Saturday, March 21, 2015

Losing In The End

[Rama holding His arrow]“Dwelling in the forest of Dandaka with Rama of immeasurable vigor, I, His lawful wife, was taken away by the evil Rakshasa Ravana.” (Sita Devi speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 33.30)

vasato daṇḍaka araṇye tasya aham amita ojasaḥ ||
rakṣasā apahṛtā bhāryā rāvaṇena durātmanā |

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The enemies of the true religious path seem to be indefatigable. They don’t tire. They remain obstinate. They keep coming up with excuses for not accepting the only route that leads to genuine happiness for the spirit soul, which is the essence of identity. Any human tragedy is seized upon as supporting evidence. “Let no crisis go to waste” is the motto when looking to defeat the powers of good in the world. Though the plight of a princess in the Ashoka grove in Lanka a long time ago apparently gave signs to support the atheistic view, her words spoken to a noble warrior said otherwise.

“Why are you wasting your time serving milk to your gods? Do you think they actually drink it? Do you see them? They are gods, are they not? If that is the case, what need do they have for your milk? You would be better served offering the same to the poor. They actually need it. They are struggling. I’m sure your gods wouldn’t mind.”

“How can you believe in God after seeing all the terrible tragedies in the world? How could a kind savior allow such atrocities to happen on a regular basis? No, I’m not a blind follower like you. I can’t buy into it. There is no God. We’re all alone; we have to look out for ourselves. It’s a dog eat dog world out there, and I’m not going to be one of the suckers.”

“I believe the best way to serve God is to be nice to people. If He does exist, then I think He’ll be happiest when everyone is enjoying. Let there be peace in the world. Let others live without conflict and struggle. This is the way to please the Supreme Lord.”

[Krishna's hand]The excuses continue to flow, while the path of devotional service remains an option the entire time. Even after being rejected for so many years, through many lifetimes spent in many species, the Supreme Lord always leaves the door open for His children to return. After they’ve exhausted every mentally concocted system of virtue, some more widely accepted than others, they still have the chance to serve God with love and devotion.

“Are not the excuses legitimate? How can God let atrocities happen? Why isn’t it better to feed the poor instead of the deities in the temple?”

The material is temporary and miserable. In the Bhagavad-gita, the two Sanskrit terms used are duhkhalayam ashashvatam [Bg. 8.15]. The atrocities we see reported on television are actually no different in nature than the joyous moments. The cat being rescued from a tree is on par with the outbreak of the deadly disease. Just as happiness corresponds to sadness, birth is paired with death. Birth brings the potential for so many things, and death takes it all away. In this way, life is a losing business. No one goes into business to fail, but in life that is the only guaranteed outcome.

jātasya hi dhruvo mṛtyur
dhruvaṁ janma mṛtasya ca
tasmād aparihārye 'rthe
na tvaṁ śocitum arhasi

“For one who has taken his birth, death is certain; and for one who is dead, birth is certain. Therefore, in the unavoidable discharge of your duty, you should not lament.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.27)

The distinction to keep in mind is that the guaranteed loss applies only to material life. No matter how much the poor are fed, there will still be poverty. No matter how much research goes into fighting and curing disease, people will still fall ill and die. No matter how many conventions and meetings are held to bring world peace, there will always be conflict.

On the other hand, with devotion practiced in the right way, there is every chance for ultimate victory. That devotion is stronger than its opposition. Sita Devi and Shri Hanuman testify to this. The person they serve is the reservoir of immeasurable vigor, which He then kindly shares with those who serve Him.

[Lord Rama]What does immeasurable vigor mean? Think of one man defeating 14,000 fighters singlehandedly. He had no time to prepare. He did not map out a strategy. He only had a few moments’ notice, and He still won without any doubt. His place of residence at the time was a forest known as Janasthana, or the land of the living people. Noting the irony of what resulted from her husband’s victory, Sita later humorously pointed out that the land transformed into Hatasthana, or the land of the dead.

“O Rakshasa, when your Rakshasa army had been killed in Janasthana, turning it into Hatasthana [land of the dead], being powerless you committed this wicked deed.” (Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.29-30)

The attackers came to take Sita, who was the lawfully wedded wife of the victor, Shri Rama. The evil Ravana eventually succeeded in taking away Sita. He tried to torture her in Lanka, hoping that she would agree to become his chief queen. Sita’s situation would seem to support the argument that God doesn’t exist. If Rama were really God, how could He allow Sita to suffer in such a manner?

Sita here informs us that Rama has immeasurable vigor. Though the enemies of the real religion will amass temporary gains here and there, they are no match for what God brings. In this situation, the vigor extends to both Sita and Hanuman, who was sent by Rama to find her. Hanuman’s perseverance cannot be accurately quantified. The same goes for his love for God, whom he will serve until the end of time and beyond.

[Sita and Rama]Sita’s determination in honoring the vow of marriage is just as strong. The devoted ultimately triumph over the non-devoted. The non-devoted will lose everything at the time of death anyway. The same is not true for the servants of Rama. They get His association after death, for they always remain conscious of Him.

anta-kāle ca mām eva
smaran muktvā kalevaram
yaḥ prayāti sa mad-bhāvaṁ
yāti nāsty atra saṁśayaḥ

“And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.5)

How can we know for sure that we will be with God in the afterlife? How can we be sure that devotional service, bhakti-yoga, is not a waste of time? In any other path, we know that everything gets erased at the time of death. We know that the time leading up to that event is spent in fear, as at any moment everything can be lost. In the devotional path, there is only gain after gain, as the consciousness gradually becomes purified. So even in the present life there is success, which continues on into the future, like the immortal words of Sita found in the Ramayana.

In Closing:

Though tragedy and suffering in pain,

Life a losing business, nothing to gain.


Temporary and miserable the description,

That all to die most accurate prediction.


Only in devotion to Rama to win in the end,

His immeasurable vigor to servants to send.


Like with Sita and Hanuman winning,

Overcoming king of Lanka’s sinning.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Immeasurable Vigor

[Rama holding His arrow]“Dwelling in the forest of Dandaka with Rama of immeasurable vigor, I, His lawful wife, was taken away by the evil Rakshasa Ravana.” (Sita Devi speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 33.30)

vasato daṇḍaka araṇye tasya aham amita ojasaḥ ||
rakṣasā apahṛtā bhāryā rāvaṇena durātmanā |

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What is immeasurable vigor? For the fallible human being, old age, disease and death reveal that strength is limited. Only the less intelligent would think that life could continue forever. Ignoring the existence of the afterlife, which is nothing more than the extended future, the lowest of the low will stoop to any level to satisfy their present desires. This was the case with the Rakshasa named Ravana. Unfortunately for him, he ran up against immeasurable vigor personified in the person of Rama.

A person gets credit for perseverance. Especially when they continue on after many defeats, others who are watching appreciate their effort:

“I can’t believe how hard they worked. Everyone told them they would fail. The easiest route in life is the one chalked out for you by others. It’s safe. It’s supported by history. But this person had no desire to follow the easy way. They had a dream and they finally achieved it. No one would have imagined their success previously. Their vigor is amazing.”

In this context the achievement is related to something material which is viewed favorably. But vigor can be applied towards the unfavorable side as well. Ravana was cunning in his attempt to take the lawfully wedded wife of another man. He devised a plot whereby he could take her away in secret, without having to fight for her. Her husband was known to have immeasurable vigor, but Ravana seemed to escape without a scratch. He thought he had won.

The woman is named Sita and her husband is Rama, who is the Supreme Lord. It should be obvious to us that God has immeasurable vigor. Without even mentioning Rama the person, we can look to the impersonal force that is time. No one knows from where time came. No one knows how to talk to it, and certainly no one knows how to defeat it. The person who is considered an atheist at least acknowledges one higher authority: time.

prahlādaś cāsmi daityānāṁ
kālaḥ kalayatām aham
mṛgāṇāṁ ca mṛgendro 'haṁ
vainateyaś ca pakṣiṇām

“Among the Daitya demons I am the devoted Prahlada; among subduers I am time; among the beasts I am the lion, and among birds I am Garuda, the feathered carrier of Vishnu.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.30)

[time]Time destroys all. Whether you are good or bad, time will operate on you. It does not take into consideration what you have done in the past. It does not ask you what you want or to where you wish to travel. Time erases the bad memory of a traumatic event and also makes you nostalgic for past glories.

Rama is the personal God, the Supreme Lord appearing on earth in a human guise. Because of the external vision, it is understandable if someone like Ravana were to think that Rama’s vigor had a measure. But Rama had already given the fiend a hint. He had defeated 14,000 of Ravana’s fighters singlehandedly. This was in defense, as well. It wasn’t a coordinated attack. Rama did not plot to kill that many warriors at the same time. The situation called for it, and Rama took care of it.

[Rama]The above referenced verse from the Ramayana is spoken to Shri Hanuman, who through his acts is an extension of Rama’s immeasurable vigor. Hanuman searched tirelessly and bravely through unknown territories for Sita. This was after Rama met Hanuman and the other Vanaras living in the Kishkindha kingdom.

From Hanuman alone we see what immeasurable vigor means. The trait originates in the Supreme Lord and it gets inherited by those who serve Him with love. Sita too has the same vigor, as she steadfastly refused the advances of Ravana, to the point of risking her own life. She would rather die than even think of being with any man other than Rama.

Being a lawfully wedded wife usually protects you from the advances of other men. After all, the bond of marriage generally indicates that the heart has been taken. The heart belongs to the husband, so what fool would try to take it away? Especially with Sita, there was strict adherence to dharma. Her marriage to Rama was of both the love and arranged varieties.

paras tasmāt tu bhāvo 'nyo
'vyakto 'vyaktāt sanātanaḥ
yaḥ sa sarveṣu bhūteṣu
naśyatsu na vinaśyati

“Yet there is another nature, which is eternal and is transcendental to this manifested and unmanifested matter. It is supreme and is never annihilated. When all in this world is annihilated, that part remains as it is.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.20)

[Rama holding His bow]Ravana’s vigor had limits, especially since he used it to go against dharma, or virtue. Rama’s vigor, seen in one way through Hanuman, had no limits. This is the power of devotional service, which is easily practiced through the chanting of the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Time may operate on the temporary body and eventually destroy it, but for the devoted soul it will reward the vigor in service with residence in the imperishable realm that the Supreme Lord calls home.

In Closing:

Birth, death, disease and old age,

Against time futile the battle to wage.


Showing that to human strength a limit,

But Ravana sinful life not to quit.


Away from Rama beloved Sita to take,

Viewing Lord as human his big mistake.


In Sita’s husband the vigor without measure,

Same in devotees who His association treasure.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Mahatma And Duratma

[Rama's lotus feet]“Dwelling in the forest of Dandaka with Rama of immeasurable vigor, I, His lawful wife, was taken away by the evil Rakshasa Ravana.” (Sita Devi speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 33.30)

vasato daṇḍaka araṇye tasya aham amita ojasaḥ ||
rakṣasā apahṛtā bhāryā rāvaṇena durātmanā |

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We’ve likely heard the term “mahatma” before. It literally means a great soul, and as a title it has been kindly bestowed upon important personalities. The more a person is detached from their own personal sense gratification, the greater we think they are. The greatest soul is one who knows that all other living entities are souls and should be viewed as such. The worst soul, on the other hand, is only concerned with their own wellbeing while living in a body that is temporary. They will go to any length to satisfy their urges that never cease. This makes them a duratma, a label which Sita Devi accurately affixes to the Rakshasa named Ravana.

[Rama and army defeating Ravana]Who is good and who is bad? On the Vedic holiday of Dussehra, we’re told to remember the strength of good and how it triumphs over evil. The origin of the annual occasion is the slaying of the aforementioned Ravana. Rama was the good one. He was the great soul and also a knower of the soul, or self. “Viditamana” is the term used to describe such a person, and it applies to Rama’s father Dasharatha as well.

Rama is also a knower of distinctions, visheshajna. To know the self is very difficult. Hours of meditation alone doesn’t yield this understanding. Jumping from one type of sense gratification to another doesn’t do the trick, either. Knowledge of the self has to first be heard from a higher authority and then realized through practice under the guidance of such authority.

tad viddhi praṇipātena
paripraśnena sevayā
upadekṣyanti te jñānaṁ
jñāninas tattva-darśinaḥ

“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)

[Prabhupada teaching]To know distinctions means to know differences. Rama needed this since He was a fighter. He had to tell who was good and who was evil. He had to decipher the mode of attack of the enemy also. A tiger attacks in a different way than a snake. The Rakshasas in Lanka were incredibly tricky. Using black magic, they could appear at one second and then disappear the next.

Rama was good and He eventually defeated Ravana, who was bad. Rama is the very definition of good since He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. God can appear anywhere He so chooses. He can be a warrior prince and His fighting ability can be unmatched. Sita Devi says that His vigor is immeasurable, amita-ojasah.

Correspondingly, Ravana is the very definition of evil. He is of the Rakshasa species, particularly known for eating humans. Even without consulting Vedic literature, we already acknowledge that someone who eats human flesh is low. But Ravana was a duratma for another reason: his antagonism towards God.

He showed just how strongly against the godly principles he was when he took away Sita from the Dandaka forest. She was residing there with her husband Rama. She was the lawful wife of Rama, bharya. She and her husband were not bothering anyone. They were not exploiting anyone or causing harm. They were in the dense forest, with little in their possession.

If someone steals something that rightfully belongs to us, we don’t think too highly of them. There should be respect for property. Sita was lawfully married to Rama and in spirit she could never love anyone else. Ravana did not respect this, and so he was a duratma.

We derive the true definition of good and evil from this example. Another applicable word in Sanskrit is asura. The corresponding term is sura. A sura respects God, His family, His relationships, and His property. The asura is completely the opposite. Ravana was an asura in qualities, which he showed countless times.

The goodness of God always wins out, and so we got the occasion of Dussehra. Without respect for the Supreme Lord, every living entity will automatically fall into the behavior of the asura. The duratma doesn’t respect anyone’s property, and so they sink even further. The true mahatmas, like Sita’s father Janaka, are always conscious of the Supreme Lord. They look to serve Him at every moment, and they never forget that He is the true definition of good.

[Sita Devi]Sita Devi is the goddess of fortune, which means that she can bestow so many gifts. Her benedictions are extensions of her, and since she is Rama’s wife, whatever she gives is meant to be used in service to Him. Hanuman follows this attitude as well, and so he is on the side of good perpetually. The evil try to take Sita for themselves, and they suffer as a result. Though they achieve apparent victories of temporary significance here and there, they lose in the end.

In Closing:

Mahatma the spirit soul to know,

Duratma for body’s pleasure to go.


The first automatically good,

The other evil understood.


Like Rama, the self always knowing,

And Ravana, rules of propriety forgoing.


Since behavior of theirs rooted in sin,

Duratmas against God never to win.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Into The Unknown

[Sita, Rama and Lakshmana]“Highly respecting the order of the one we serve, and firm in our vow, we entered the forest, which we had not seen before and which gave the appearance of being very deep.” (Sita Devi speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 33.29)

te vayam bhartuḥ ādeśam bahu mānya dṛḍha vratāḥ ||
praviṣṭāḥ sma purāt dṛṣṭam vanam gambhīra darśanam |

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Bhakti-yoga has synonymous terms such as “bhagavata-dharma” and “sanatana-dharma.” It is the essence of activity for the essence of identity, the spirit soul. It is eternal service to the one who eternally lives to be served. It is devotion to the one person who can accept an endless amount of devotion from an endless amount of people and reciprocate with each appropriately.

These definitions give a broad overview, but they don’t provide much details into what life will initially be like for one who takes up devotion.

“If I take up bhakti-yoga, will I become rich? Will I have a lot of money? I know that others worship to get these things. If not for the present life, they hope that in the future, after death, they will not be in circumstances of poverty. Some of them ask for this directly from a deity of choice.”

“If I take up bhakti-yoga, will I have good health? I hate it when I get indigestion after eating. Sometimes it feels like my stomach is going to explode, even though I didn’t eat so much. The health experts say to eat a lot of fiber, but when I eat things like oatmeal, I end up in worse shape. I want it so that my health will always be tip-top. I know that others pray for this right now.”

[oatmeal]“If I take up bhakti-yoga, will I get to enjoy with an attractive significant other? Every movie I see has this goal as the foundation. Once the two parties meet, everything is good. I know that in specific traditions you can worship someone to get a good spouse. This world is so vast and complex that no one has total control over their future. Therefore the wise ones pray to higher authorities to get what they want.”

“If I take up bhakti-yoga, will I find peace? The name ‘yoga’ is there, so does this mean I will be able to meditate in quiet? I know others do this right now. They spend some time each day sitting in a particular pose and breathing in and out in a regulated manner. Others go on retreats so that they can concentrate better.”

From the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, we learn that in bhakti-yoga no specific condition is guaranteed. You may end up going somewhere you have never previously been. You may have to give up all your riches and family ties. You may have to roam through a dangerous place, not knowing where exactly to go.

If this is the case, why would anyone take up bhakti-yoga? Why is it considered the constitutional engagement, standing above even liberation from the cycle of birth and death? How can it be superior to the rewards mentioned above?

In bhakti-yoga the pure love itself is the only thing sought and needed. Life in a temporary world is just that: temporary. If you’re stuck in a place that has lots of mosquitos and spotty electricity, it’s not so comfortable. Eventually, though, the misery will fade. You’ll find better circumstances. Then those circumstances will change as well.

Whether the good or bad remains for a long or short time doesn’t matter much in the end. According to the Bhagavad-gita, the true understanding of day and night is through the reference point of Lord Brahma. His day consists of one thousand cycles of the four yugas, or ages, of creation. His night is the same duration. So Brahma’s one day is billions of years. In that time, there can be good and bad, but they both will be impermanent.

ahar yad brahmaṇo viduḥ
rātriṁ yuga-sahasrāntāṁ
te 'ho-rātra-vido janāḥ

“By human calculation, a thousand ages taken together is the duration of Brahma's one day. And such also is the duration of his night.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.17)

[Lakshmana]If you have service to the Supreme Lord, you can not only survive in any situation, but thrive in it as well. Here Sita tells of how she and Lakshmana followed Rama to the forest, which appeared dense. None of them had gone to this area before. They were to spend fourteen years there, as per the order of King Dasharatha.

They were not afraid to go due to the faith they had in Rama. He is the Supreme Lord, the object of service in bhakti-yoga. He appears and disappears from this earth whenever He chooses. His appearances offer the opportunity for service to so many. They also give tangible examples of how devotional service works.

Sita is Rama’s wife. Lakshmana is His younger brother. The two lived through both splendor and squalor. They were in the opulent kingdom of Ayodhya and then suddenly in the dense forest. The difference is stark according to our understanding, but we can use drastic differences from our own lives to understand the concept.

[Shri Hanuman]Things always change, but in bhakti-yoga the constant is service to God, who is all-attractive. In devotion, one may find themselves in unknown territories, but with the same faith that Sita and Lakshmana had everything will turn out successful in the end. Shri Hanuman also serves Rama, and he ended up going to a completely new territory that was hostile to devotional service. His devotion is so strong that no one could stop his service. The same goes for Sita and Lakshmana and anyone who follows in their footsteps.

In Closing:

In bhakti will I be alone,

And go to places unknown?


Will I have peace of mind,

Or great wealth will I find?


Sita and Lakshmana the example giving,

One day in kingdom, next in forest living.


Both the good and bad time to wash away,

But association of Supreme for devotee to stay.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Giant Leap Of Faith

[Lakshmana, Rama and Sita]“Highly respecting the order of the one we serve, and firm in our vow, we entered the forest, which we had not seen before and which gave the appearance of being very deep.” (Sita Devi speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 33.29)

te vayam bhartuḥ ādeśam bahu mānya dṛḍha vratāḥ ||
praviṣṭāḥ sma purāt dṛṣṭam vanam gambhīra darśanam |

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Things aren’t looking good. The snow cover is thick, the night is dark, and the storm is unrelenting. It’s getting more and more difficult to see. Though the lights on your car give some indication of the road ahead, on this night the visibility is severely limited. All you have is the implicit faith you put into the path itself, which you’ve traversed before.

[snow winter road]When you end up reaching the desired destination, you realize that the road travelled was right. Though you couldn’t see far ahead, though the storm was strong, your faith in the authority that was the road paid off. In a similar manner, the faith extended to the highest authority figure yields the desired result. The path may be one you have never seen before, and the prospects for success may appear dim in the beginning. Yet it is the potency of the person being served that gives strength to the faith extended.

The common idea of religion is that there is a higher being from whom you can get things, provided you worship properly. We all want things. Even if you have everything right now, there is the need to maintain. The four traits exhibitive of the animal are eating, sleeping, mating and defending. You have to eat to stay alive. Eating involves a taste, and so what gets consumed should be palatable. What is tasty today may not be tomorrow; so desires tend to change.

Sleeping is as important. Rest is required to keep the body fit. If you’re on a long journey, the main concern is rest. If you’re travelling in an airplane, you wonder how you will sleep. Especially if the seats don’t fold all the way down, to get proper rest will be difficult. That then leads to other problems.

[reclining airline seat]Mating is the ultimate enjoyment in a material existence, and when you have everything the desire is to maintain. For help in these four areas you can approach God.

“O Lord, please give me nice food to eat. Thank you for what you’ve given me already, but I need you to keep it coming. The same goes for health, enjoyment and protection. By your favor, anything can happen.”

This style of religion involves basic prayer. You may have to attend a house of worship or you may have to perform some ritual in the home, but everything is laid out in front of you. In the highest religion, which is the one yielding the best result, the path isn’t always known at the outset. You may not know where you will end up. It is your faith that keeps you going, and since it is in the power of the Supreme Lord to deliver His personal association in all circumstances, the faith is rewarded accordingly.

We can take the example of Sita and Lakshmana to see how this works. They perpetually serve the Supreme Lord in the mood of bhakti-yoga, which is devotional service. They don’t ask for gifts relating to eating, sleeping, mating or defending. They don’t perform rituals so that they’ll be happy materially. They know that God as Rama is the reservoir of pleasure. They know that true happiness only comes through His association, which they’re determined to keep through any means.

[Sita Devi]Sita here explains how one time that faith was tested. Rama was ordered to leave the kingdom of Ayodhya for fourteen years. Imagine not seeing your family for that long. Imagine going to a foreign place and not having any communication with the people you’ve lived with for many years. Material envy can become so strong that it drives a person to deliver this punishment upon an innocent person.

Because of this envy, Rama was asked to leave Ayodhya; but His wife Sita was not. Neither was Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana. Yet they both insisted on accompanying Rama. Sita explains that the place they entered was not familiar to them. In appearance, it looked dense. It was a forest area, so it was truly entering the unknown.

Sita explains why they went. They had faith in the order of the one they serve. This refers to Rama, and by extension His father King Dasharatha. It was Rama’s father who had to hand down the order, driven to the regrettable act by his youngest wife Kaikeyi. Sita and Lakshmana went to that unknown place without fear. They were not expecting anything favorable materially. They were not in search of a treasure chest full of gold. They had faith in Rama, and that was all they needed.

[japa mala]In a similar manner, those who have faith in the guru, who is Rama’s representative on earth, know that following bhakti-yoga will yield everything favorable. Their practice may require following things foreign to them, such as the chanting of the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. They may not know where they will live or if they will have friends and family around. They won’t be entirely sure where exactly they will end up in the afterlife, either.

[Lakshmana]Through faith, they know that wherever they end up their circumstances will be favorable for devotion. This was the case with Lakshmana and Sita, and also for Shri Hanuman. He went to search for Sita many years later, also entering an unknown territory. The strength of bhakti is such that one’s faith is always rewarded accordingly, even if at first glance everything doesn’t look ideal.

In Closing:

The reward for perseverance paying,

When on the righteous path staying.


Though at the outset not everything clear,

Devotees treading guru’s path without fear.


That Supreme’s association to get,

That favorable wherever feet to set.


Like Sita and Lakshmana to the unknown,

Dense forest with Rama then to roam.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Appreciating The Service Of Others

[Lakshmana]“Previous to that in fact, the greatly fortunate Saumitra, who is the delight of his friends, adorned with tree bark for preparing for the journey with his elder brother.” (Sita Devi speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 33.28)

prāg eva tu mahābhāgaḥ saumitriḥ mitra nandanaḥ ||
pūrvajasya anuyātrā arthe druma cīraiḥ alamkṛtaḥ |

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Bhakti-yoga is unique amongst all varieties of religion and spirituality. It is the lone practice that is free of desire for personal gain. Even wanting something for another person is a kind of personal motive. When the person whose welfare you desire gets the intended benefit, you feel some pride, some sense of accomplishment. Bhakti-yoga is unmotivated and uninterrupted, so it is dependent on neither reciprocation nor the opinion of the recipient.

Outside of bhakti-yoga, the first inclination is to ask for things from God. “O Lord, I’m in a lot of trouble. Can you save me? I have nowhere else to turn.” There is the obvious flaw in this request, wherein it is admitted that approaching God was the last resort. If everyone else failed, why should the highest being bail you out? Why didn’t you go to Him first?

In bhakti-yoga desire is not absent.

“Okay, but how can motivation be lacking when there is desire?”

The nature of the desire changes. Instead of wanting for yourself or someone you know, you want only for the Supreme Lord. He already has everything, so this attitude is difficult to adopt with sincerity. The intelligent will keep in mind the supreme standing of the topmost person. Nevertheless, one who reaches the most mature stage cannot be stopped in their service.

[Sita and Rama]Case in point Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama. On earth she plays the role of a wife, but she is eternally the consort of God. This means that only for the sake of our understanding in terms of time do we attach the relationship of marriage to her. For there to be a marriage, there has to be a wedding. A wedding indicates a point in time, at which there is something before and something after. In the earthly realm Sita was not married to Rama before the wedding; otherwise what is the point to the ceremony?

The marriage is simply a display for the people in the earthly realm, a formality to go with the timeline of events immortalized in the Ramayana, the original book coming from Maharishi Valmiki. As God’s eternal consort, Sita is always in devotion. Her love for Rama cannot be stopped. She does not look to gain anything from her show of affection. Whether He agrees or not, she will continue to love.

For an example of how this love is practiced, we can look to the incident of Rama’s exile from the kingdom of Ayodhya. Rama asked Sita to remain at home. As a good wife following the duties prescribed in dharma, Sita should have stayed in the kingdom. What purpose would her leaving serve? At home she could look after Rama’s parents, who in fact were asked to protect and affectionately watch over her.

Sita refused to listen to Rama. She would accompany Him to the forest for fourteen years. Years later she told Shri Hanuman about this, when identifying herself in the Ashoka grove in Lanka. Devotion is unique amongst all versions of religion, but it should be known that even the qualities typically considered pious are never lacking in the devotee. In fact, they come automatically.

We see how this works from the above referenced verse from the Ramayana. Sita here tells Hanuman that Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana was ready to go to the forest even before her. Though she is in pure devotion to God, she does not think herself superior to anyone. She appreciates Lakshmana’s service to Rama more than her own. In the future, she would come to appreciate Hanuman’s service to Rama as the best.

To regularly give credit to others is a good trait. The act is something we appreciate. Even if we know that someone actually did everything on their own, we like it when they try to praise others. In bhakti-yoga the devotee deserves so many accolades, for it takes many births before one even attempts to understand God in full.

manuṣyāṇāṁ sahasreṣu
kaścid yatati siddhaye
yatatām api siddhānāṁ
kaścin māṁ vetti tattvataḥ

“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)

[Rama and Lakshmana]The more one advances in bhakti-yoga, the more they appreciate the service of others. Sita did not need to mention that Lakshmana beat her to the punch in following Rama, but she did anyway. Lakshmana too is always giving credit to Rama for things that he has done. Thus one should feel confident in knowing that from practicing devotion no good quality will be absent. Those qualities will arrive easily, for that is inherent in the divine nature.

In Closing:

Let there be reservations none,

All good qualities easily to come.


Since bhakti’s path to Rama dear,

On this fact have no fear.


At the example of Lakshmana look,

Chance to serve brother in forest took.


More than herself Sita this appreciating,

Story to devotee Hanuman relating.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Talking About Worshiping Them All Together

[Prabhupada altar picture]“Kintu prabhor yah priya eva tasya: the spiritual master is not God, but is the confidential representative of God. The distinction is that between sevya-bhagavan (he who is worshiped) and sevaka-bhagavan (he who is the worshiper). The spiritual master is God, and Krishna is God, but Krishna is the worshipable God whereas the spiritual master is the worshiper God.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Queen Kunti, 26 Purport)

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FriendOne: I’ve been wondering something lately.

FriendTwo: What’s that?

F1: Well, I’m sure you’ve thought the same thing from time to time.

F2: You realize I have no way of knowing what you’re talking about.

F1: I mean, to the outsider it must look a little strange. Possibly confusing as well.

F2: Will you tell me what you’re talking about already!

F1: Oh, sorry. When you enter a temple where bhakti-yoga is the focus, there seems to be a lot going on at the altar.

[altar worship]F2: You mean with the different paraphernalia? Like the whisk and the ghee lamps waving, the conch shell blowing, and the bell ringing? It’s all a sign of respect. It’s actually how you would greet a guest at your home, especially in ancient times. Think of it like being so happy that the Lord of the universe has agreed to enter your home and stay for a while as your preferred guest.

F1: That’s not what I’m talking about, but thanks for the free lesson [sarcasm]. Anyway, what I mean to say is that the worship is not directed at one person. There are a lot of people worshiped on the altar, it seems.

F2: I see. And you don’t know who every person is?

F1: Most of the time I do, but sometimes I have to ask. Don’t you think it’s a little distracting? Isn’t God supposed to be the main person worshiped? Isn’t He the person we’re trying to be conscious of?

F2: Oh, okay. So you think that with all the other stuff going on, the worship is getting diluted.

F1: There’s that, but then the newcomers will also wonder. For instance, someone asked me the other day if His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is Krishna. They wanted to know if He is an incarnation of God appearing on earth.

[Shrila Prabhupada]F2: Are they new to all this?

F1: That’s the thing - not really. They’ve been attending the weekly programs for a while now. They obviously don’t pay attention to the lectures much, and they probably get confused by the worship of the guru.

F2: So what did you tell this person?

F1: I was a little frustrated, to be honest. I told them that they need to read the books more, like the Bhagavad-gita As It Is and Teachings of Lord Chaitanya.

F2: Yeah, it’s odd that they didn’t know such a fundamental truth. The guru should be treated as good as God, but He is not God Himself. In fact, that is a very important teaching. If you think that the guru is God, it means that if you enlighten yourself to the point that you’re a guru, you can also become God.

F1: Right. Maybe that’s why I was so upset at the question. Then I got to thinking, though. Maybe the style of worship is confusing. You know, when you visit other temples, where bhakti isn’t the main focus, you get so many deities. You get a separate section for each of the famous gods of the Vedic tradition.

F2: I know what you’re referring to. And people go in there, choose their favorite god, offer their respects, and then leave. They think you can worship any god and have the result be the same.

[altar at ISKCON Bhubaneshwar]F1: Right, so how is it different in the temples where bhakti-yoga is practiced?

F2: The difference is that you’re extending the love and appreciation towards people who support the Supreme Lord. With demigod worship, you’re always asking for something. You want money. You want good health. You want a better situation in the afterlife.

F1: And in pure bhakti, you only ask to have love and devotion, right? Like no matter where you are, you only want service to the Supreme Lord in His personal form.

F2: Exactly. Bhakti-yoga can be defined in many ways, and one of them is “constant appreciation.” Instead of asking for things, you sacrifice. You give your valuable time, energy and thoughts. You use whatever abilities you have for pleasing the Supreme Lord.

F1: The guru is very important in bringing that level of bhakti.

F2: That’s it. You’ve nailed it. The guru gets worshiped because without them, you wouldn’t know that Krishna is God. You wouldn’t know that the Supreme Lord is a person with spiritual attributes. You then appreciate the efforts of the saints who came previously in the line of instruction. You have so much love for Radharani, who is the feminine aspect to God. She loves Krishna so much; she makes Him happy. Krishna enjoys her association, so on the altar it is for His benefit that she gets placed next to Him.

F1: So could you explain it as you’re worshiping God as a family, instead of alone?

[Radha-Krishna deities]F2: That is a good way of putting it. When the devotee is not in the temple, they’re still seeing Krishna, who resides in every living being as the Supersoul. The worship is always there if you are transcendentally situated in consciousness. In the formal atmosphere, you wish you could worship every person that has special meaning to you, but you limit it to a few important personalities. It doesn’t mean that the supporters are God; it just means that they are significant in your understanding of Him. They’ve shown you how to please Him. They are responsible for your having found the true mission in life.

In Closing:

So many the altar area sharing,

Worship for each with love and caring.


To Supreme Lord are they the same,

Just in different roles, with different names?


Like extended family with Him sitting,

In appreciation worship for them befitting.


The guru treated as God, but never to Him equal,

For giving us Krishna deserving treatment regal.