right amount of detail. This authorized description also safeguards against the dangerous acceptance of an imposter incarnation.

[theater]An imposter is someone posing to be someone else. All actors on a stage are imposter-like, since in real life they have their own identities. They are purposefully portraying someone else for the sake of artistic expression, which hopefully entertains an audience as well. There is the imposter in the form of an identity thief, who looks to steal from an innocent person without suffering any consequences. There is the imposter who poses as someone else in order to gain entry into a restricted area.

None of these imposters is as dangerous as the person posing to be God. This should be the most difficult trick to pull off. We can accept that a fraudulent person might be who they say they are based on a social security number. That isn’t very easy to decipher. The actor can give such a great performance on stage that we actually believe them to be the person they are portraying. That is the intention going in anyway, so if we are inclined towards a particular behavior, it is not out of the realm of possibility for that behavior to occur.

God is everything. In the Vedanta-sutra, it is said that He is the source of everything. All that we see around us has its origin in Him. Though He is ultimately the father of everything, He is not in everything. The tree in the park emerges from the potency of the Divine Master, but the tree is not the Lord Himself. The same goes for the particle of dust and the massive sun in the sky.

[Bhagavad-gita, 9.4]“By Me, in My unmanifested form, this entire universe is pervaded. All beings are in Me, but I am not in them.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.4)

The living entity is part of the universe of objects that emanates from the Absolute Truth. This means that none of us can be God. We can be one with Him through the proper consciousness. In that oneness we still maintain a separate identity, but we regain our original position, that of servant. In oneness we assume our proper role, completing the beautiful picture of a Supreme Lord being worshiped by those who love Him purely.

[Worship of Radha and Krishna]The imposter will proclaim that they are God. They have no evidence for this. They can’t explain to you why they have come and why they will leave. They cannot tell you why they needed to meditate in order to become God. They cannot explain the paradox of becoming God after having not been Him for so much time. Instead, through some cheap illusion and an exhibition of meditation they will try to trick others into thinking they are the Absolute Truth.

Shri Hanuman, a soul who is always one with God, here provides an opportunity for identifying God in the proper way. In this instance he is describing the Absolute Truth in His incarnation of Shri Ramachandra. Now, any parent can pick any name for their child. If my son born tomorrow gets named Shri Ramachandra, does that mean that the child is God? In fact, many imposters in the past have claimed to be Ramachandra, and so to eliminate the possibility of confusion we can consult Hanuman’s words.

[Shri Rama]Ramachandra, who is also known as Rama, is the son of Dasharatha. Again, anyone can be named Dasharatha, so Hanuman prior to this explained that Dasharatha was the king of Ayodhya, appearing in the Ikshvaku dynasty. Dasharatha’s extraordinary qualities in strength, bravery and kindness were also revealed.

Here the description turns to Rama’s qualities. Hanuman says that Rama is very dear and has a face resembling the moon. These two qualities are very difficult to find simultaneously in one person. A face resembling a moon is not an ordinary thing. Rama was very dear to everyone in Ayodhya, and especially to the father Dasharatha. Rama is a knower of distinctions. When young children learn the alphabet and words, they are often shown pictures of animals to help in their identifications. These are distinctions; one animal is different from another. To know of all distinctions makes one an expert. Rama, who is the source of everything in His original spiritual form of Krishna, knows the identical spiritual quality that all living entities share. At the same time, He is expert in the behavioral patterns and traits of the different species.

[Rama with bow]As Rama, God carries a bow and arrow set. During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, there are many wielders of the bow. Rama is known as the best of them. He is expert in the distinct discipline of archery, which is supported through the chanting of Vedic mantras. This is merely the beginning to the description of Rama. These words tell of some of His qualities, but there are activities as well. Rama also has many other names.

To know the bona fide incarnation, one should be able to get such information from an authority source. Someone on a level of Hanuman should be able to tell you the incarnation’s earthly mother and father, their qualities, and what their activities are. An incarnation cannot be made up after the fact. Rama is always Rama. He was the Lord of the Ikshvaku dynasty prior to His appearance on earth, and He remains so even today, many thousands of years after His appearance. Thanks to the wonderful Hanuman, we get a clear conception of God, which makes it easier to take up the lifelong ambition of the distressed condition soul: devotional service.

In Closing:

Anyone claim of divinity can make,

How truth from lies to take?


From Shri Hanuman see,

The qualities in God that be.


Easy to give one Rama the name,

But not any to have qualities the same.


Knowing both distinctions and sameness,

Having moonlike face and character blameless.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


[Rama holding His bow]“The eldest son to that king was named Rama. He was very dear, had a face resembling the moon, was a knower of distinctions, and was the best among all wielders of the bow.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 31.6)

tasya putraḥ priyo jyeṣṭhaḥ tārā adhipa nibha ānanaḥ |
rāmo nāma viśeṣajñaḥ śreṣṭhaḥ sarva dhanuṣmatām ||

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Shri Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead in His famous avatara form of a warrior prince who roamed this earth during the second time period of creation, is often described to be the knower of the self. These are the words used many times by Shri Hanuman, who knows Rama very well. To know the self is a good qualification, for such knowledge is not easy to come by. Rather, everyone first knows what is not the self, i.e. maya. This maya is synonymous with illusion, and so it is natural for the Supreme Lord to not be affected by illusion. In this verse from the Ramayana Rama is also described to be the knower of distinctions, visheshajna. If we think about it, this also makes sense.

[hands]I know my hands. I know what they look like. I know my legs, my hair, my ears, and my eyes as well. I am with these things every day. I never knew of a time when I did not have them. In the darkness of ignorance, I think that these things identify me, when they really don’t. In the Bhagavad-gita, these body parts are compared to a covering, something which is assumed at one point and then discarded later on.

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

Unfortunately, I think that the body types on other species identify them as well. Even still, I am not very familiar with all of them. I can’t identify every single species right away. If I grow up in a closed environment, where I only see people of a certain ethnicity, I am also prone to mistakenly thinking that others of a different ethnicity are inherently different. This is the product of illusion.

To know the self, or atma, is not easy. It is the first instruction for those seeking self-realization. It would make sense that if you want to realize the self you would have to know what the self is. This is the real goal of yoga. The concocted systems of today, where the practitioners sit in a one hundred degree room and sweat out the pain, do not touch on this. But in fact yoga is for no other purpose than to know the self. Through contorting the body in certain ways and meditating one has a better chance of eliminating the influence of the external body, which covers up the soul that is pure.

[Lord Rama]Rama knows the self because He is the Supreme Self. There are two souls within each body. One is an individual and one is God. God is different from an individual in this regard because He is not restricted access to anywhere. Moreover, He is everywhere, as the same person. The Supreme Self inside of me is the same Supreme Self inside of you; they are not two different people, though you and I are. Thus Rama knows everything. He sees everything; He is the all-pervading witness.

Here Hanuman continues to describe Him. Previously he referenced Rama’s father, King Dasharatha of Ayodhya. Of course God does not have a father, but due to His causeless mercy when He appears on earth He gives exalted individuals the chance to act in that role. Indeed, we think that we are the father to our children, but those souls lived elsewhere before. We only get the chance to guide them in a particular human birth. With the proper guidance, wherein God consciousness is imbibed, both we and the children derive a supreme benefit.

[Shrimad Bhagavatam, 5.5.18]“No one should become a spiritual master - nor a relative, father, mother, worshipable Deity or husband - if he cannot help a person escape the imminent path of death.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 5.5.18)

A knower of the self views a dog, a cow, an elephant, and a dog-eater equally. This is because they see the spirit soul inside of each. Such a person may not know exactly how to treat all other living entities, though. This is a special skill only available to God. He knows both the spiritual and the material. The distinct qualities are part of the material; they are known as gunas. So He knows the spirit soul inside of everyone and He also knows what every quality covering that soul means.

[Rama with bow]In this context, the description of visheshajna, which also means “expert,” applies to Rama’s ability to handle the bow. Hanuman says that Rama is the best of those who carry the bow, which is a weapon of ancient times that packed more potency than any of today’s advanced weapons. With a single arrow shot from His famous bow, Rama could destroy the world, if He so desired.

His knowledge of distinct qualities was used on many occasions, especially to defend innocent sages in the forest from night-rangers. These creatures resorted to trickery when necessary. They could change their shapes at will and also disappear from sight. How are you supposed to fight against something you can’t see? But Rama knows all the distinct qualities surrounding the soul, so He cannot be fooled by such illusion.

Know that He sees all right now as well. He continues to witness all actions in this realm, whether we notice Him or not. This means that the kind words offered here by Shri Hanuman towards Sita Devi, Rama’s wife, were witnessed by Rama. He also takes note of the person sympathetic to Hanuman. He notices their appreciation of that brave warrior’s devotion. Most importantly, Rama takes note of any pure utterance of the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. He rewards the person accordingly, with His eternal association in a personal form, full of transcendental qualities to be noticed and appreciated.

In Closing:

At birth into illusion to go,

So difficult for the self to know.


Qualities in creatures also shown,

But not all to one person known.


Shri Rama the exception lone,

Knowledge of spirit and matter to own.


Witnesses all, including acts of today,

Rewards those who purely His name say.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Not a Figurehead

[Hanuman's hands]“He had all the characteristics of a king, was the best among kings, and very prosperous. He was well-known throughout the four ends of the earth. He was always happy and gave happiness to others.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 31.5)

pārthiva vyañjanaiḥ yuktaḥ pṛthu śrīḥ pārthiva ṛṣabhaḥ |
pṛthivyām catuḥ antayām viśrutaḥ sukhadaḥ sukhī ||

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With the onset of democratic systems of government, slowly the monarchies of the past faded out. Still having an affection for royalty and those born into it, the titles remained in place. There are kings and queens, princes and princesses. The only difference is that their titles don’t mean anything in most cases. They are figureheads. They don’t actually run the government. Indeed, even in ancient times the qualifications weren’t always present in the appointed ruler, for the system of birthright anointed the personalities in question with their statuses. With the king of Ayodhya a long time ago, however, there was no questioning his fitness for the job. He was born a ruler and also bore all the characteristics of one.

There are three modes of material nature: goodness, passion and ignorance. Think of them like different colors on a palette; the primary ones in fact. You can mix these colors together in so many different proportions. Hence you get the various species. Within the human species, which is considered the most intelligent, the mixtures lead to different varnas, or occupations. Varna as a Sanskrit word can also mean “color.” The kshatriya varna is not determined solely by birth. The members have a specific set of qualities, which are laid out in the Bhagavad-gita.

[Bhagavad-gita, 18.43]“Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity, and leadership are the qualities of work for the kshatriyas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.43)

[Dasharatha]The kshatriyas are heroic. King Dasharatha, of whom Shri Hanuman is speaking in the above quoted verse from the Ramayana, was certainly heroic. He was not afraid to take on the tough fight. It’s so difficult to get out of bed in the morning if we know that we have a tough day ahead of us. It’s so much easier to just sleep in and postpone our troubles. Imagine then the burden the military leader feels. If they don’t step up to the job, innocent people will die.

Kshatriyas are also powerful and determined. Dasharatha again matched these qualifications. He was powerful enough to fight against enemies coming from ten directions simultaneously. He was determined not to fail. He was also resourceful, since that is required for fighting in multiple directions at the same time. I don’t have to be so resourceful if I’m only fixed on one task at a time. If I have to multitask, I have to figure out a way to maximize my effort while at the same time accomplishing all that is assigned to me.

Dasharatha was courageous in battle. It is heroic to enter the conflict that has an uncertain outcome. It is courageous to continue to fight against heavy obstacles. And best of all, Dasharatha was a terrific leader. A leader should have the aforementioned qualities, for then he can protect his citizens. Dasharatha was the ideal king in every way.

Hanuman says that Dasharatha was the best among kings and that he was very prosperous. So the King of Ayodhya met all the qualifications for a kshatriya, and in each category he was the top performer. When we take standardized exams, sometimes there are different sections. There is a math section, a writing one, and a reading comprehension one. The top scorers don’t necessarily finish at the top in each category. As Dasharatha was the best among kings, his courage, heroism, resourcefulness, and the like were all in the highest percentiles.

The king had the ability to lead, and he was not a pauper. You can be courageous and resourceful, but if you don’t have the means to defend yourself, how will you prevail against enemies? Dasharatha was blessed by the goddess of fortune with sufficient means for running the kingdom. He was also famous throughout the four ends of the earth. The ten directions are north, south, east, west, up and down, and then the four corners. So in every way that you turned, you would find people who knew Dasharatha.

The king was also happy and gave happiness to others. If you are a miserable person, your misery will spread to others. If you are happy, it is easy to share your joy with others. And who doesn’t like to share happiness? Dasharatha’s happiness came from his steadfast devotion to righteousness. He kept in line with dharma because that is what his position called for. And from following dharma, all happiness in life comes.

[Shri Rama]And that happiness would multiply many times with the appearance of Shri Rama in his family. To the best of kings came the Supreme Lord in a personal manifestation. To the king who gave happiness to others came the joy of getting to serve God in the mood of parental affection. To the king who was known throughout the four ends of the earth arrived the Supreme Lord, whose glories are continuously sung in every universe. To that best of kings, Shri Hanuman paid the highest honor in describing his wonderful qualities. Hanuman’s words were in audible range of the goddess of fortune herself, Sita Devi, Shri Rama’s wife.

In Closing:

King of all good qualities to conceive,

Not just by birth was he fit to lead.


Courage when called to defend,

Simultaneously against directions ten.


Virtues of that king the best,

By Hanuman wonderfully expressed.


Shri Rama to that king came,

Only to increase further his fame.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Bhakti Tradition

[Maharaja Dasharatha]“He had affection for nonviolence, was not vulgar, and was always kind and truly valorous. He was the principal of the Ikshvaku dynasty, and he both possessed fortune and increased it for others.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 31.4)

ahiṃsā ratiḥ akṣudro ghṛṇī satya parākramaḥ |
mukhyaḥ ca ikṣvāku vaṃśasya lakṣmīvāml lakṣmi vardhanaḥ ||

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In the sixteenth century especially, devotional literature based on the worshipable figures of the ancient Sanskrit texts of India really flourished. Known later as “the bhakti movement,” this time featured wonderful poetry and song composed by humble, wise, renounced, and always in bliss saintly personalities. These works had a notable distinction from their predecessors. Gone were the lengthy discussions on what is truth and what is not. No more were material rewards, even for neophytes, considered worthy of mention. Instead, it was straight devotion. Extol the virtues of the Supreme Personality of Godhead in a way that pleases your mind, all the while keeping respect for the timeless truths.

This wasn’t mental speculation, but to the outside observer it could seem like it.

“Bhakti is not so much prominent in the ancient Sanskrit texts. Those are more esoteric. They don’t speak so much of the various personalities being God themselves. Rather, there is emphasis on dharma, or virtue. Therefore the bhakti movement seems to be sentimentally based. It must be a modern concoction.”

While this logic may seem appealing, from studying just one verse from the Ramayana we see the truth. The difference is in style alone, as bhakti is prominent in both eras.

[Valmiki writing Ramayana]The Ramayana is an ancient Sanskrit work. It is the life and pastimes of Shri Ramachandra, as told by the hermit Valmiki. He was a saintly man who lived in the renounced order, taking up residence in the forest amidst humble surroundings. He had nothing else to worry over day and night except his devotion to God. He penned the Ramayana to please himself and to also give pleasure to all the other devoted saintly men and women of the world.

As Sanskrit is a language very difficult to understand, Valmiki’s Ramayana was not accessible to all, even more so with the passage of time. During the period of the bhakti movement, another saintly man decided to compose his own poem about Rama’s life. This was in no way meant to compete with Valmiki. This work explained the same truths but in the language better known to the author, and in a manner that showed his own understanding of the true nature of the Supreme Lord. The work was so much appreciated that today it is often mistaken for the Ramayana itself. It is read by men and women alike, understood by even the less intelligent. In this way the glories of God were brought to the masses in a time when adherence to religious principles was gradually declining.

[Goswami Tulsidas]From the scholarly point of view, the original Ramayana doesn’t touch on devotion so much. Rama is declared to be God, but it is not emphatically repeated over and over. But in delving into the matter further, we see that the Ramayana is indeed replete with devotion. In this verse Shri Hanuman gives the highest praise for another human being. Here he is describing King Dasharatha, the father of Lord Rama. Hanuman says that Dasharatha had affection for nonviolence. He says that the king was not vulgar, either. That king was always kind and valorous, two qualities which seem to contradict.

The king had wealth of his own and helped others to increase their own wealth. This means that he did not steal from others. He did not plunder the wealth of the earth. Rather he protected property rights and governed with real fairness. These qualities made him the ideal candidate to play the role of father to the Supreme Lord, who is actually aja, or unborn. By praising the father in this way, Hanuman sets the table for speaking of the glories of Shri Rama. These words are directed at Rama’s wife, Sita Devi.

[Shri Hanuman]In other places in the Ramayana, Sita takes to glorifying both Dasharatha and Rama. And then Rama’s younger brother, Lakshmana, makes similar comments. Bharata, another of Rama’s brothers, also gives the highest praise for Rama. The female ascetic Shabari has her life’s mission fulfilled when she makes an offering to Rama that is accepted. Many others are liberated from past curses due to a moment’s contact with Rama.

Indeed, in other ancient Vedic texts like the Bhagavad-gita, the principal characters take to praising God. Arjuna says the nicest things about Lord Krishna, who is the original form of the Supreme Lord, the source of all incarnations. Krishna and Rama are the same. Arjuna’s words are completely accurate, and they are found in a text that is part of a larger work known as the Mahabharata. The Mahabharata is not considered a work of bhakti, or devotion, but in fact the devotional spirit is found within that work. And that devotion trumps all other styles of religion. Arjuna is advised to abandon all other kinds of dharma in favor of that devotion.

[Bhagavad-gita, 18.66]“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.66)

And so we see that the bhakti tradition is not a new one. In the Sanskrit works of ancient times the bhakti flowed through the dialogue and actions of the characters. In more recent times, the authors themselves add in their comments of praise. They strip out some of the lesser important details that the busy public in the hectic times of the Kali Yuga doesn’t have the attention span for. They go for the essence right away, for that alone can lift one’s spirits out of misery and into the boundless joy that life is meant to offer.

In Closing:

Not much in ancient books read,

So bhakti a modern invention instead?


From Hanuman see that case is not,

In words of praise full devotion he’s got.


In dialogue and in actions to act out,

Same in new works, more words without.


As time itself the bhakti tradition is old,

Like Hanuman, gift more valuable than gold.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Write My Biography

[Dasharatha]“He had affection for nonviolence, was not vulgar, and was always kind and truly valorous. He was the principal of the Ikshvaku dynasty, and he both possessed fortune and increased it for others.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 31.4)

ahiṃsā ratiḥ akṣudro ghṛṇī satya parākramaḥ |
mukhyaḥ ca ikṣvāku vaṃśasya lakṣmīvāml lakṣmi vardhanaḥ ||

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Here’s the assignment. You need someone to write your biography. Obviously you must think very highly of yourself to believe that a written account of your life is warranted. Perhaps your opinion is well grounded in reality and perhaps others have encouraged the project. You would write it yourself, but you think that your skills lie elsewhere. You are a special person, for sure, but in writing, especially about yourself, you’re lacking.

So you set about looking for a biographer. What kind of person will you choose? Well, you might look for someone who has done something like this before. Someone who has written biographies previously would have an understanding of what it takes to gather all the disjointed pieces of information and make a compelling narrative. They would know how to find different people relating to your life, interviewing each of them, deciphering the truths from the myths. They would also know the right questions to ask.

[Steve Jobs biography]In the search for such a biographer, the skill in writing is also important. Do you want someone who blathers on and on about points that are not important? Do you want someone who doesn’t know how to reach down to the essence of a topic? As Shakespeare said, brevity is the soul of wit. The less words you can use to convey a thought or idea, the more powerful the message will be. For your biography, you want someone who can properly tell others about you in the shortest amount of words possible.

Know that even if all requirements are met in this situation, the biographer will still fall short of Shri Hanuman. In this verse from the Ramayana, he continues to display his unmatched ability in describing those who are of the highest character. It is one thing to write my life’s story. I, as well as the majority of the population, am deeply flawed. What I think are strong points really aren’t in the grand scheme. Even if I’ve led a nation to victory in a war, likely I haven’t saved my citizens from the perils of birth and death, the samsara-chakra. It is described with this Sanskrit term because repeated birth and death is like being stuck in an ocean of misery. It’s like spinning around on a wheel and having no one there to stop it.

[Shri Hanuman]Hanuman here describes someone of the best qualities. So that automatically makes the job tougher. Also, Hanuman did not personally interview this person. He merely heard about him from others. And still no one is better at writing about this person than Hanuman. Indeed, who can write so well about any other person? And Hanuman does this on the fly. Here he is speaking from the heart. These are not words prepared beforehand. They are not the final manuscript tweaked and punched up from a starting draft.

Hanuman says that this person had affection for nonviolence. That is interesting considering that the person was a king. He had to use violence when necessary. The key is to not have an affection for it. Otherwise, the mighty power invested in a ruler gets abused. Abuse of power is grounds for dismissal in any position of authority. The abuse leads to negative consequences, and so we see that the king mentioned here took his position very seriously. He only resorted to violence when necessary, such as when defending against enemy attack.

This king was not vulgar. How you speak says a lot about you to others. If you are constantly vulgar in your words, others will think that you are not high class. Even if in mind you are pure, since you don’t use decent words, others will know that you lack common sense. A non-vulgar person can also better persuade others to adopt their point of view.

This king was always kind and valorous. Kindness is so nice to have from a person in authority. Kindness does not always mean a pat on the back. It means that there is a genuine desire to see the dependent succeed. Kindness offered to my child may be in the form of a punishment for having skipped school. It may be in the form of hiring a tutor to help them with the subject they are having trouble with. For a king kindness sometimes means punishing those who deserve it. To be always valorous means that there is no fear. A man in charge has the potential to meet so many problems. They can’t sit down and wallow in their misery. They have to be tough enough to rise to the occasion and deal with the situations that come to them.

This king was the principal of the Ikshvaku dynasty. That dynasty traced all the way back to the beginning of the creation. To be the principal of it means that the king, named Dasharatha, was quite special. He also had fortune and increased it for others. Not that he simply confiscated all the land of the wealthy upon assuming office. Not that his fortune came at the expense of others. He had fortune through being righteously situated. He helped others to increase their fortune by keeping them safe. The government exists to protect life and property. If these two are protected, those desiring to increase their fortune can do it through lawful means.

[Maharaja Dasharatha]And to this king Dasharatha appeared the Supreme Personality of Godhead in His incarnation of Lord Rama. Hanuman is an expert biographer of Rama’s as well, though he is too humble to write an official work. Instead, his several extemporaneous speeches are recorded in Valmiki’s biography of Rama known as the Ramayana. Hanuman’s words cover the great father of Rama as well, and in this way we see that no one is better at describing the life and deeds of great men than Hanuman.

In Closing:

For light of my wisdom in future to shine,

Seek to find writer for biography of mine.


Even if best qualities, sharpness in mind,

Better than Shri Hanuman hard to find.


Virtues of King Dasharatha extolled,

Principal of dynasty, of compassion untold.


To that king the Supreme Lord Rama came,

Who better their natures than Hanuman to explain?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Vyasa Puja 2014

[Vyasadeva]“Shri Vyasadeva is the original spiritual preceptor for all men. And all other preceptors are considered to be his representatives. A representative is one who can exactly present the viewpoint of Shri Vyasadeva. Shri Vyasadeva impregnated the message of Bhagavatam unto Shrila Shukadeva Gosvami, and Shri Suta Gosvami heard it from him (Shri Shukadeva Gosvami).” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.1.5 Purport)

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Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa, the island-born one with a dark complexion, is very important in the Vaishnava tradition. One might say that there would be no tradition were it not for him. The sacred Bhagavad-gita exists in written form because of his memory and the writing ability of Shri Ganesha. The original Veda was difficult to understand, so Vyasa divided it into four. This earned him the name Vedavyasa. After writing so many Puranas, or books on ancient history, he still wasn’t satisfied. So through the inspiration of his spiritual master, Narada Muni, he composed the ripened fruit of Vedic literature, the Shrimad Bhagavatam. Being a spiritual master himself, he started a line of tradition that continues to this day. On the occasion of Vyasa Puja we honor both the disciple of Narada Muni and the present person in that line who opened our eyes from the darkness of ignorance.

[Vyasadeva]To spiritual life our eyes are always closed. Without even bringing up religion, we know that we turn a blind eye to the harshest reality of life: death. This is probably a good thing most of the time. Who wants to be crippled by fear of an event whose time of arrival is unknown? If we were always consciously aware that everything we do in this life doesn’t really matter since we die anyway, we likely wouldn’t do anything.

Birth and death are events of the spiritual nature. An animating spark enters within a tiny body at the time of birth. At death, the same spark departs for somewhere else. In the meantime so many attachments form. Since others go through the same cycle, the attachments are to the temporary. When the temporary becomes more important than the permanent, it is fair to say that the eyes are figuratively closed. They don’t see the spirit inside of others. They don’t see impending death.

The spiritual master begins to open our eyes. He tells us things that we’ve never heard before. Coming in the line from Vyasadeva, he is very familiar with the work dictated by him, the Bhagavad-gita. As an opening salvo to get our attention, the speaker in that work says right at the beginning that to lament for the body is not wise. Whether living or dead, the spirit soul is the same. When living it is in front of us and when dead it has gone somewhere else. But exist the soul must. It can never die.

[Bhagavad-gita, 2.20]“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.20)

Bhagavad-gita As It IsPrior to contact with the spiritual master, no one told us this. We were told the opposite in fact: to make the most out of the temporary body, for everything ends at death. That is why there is so much sadness at another’s passing. Since in fact the soul does not die, what is there to lament? The opportunity for enjoyment and despair will come again for sure.

The spiritual master has the cure for birth and death and subsequent birth. If we’re having an issue with a new piece of technology, we can do some research on the internet to figure out what’s going on. Likely others have had the same issue. If they were kind enough to post the solution to an online forum or something similar, we get a tremendous benefit.

The guru has found the cure to the problem of birth and death. More importantly, they know what to do in between those two events. They have figured out that death is inevitable through their own experiences. The solution they get from their own spiritual guide, with the chain linking back to Vyasadeva. This solution they tried out for themselves and saw wonderful results. The solution worked so well that they no longer feared death as a result. They were confident of the truths they learned since they lived them in practice.

[Shrila Prabhupada]His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada says that some way or another we should be Krishna conscious. Krishna is a name for God that means “all-attractive.” Consciousness of Him stops birth and death. More importantly, it makes the journey through life as enjoyable as it can be. It is the lone enjoyment that transcends bodies. It continues into the next lifetime and beyond.

Prabhupada says that the best way to be conscious of Krishna is to chant His name. The best way to chant and hear His name is to recite the maha-mantra on a regular basis: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Knowing the importance of the Shrimad Bhagavatam, Prabhupada translates and comments upon that great work in English, to then be translated into so many other languages.

He has found the cure to birth and death. He has found the best way to live: bhakti-yoga. Rather than wait for others to find him and get the solution, he’s created a way for that life-saving information to spread throughout the world. For this work he can never be thanked enough. Vyasa Puja is one day for honoring the guru who transcends time, Bhaktivedanta Swami. But every day the same honor is paid through following his instructions. To be Krishna conscious pleases him, and it solves the issue of life’s direction.

In Closing:

Supreme wisdom to me gave,

From darkness of ignorance to save.


Originally from Vyasadeva coming,

So name of Vyasa Puja becoming.


The spiritual master to celebrate,

On life’s path no longer to hesitate.


Following bhakti-yoga for him to please,

Transitioning to next life with ease.