Friday, April 28, 2017

Five Essential Things To Remember From The Bhagavad-gita

[Arjuna and Krishna]“O King, as I repeatedly recall this wondrous and holy dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna, I take pleasure, being thrilled at every moment.” (Sanjaya speaking to Dhritarashtra, Bhagavad-gita, 18.76)

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That which is learned easily, becomes forgotten easily in due course of time. That which is learned with great difficulty tends to remain. This only makes sense. If I am cramming for an exam, the night before I will likely memorize as much as I can. This way I will be prepared for the questions asked. As soon as the exam is over, I have no need to retain the information. On the other side, if I really learned the principles through hard work, challenging myself in the process, it will be more difficult to forget.

One of the most widely read philosophical books in history is the Bhagavad-gita. The title consists of Sanskrit words, but the interest spans far beyond those whose origins are India and Hindu culture. The book has been translated many times, with varieties of commentaries as well.

What are the key takeaways? What are the essential things to remember? The philosophical points aren’t so easy to learn, as sometimes people spend a lifetime studying the work and still remain amazed at the profound wisdom contained within.

1. Life is a struggle

This was likely the suspicion prior to reading the book. Even in the general approach towards the Divine, one of the common causes is distress. Krishna mentions this in the discussion with Arjuna.

“O best among the Bharatas [Arjuna], four kinds of pious men render devotional service unto Me - the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.16)

The struggle through life is touched upon directly. The living things around us, from large to small, are sparks of the spiritual energy. The Sanskrit word is amsha. Those amshas come from mam, or “me.” The “me” referred to is Krishna. Krishna is Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

“The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal, fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.7)

If we come from God, why should we struggle? The reason is the six senses, which include the mind, interacting with the material realm. The interaction leads to forgetfulness. We sink so low in that direction that we completely forget our eternal relationship with Krishna, who is all-bliss.

2. Birth and death occur in cycles

Doubt pertaining to the end of life is the spark that ignites the conversation. Arjuna is a bow warrior, and he is ready to lead his side to victory in a great war. The outcome isn’t known for sure beforehand, so there is some worry over how the opponents will be conquered. Still, Arjuna is pretty confident that his side will win.

That is the issue. Arjuna doesn’t want to kill people who are near and dear to him, who happen to be on the wrong side in the conflict. Arjuna is contemplating dropping his weapons and abandoning the battlefield. Let the rivals rule over the kingdom, even if it doesn’t belong to them.

Krishna begins the discussion by pointing out the true nature of life and death. Birth and the subsequent end of life occur in cycles. The spirit soul, the vital force living within, never gets killed. It is impossible to kill a soul, just as it is impossible to give birth to it. What constantly changes is the body, which consists of matter.

“The Blessed Lord said: While speaking learned words, you are mourning for what is not worthy of grief. Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor the dead.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.11)

So from whatever angle you view things, there is no reason to lament death. As an atheist, if you think the body is just chemicals, why are you lamenting over the destruction of chemicals that was inevitable to begin with? As a theist, you know that the soul lives on after death, so what is there to worry about?

3. Everyone has to work

The spiritualist is superior, right? They don’t get entangled in action and reaction, which is karma. They are above it all. That is true in a sense, except everyone has to work. No one can escape it; not even for a second.

“All men are forced to act helplessly according to the impulses born of the modes of material nature; therefore no one can refrain from doing something, not even for a moment.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.5)

Thus quitting alone doesn’t make you superior. You could still be attached to the material body, indicating ignorance. It is the nature of the work that matters. Arjuna had a job to do. It was his duty to uphold dharma, or righteousness. By choosing kama instead, he was letting material desire get in the way of what was beneficial to both him and the people who looked to him for protection.

4. God will protect

So many different people. So many desires. So many ways to go about attaining those desires. For this reason many dharmas exist. A common translation for that Sanskrit word is “religion,” but dharma is more than just faith. It is a way of life, corresponding with the essential characteristic of something.

“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)

Krishna advises Arjuna to abandon all dharmas and just surrender unto Him. This comes at the very end of their conversation. The timing is intentional. Lay every option on the table. Make the cases for materialism, mysticism, and empirical knowledge. Go through the various scenarios. Slash away any doubts that may remain. Then drop the most important instruction, that the nuances don’t really matter. Just surrender to God and you will be protected. He will ensure the proper outcome. Relax, do what you have to do, and dedicate everything to Him.

5. Bhakta and Bhagavan

This is the essence of the Bhagavad-gita. If all a person can remember is this important pair, then they don’t even require reading the book. From holding it in the hands a person can remember Arjuna and Krishna from that famous day, seated on the chariot on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.

[Arjuna and Krishna]A story from Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s pastimes gives confirmation. One time there was an illiterate person trying to read Bhagavad-gita. Others were laughing at the man. Chaitanya asked him why he had tears in his eyes, even though he couldn’t read. The man responded that just by holding the book he remembered Krishna and Arjuna. He particularly recalled how kind God is towards His devotees. In this case Krishna acted as the charioteer, which is typically a subordinate position. That kindness from God brought tears to the man’s eyes. Chaitanya then said that the man’s understanding of Bhagavad-gita was perfect.

In Closing:

Birth and death in cycle to occur,

Suspicion of life’s miseries to concur.

 

Work according to nature you’ve got,

Better than abruptly to stop.

 

These from Bhagavad-gita learn,

Knowledge from page’s every turn.

 

Devotee and Supreme Lord the pair,

Perfect understanding when of those aware.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Five Reasons To Be Confident In The Potency Of The Deity

[Narasimha appearing from pillar]“O most unfortunate Prahlada, you have always described a supreme being other than me, a supreme being who is above everything, who is the controller of everyone, and who is all-pervading. But where is He? If He is everywhere, then why is He not present before me in this pillar?” (Hiranyakashipu, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.8.12)

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“Worship a statue, you say? This object consisting of earthly elements, which you yourself have told me is inanimate in nature. After all, the fundamental truth of the spiritual science is the very difference between spirit and matter. Spirit is purusha, the enjoyer, while matter is prakriti, the enjoyed. Isn’t there a major contradiction with this idea of deity worship, then?”

These doubts make sense. Any person can create any image using material elements. That doesn’t automatically make it worshipable. The distinction is between imaginary and authority. The mind, which is a subtle material element, can never properly conceive of the Divine on its own. It is in the individual’s nature to serve a higher power. That is the real definition of dharma. Thus the practice of idol worship is quite common; the method is not exclusive to statues. Man makes divine figures out of practically anyone who displays exceptional skill in a particular area.

Authority is something different. It is following guidelines passed on for many generations, with the origin being the highest authority. There is no way to test the accuracy of the claim through simple sight, as we weren’t around at the beginning of the creation. There are other ways to establish authority. We can look to historical incidents to increase our confidence in the potency of the authorized practice of deity worship.

1. Narasimhadeva coming from a pillar

In this case the deity worshiped was in the heart. A young child knew that God is everywhere and that He always has a distinct spiritual identity. The conditions did not allow for formal worship of a physical deity. But where there is a will in devotion, there is a way to practice it. Even when facing the greatest obstructions, love for God will triumph.

[Narasimha appearing from pillar]Prahlada was only five years old and his father was antagonistic to the worship of Vishnu. Prahlada did not mind, but the father did. So Hiranyakashipu tried every which way to kill his son, but Prahlada survived. Finally, in mocking the boy’s claim that God is indeed everywhere, Hiranyakashipu asked if Vishnu was in the pillar next to them. To his surprise, God then emerged from that very pillar in a horrifying form, that of a half-man/half-lion. If He can appear from a pillar, He can certainly accept worship in the temple through the statue created on authority.

2. Hanuman on the flag on Arjuna’s chariot

The famous Bhagavad-gita has the setting of a battlefield set to see the greatest war in history. The attention is focused on one particular chariot, just prior to the war’s commencement. That chariot has wonderful and significant decorations. It holds the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Shri Krishna. He is the same Vishnu worshiped by Prahlada. He is the same Narasimhadeva who emerged from the pillar.

The lotus feet are the shelter for the distressed warrior named Arjuna. Also on that chariot is the flag bearing the image of Hanuman. The flag is symbolic of a past victory of a courageous devotee. Hanuman served Rama, and now the same Rama is there as Krishna.

But from the Mahabharata we learn that the flag was more than a symbol. Hanuman had previously offered to stay on the chariot of Arjuna, adding to the shouts of victory through that flag. The promise was made to Bhima, who is one of Arjuna’s brothers. If Hanuman, a great servant of the Lord, has the ability to appear through an image marked on an official flag, then certainly Vishnu has the ability to do the same with the deity in the temple.

3. Rama donating a deity

Visits to the temple are not a strict requirement. The atmosphere is the key, as just from seeing the deity a person can be reminded of their long forgotten link to the Divine. He is the best friend, but unless there is a connection the benefits of friendship do not come.

In Shri Rama’s kingdom a long time ago, a particular citizen had great attachment to Rama in His physical form. But as a king, the Lord sometimes had to leave town on business. To spare the pain of separation for this citizen, Rama donated a deity of Himself. It was understood that worshiping the deity was as good as worshiping Him.

At the present moment, due to the influence of maya we think that God is far away. The deity is the mercy of the Divine, appearing before us in a form that we can somewhat understand. Thus the deity is not to be taken lightly.

4. The story of Sakshi-gopala

Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu loved hearing the story about Sakshi-gopala. This was a specific deity that once did something amazing. Of course the devotees know that God can do anything, but even the non-believers this time were surprised.

Gopala is another name for Krishna. It means “protector of the cows.” The deity became sakshi, or witness, to an agreement made between two brahmanas, or members of the priestly order. One brahmana went back on his promise, claiming he had never made it in the first place. The other brahmana vowed to bring the deity of Gopala, since the agreement was made in front of that deity. Gopala did indeed travel, on its own, to bear witness to the truth.

5. Uddhava-gita

In the Bhagavad-gita we get the simple explanation of what should be offered to God the person. Fruit, water, flowers - nothing extraordinary is mentioned. The key is to make the offering with love. Then Krishna will accept.

“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)

This does not mean that sweets and more elaborate preparations are prohibited. Nor does it mean that Krishna is against deity worship simply because it wasn’t specifically touched upon in the conversation with Arjuna.

There is another conversation, between Krishna and another cousin named Uddhava. Found in the latter portions of the Shrimad Bhagavatam, that discussion is also known as the Uddhava-gita. Krishna there specifically mentions deity worship. He gives general guidelines on how it should be performed.

If God exists, of course He should be worshiped. If He can be contemplated, remembered, and honored within the mind, then why not also in the physical form? Not only is such worship authorized by those who know things as they are, there is tremendous benefit received from even the smallest effort.

In Closing:

Non-devoted as idol to see,

But deity equally potent to be.

 

Supreme Lord for our eyes coming,

Proof as Gopala witness becoming.

 

And once from pillar emerged,

For giving punishment deserved.

 

Worship guidelines to Uddhava gave,

To reap reward, Divine image to save.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Five Things Decorating Arjuna’s Chariot At Kurukshetra

[Arjuna on chariot]“O King, at that time Arjuna, the son of Pandu, who was seated in his chariot, his flag marked with Hanuman, took up his bow and prepared to shoot his arrows, looking at the sons of Dhritarashtra. O King, Arjuna then spoke to Hrishikesha [Krishna] these words:” (Bhagavad-gita, 1.20)

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Bhagavad-gita means “Song of God.” It didn’t take long to deliver. If you come across a translation version today, which has the proper respect for the teacher and the disciple, then from the many pages the task of reading seems daunting. The verses themselves don’t take up much space; the majority of the content is commentary.

After all, the battle of Kurukshetra was some five thousand years ago. The two main speakers conversed in Sanskrit, which is the oldest language known to man. The script for Sanskrit is called Devanagari, which literally translates to “city of the gods.” Needless to say, the language is reserved for the highest class people, those with a sharp intellect.

In Kali Yuga man is generally unfortunate and dull-witted, in comparison to ages past. For these reasons commentary is necessary. The basis is the content, the words themselves. But there is also tremendous significance to the objects of the scene. The conversation took place on a battlefield, with the picture zoomed in on a particular chariot.

1. The best bow

The Gandiva bow was present as the Bhagavad-gita was spoken. This was a special weapon handed down through the generations, first coming from Lord Brahma, who is the creator. Imagine a painter sitting down to work. They have their palette of colors in front of them, and from there the possibilities are endless.

In a similar manner, Brahma takes the three ingredients of goodness, passion and ignorance and sets about creating. The result is up to 8,400,000 different suits or sets of clothes. We generally refer to these as species, but they are nothing more than a certain combination of material ingredients occupied by an individual spark of the spiritual energy.

2. The best bow-warrior

What good is a bow without someone to use it? Arjuna possessed the Gandiva. He was seated on the chariot, ready to go to war. Arjuna was worthy of receiving the Gandiva, as it was a weapon revered by the pious.

As there is a limited amount of independence in a material existence, a weapon can be used in any direction. Arjuna would not use the powerful bow for evil. He was a protector of the innocent. His party, the Pandavas, had been wronged consistently for too long. Now it was time to uphold justice. Arjuna was the leading fighter for his side and everyone understood just how skilled he was in combat.

3. The best well-wisher

Arjuna and his Gandiva were enough to ensure victory, even if there were millions of soldiers gathered on the battlefield. Also decorating that chariot was the greatest well-wisher known to man. We typically measure greatness in numbers. Quantity. Magnitude. Shri Krishna is the greatest well-wisher using this method of measurement.

This is because He is the well-wisher to everyone. As the Supersoul He resides in the heart. Not just mine. Not just yours. Everyone’s. He is the same individual. It looks like He is divided and spread out, but He is actually one.

Krishna is a well-wisher, but the corresponding party has a decision to make. They either accept His friendship or ignore it. Arjuna accepted it, and for this reason Krishna was seated on the chariot.

4. The best feet

Krishna’s feet are worshiped throughout the world since time immemorial. They are soft and beautiful. They resemble the lotus flower. In God the person we find contradictory features. He is both the most delicate and the strongest. He is the richest and the most renounced. His influence is everywhere yet He is never divided.

A person doesn’t even need to read the entire Bhagavad-gita or fully understand its contents. Simple attachment to the lotus feet decorating that famed chariot is enough to achieve perfection in life. Arjuna had such attachment, and so his senses were directed towards pleasing the master of all senses, Hrishikesha.

5. The best symbol

The Gandiva bow in the hand of the most skilled warrior who was directed by the greatest well-wisher whose feet are the supreme shelter. What else was needed? The arrows? The “go”order? Another important decoration on that chariot is the flag. Not merely a sign of which side Arjuna was on, this flag symbolized great heroism in a specific cause.

The flag is of Hanuman. Many years prior Hanuman was engaged in a similar task. He took on a group of people dedicated to adharma, or unrighteousness. They had committed grievous sins, and Hanuman was there to play a part in correcting the wrong. He was guided by the same well-wisher, receiving instructions from Him in His transcendental form of Rama.

[Arjuna on chariot]Hanuman had attachment to the same lotus feet, and not surprisingly he was successful in the mission. Now Arjuna was engaged in a similar task, and so he had the flag of Hanuman flying on his chariot. In this way success was guaranteed. The ultimate message of the Gita, protection through surrender to the Divine, is perfectly illustrated in just the image of the chariot.

In Closing:

Sacred Bhagavad-gita to read,

To reach the end no need.

 

From chariot image just,

In greatest well-wisher trust.

 

Warrior wielding Gandiva bow,

With lotus feet of guide ready to go.

 

Flag of devoted Hanuman flying,

Work while on Supreme Lord relying.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Three Common Prayers And How To Make Them Even Better

[Shri Krishna]“In this endeavor there is no loss or diminution, and a little advancement on this path can protect one from the most dangerous type of fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.40)

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It’s what really distinguishes the humans from the rest of the community of living things. Not the ability to do calculus. Not the ability to put together a complicated machine. Certainly the animals can’t do those things, but compassion, cleanliness, austerity and honesty are what make the real difference. These four come directly from religion. Even the atheistic person possessing these traits derives the benefit originally from religious practices.

It is good to be cultured. It is good to pray on a regular basis. The sober-minded person understands that there is a higher power involved. Everything came together from a bang of chemicals, so the theory says. Then there was evolution. But what instigated that? Can you generate a chemical explosion that then results in a smartphone or laptop computer? Even if you could do this, there is still a lack of randomness. You are the catalyst; there is intentional action and subsequent reaction. And something is behind the action.

Vedic culture teaches that the more you learn about God, the more you are benefitted. Since He is unlimited, ananta, He is impossible to know completely. Still, just a little understanding, some progress along the path, protects a person from the greatest fear.

One way to stay connected to the Divine is prayer. Pray regularly. Keep a routine. From reviewing some of the common prayers, there is a way to make them better. The improvement is connected to the increase in knowledge about the attributes of the Divine.

1. God, give us our daily bread

It is better to ask God for bread than the atheistic government. This was the tactic of the classic communist regimes. Tell the people to pray for bread. When it doesn’t arrive due to the limitations on farming and enterprise amongst the oppressed citizens, ask them to pray again, but this time to the government. With the government providing the bread, hopefully the people will be fooled into ignoring worship of the Divine.

“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)

A slight alteration to the common prayer goes something like this:

“God, please accept this offering. I know that you are atmarama, and thus in need of nothing. Still, the offering is with love, as much as I think I have, which is very little. Still, I know that you are merciful to the surrendered souls. I promise to try to bring the same offerings to you on a daily basis. Whatever you leave behind I will honor.”

2. Come through for me this one time and I’ll never bother you again

This is the prayer made in desperation. Having not gone to God recently, this dire situation requires extra help. A miracle. Something great. The person offering the prayer understands that they’ve neglected spiritual life. Hopefully, the man upstairs doesn’t hold a grudge. From getting this one benediction, all problems will be solved.

Make a slight alteration and the nature of the prayer changes, becoming much better in the process:

“God, I offer this prayer to you simply to maintain your association. You can do as you like. Put me in a dog’s body in the next life. Send me to hell. Promote me to heaven and make available so many material amenities. It doesn’t matter. I will still remain devoted to you, to the best of my ability. I ask to have this opportunity, life after life.”

Maharishi Valmiki makes mention of a certain group of people who make such prayers. He says that whether in heaven or hell, they always see Shri Rama, standing with His bow and arrow. Rama is their Divine form of choice, understanding that the one source can appear in different ways.

3. Praying for others

It’s compassion. You want others to do well. You want your loved ones to be safe. You don’t want harm to befall them. “Let me take their suffering and pain. I can handle it. Please spare them.”

Two alterations make this prayer so much more powerful. First, expand the definition of “loved ones” to include the entire human race. Second, pray that they get more than just immunity from pain:

“God, please let them find the shelter of your lotus feet. Let them taste the nectar of devotion. Let them swim in that ocean, which Shrila Rupa Gosvami refers to as bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu. Indeed, if they simply read the book of his with that title, they will benefit so much. I know that bhakti is about desire and that you can’t force someone to follow devotion, but at least give them the opportunity to hear about your glories. Help me to spread the message of Divine love so that it touches so many hearts.”

[Shri Krishna]These prayers will only be made if there is an understanding of the form, personality, names, and pastimes of the Divine. If the picture remains foggy, then prayers won’t be to the highest standard. It is something like approaching the king of the land and asking him to fix your leaky faucet. The king can do so much more. The greatest gift offered by God is His constant presence. That gift is already available in the form of the Supersoul residing within the heart, but without proper knowledge the connection remains down.

In Closing:

Supreme Lord in heart right now found,

But lacking knowledge connection down.

 

With understanding of His nature taking,

Improved the common prayers making.

 

More than just for daily bread to ask,

With love offer food as routine task.

 

More than safety, their spirits to alight,

By giving mankind the Divine light.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Four Ways That I Am Like Hiranyakashipu

[Narasimha and Hiranyakashipu]“Grant me that I not die within any residence or outside any residence, during the daytime or at night, nor on the ground or in the sky. Grant me that my death not be brought by any being other than those created by you, nor by any weapon, nor by any human being or animal.” (Hiranyakashipu praying to Lord Brahma, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.3.36)

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He took his time; that’s for sure. It wasn’t easy. More strenuous than going on a three day juice cleanse, Hiranyakashipu underwent austerities to the point of extreme that he caught the attention of the self-create, Lord Brahma. Also known as Svayambhu, Brahma actually emerged from the lotus stem that grew out of the lotus-like navel of Lord Vishnu, who is also known as Padmanabha. Since this birth lacks the typical mother and father combination, Brahma is known as the one who is born from the self.

Hiranyakashipu wanted more than just a meeting. There was an interest to be met. Svartha is interest, or profit, of this world. More specifically, it relates to the present body, which corresponds with a single lifetime. Paramartha is profit in the future, the afterlife.

To show just how not interested in paramartha he was, Hiranyakashipu asked for immortality. Better to just avoid the afterlife altogether. Realizing that Brahma himself is not immune from death, Hiranyakashipu tried to get around the issue. He asked for immunity from death in so many situations. Pleased by the king’s austerities, Brahma granted those wishes.

Of course just one percent vulnerability is enough for kala, or time, to strike. Hiranyakashipu got the even better benediction of having time personified arrive in a ghastly form. Fortunately, the paramartha was liberation, and the boons of protection offered by Brahma were not violated. In many ways we try the same approach as Hiranyakashipu, thinking that the inevitable afterlife will never arrive if we take certain precautions.

1. I think money will keep me safe

Things don’t look good at the company I work for. They just lost their two biggest clients. In a few months revenue will run out. I’ve been through this before, and I’m not looking forward to it. Dust off the old resume, update it, and then hit the job market. I hate it. I don’t want to do it anymore.

Let me try my hand at stock trading. This way I can work from home. I will make my own hours. No boss to answer to. If I make enough money, then everything will be fine. I won’t have to deal with anymore problems. Indeed, material amenities, and specifically the lack of them, is the main concern for practically everyone in a material existence.

2. I think marriage will keep me safe

Why me? Why am I the only one who can’t find love and the happiness it supposedly brings? I’d like to get married, just once. If things don’t work out, that’s okay. But right now I am a social outcaste. In every circle I enter, the questions inevitably arise:

“When are you getting married? What are you waiting for? Get out there and make it happen. Yes, good things come to those who wait, but success here isn’t just going to fall into your lap.”

Of course lost in this outlook is that so many people are married already. They still have problems. They are not immune to worry, angst, and fear. The threefold miseries of life still strike them. Even a happy marriage doesn’t mean that distress will vanish forever.

3. I think healthy habits will keep me safe

I am going to eat healthy from now on. No more pizza every day. No more ice cream. Regular exercise, and forced restriction on diet. Then so many diseases will stay away. I will do some meditational yoga as well. Keep the body fit.

[Narasimha and Hiranyakashipu]Again, kala can strike at any time. Hiranyakashipu was incredibly powerful. The entire world feared him. Yet at the opportune moment, when the Supreme Lord decided it was time to show the greatest materialist the force of the Divine, the king lost everything. His fit body became the target for the fingernails of Narasimhadeva, the half-man/half-lion incarnation.

4. I think anything except devotion, bhakti, will keep me safe

The fuel of the engine of the vehicle of samsara is the avoidance of bhakti-yoga. Any desire that is not service in love to God keeps reincarnation going. Reincarnation means changing bodies. Changing bodies means birth and death. Birth means that death is inevitable.

“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, Bhagavad-gita, 2.27)

Bhakti will keep me safe in the sense that the devotion will never perish. There was a corresponding actor in the real life drama starring Hiranyakashipu. The five-year old son, Prahlada, did not make any similar pleas to Lord Brahma. Prahlada knew better, despite being so young. He saw the futility in material life. He took to devotion instead, and from that he became so powerful that even the empowered atheistic father couldn’t stop him.

In Closing:

By Lord Brahma empowered,

Blessings on him showered.

 

Though looking immortality to find,

At last losing to Narasimha as time.

 

That Hiranyakashipu imitated by me,

That in other ways safe too I’ll be.

 

But from bhakti alone protection to know,

Otherwise forced in reincarnation to go.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

What Are You Selling

[Hanuman with Sita]“And O best of the monkeys, if you have been sent by Rama, the knower of the self, then certainly I should speak with you.” (Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 36.10)

arhase ca kapi śreṣṭha mayā samabhibhāṣitum |
yadi asi preṣitaḥ tena rāmeṇa vidita ātmanā ||

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One of those rare days. You are home during the daytime. You have to go somewhere in the late afternoon, so you decided it was better to just skip work. Take it easy, instead of hustling home, changing, and then rushing out the door again.

At around eleven in the morning, the doorbell rings. Your wife is home and she says, “Don’t answer it.” Perplexed, before you can inquire into the cause she responds, “It’s probably somebody selling something. If we just keep quiet, they’ll eventually go away.”

This response implies many things. For starters, solicitors visiting the home must be a common occurrence. Your wife employed the ascending process of knowledge to make an educated guess that the person at the door wasn’t coming with an important message. Indeed, a few minutes later you see that her guess is confirmed. The person was selling something, and they have moved on to another house.

You can also infer that the thing being sold wasn’t of much value. At least that is the perspective of the homeowner. Who wants to be bothered with a sales pitch when they know they will decline at the end. “Yes” is the easy answer. Highly influential people pay to have a staff whose main responsibility it is to decline offers.

The above referenced verse from the Ramayana provides an example of a person with whom a conversation is worthwhile. Sita Devi makes the declaration, and she provides justification. The person at the door, so to speak, is Shri Hanuman. He has not come to bother Sita. He is not there to harass her. He is not interested in scaring her into submission, as were the other people surrounding the princess of Videha.

[Hanuman with Sita]Hanuman has been sent by Rama. Who is Rama? He is the knower of the self, vidita atmana. He is also Sita’s husband. Who is Hanuman? He is the best of the kapis, or monkeys. This means that he is not an ordinary forest dweller coming from the land of Kishkindha. His presence in Lanka is surely conspicuous, but it is not without cause.

Hanuman is carrying a message from Rama. The knower of the self wants to convey something important to His beautiful, chaste, and devoted wife. Hanuman is given the opportunity to deliver that message. The postman might have a difficult time in inclement weather. Driving through snow is dangerous. Walking door to door in a heat wave is no picnic.

Hanuman faced the greatest obstacles in his daring journey to Lanka. But he continued forward since he desperately wanted to succeed in delivering the message. To this day he continues to deliver a similar message to the fortunate souls: be devoted to God.

Other representatives like him carry the same message. If they are not able to reach us personally, with direct contact, they establish mechanisms for the delivery of the message. They write books. They initiate disciples who then carry those books to the interested public. They give lectures that are preserved in sound recordings.

[Shrila Prabhupada]There are so many people trying to sell so many different things. We may not want to answer the door when they arrive, but someone like Hanuman should never be turned away. Even if he appears in the oddest of settings, like a grove of trees populated with female man-eating ogres, he should be welcomed. Sita and Rama are always ready to hear from him, and he is always ready to show the path of Divine light to any who are willing to accept it.

In Closing:

A worthy messenger the declaration,

For it Sita giving justification.

 

Since by husband Rama was sent,

In face of difficulties forward went.

 

The most important thing selling,

Glories of Supreme Lord telling.

 

Others like him carrying holy name,

To be accepted with honor the same.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Five Things You Can Do In The Human Form

[Lord Krishna]“O scion of Bharata, you should understand that I am also the knower in all bodies, and to understand this body and its owner is called knowledge. That is My opinion.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 13.3)

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Athato-brahma-jijnasa. “Now is the time for inquiring about spiritual matters.” This Vedic aphorism implies that previously the time wasn’t right. What exactly was the past? Where was the living being? They were in other bodies. There are up to 8,400,000 different species, but only in the human form does this most important call to action manifest. Indeed, we know that there are many things that can only be done in the human form, indicating progressive divergence from the animal species.

1. Read the newspaper

In industrialized nations, it is not uncommon to keep a dog in the home. Dog is man’s best friend, after all. If something big happened in the world, how will the dog find out? What if you placed the newspaper in front of it? Will the dog read it? Or will it likely use the paper for something else?

This simple act, reading the newspaper, illustrates the unique ability of the human being to gather higher knowledge. Reading is nothing more than hearing. Hearing is accepting sounds produced from others. The human being is most benefitted when they hear from authority figures. The highest authority is the original person, and He passes on the highest wisdom to others, who keep the line moving for successive generations.

2. Study the psychology of beings

Hearing from authority figures is gathering knowledge through the descending process. The ascending process is another way to increase knowledge. Dogs and other animals have this ability. That is the whole meaning to training.

The human being has the unique ability to understand psychology. This involves studying the behavior of others, trying to decipher what makes them do what they do. The dogs don’t have this ability. The cats can’t understand depression, chronic anger, and jealousy. They may exhibit these emotions, but they are not able to understand the cause.

3. Understand death

The fish has no idea that it is in water. The cow doesn’t know that after a certain amount of time, death will arrive. The mature human being, on the other hand, cannot seem to forget this sobering truth. Indeed, Shri Rama once remarked that the adult has no other fear than death.

“Just as the ripened fruit has no other fear than falling, the man who has taken birth has no other fear than death.” (Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 105.17)

Knowledge of the inevitable nature of death would seem to be a blemish on the human birth. After all, who would want to live in constant fear? Aren’t the animals living a better life as a result? Ignorance is bliss, is it not?

4. Question the reason for living

After I realize my mortality, the logical questions to follow are, “Why am I here? Why am I living?” Again, only the human being can raise these questions. From Vedic philosophy we learn that this inquisitiveness is key to reaching the height of an existence. To live is to feel bliss. Whatever gets in the way of that attainment is maya, or illusion. The sober-minded human being has the chance to escape illusion once and for all.

5. Know God

This is the summit of knowledge. The animals have a limited ability to gather knowledge. For the human being there is practically no limit. The best course is to know the person who knows everything. In the Bhagavad-gita He reveals that He is the knower in all bodies.

The field is kshetra. The knower of the field is kshetrajna. I am the localized knower inside the field that is my body. But my knowledge is limited to the local level. God, on the other hand, knows every field. He is everywhere through His expansion of the Supersoul.

[Lord Krishna]Knowing God is not difficult. Through the ascending process the proper understanding will never come. There is simply not enough time nor the proper mental capacity to reach the right conclusion. Fortunately, there is the descending process. The chain of disciplic succession, parampara, brings the knowledge from on high. Those who receive this knowledge, accept it, and apply it to their way of living are the truly fortunate ones, as they make the most out of the auspicious human form.

In Closing:

Difference to animals indeed,

Like ability for newspaper to read.

 

To question life’s purpose and meaning,

Scientific data from others receiving.

 

Impending death to know,

Choice in association to go.

 

Towards God most important step,

Consciousness of Him, never to forget.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Worthy Of Conversation

[Shri Hanuman]“And O best of the monkeys, if you have been sent by Rama, the knower of the self, then certainly I should speak with you.” (Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 36.10)

arhase ca kapi śreṣṭha mayā samabhibhāṣitum |
yadi asi preṣitaḥ tena rāmeṇa vidita ātmanā ||

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You can’t just force your way into the White House. As much as you may desire a meeting with the President of the United States, there are certain protocols. Make an appointment. You likely have to be an important person. Sure, the leader of the free world may not have anything against the little people, but there are just too many of them to meet with individually. For this reason special interests form. A small group represents a much larger one. The same concept is there with the members of the legislative branch.

A long time back a powerful king insisted on meeting a most beautiful princess. She was a queen-in-waiting, actually. She was already married, to the prince of Ayodhya. As even in family life there can be problems involving rivalry, jealousy, and anger over offenses, Sita found herself in the forest. She was following her husband. This was her dharma, which she accepted both with respect to tradition and her own sentiments.

Ravana, the leader of Lanka, made sure to meet Sita only when the husband Rama was not by her side. He masked his shape, as well. It would be like entering the White House dressed as a foreign leader. Except the dress applied by Ravana represented a person of an even higher stature.

Ravana looked like a parivrajaka sannyasi. This is a person of the renounced order who wanders. They go from place to place, not maintaining a permanent residence. The travel facilitates the spreading of transcendental wisdom. The cultured households gladly welcome such wanderers, for they know there is a tremendous benefit to receiving such a guest.

[Ravana visiting Sita's cottage]Sita Devi is the most cultured, and so she was kind to Ravana in the false guise. But the fiend eventually showed his true form, that of a hideous Rakshasa. This is something like a man-eating ogre. Ravana was not worthy to converse with Sita, but he forced himself upon her. He took her back to Lanka, against her will.

She continued to refuse his advances, even after receiving threats of physical violence. Ravana offered to make her the chief queen in Lanka, but Sita had no interest in this. Ravana tried his best, but the flaw was there from the outset. He simply wasn’t worthy of speaking to her.

In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Sita gives the parameters for which a person is worthy of conversing with her, on an equal level. Here she is praising Shri Hanuman, who is the best of the monkeys. The Sanskrit word used is kapi, and in that ancient time period the kapis could talk and organize in a semblance of civilized life.

Sita says that Hanuman is sent by Rama, who is described to be the knower of the self. On the other side, Ravana is a knower of his body. There is a major distinction. The body is produced of maya, which is illusion. For this reason Ravana was never happy. He knew his body, but that body’s demands were always changing. He had enough material enjoyment to make any atheist happy. There was sufficient wine, meat, and women available in his kingdom. Since he was the feared ruler, there was no impediment to enjoyment.

Rama, meanwhile, is the knower of the self. Those who know their true identity as spirit soul are the most cultured. Rama, of course, is the knower of all identities. He describes this in the Bhagavad-gita, while in His form of Krishna speaking to the bow-warrior Arjuna.

“O scion of Bharata, you should understand that I am also the knower in all bodies, and to understand this body and its owner is called knowledge. That is My opinion.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 13.3)

Rama is the knower, kshetrajna, in all bodies. Sita is the wife to the person who is all-knowing. Hanuman is sent by that supreme knower, and so he can speak with Sita on an equal level.

Sita Devi is also Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune. Worship of Lakshmi is prominent in Vedic culture. The proper way to approach her is to be dear to her husband. After all, the gifts she distributes are intended for that purpose. Otherwise, the worshiper runs the risk of going the way of Ravana, who ultimately lost everything.

[Hanuman's heart]Hanuman is dear to both Sita and Rama. He can speak with either of them at any time. For this reason Goswami Tulsidas has glorified Hanuman so profusely. It is difficult to understand God and His eternal consort, but through the mercy of the representative the task is made easier. The difference is like having the task of crossing a vast ocean change to that of crossing a small puddle, one left by the hoof-print of a calf.

In Closing:

Dressed as wandering mendicant to see,

But not worthy of audience was he.

 

By force Sita to Lanka taking,

And trying her chief queen making.

 

Not to work, since enmity at heart,

But trusting Hanuman from the start.

 

On an equal level talking and sitting,

Since sent by Rama a friend befitting.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Provide The Missing Ingredient

[Lord Krishna]“The atheistic philosophers, who do not agree to accept the Supreme Personality of Godhead as the original cause of creation, think that the material world moves by the action and reaction of different material elements. A simple example of the interaction of elements occurs when we mix soda and acid and the movement of effervescence is produced. But one cannot produce life by such interaction of chemicals. There are 8,400,000 different species of life, with different wishes and different actions. How the material force is working cannot be explained just on the basis of chemical reaction.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 4.11.17 Purport)

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Friend1: I heard a really good argument recently.

Friend2: Who was involved? Husband and wife? Those can get out of hand quick. It becomes something like a car-wreck. You know the damage is bad, but you just can’t look away.

Friend1: Sorry, I should have been clearer. This was an argument of a philosophical nature; more of a discussion than a disagreement.

Friend2: Oh.

Friend1: It was about the origin of life.

Friend2: Atheism versus theism?

Friend1: Something like that.

Friend2: Okay, please continue.

Friend1: Well, you know about the atheist’s argument that life comes from chemicals. We are all just a certain composition of these chemicals.

Friend2: I’ve had atheists argue with me. They say they don’t believe that. Well, to be more clear, they do believe in the chemicals aspect, but they say that doesn’t invalidate morality and other such things.

Friend1: What do you mean?

Friend2: It’s a little difficult to understand. They say that we are chemicals, but that there is still a purpose to life: progress.

Friend1: That doesn’t make sense. So random collisions have a purpose? Isn’t randomness the opposite of intelligence?

Friend2: Exactly. I’m just telling you what I’ve heard. That kind of atheist is more of a nature-worshiper. People follow the Supreme Personality of Godhead in all respects.

“All of them - as they surrender unto Me - I reward accordingly. Everyone follows My path in all respects, O son of Pritha.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.11)

[Lord Krishna]The atheists worship God in His feature of the material nature. That is His separated energy.

Friend1: Right. Okay, before we get sidetracked let me tell you this argument. So the one side says there is no God. Everything is chemicals. The atom is the essence of life.

Friend2: Paramanu. Even atomic theory is explained in the Vedas!

Friend1: The counterargument goes something like this: “Okay, if life comes from chemicals, please provide the missing ingredient to bring a dead body back to life. It’s not that hard. Just do it. Find the chemical.”

Friend2: Wow. I really like that one. Of course they will argue that progress is being made. They are on their way. One day success will happen.

Friend1: Yeah, you have to love that.

Friend2: They are really shameless, if you think about it. Science has been consistently wrong.

Friend1: The material variety?

Friend2: Yes. Natural philosophy, as it was once called. That is the meaning to progress, after all. You can only progress from something if that something is defective. Since the study relies on progress, it is implied that there is imperfection at every point.

Friend1: Wow, I love that.

Friend2: I heard it from His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. One of those things where you sit back and think as soon as you hear it.

[Shrila Prabhupada]Friend1: So what is the proper explanation for the missing ingredient?

Friend2: What do you mean?

Friend1: Well, we know the scientists can’t bring the dead body back to life? How does the theist do it?

Friend2: You can’t. Spirit soul has left. Life comes from life. A living thing gets its existence from the spirit within. That’s why you can have something as small as an ant and still have life. The matter covering spirit doesn’t really make a difference. Once the animating force within leaves, nothing can be done to revive the dead matter.

Friend1: How do you get new life, then?

Friend2: Spirit travels to a new destination. In fact, that travel occurs constantly. The body of an individual is never fixed. There is the time factor. Through time the individual spirit soul lives in an ever-changing body. When that body is finally completely discarded, the soul travels to a new destination.

Friend1: What is the origin of everything, then?

Friend2: God. He is inconceivable, achintya. He is without beginning, anadi. He is without end, ananta. He glances over the unmanifest material substance, pradhana, which then transforms into the three modes of material nature. Those modes are like ingredients that combine to create the many varieties of species. Still, without the spiritual injection there cannot be life. Spirit is attached to Supreme Spirit, and one who understands this is on their way to solving the mystery of life.

In Closing:

Of chemicals only life composed,

Eventually back to earth disposed.

 

When hearing this argument old and tried,

Ask that simply missing ingredient provide.

 

To that body once living,

Again the spark to it giving.

 

Truth that life only from other life sent,

Departed soul towards next body went.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Three Reasons God Does Not Show Us The Complete Future

[universal form]“O Lord of the universe, I see in Your universal body many, many forms - bellies, mouths, eyes - expanded without limit. There is no end, there is no beginning, and there is no middle to all this.” (Arjuna, Bhagavad-gita, 11.16)

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“Yeah, yeah, I get it. There is a God. I know you are eager to convince me. You can’t stop talking about Him. All the philosophy is nice, but why can’t He just give us some proof? Forget appearing before us. I know that is a difficult thing to ask. But what about showing the future? Give us proof of the afterlife. Show us what is going to happen in a hundred years. Just provide a vision. That will go a long way in convincing others that He truly does exist.”

Forgetting that there are other forms of sense interaction, the skeptical human being insists on sight alone when trying to understand that person who is beyond comprehension. The same person who confuses a snake for a rope, a mirage for an oasis, and a lying politician for an honest steward of the people’s interest insists on visual evidence of the Divine. An aspect to the proposed vision is a glimpse into the future. There are many reasons the Supreme Lord does not provide this.

1. No guarantee that we’ll believe it

There’s already so much skepticism. I can have video evidence of a special interest group conspiring to generate fake protests for a politician they don’t like. Everything is on tape, from the planning to the players. Yet when that video is shown, the supporters of that group will say that the information is fabricated. They will attack the person who secretly recorded the conversations. They will deflect attention, intentionally.

That skepticism is with a comparatively trivial interest like politics. The interest of enjoying in the material world, separate from God, is superior to all others. Why would a simple vision of the future be believed, especially if it gives proof of the worthless nature of material sense gratification? Rather, skepticism is sure to emerge in full force in opposition. Attempts will be made to discredit the messenger, even if that messenger were God Himself.

2. Bhakti is not based on fear

The way out of the material world is liberation. The only permanent liberation is bhakti, which is love and devotion. Bhakti-yoga is devotion directed to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Love and fear do not mix. If a person only approaches the Supreme Lord to get a favor, to escape from a difficult situation, pure bhakti is not there. Of course the approach is good. It is purifying. The sentiment is appreciated.

“O best among the Bharatas [Arjuna], four kinds of pious men render devotional service unto Me - the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.16)

If Krishna showed everyone the future, it would be a way to scare them into submission. Then there wouldn’t be bhakti. A perfect example is the universal form shown to Duryodhana. He was one of the Kauravas who had illegally taken the land belonging to the Pandavas. War was imminent, and Krishna decided to make one last effort at peace.

Krishna is Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He was on earth at the time, some five thousand years ago, and He generally remained neutral in the conflict. He was a well-wisher to the Pandavas, though, since they were devotees. Duryodhana was not a devotee, but this did not mean he was restricted access to Krishna.

When Krishna arrived to broker a deal, Duryodhana secretly hatched a plan to tie up Krishna. This would weaken the spirits of the Pandavas, Duryodhana thought. As the knower of all fields, Krishna responded to the ridiculous plan by showing the universal form. This is like putting everything that exists into a single vision. It is awe-inspiring. It is one kind of visual proof of God’s existence.

[universal form]Yet that vision did not include the future fate of Duryodhana and his men. The omission is noteworthy since later on Krishna again showed the universal form. This vision was unique, however. It included the time element. Arjuna saw the many fighters assembled on the battlefield rushing into Krishna’s many mouths. This was an indication of the future outcome. Arjuna was already a devotee, so the vision of the future helped to give him confidence in the bhakti path he was already inclined towards. Duryodhana had no such inclination.

3. We kind of already know the future

Take a look at the past. What is the one thing we know has happened to every single living thing? The experience in life is varied, and the times change. People from a hundred years ago didn’t have internet. They didn’t have television. Life on earth was completely different.

Yet everyone from the past has died. That is the guaranteed future of which we are already aware. We know that the body constantly changes, from boyhood to youth to old age. At the time of death, the individual spirit soul takes on another body, discarding the previous one.

The conversation between Krishna and Arjuna, known as the Bhagavad-gita, reveals the future to so many different situations. Materialist, knowledge-seeker, mystic yogi, sinner, pious person, devotee - the future is rather clearly laid out in Vedic literature. What more proof do we need? The exact details may not be revealed for every situation, but then those details aren’t significant. Know that there is a difference between body and spirit. Know that spirit emanates from Supreme Spirit. Know that the two should always be linked in consciousness, which is the real meaning of yoga. Know that the future will remain just like the present for as long as that link is not created and maintained.

In Closing:

To be sure, with confidence to know,

Why not vision of future to show?

 

This way proof of God to accept,

And His sound words not to reject.

 

Devotion not by fear instigated,

By love and higher goal initiated.

 

Of guaranteed death already aware,

From spiritual life more is there.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Four Reasons Krishna Is Known As Janardana

[Lord Krishna]“O scion of Bharata, you should understand that I am also the knower in all bodies, and to understand this body and its owner is called knowledge. That is My opinion.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 13.3)

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The verses, which can be sung, are poetic in nature. The translation for the word gita is “song.” Bhagavad-gita is the song of Bhagavan, a word which translates to “Supreme Personality of Godhead.”

Bhagavan is a person; He is not simply an attribute-less light. He is more than a concept conceived by the contemplative mind. He is beyond comprehension, in fact. For these reasons and many more, Arjuna addresses Bhagavan, who is sitting right next to him, with many different names in that famous conversation.

One of those names is Janardana, and it suits the cousin and well-wisher of the five Pandava brothers.

1. Maintainer of the people

There is a general order to things. The superior force has responsibility over the inferior. Human beings keep animals as pets. The parents run the household. The local leader maintains the community. The leader of the nation is in charge of the general welfare.

For all living entities, for all people, there is Janardana. Under the illusion of maya, we think that we are the doer. After all, I make the decision to get off at the next exit while operating a motor vehicle on the highway. I choose what to put in my mouth for food on a daily basis. Who else is making these decisions?

Krishna is Janardana because He maintains the living entities. I have no way of creating food on my own. Even if I take to farming, I must use things already existing in nature to get the desired result. Everything that exists, which arrive in a predictable and reliable pattern, is provided for by the higher authority.

2. Controller of the people

There is a limitation on what I can do. The limitation is based on the body type accepted at the time of birth. There is no doubt that the body constantly changes; noted particularly from youth to adulthood. The same body changes completely at the time of death.

“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.13)

Spirit soul is practically unlimited in its abilities, as it intrinsically has knowledge, eternality, and bliss. The body is something like a holding cell, imposing limitations. That body is part of the material energy. The source of both material and spiritual worlds is Shri Krishna.

“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)

The closest the living entity comes to removing these limitations in a mechanical way is mystic yoga. Even then, there are still limitations. A siddhi of yoga by itself does not guarantee liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Nor does it mean that a material body will never be accepted again. The controller of the material energy is Janardana, who by extension is the controller of the people as well.

3. Knower in all bodies

At the local level there is the combination of the field and the knower of the field. The Sanskrit words are kshetra and kshetrajna. The body is the field and the individual living within is the knower. This is important to understand because the kshetrajna in one field cannot be the knower in another kshetra. Outside help is required. Communication is necessary. Even so, there is no direct experience.

The Supreme Lord is different. He is supreme for a reason. He is the kshetrajna in all fields. He knows what everyone is thinking, doing, feeling, desiring. He knows this for every single living thing, past, present and future. He accomplishes omniscience through His expansion as the Supersoul. Each living body technically thus has two knowers: one active and one passive. The Supersoul does not interfere with decisions. He remains neutral and close by, waiting for the individual to ask for direction.

4. Maintainer of Arjuna

The conversation between Krishna and Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra happened for real. It is a historical event. Since God has the most artistic mind, His activities have tremendous symbolism to them. The Bhagavad-gita represents many things simultaneously. Disciple and guru. Doubt and resolution. Fear and strength. Darkness and light.

[Lord Krishna]There is also the full display of the potential of the relationship with the Supersoul. At first the individual soul goes at it alone. That can only take him so far. When he’s ready for higher knowledge, there is the guidance from without. The external guru is Janaradana’s representative in the material world. The chaitya-guru is Krishna, and His representative shows how to tap into the reservoir of mercy already available from the Supersoul. In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna is simultaneously the external guru, the internal guide as the Supersoul, and the manifest object of service as Bhagavan.

In Closing:

From presence to Arjuna shown,

Reasons for Janardana as known.

 

All living entities maintaining,

This and other universes sustaining.

 

As Supersoul spread everywhere to go,

Living inside as Supreme one to know.

 

Chaitya-guru’s representative to give,

Instructions on how with Bhagavan to live.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Three Ways To Make Devotional Service Very Simple

[radhakrishna_iskcon_central_nj]“Devotional service is very simple, and anyone can adopt it. Let one remain what he is; he need only install the Deity of the Supreme Lord in his house. The Deity may be Radha-Krishna or Lakshmi-Narayana (there are many other forms of the Lord). In this way a brahmana, kshatriya, vaishya or shudra can worship the Deity with the results of his honest labor.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 4.20.9 Purport)

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The exalted teachers, from ages past and some even from more recent times, lived extremely renounced. No home. No family. No job. Total focus, twenty-four-seven, on devotional service, bhakti-yoga. From this dedicated effort they solidified their high standing in the devotional community. They also remained fixed in trance, samadhi.

That steady consciousness of the Divine is not restricted to the situation of isolation, though. This is confirmed by the teachers themselves, who make the process very simple. They even say that a person doesn’t have to give up their occupation entirely. From whatever situation in life, from the priest all the way to the ordinary laborer, there is an opportunity for perfection.

1. Install a deity of Radha-Krishna in the house

There is work to do. Without work, where would the money come from to pay for necessities like food, clothing and shelter? A job builds self esteem. There is the saying, “An idle brain is the devil’s workshop.” If you have nothing to do, no pressing responsibilities, then it is easier to get upset over trivial matters, like what a politician or celebrity said, or how a family member didn’t invite you to a gathering at their home.

Even while working a person can advance along the path of transcendental knowledge and overall purification of the consciousness. Just install a deity of Radha-Krishna in the house. This is a simple process, but it shouldn’t be taken lightly. The deity is like the most exalted guest, to be honored and worshiped every day.

Obviously, there is no limit to the size of God. He is everything we see in this world and beyond. All things are part of His definition, but He is not part of the definition of anything. He can exist independently, while without His presence as the Supersoul no result to action would ever manifest.

“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)

[radhakrishna_iskcon_central_nj]Through the deity He shows His amazing mercy. The deity is likely small, especially in comparison to the size of the person worshiping it. The deity is known as the archa-vigraha, or the form to accept worship. It is also described as saguna, which means “having qualities.” For God there is no difference between nirguna and saguna; the distinction is for our benefit only. The saguna form helps us to understand that God is indeed a distinct individual with amazing features.

2. Install a deity of Lakshmi-Narayana

God is one, but He kindly expands for the benefit of others. Radha-Krishna are the female and male aspects of the Divinity, worshiped together. Lakshmi-Narayana is the same pair, but appearing slightly differently. Lakshmi is the goddess of fortune. Worshiping her separately is not the proper way. She gives benedictions, but those gifts have an intended purpose. They should be used for pleasing her husband, Narayana.

It is not uncommon for the person with a job to desire more money. They know just how difficult it is to survive in a material existence. Therefore some financial security would be beneficial. This mentality is purified when there is worship of Lakshmi together with Narayana. Then the proper outcome will arrive. Whether it is increased opulence or a decrease in net worth, the decision is up to the Supreme Lord.

3. Install a deity of another form of the Lord

You can install a deity of Sita-Rama, as well. Since there are so many non-different forms, everyone gets a chance to worship in their desired mood of connection with the Divine. The idea is to worship in an authorized manner, under the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master.

Worship a little in the morning and then again at night. Bring nice food preparations to the altar, say some prayers, offer some nice scents - the process really isn’t that complicated. It may look like the benefits aren’t coming, but the strength in continued resolution and purpose in devotional service will bring progress never to be erased. After all, the race against time in the human existence is for the purification of consciousness and nothing else, for everything material is left behind at the time of death.

In Closing:

For highest perfection to receive,

Not necessary for occupation to leave.

 

In words of spiritual master trust,

And install deities just.

 

Merciful, for our benefit to arrive,

Reminding not for senses to strive.

 

Radha-Krishna, most beloved of all,

The unlimited for us coming as small.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Four Reasons To Take Inspiration From But Not Imitate Exalted Devotees

[Shri Hanuman]“You crossed over the ocean of one hundred yojanas wide, the reservoir of sharks and alligators, as if it were a small puddle.” (Sita Devi speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 36.8)

śata yojana vistīrṇaḥ sāgaro makara ālayaḥ |
vikrama ślāghanīyena kramatā goṣpadī kṛtaḥ ||

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Looks can be deceiving. Things aren’t always as they seem. The great ones make it look easy, but it’s not. They are skilled at what they do. They have extraordinary ability. They may even give the warning beforehand:

“Don’t try this at home, folks. You will get hurt, and that is not our intention. Please enjoy the show.”

In devotional service, bhakti-yoga, there is both a stated and implied promise of success. The stated version comes from the Bhagavad-gita, where the object of service, Shri Krishna, asks Arjuna, the disciple, to boldly declare that the devotees never perish; even the ones that may have made a terrible mistake.

“He quickly becomes righteous and attains lasting peace. O son of Kunti, declare it boldly that My devotee never perishes.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.31)

The implied promise derives from the uniqueness of the path. Material life is limiting. The ocean looks like it is unlimited, but eventually if you get enough drops of ocean water you have the entire ocean. Similarly, there is only so much wealth available in this world.

Spiritual life is about the unlimited. Krishna, or God, is known by such terms as aprameya and Adhokshaja. He is beyond measure. You cannot get an accurate reading on His attributes using instruments. His being itself is achintya, or inconceivable.

Anything is possible in the path of devotion, and indeed many exalted figures have done amazing things. Still, a word of caution: do not imitate. The standard bearers are known as mahajanas. They have been chosen by the Supreme Lord to inspire others. The word “impossible” has no meaning when applied to God, but this does not mean that every devotee will be able to exhibit the exact same ability.

1. Difficult to survive fire like Prahlada

A five year old boy teaching his classmates about the spiritual science during recess. The son not backing down in the face of intense opposition from his demoniac father, King Hiranyakashipu. The child not fearing for his life even when under the threat of grave danger.

The example of Prahlada shows that real yoga is amazing. It is so powerful that it can negate the influence of the material elements. Prahlada survived so many attacks because of meditating on the lotus feet of Vishnu, which is another name for God.

But for the average person it is next to impossible to withstand things like sitting in a fire pit. Prahlada was a special case, and if others try to imitate they are not guaranteed success. Neither is everyone meant to endure the same situations. That special boy is there to inspire everyone to believe that the greatest odds can be overcome. He shows that opposition to bhakti can come from something so near as the home, but that there is the highest reward in persevering.

2. Difficult to cross an ocean like Hanuman

This incident involved an army of servants. They were all dear to Shri Rama, an incarnation of Krishna appearing on earth during the Treta Yuga. Bhakti-yoga isn’t exclusively about meditating, chanting, or reading. You can be on a search mission and still be fully linked in consciousness to the Divine.

These servants were in monkey-like bodies. They searched long and hard for Rama’s missing wife Sita Devi. It looked like they were on the verge of success after receiving valuable intelligence information. One thing then stood in their way, and it was quite formidable.

It was a vast ocean. Thankfully, Shri Hanuman was in the group. After being reminded of his possession of mystic powers, the siddhis of yoga, Hanuman expanded his size and then leapt over the ocean of one hundred yojanas. He made it look like the size of a puddle left by a cow.

[Shri Hanuman]If any of the other Vanaras would have tried this, they wouldn’t have come close. They would have fallen in the ocean near to the shore from which they started. Hanuman was the chosen one, and he inspired his fellow warriors. He continues to inspire people to this day with his unflinching devotion to Sita and Rama.

3. Difficult to battle against warriors like Arjuna

The Bhagavad-gita was spoken to a member of the kshatriya occupation. These are warriors/administrators. Though Arjuna was a kshatriya by birth, the more important qualification was by ability and training. He had the qualities necessary to protect others from injury.

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

If someone lacking those qualities were to enter conflict, they likely wouldn’t succeed. Nor would that be the path assigned to them by the higher powers. Arjuna is an inspiration in so many ways, particularly through his unflinching faith in the words of Shri Krishna. Arjuna acted as the ideal disciple, as well. He brought his doubts forward, and he inquired submissively from the original spiritual master of the world.

4. Difficult to swallow poison like Shiva

The suras and the asuras have been in conflict since the beginning of time. This is true both symbolically and literally. Good always clashes with evil. You could say that is the struggle of an existence. In the literal sense the suras are the demigods, who are the embodiment of goodness. The asuras are in ignorance. Their very name is a negation of the name used for the good guys. The asuras are like demons.

One time the demigods and the demons worked together to churn an ocean. The objective was to get nectar, or amrita. The literal meaning to amrita is “without mrita,” or death. In the churning process many things emerged, with one of them being poison. The demigods asked Lord Shiva to help them. The great god consumed the poison. Since he kept it in his throat, he became known as Nilakantha.

If an ordinary person were to try this, they wouldn’t survive. Just because someone is serving the Supreme Lord doesn’t mean that they are guaranteed to have the exact same amazing ability. The promise in the Bhagavad-gita is that the devotion of the devotee will never perish. The material elements continue to operate. Karma is seemingly there; action and reaction. But the future life in the material world is prevented. Bhagavan places the devoted soul in the best situations going forward. And those devoted souls get inspiration from the amazing mahajanas who came before them.

In Closing:

Exalted devotees meant to inspire,

Like Prahlada withstanding fire.

 

But caution that not to be imitated,

The same for others then immolated.

 

Hanuman crossing over sharks ready to eat,

And Shiva for demigods poison to keep.

 

Promise that devotion itself never to perish,

Help from mahajanas with memory to cherish.