Saturday, January 24, 2015

Feeling Good

[Lord Krishna]“While Krishna was going to the fruit vendor very hastily, most of the grains He was holding fell. Nonetheless, the fruit vendor filled Krishna's hands with fruits, and her fruit basket was immediately filled with jewels and gold.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.11.11)

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phala-vikrayiṇī tasya


phalair apūrayad ratnaiḥ

phala-bhāṇḍam apūri ca


Bhakti-yoga feels good. The experience is not what you would normally associate with religion. It is not about fearing the wrath of an almighty figure situated behind the veil of the ever-changing skies. It is not about wondering whether or not someone of whose existence you’re not entirely sure will deliver on the prayers you’ve directed His way. It is not about adhering to rules and regulations to the letter while not knowing the purpose behind everything.

Why is bhakti-yoga different? Why does it feel good? We can describe it in scientific terms. There is the soul, which is known as the atma. It lies underneath the covering known as maya. That body we see in the mirror - that’s not really us. We move our hands and the hands in the image move. We wink and the image winks. Thus we think that the various aspects of the image represent us, but they don’t really.

Those various aspects can change. They can go away completely as well. Our body is totally different today than it was when we emerged from the womb. Yet we are the same person. That means that there is an underlying force that remains constant. It cannot be the body; it must be something else.

That constant force is described as the atma in Sanskrit. In English we call it the soul. The texts of the Vedic tradition, the original scriptures of the world, the oldest works in history, say that this soul is sach-chid-ananda. It is eternal, knowledgeable and blissful. Seems strange considering that we’re not that way. We know that we must die. We know that we took birth, which started the timeline of our life. We know that we had to be taught everything. Our street knowledge came from experience, also.

How is the description accurate, then? It is so because it refers to the soul. Our temporary body is not any of these things, but the soul most certainly is. It travels to the next destination at the time of death. At the time of birth it arrived from its previous location. The soul is the constant, and through the covering of maya we forget this. All that greatness belonging to the soul gets covered up in the land of birth and death.

The way the soul derives bliss is through service. This service is its dharma, or defining characteristic. As service is its dharma, it cannot be removed from the soul. If your fire is missing heat and light, you don’t have fire. If your water is missing wetness, you don’t have water. Similarly, if the soul does not derive bliss from service, the soul is not there.

Bhakti-yoga feels good because it is the service for the soul. We can take practical examples from our own lives to see how this is true. Imagine that your best friend is getting married. They’ve made you the best man at the wedding. This brings many responsibilities, including giving a speech at the wedding reception.

[wedding toast]You’re nervous about this. You don’t know what to say. Should you be funny? Should you try to make people cry? Should you quote famous poets and writers? At the last minute, you decide to wing it. You’re going to speak from the heart. Despite being so nervous, you get through it. Afterwards, you feel amazing. Not that you’re so proud of your speaking ability. Not that you’re overly pleased about the positive reaction you got. You just feel so good from having praised your friend and his wife. Throughout the night, you continue saying nice things. You go up to the newlyweds and tell them how special they are.

Bhakti-yoga is like this but without end. It is praise offered every single day. It is good work done for someone who always appreciates it. It brings the most happiness to the soul, and so it can become an eternal occupation. It extends beyond this lifetime. It does not require much, either. We can look to the example of the fruit vendor. She lived in Vrindavana many thousands of years ago. This small farm community relied on cow protection for its maintenance. The fruit came from vendors who went door to door.

One day this vendor arrived at the home of Nanda Maharaja. Nanda’s son Krishna rushed to the vendor with some grains to be used in purchasing fruit. Unfortunately, most of the grains fell to the ground in transit, so Krishna hardly had anything to give. The vendor, fully immersed in bhakti-yoga, filled Krishna’s hands with fruit anyway. She was not attached to her possessions. She was ready to keep offering things to Krishna.

[Krishna with fruit vendor]The poets of the bhakti tradition daily offer words of praise to the same son of Nanda. The spiritual masters of this tradition help others to know about Krishna so that they too can take up bhakti-yoga. Krishna is the name for God that means “all-attractive.” The individual soul can thus praise someone who has unlimited goodness. The same nice things we say about others can be said about Krishna. Even one who doesn’t know Him so well right now can praise Him for having transformed the contents of the fruit vendor’s basket into valuable jewels. From a single offering made with love and devotion, the Supreme Lord was pleased.

In Closing:

Bhakti-yoga is different you see,

Most pleasure to the soul could be.


From service happiness the most,

Like from making wedding’s toast.


Krishna the one to always appreciate,

So devotees with Him associate.


An occupation not requiring much,

Like vendor’s fruit His heart to touch.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Only Fruits

[Krishna holding fruits]“While Krishna was going to the fruit vendor very hastily, most of the grains He was holding fell. Nonetheless, the fruit vendor filled Krishna's hands with fruits, and her fruit basket was immediately filled with jewels and gold.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.11.11)

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phala-vikrayiṇī tasya


phalair apūrayad ratnaiḥ

phala-bhāṇḍam apūri ca


Question: Is it really possible that God can be satisfied through an offering of fruit? Isn’t that a little too basic? Wouldn’t He want much more? Wouldn’t He want to see more creativity? Wouldn’t He expect more from us?

One of the popular types of television shows in recent years is the talent competition judged by an all-star panel. The contestants sing, dance, or display some other talent and then get judged on the spot. Taking that input, the viewers at home then vote on whom they like. The contestants with the most votes move on to the next round. The process continues until there is a winner.

[The Voice]Obviously the goal is to please the audience. Whoever can entertain them the best will get rewarded. Thus creativity is important as well. I can have tremendous talent in cooking, but if all I make are plain pancakes every day, it’s likely that I won’t be known for my expert cooking ability. The true range of my work won’t be on display.

If devotion to God were to be viewed in the light of a talent competition, where the Supreme Lord is the only judge, then it would seem that more talent would be required than in any other competition. After all, He has seen it all. He can see past, present and future. He already knows what we are going to do. He knows what we are capable of. He knows that man can test the limitations that are mostly self-imposed. Therefore it would make sense that God would expect the most from us.

patraṁ puṣpaṁ phalaṁ toyaṁ
yo me bhaktyā prayacchati
tad ahaṁ bhakty-upahṛtam
aśnāmi prayatātmanaḥ

“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.26)

In spite of this perceived expectation, all He directly asks of us is a simple offering of fruit or water. We can bring Him a leaf or a flower too. This doesn’t require much effort. The fruit falls on its own. If you have a coconut tree in your backyard, you just wait until the right time and then reap the harvest. You’re not even killing in this regard. If you take that fruit that has fallen and offer it to God, He will be so pleased with you.

[prasadam]This is a good choice because God is the person most worth pleasing. He can bestow any reward. If we pay our cable company, we get internet and television service. If we pay the grocer, we get food to eat. This offering of fruit or water may seem like a payment to God, but in fact it is not. For the business-style transaction, there are other divine authorities to approach. They operate on a first-come, first-serve basis. If they get proper worship, they have to give out the desired reward, which is material.

The key with the Supreme Lord is that the offering must be made with love and devotion. Love here means that there is no expectation of reciprocation. That is hard to do since we know that God has so much. We know that He can give us anything. The benefit to making the offering in the right way is that we may not get what we want.

How is this a benefit? Let’s say that our doctor tells us to lay off of sweets for a while to improve our health. If we ask someone very nicely to give us some sweets and they follow suit, is that good for us? They may think they are being kind, but in fact they could be killing us. In the same way, material opulence, mystic perfection and the removal of distresses through renunciation may not always be what we need. As benefactors go, only the Supreme Lord looks out for our welfare.

His being pleased by a simple offering of fruit is not a myth. The example of the fruit vendor gives us proof. One time a woman came to the home of Nanda Maharaja in Vrindavana. This is the area where Shri Krishna resides eternally. Krishna is the name for God that means “all-attractive.” The name represents a personality, as someone cannot be attractive if they are not an individual. That individual has a transcendental home that does not require external lighting. It is self-illuminating, and one who goes there never has to return to the land of birth and death.

na tad bhāsayate sūryo
na śaśāṅko na pāvakaḥ
yad gatvā na nivartante
tad dhāma paramaṁ mama

“That abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by electricity. One who reaches it never returns to this material world.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 15.6)

[the spiritual and material worlds]There is a replica Vrindavana in our world. This is Krishna’s home when He descends from time to time. The fruit vendor lady had made previous trips to Nanda’s home. Shri Krishna played the role of Nanda’s son, and for this visit He ran out excitedly to greet the vendor. The method of payment was grains. Krishna saw His parents pay the vendor before, so He went and got some grains first. Since Krishna was young at the time, He couldn’t hold all of the grains in His hands. Most of them fell out by the time He reached the vendor.

What happened next might surprise you. The vendor filled Krishna’s hands with fruit. This was an offering made with love and devotion. The proper payment wasn’t there, but the vendor didn’t care. She did not want anything from Krishna, for what can a small child give? He didn’t even give the typical amount in grains. Krishna was so pleased that He transformed the contents of the vendor’s basket into jewels.

Does this mean that Krishna will give us valuable items if we offer something to Him? He most certainly will, but the thing of value will be priceless. He will give us continued devotion, which is the only reward worth seeking in an existence. The intelligent human being can go for this reward through following the regulative principles of bhakti-yoga. Through hearing the story of the fruit vendor in Vrindavana, through remembering it daily, and through always chanting the holy names the son of Nanda Maharaja will never be far from us.

In Closing:

Though proper payment not there,

The fruit vendor not to care.


A tiny offering of grains still,

So with fruit Krishna’s hands to fill.


From that simple gesture made,

Reward of jewels in basket paid.


Nothing too simple in bhakti you should know,

With pure heart towards Nanda’s son go.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Talking About After Seeing God

[Krishna with the fruit vendor]“While Krishna was going to the fruit vendor very hastily, most of the grains He was holding fell. Nonetheless, the fruit vendor filled Krishna's hands with fruits, and her fruit basket was immediately filled with jewels and gold.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.11.11)

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phala-vikrayiṇī tasya


phalair apūrayad ratnaiḥ

phala-bhāṇḍam apūri ca


Friend1: Have you visited any of these places famous for saints?

Friend2: What do you mean? Why are they famous and which saints?

Friend1: You know, like a place where some guy thousands of years ago got the vision of God. He travelled far up a hill and then meditated for a long time after reaching the top.

[Parasnath]Friend2: Oh, I know what you’re talking about now.

Friend1: And then someone else did something similar. Perhaps they sat under a tree and meditated. Another person opened a small temple where they worshiped throughout the day. Someone else found enlightenment in a different area.

Friend2: Yeah, there are lots of places like that.

Friend1: To me it would be interesting to visit them. You know, to get some inspiration, the hope that maybe one day we’ll see God as well.

Friend2: These places have historical significance for sure. The seeing God thing, I’m not so sure about that.

Friend1: What do you mean? You think it was bogus.

Friend2: Not that, but if you think about it, is seeing God that big a deal?

Friend1: Of course. I would think it doesn’t happen every day.

Friend2: That’s true.

Friend1: And I would think He doesn’t look like anyone else. After seeing Him, you would not mistake Him for anyone ordinary.

Friend2: Yeah. It would be pretty cool, for sure.

Friend1: But you still take issue? You think it’s not that important?

Friend2: I’m saying the focus should be more on what these people did after they had the divine vision.

Friend1: I’m assuming they continued to do what they are famous for today.

Friend2: Right. So what are they famous for? Did seeing God change anything? It seems to me more like a personal achievement, like climbing Mount Everest.

Friend1: Is there supposed to be anything beyond that?

Friend2: Listen, I have respect for anyone attempting to go down the path of spiritual life. It indicates some real intelligence, the willingness to see that there is more to life than earning money and filling your belly. So I’m not trying to criticize here. The thing is, I take Shri Hanuman’s authority over anyone else’s. I feel confident in that. I’m not losing out on this.

[Hanuman carrying Rama and Lakshmana]Friend1: Hanuman is different here, I’m assuming?

Friend2: Well, you know that he met God, right?

Friend1: Yeah, when he saw Rama and Lakshmana in the Kishkindha forest.

Friend2: Right. So first off, he didn’t have to travel very far. He jumped down from Mount Rishyamukha, where Sugriva and the other Vanaras were staying. Secondly, he didn’t stop working after he met Rama.

Friend1: He did all those other things that he’s now known for.

Friend2: He sacrificed everything for Rama. He worked for God without motivation and without interruption. The divine vision was only the beginning. From his example, I know that it’s what you do afterwards that counts. Seeing God is great, don’t get me wrong. But what are you going to do after that? How does it change your life?

Friend1: I see.

Friend2: Another example is the fruit vendor in Vrindavana. She likely saw Krishna every day. Krishna is the same Rama. Depending on which tradition you follow, Krishna is either the Supreme Lord in His original form or an avatara. An avatara is someone who descends, which means that Krishna and Rama do not have material forms. They are not formless beings in the beginning who suddenly accept a material form.

Friend1: Right. Doesn’t Krishna say in the Bhagavad-gita that only the foolish think He has accepted His form that stands before Arjuna?

Friend2: Exactly. [Bg 9.11] So the fruit vendor got the vision of God on a regular basis. The important thing is how she behaved afterwards. We know from one interaction that she had pure love for God. She filled His hands with fruits even though He hardly gave her anything in exchange. Krishna had dropped most of the grains in His hands on the way to meeting the fruit vendor. She did not care. She was ready to give everything to Krishna to see a smile on His face.

Friend1: That’s pretty nice. I love hearing about that.

[Krishna holding fruits]Friend2: Yeah, so to me things like that have more significance than visiting a place where someone supposedly had the divine vision. Hanuman sees God every day; he always keeps Sita and Rama in his heart. He chants their names all the time and speaks about them to anyone who wants to hear. The fruit vendor got the vision of a smiling Krishna and then was rewarded with a basket full of jewels. That reward did not change her outlook; if anything it increased her devotion. So based on these two examples I know that what you do after seeing God is more important. You can hear Him as well, and so after connecting with Him through sound if you still chant His names all the time, it means that your life has changed for the better.

In Closing:

If the divine vision you attain,

Not all there is to gain.


Sure to become worthy of fame,

But better if in service to make your name.


Like with Shri Hanuman you know,

For Rama anywhere will go.


The vendor to Krishna fruit giving,

Not content only with vision living.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Talking About How Renunciation Is Difficult

[Krishna holding fruits]“While Krishna was going to the fruit vendor very hastily, most of the grains He was holding fell. Nonetheless, the fruit vendor filled Krishna's hands with fruits, and her fruit basket was immediately filled with jewels and gold.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.11.11)

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phala-vikrayiṇī tasya


phalair apūrayad ratnaiḥ

phala-bhāṇḍam apūri ca

Friend1: I got a question for you.

Friend2: Shoot.

Friend1: I know that renunciation is good. I know that I shouldn’t covet so many things. But how do I stop my desires?

Friend2: Are you asking about how to stop wanting things that aren’t good for you or are you asking how to stop wanting things at all?

Friend1: Hmmm, let me think about that. Maybe the first.

Friend2: Oh okay, because desirelessness is not possible. If you don’t desire something, it means that you aren’t alive.

Friend1: I see. So that makes my question even more important. If to be alive means to desire things, how do you control the desires? How do you keep your wants focused on things that are good for you?

Friend2: It is very difficult. You’re essentially asking to control the mind. In the Bhagavad-gita Arjuna compares this to trying to control the wind.

Friend1: Right, and that’s impossible. The wind’s capabilities are insane. You can have the sturdiest building in the world, but a few wind gusts can bring it down.

Friend2: Yeah, and that’s not even addressing the issue of controlling. The buildings only provide a temporary shield from the wind. Arjuna speaks of trying to get control over the wind.

Friend1: So what is the conclusion? How do you control the mind?

Friend2: Look at the history of the various spiritual movements of India. Think of all the people who left home to wander the streets, begging for a living. In the renounced order of life, sannyasa, the method of eating is called madhukari.

Friend1: What is that?

Friend2: It’s taking a little bit from home to home. It’s eating the way the bees take nectar. The bees don’t take everything from just one flower. In the same way, if you’re fully renounced you’re not supposed to find a nice home and then take all your meals from there.

Friend1: I see.

Friend2: Then there is even more serious renunciation, like living away from people in general. Take up residence in caves, eat fruit that falls from the ground, bathe in rivers, and wear torn rags for clothing.

Friend1: Wow, that’s intense.

Friend2: Exactly. And even after all of that there is no guarantee that the mind will be controlled. You can still be full of desires. Bhakti-yoga is the only way to really control the mind.

Friend1: Through devotion? If you love God then automatically your mind will be right?

Friend2: It makes sense if you think about it. If you’re happy in your life, are you going to care so much if you lose a trivial object or two? Are you going to be so worried about protecting your possessions when the thing you value most is your relationship to God, whom you see every second through devotion?

Friend1: That’s a good point.

[fruit in a basket]Friend2: A great example is the fruit vendor in Vrindavana. She sold fruit for a living. By definition, this means that she had objects of attachment.

Friend1: And if you run a business, your mind is always focused on profit and loss. You’re never at peace.

Friend2: Exactly. If you’re selling fruit, one bad storm can ruin your supply in an instant. Then how will you live? But this vendor was ready to give up everything if need be. She filled Krishna’s hands with so much fruit. And this was after He barely gave her anything.

Friend1: Why?

Friend2: Think of it like the small child rushing up to the ice cream truck on the street. In their excitement, they forget to take money from the parents, who are still in the home. What will happen?

Friend1: Yeah, the ice cream man can’t just give away his product. If he did that for one kid, he’d have to do that for everyone.

[ice cream truck]Friend2: Krishna dropped the grains that were in His hands originally. The fruit vendor didn’t care. She was automatically renounced, though it didn’t necessarily seem that way from the outside. She had no care for profit and loss when she had the fortune that was the vision of an adorable Krishna in front of her.

Friend1: So she lost out on the exchange?

Friend2: That never happens, actually. As Krishna is Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, one of His opulences is complete wealth. He transformed the fruits in the vendor’s basket into jewels. Thus she ended up making more than she normally would have.

Friend1: That’s nice, but wouldn’t that ruin her renunciation?

[vendor's basket of jewels]Friend2: She already had renunciation, and so there was no risk. She proved that she did not care so much for profit and loss. Giving the reward showed that Krishna did not make the vendor worse off. No one is ever worse off through following bhakti-yoga; that is the point to take away. Whatever personal attribute you previously tried with great difficulty to get will come very easily. You will be able to control the mind since you’ll always be with Krishna in sound.

Friend1: Right. Through chanting the names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

In Closing:

Renunciation not easy to do,

Desires constantly coming to you.


Grasp of mind’s work gaining,

Likened to the wind controlling.


But to the fruit vendor just look,

How renunciation with her she took.


So many fruits away to Krishna gave,

Worrying not over profit to save.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

How Renounced Are You

[Krishna with the fruit vendor]“While Krishna was going to the fruit vendor very hastily, most of the grains He was holding fell. Nonetheless, the fruit vendor filled Krishna's hands with fruits, and her fruit basket was immediately filled with jewels and gold.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.11.11)

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phala-vikrayiṇī tasya


phalair apūrayad ratnaiḥ

phala-bhāṇḍam apūri ca


The claim is that bhakti-yoga is the culmination of all yoga practices, all religions, all systems of maintenance, all things that you would do to try to improve yourself. Naturally, this would mean that if you want happiness of any kind, you should try devotional service directed to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, practiced without motivation and without interruption. Whatever you were doing previously for finding happiness, know that it won’t remain forever, if it worked to begin with.

Happiness should incorporate different sides to a material existence. What do we mean by this? It’s obvious to see the first side: collection. Observe the behavior of children.

“Dad, can I have this toy, please? My friend from school, his dad got it for him. It’s so cool. It doesn’t even cost that much. I promise that I’ll never ask for anything ever again. I would be so happy if I got this toy.”

The thinking parent might deny the request because from their own experience they know that one single object does not buy total happiness. That new car that is cherished one day becomes an outdated model that must be replaced. If I badly want to eat something today, if I overindulge in it I likely won’t want to eat it again tomorrow.

This side of happiness is the enjoyment of objects. The other side is renunciation. Think of the car alarm blaring outside.

“Oh my God, who is the idiot that left their car on the street like this for everyone to hear? I can’t do anything right now. I can’t sleep. I can’t watch television. I can’t work. I try to put headphones on, but the sound from the car is so profound that it penetrates through the shield that is my favorite music. If only this alarm would stop. Then I would be so happy.”

When something unwanted goes away, there is happiness. These are two sides to interaction: enjoyment and renunciation. It is said that one who follows bhakti-yoga gets all the opulences of the residents of heaven. Think of a heavenly resident like a chief minister in government. The members of government get extra perks due to the powers invested in them. They are in a kind of elevated status, and people generally respect them.

The residents of the heavenly realm have enhanced opulences, but they had to work for them. Ascension to heaven is the gift that comes from living a pious life. Think of all the rules and regulations you hear from higher authorities. “Don’t lie. Don’t covet another’s wife. Worship on these days. Be charitable.” Following these rules gets you to heaven.

If you follow bhakti-yoga, you get these things automatically. You don’t need to work very hard for them, either. You get your enjoyment. It comes as frequently as the rain that falls from the sky or the sunshine emitted by the rising sun. You get renunciation too, which is often forgotten. You don’t need to make a show of this renunciation, either. You are not required to give up everything and take up residence in a remote cave situated in a mountain. You don’t need to climb five miles up a hill to find a spot for meditation to get a moment’s sighting of the divine energy.

What is required in bhakti-yoga is love. Just love God without any motive. Then you’ll see renunciation. Others will see it too, though you’re not particularly trying to show it. Take the example of the fruit vendor in Vrindavana. Though by her occupation it would seem that she was attached to profit and her commodities, based on a single gesture we see that she was anything but. She simply carried out her specific duties, all the while maintaining love for the most cherished object in the world.

[Lord Krishna]The Supreme Lord lives in Vrindavana. He is there right now, though the people lacking bhakti cannot see it. He was visible to all eyes in Vrindavana some five thousand years ago. Living in the home of Nanda Maharaja, one day He excitedly ran towards the fruit vendor. Only a small child at the time, He tried to purchase fruits by giving grains in exchange. The problem was that He didn’t have many grains to give. Nanda was not poor; it’s just that the grains fell out of the tiny hands of the darling child.

The vendor did not care. She gave Him more fruits than if He had purchased ordinarily, in the right way. Krishna, the name for the Supreme Lord that means “all-attractive,” held those fruits happily in His hands. The vendor did not want anything in return. She was ready to give her entire basket of fruits if Krishna could hold them. In this way she was completely renounced. She did not have to work for it; though perhaps in a previous life she had followed the rules and regulations of spiritual life rigidly.

[Lord Krishna holding fruits]Renunciation arising naturally from bhakti-yoga is safe. The yogi does not have to worry about how they will live. Krishna takes care of them. With the fruit vendor, He transformed the contents of her basket into valuable jewels. She did not ask Him to do this, but then if someone loves us we don’t have any power over how they show it. A kind aunt gives us money every time we see them, and we can’t refuse. If a grandmother constantly feeds us out of affection, we do not have the power to say “no.”

In the same way, the fruit vendor had to accept the jewels from Krishna, knowing full well that her real wealth was her love for the darling child. Anyone can automatically get the same renunciation through harboring affection for just the sound that addresses the child. Through only chanting His names with faith and attention, all good qualities come very easily: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

In Closing:

To happiness existing sides two,

Enjoyment but renunciation too.


Renounced bhakti’s followers are,

Take example from time away far.


In the sacred Vrindavana land,

Where boy carried grains in His hand.


Fruit vendor to Him everything giving,

Fear of profit or loss not living.

Monday, January 19, 2015

All The Wants You Waste

[Lord Rama]“The truly valorous Rama only gives; He does not take. He does not speak even a few unpleasing words, even to save His life.” (Sita Devi speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 33.25)

dadyān na pratigṛhṇīyān na brūyat kiṃcit apriyam ||
api jīvita hetoḥ hi rāmaḥ satya parākramaḥ |

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To whom should you go to get the things that you want? Your parents? The government? Your friends? Do you even need to go to anyone? Can’t you do everything on your own? Why not be independent instead of relying on others for your happiness? From the Ramayana we come to understand that one person is always giving; He never takes. He never speaks an unpleasant word to someone who comes to Him in a nonthreatening manner. He also happens to be the origin of all matter and spirit. The full combination makes Him the best person to approach.

ahaṁ sarvasya prabhavo
mattaḥ sarvaṁ pravartate
iti matvā bhajante māṁ
budhā bhāva-samanvitāḥ

“I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who know this perfectly engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.8)

Asking the parents:

“Dad, can I have twenty dollars? My friends and I are going to the movies. I know you just gave me some money last week, but I spent it already. I bought a new video game. I know I could be playing it now, but at this time I don’t feel like it. I promise I’ll pay you back soon. I know I have other games that are lying there, but why are you giving me such a hard time? I’m only asking for twenty dollars.”

Asking the government:

“I need more assistance. I have a child along the way, and what you’re giving me each month isn’t cutting it. I know that the government is running a large budget deficit. I know that they’ve amassed more debt in the last six years than the entire history of the nation previous to that combined. I’ve been spending the money you’ve been giving me. I took that job you recommended to me, but I still need some help. Aren’t you supposed to look out for people like me? Why are you giving me such a hard time?”

Asking the friends:

“Hey, I don’t feel like going to that restaurant. I know we went there last week at your suggestion. I know that I liked it, but I can’t do the same thing all the time. Can we go somewhere else, please? I promise to let you have your pick next week. Why are you being so difficult? Just listen to me once; it won’t be a problem again.”

[asking for something]Indeed, we ask so many things from so many people throughout the course of a lifetime. Are we asking for the right things? Are we approaching the right people? For starters, the wants constantly change. We ask for little things, and then we ask for big things. Accompanying birth in a material body is forgetfulness. Shri Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita says that He is that forgetfulness, along with the remembrance that enables us to act with some intelligence as soon as we exit the womb.

“The living entity forgets as soon as he quits his present body, but he begins his work again, initiated by the Supreme Lord. Although he forgets, the Lord gives him the intelligence to renew his work where he ended his last life. So not only does a living entity enjoy or suffer in this world according to the dictation from the Supreme Lord situated locally in the heart, but he receives the opportunity to understand Vedas from Him.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 15.15 Purport)

Since we forget, we don’t fully appreciate what others do for us. The wants that they satisfy give birth to new wants, which means that there is a new focus of attention. Never mind that what I wanted before didn’t give me lasting happiness. Never mind that my friends, my parents, the government and anyone else who can help me have to deal with their own issues. They have their own wants, and they are not perfect in their capacity to help. My immediate satisfaction takes priority.

There is another option. Obviously we are full of wants, so why not take our requests to someone who is fully capable? There is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This is a better description for the generic term “god.” God can be anyone. Godly status gets bestowed on anyone who exhibits extraordinary ability. Thoughts get inserted into this God’s head, and the mind invents ways that God will be pleased.

[Rama and Sita]In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Sita Devi gives us some intimate information about who God is and how He behaves. He is a person who descends to earth from time to time. When He roams the land as Rama, He never takes. This is because He plays the role of a warrior prince, whose job it is to govern, protect and defend. Rama always gives to others. This makes Him a perfect candidate for solving our problems.

So if we want some money, we can go to Rama. If we want to get rid of our stress, Rama can help us. If we want to be free of all our wants, Rama can do that too. And He won’t get angry about our changing wants. He won’t utter a bad word if we go to Him with sincerity. Even if we waste His time, He does not get upset. He does not mind that one person goes to Him with one request and another person comes to Him asking for the complete opposite thing.

The secret in approaching Rama is that we may not always get what we want. This is a great boon, in fact. In the other routes, our wants go to waste. New desires spring up, and the previously met ones don’t provide lasting happiness. In approaching Rama, we get the gift of devotion. He makes this happen through mechanisms specific to the circumstance. For one person it may be through giving a little good fortune in the short term. For another person it might mean taking away everything that is dear to them.

By approaching Rama in the right mood, and by consistently going to Him and staying with Him, eventually the wants transform. They consolidate into a single request: continued devotion. This is what Hanuman asks for. He has done so much for so many important people that he is worthy of any gift that the most powerful person could offer. And yet he only asks to have devotion to Rama. The same goes for Sita, who kindly informs the world about Rama’s true nature.

[Rama and Hanuman]So many wants are wasted, in lifetime after lifetime, but by approaching the husband of Sita every desire, action, thought, and result has lasting significance. Hanuman’s brave trek to Lanka to find Sita pays dividends to this day, and not only to him. Sita’s kind and accurate words live on, and the sound of the chanting of the holy names by the devoted souls carries through both the infinite time and space: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

In Closing:

To ask people for this and that,

Changing desires, not sure what to ask exact.


Instead of so many of them to waste,

Towards Rama go for a higher taste.


Through Him make your requests,

And by purified desires be blessed.


Only to serve, like Sita and Hanuman do,

His mercy to do the most good for you.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Manipulated By Circumstances

[Lord Rama]“The truly valorous Rama only gives; He does not take. He does not speak even a few unpleasing words, even to save His life.” (Sita Devi speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 33.25)

dadyān na pratigṛhṇīyān na brūyat kiṃcit apriyam ||
api jīvita hetoḥ hi rāmaḥ satya parākramaḥ |

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It is human nature to try to do everything to preserve life. After all, who knows for sure what lies beyond? As far as we’re concerned, there may not even be an afterlife. Though things change at every second, with life continuing, lacking memory of previous deaths there is uncertainty over what will happen in the future. Therefore the best option is to preserve life to the best extent possible, even to the point of breaking from your nature.

The truly valorous person does not abandon duty, even to save themselves. There are stories that during the 9-11 attacks in New York City several police officers that were inside were warned that the buildings were about to collapse. Still, they refused to leave behind any people. In essence, they knew their lives were in serious danger and they still did not give up their duty. To the point of death they abided by what they promised to do when they first accepted their roles.

As we are living entities endowed with independence, free will and desires, it is practically impossible to always stay on the straight and narrow path. If you’re in a group situation where one person constantly picks on you, after a while there will be a breaking point. As much as you try to repress your anger, it may eventually come out. You’ll then do something that you regret later on.

The regrettable acts can be large or small. The large act is committing a crime, such as through doing serious bodily injury to another. The small act is saying something unpleasant. Calling a person a bad name is one example of this. In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Sita Devi says that her husband Rama will not even speak a few unpleasant words. Even if it means saving His life, Rama will stay true to being always charitable, not taking from anyone.

There is a specific context to these words. In the verses immediately preceding this, Sita gave a basic summary of historical events. She explained to Shri Hanuman who she was, from where she came, and how she reached her current predicament. Here she is in the Ashoka grove in Lanka, speaking to someone who is working for her husband Rama. Sita is separated from her husband due to the ill-motivated Ravana, the king of Lanka.

Sita and Rama were living peacefully and happily in Ayodhya. Then Rama’s father decided to make Rama the new king. But on the eve of the coronation the plans changed. Rama took the new order in stride. He was now to leave the kingdom for fourteen years and wander the wilderness as a recluse.

Sita mentions that Rama always gives. He does this through His wife, who is the goddess of fortune. Shri Rama is the Supreme Personality of Godhead appearing in a seemingly human form. He is the original owner of everything; so He has no need to take things from people. Possession already changes hands through the work of time, which operates under Rama’s direction. One person finds a new land, plants a flag on it, and then claims it to be theirs, not knowing that through time’s progression they will have to leave not only the land, but everything they think is theirs behind forever.

Though Rama was promised the kingdom, it was suddenly taken away from Him without just cause. He had every right to take it, but that is not His nature. He could have taken it to prevent the life of hardships in the wilderness. Imagine becoming homeless overnight. This is the closest comparison we can make in modern times. The wilderness is more dangerous, though, and there aren’t wealthy people around to make donations of sumptuous food.

[Rama and Sita in the forest]Rama had every right to speak unpleasant words on this occasion. He could have chastised His father for the mistake in judgment. He could have taken the angle that the new order would cause grief to Sita. It would break the heart of Lakshmana, Rama’s younger brother who was so close to Him. Yet Rama did not do any of these things. Being truly valorous, even to save His life He will not speak unpleasant words.

It is no wonder, then, that the people of the highest character love Him so much. They eschew material desires in favor of service to Him. Though Rama does not take, He will accept. Any offering made with love is accepted by Him. He does not keep anything for Himself; He distributes the offerings to others, who are supremely benefitted as a result. The truly valorous one promises to protect any who surrender to Him, and so the wise souls accept His shelter through the potency of His holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

In Closing:

Changing desires shifting mental state,

Thus hard to stay on path narrow and straight.


But Rama different, by change not swayed,

Like when father news of exile conveyed.


That son not to speak bad words even to save His life,

Truly valorous, testimony from Sita His wife.


Accepts when genuine offering to make,

But always a giver, never from one to take.