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Sin and Piety

Posted by krishnasmercy on August 28, 2010

Radha Krishna “The activities or desires that relatively help a soul attain his constitutional position are called piety. The opposite are called sin. Since devotional service to Krishna is one’s constitutional position, when one cultivates this service, then nescience, which is the root cause of relative situations in the form of sin and piety, is gradually fried and abolished.” (Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Shri Krishna Samhita, 10.2 Purport)

Sin and piety represent the polar ends of the spectrum of all activity. Sin is considered any bad activity; those actions which are harmful to the betterment of the soul or those deeds which go against the established rules and mores of a society. Piety is just the opposite; anything considered to be good and noble. Usually piety is associated with honesty, charity, and the performance of various religious functions. While sin and piety certainly do play a prominent role in the spiritual practices of those around the world, the Vedas tell us that one must take to activities which transcend these two designations. The aim of human life is to achieve a permanent return to one’s constitutional position.

Building a house To understand this point more clearly, let us analyze the results of sin and piety. The actual definition of what constitutes sin can vary depending on the time, circumstance, and nature of activities. Sin also can apply to any activity, not just those in the religious scope. In simple terms, we can think of sin as any activity which is done incorrectly. For example, say that we are building a house. There are certain rules and regulations to follow in order for a proper structure to be erected. The beams and columns must be placed in a certain orientation; the foundation must be laid properly, etc. If the people building the house don’t align everything properly, they are essentially committing sin. In this scope, there are varying degrees of sin. If a wall is not laid down properly, the result of the sin may be a loud house, or a wall structure which doesn’t take well to paint and the hanging of pictures, etc. A larger sin, however, can be the misplacement of a beam. This can lead to a disastrous result such as structural damage later on. People could end up dying due to this sin.

We can take the same example of the house and look at the other end of the spectrum to get an idea about piety. Pious acts are those performed in knowledge; activities which are in line with the proper code of conduct. If the house is built according to code, the established guidelines, the result will be a situation devoid of the aforementioned negative consequences. Piety brings about more than just an elimination of negative side effects. A properly constructed house means that a person will be able to enjoy their living arrangements; gaining the ability to host parties, welcome guests, and raise a family. A house is something people strongly identify with; it’s where memories are made and relationships are formed. For most people, their childhood home is the place looked to with the most fondness. So in this regard, we see that piety can have very nice consequences.

Bhagavad-gita - a prominent text of the Vedic traditionOne thing that both of these activities have in common is that the results are temporary. When committing sin while building the house, the negative consequences can be small or great, but the resulting distress is only temporary. The same holds true with the result of pious works. If we expand this truth to the spiritual realm, we can get a better understanding of why the Vedas tell us to transcend piety and sin. The Vedas are the ancient scriptures of India. When the word “Veda” is translated into English, it means knowledge. There are various departments of knowledge based on the scope of activities, but the highest knowledge is that pertaining to the soul. The soul forms the basis of identity, the driving force for all activities. It is the future destination of the soul that the Vedas are most concerned with. When analyzing piety and sin in terms of its effect on the soul, one will see that the resulting positive and negative consequences are only relative.

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

Vedic wisdom states that the primary functional unit of life is the soul; an entity which is eternal and never takes birth and never dies. Vedic information doesn’t stop here. We also get information of the soul’s constitutional makeup. When we study matter or any material structure, gaining further insight into its makeup sheds more light about the structure and how it works. The culinary arts also work in this way. If we eat something that tastes very nice, it’s helpful to find out what ingredients are found in the dish. This way we can take some of the same ingredients and use them to make even more tasty dishes. By the same token, if we understand the constitutional position of the soul, we can gain better insight into how to work with it and give it pleasure.

Lord Krishna The Vedas describe the soul as being amazing, unchanging, and immutable. These properties are inherited from the creator of the soul: God. In this sense, the soul is the same as God, but there is a slight difference. Since God is superior to the soul, the soul is incapable of equaling the Lord in terms of quantitative powers. Since the soul comes from God, its constitutional position is that of eternal servant and associate of the Supreme Lord. While there are many ideas of who God is and what He looks like, the Vedas inform us that He is indeed a person. Not only is He a person, but He’s the most attractive person, one who provides the greatest amount of pleasure to the soul . Thus the natural conclusion that can be derived from this information is that the aim of human life is to rekindle the association with the most attractive entity: the soul meeting God.

How do we meet God? Is He with us now? If not, then why are we separated from Him? Currently the souls residing in this world are deemed as conditioned. The soul becomes conditioned upon assuming a temporary body composed of material elements. The nature of these elements can be classified into three different categories: goodness, passion, and ignorance. Since these categories of elements can be mixed in multitudes of proportions, there are many varieties of material bodies which the soul can be placed into. The human body represents one such variety. While this outer covering is temporary, the imperishable soul continues to jump from one body to another through the process of reincarnation. Reincarnation continues until the soul finally desires to return to its constitutional position.

Reincarnation This seems easy enough. The human being simply has to desire to return to its original position and perfection is thus achieved. This is easier said than done though. Assuming a material body brings along some not so nice side effects, the primary of which is false identification. As mentioned before, an individual takes their identity from the soul. The outer covering of the soul is only temporary and constantly changing. However, upon becoming conditioned, the subtle element of the mind causes the conditioned soul to associate only with the body, almost completely forgetting the presence of the soul and where it came from. In order to regain the proper understanding, the correct personal identification, one has to take to certain activities prescribed in the Vedas.

This is where sin and piety come in. Sin can be thought of as activities in the mode of ignorance. These acts cause the conditioned soul to become even more forgetful of its relationship to God. In order to help the soul achieve perfection in life, the Vedas, and any worthwhile spiritual discipline for that matter, recommend that one abstain from sinful activities. The more one stays away from sin, the greater their chances are of reclaiming their lost identity.

Praying to God Piety is any activity which brings about a temporary return to one’s constitutional position. For example, say we perform a sacrifice intended to bring about great material rewards. “Please God, give us our daily bread. Please God, let us go to heaven.” These are undoubtedly pious pleas, with God consciousness at the forefront. While a person is performing such activities, they are thinking about God and realizing His supremacy. In this regard, the performers are somewhat returning to their constitutional position. At the same time, however, once the rewards are achieved, the purified constitutional position is again forgotten. This is because once the rewards of piety arrive, a person’s focus shifts towards the enjoyment of these rewards versus actually remembering God.

People who sin are advised to take to various kinds of atonement, while those who are not religious are advised to take to certain pious acts such as charity, sacrifice, and austerity. While piety and sin are certainly important and should not be overlooked, a higher engagement is to take to activities which bring about a permanent return to one’s constitutional position. There is only one discipline that allows a person to achieve this purified state: bhakti-yoga. Bhakti is love or devotion, and yoga is the linking of the soul with God, so when taken together, bhakti-yoga can be thought of as the religion of love, or devotional service. This discipline is aimed at keeping one always thinking of God, hence the resulting condition is known as God consciousness.

Shyamasundara The term “God” is very generic and doesn’t speak to the Supreme Lord’s limitless attributes. To give us further insight into the true nature of the Supreme Lord, the Vedas describe the different forms the Supreme Divine takes, and the corresponding names for such forms. Of all the forms of God, obviously the original will be the most potent and therefore the most attractive to the conditioned souls. The original form of God is known as Krishna, meaning one who is all-attractive. Since Krishna’s form is so beautiful, He is also known as Shyamasundara. Bhakti-yoga aims at keeping the mind always attached to Krishna, or at least to one of His direct plenary expansions such as Lord Vishnu, Rama, Narasimha, Chaitanya, etc. In this age, the easiest way to always remain connected with God is to chant the famous maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Ironically enough, those who take to the path of bhakti don’t have to worry about performing pious and sinful activities. This isn’t to say that piety is ignored or that sins are committed, but rather the devotee doesn’t concern themselves with relative adjustments to their constitutional position. An analogy can help us understand this principle. Say we are training for an important tennis match. During practice sessions, we will want to focus on certain activities, working on certain aspects of our game. If we make mistakes during this time, we may want to voluntarily punish ourselves and force atonement through various activities. This is a way to train our bodies to avoid committing the same mistakes in the future. At the same time, we can also take to various activities which will give us rewards. Say for example we hit three aces in a row; we can give ourselves a nice reward for this. The idea is to encourage positive activity.

Rafael Nadal Now let’s shift the focus to the actual match that we play afterwards. If during the match we commit the same mistakes that we punished ourselves for during practice, are we going to want to worry about atonement? Obviously we aren’t since the ultimate goal is to win the match. Mistakes will be made, but the successful player will shrug them off and keep the end-goal of winning the match at the forefront of the mind. By the same token, if we play very well for one set during the match, there is no need to reward ourselves. The goal is to win enough sets to win the match, and celebrating upon reaching a certain benchmark doesn’t really do anything for us. The ultimate objective is to win and not concern ourselves with temporary setbacks or gains.

“Anyone who quits his body, at the end of life, remembering Me, attains immediately to My nature; and there is no doubt of this.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.5)

Radha Krishna In the arena of bhakti-yoga, the ultimate objective is to permanently return to one’s constitutional position, that of eternal servant of Krishna. This can be achieved by keeping Krishna at the forefront of one’s consciousness. If this mindset is there at the time of death, a time that none of us can accurately foretell, we will immediately return to the spiritual world and reassume our original position. We should do our best to avoid sinful activities, especially those of meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex. We should also perform as many pious activities as possible, but they should all be directed at pleasing Krishna. By sticking to these principles, we can gradually return to our original constitutional position, thus eliminating the root cause of all relative situations. When the relative changes in consciousness are removed, everything is then seen in the light of Krishna; thus in this state there is no need to worry about piety or sin.

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Driven by Purpose

Posted by krishnasmercy on June 26, 2010

Valmiki teaching Lava and Kusha “It is ignorance of death and life that distinguishes an animal from a man. A man, in the real sense of the term, inquires about himself and what he is. Wherefrom has he come into this life, and where is he going after death?” (Shrila Prabhupada, Science of Self-Realization, Ch 1f)

When trying to explain spiritual life to others, devotees commonly invoke analogies to the animal kingdom. These comparisons are valid because the animal species are very similar to human beings. They go through similar life cycles and also engage in many of the same activities. It is for this reason that enlightened transcendentalists often point to the four primary activities of animals: eating, sleeping, mating, and defending, and how human beings should rise above these activities. Animals are vastly inferior in the intelligence department to human beings, so it would be wise for humans to avoid imitating base animalistic tendencies. Yet there are still many who believe that animals don’t have souls and that this fact alone makes the comparison to human beings a faulty one. Even though this premise of animals not having souls is itself flawed, we can still prove the same point, i.e. the need for human beings to rise above animal-like activities, by studying human behavior.

Movie camera Taking animals completely out of the equation, let us closely examine what we human beings feel is praiseworthy activity. How do we determine what the general public views as laudable activity? This is quite easy actually, for we simply need to study the lives of those who are famous, i.e. those who garner much attention and praise from the people at large. The most famous people in any country are usually the movie stars. What are actors good at? They have the talent to stand in front of a camera and recite rehearsed words with the proper timing, expression, tone, and mood. They are also able to act out scenes perfectly with other actors, working on body movements, facial expressions, and sometimes even perfecting difficult physical exercises. It certainly requires great talent to be a good actor, for most of us would get nervous if a camera was placed in front of us. Acting in movies is one thing, but theatre actors, and those who take part in live tapings of television shows, have an even tougher job. They don’t have the luxury of screwing up. These actors certainly make mistakes from time to time, but at the cost of having everyone in the audience witness the transgression. As a reward for their great talent, actors enjoy tremendous popularity. This is especially true of actors who star in popular movies. They become so famous that fans and paparazzi follow their every move, keeping track of who they are dating and what restaurants they visit.

Baseball Aside from actors, there are others who also enjoy great fame and notoriety. Star athletes are praised for their ability to perform under pressure. As a result of their unique talents, athletes in professional sports usually earn a high salary. Sometimes people will have a kneejerk reaction to this, especially when it comes to athletes who play popular sports like baseball. “Oh they are too greedy. They play a game for a living. I would do it for free.” In reality, no one could play professional baseball for free due simply to the fact that no one would pay money to see unskilled players. If you took any odd person off the street and put them at the plate in front of a big league pitcher, they would most certainly strike out every time. It takes great skill to be able to react to a 100 mph pitch thrown at you. Professional baseball players not only have to hit these kinds of pitches, but they have to decide whether or not to swing at them, all in less than a second’s time. Moreover, making it to the major leagues requires great perseverance and skill. More than anything else, baseball is a business, meaning that team owners are primarily interested in turning a profit; hence they only want the best baseball players on their team. Since teams are seeking only the most skilled athletes, competition to make the big leagues becomes fierce. Those who do successfully make it to the major leagues and perform well certainly will be well compensated.

Being a star athlete or movie star is not a very common profession, so the praise these celebrities receive is justifiable. Yet there are still those who excel in other fields who also garner great attention. Successful businessman, politicians, and even philanthropists are lauded for their skill and accomplishments. The reason these people are praised is because they are seen to have had a successful life. In general, most of us believe that success in life comes through the acquisition of material possessions, i.e. money. “Go to school, get into a good college, and then land a high paying job. Start your own business if you can, for you will make even more money and not have to answer to a boss.” This is seen as a successful life. Those who are able to live out this dream are viewed as intelligent and well-off.

Whether a person is great at acting, playing baseball, or even inventing a new computer, the one thing they have in common is that they are expert at action. They are praised for what they do, and not necessarily for what they have or how they behave in their free time. For the successful and talented, the praise thrown their way has nothing to do with animal life. As mentioned before, the core of animal life involves searching for food, taking rest, having sexual relations, and properly defending one’s accumulated possessions. But when we look at the “ideal” person in the material paradigm, we see that they are not praised for their animalistic activities, but rather for their intelligence; pursuits and activities which rise above those of the common man.

Just by studying this phenomenon, we see that the majority of us already understand that life isn’t all about eating and sleeping. If this is so, can achieving material success be the ultimate aim of life? Is the reason for our being put on this earth the pursuit of material perfection; be it starring in a hit movie, running a successful business, or being the best athlete in the world? The answer is no. Though we praise people for their material activities and achievements, the ultimate aim of life cannot be met solely through these activities.

Money To understand why this is so, let us examine the results of the activities performed by the rich and famous. Thus far we have established the fact that the materially successful are intelligent due to the fact that they don’t primarily involve themselves in the four animalistic activities. But what is the result of their material activity? What is the result of starring in a hit movie or running a successful business? Usually these perfections equate to more money. Once our bank balance becomes large enough, what do we spend our newfound wealth on? More material possessions, of course. We buy a nicer house, with wonderful furniture, luxurious mattresses, and a big back yard. We also spend more time eating out and throwing lavish parties. The rich and famous are known for travelling in style, with many of them owning their own private jets. Their houses are so luxurious that journalists and other media people visit these homes and describe the accommodations to others.

So if we get down to brass tacks, we see that success in material activities results in higher quality sleeping, eating, mating, and defending. The rich have nice living arrangements, wonderful food, beautiful wives, and top-of-the-line home security systems. Many celebrities even have their own security detail, which keep the mobs of fans and press at a safe distance. So even though the successful can be praised for their extraordinary talents, we see that the end-result is increased enjoyment in animal life. The successful might spend more time in fruitive activity than the lazy and unmotivated, but more or less, the enjoyment derived is of the same nature. One person may sleep on a floor while another sleeps on a cushy mattress, but the actual enjoyment from sleep doesn’t really vary. Once we are asleep, we all forget where we are and what we are sleeping on.

Lord Krishna So if even material success results in a return to animal life, what activities should we take up? Who should we look to as role models? What is the purpose of our existence? The Vedas tell us that the four activities of animal life are inferior in nature because they only seek to satisfy the demands of the gross senses. Though the senses enable us to interact with nature, they don’t represent our true identity. The gross senses are part of the gross body; a body which is subject to creation and destruction. The spirit soul, or atma, is what represents our true identity. The soul can never take birth nor can it die.

“Know that which pervades the entire body is indestructible. No one is able to destroy the imperishable soul.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.17)

Though the soul is eternal, it can become embodied. This is the current predicament we find ourselves in. Our soul is stuck inside a material body which is prone to acting according to the dictates of the senses. If we only focus on meeting these demands, which are animalistic in nature, the senses may give us some temporary relief, but new demands will quickly rise up again. If we still have sense demands at the time of death, the soul is again placed into a material body in the next life. The cycle continues until we are able to break free of our attachment to sense gratification.

The people who are deserving of the highest praise are those who have transcended the animalistic tendencies of the body. Intelligent activity is not represented by the pursuit of material perfections or possessions. Intelligent activity is anything which results in the betterment of the soul. Those who perform actions which yield results that transcend the base demands of the senses are worthy of the highest praise. The Vedas tell us that the only people in life who meet these requirements are the devotees of Lord Krishna, or God.

A devotee is someone who engages in devotional service, or bhakti-yoga. Bhakti means love or devotion, and yoga means linking the soul with God. Devotional service is that discipline which helps us rekindle our loving relationship with the Supreme Lord. Devotional service is a way of life; something which we perform twenty-four hours a day. Though the discipline can comprise of many activities, there is one that yields the quickest and longest lasting benefits. Above all other processes, simply chanting the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, can take one to the transcendental platform immediately.

Lord Chaitanya and associates So how do devotees transcend animal life? Since devotees spend all their time engaged in serving the Supreme Lord, they automatically become detached from the needs of the senses. Devotees certainly eat, sleep, defend, etc., but their involvement in these activities is limited. For example, bhakti-yogis eat only vegetarian food which is first offered to Krishna. This food is known as prasadam, meaning the Lord’s mercy. Devotees avoid the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex. People unfamiliar with Vedic teachings, upon first hearing of these restrictions, will find them impossible to adhere to. They will immediately associate devotional life with restrictions on diet and alcohol consumption. Ironically enough, most devotees don’t even realize they are vegetarian or that they don’t drink alcohol. Maybe in the beginning stages these things are difficult to give up, but after regularly practicing bhakti-yoga, a person completely forgets about these restrictions. It becomes a part of their way of life.

The lesson here is that we already inherently understand that animal activity is not the ultimate aim of life. We don’t praise people for being able to sleep for long periods of time or for being voracious eaters, aside from maybe the winners of hot dog eating contests. It is due to the illusory forces of maya that we currently laud activity which ultimately results in increased association with animal life. In order to truly transcend attachment to eating, sleeping, mating, and defending, one has to take to devotional service. Only through association with the supreme spirit, Lord Krishna, can we nullify the effects of matter and the senses. This association will deliver us liberation from the cycle of birth and death and a return trip back home, back to Godhead.

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Rising To The Challenge

Posted by krishnasmercy on July 17, 2009

Vasudeva carrying baby Krishna to safety “If a devotee is intelligent enough, he will make progress on the path of self-realization. If one is sincere and devoted to the activities of devotional service, the Lord gives him a chance to make progress and ultimately attain to Him.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita 10.10 Purport)

Many of us are born with an innate challenging spirit, arising from the mode of passion. We love to take on challenges and see if we can conquer them. Whether it is running a marathon, skiing down a mountain, competing in an office football pool, or even building something with our hands, we love taking on challenges and seeing if we can come out successful.

We are all part and parcel of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna, so all of our qualities originate from Him. The material world is a reflection of the spiritual world. Everything that exists here, exists in the spiritual world but in purified form. For example, sex life in the material world is a perverted reflection of the real love that is exchanged on the spiritual planets. The loving affairs of Radha and Krishna aren’t anything like the ordinary love affairs of men and women on this earth. It is completely pure in nature, representing the highest form of bliss. Love in the material world, as we think it to be, is actually a form of lust.

“…Just like Radha-Krishna love, Kishora-kishori, young Krishna, young Radharani. This love is pervertedly reflected in this material world which is in the name of love, but it is lust; therefore it is called perverted reflection. Lust because the, a young boy, a young girl mix together, they love together, but a slight disagreement, they separate. Why? Because that is not love. That is lust. The lust is going on in the name of love. But the reflection is from there. Therefore it is called maya.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Lecture, 690425LE.BOS)

Krishna sometimes feels in the mood to challenge enemies and fight, so He creates situations in this world where that desire can be facilitated. The challenging spirit that exists inside of us is also a skewed reflection of the spirit that exists in the spiritual world. In the material world, we all have a desire to boost our ego and self-esteem. The material world is made up of five gross elements (earth, water, fire, air, and ether) and three subtle elements (mind, intelligence, and false ego). It is referred to as false ego, because it is the nature of man to falsely think himself to be the proprietor of things. Real ego comes when realize that God is responsible for everything and that our duty is to become His servant.

We all like to think of ourselves as special and extraordinary. Taking on new challenges is our way of supporting our ego and increasing our self-respect. Exercising this challenging spirit on tasks in the material world may be very nice, but in the end it really has no lasting effects. Once we conquer a challenge, we immediately need another one to maintain our ego. The great basketball player Michael Jordan won three consecutive NBA titles and multiple Most Valuable Player awards halfway through his career. He was already considered the greatest basketball player ever, so he felt that he needed a new challenge. Retiring from basketball, he took up baseball, playing in the minor leagues for the Chicago White Sox franchise. Unable to succeed in that venture, he eventually returned to basketball where he would go on to win three more NBA titles. This shows that even when we achieve all of our goals, we are still left wanting more, for our desires never become truly satisfied. The mind is constantly working. Being in the material world means we are always hankering after something we want or lamenting over something that we don’t have.

Michael Jordan The best use of this challenging spirit is to use it in our service to God. Serving Krishna involves following many rules and regulations in the beginning, specifically that of following the four regulative principles and chanting the Hare Krishna mantra. The four regulative principles require abstention from meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex. For most people, these restrictions seem very hard to follow. Those growing up in America are quite accustomed to eating meat. The beef industry runs television commercials using the slogan “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.” The quintessential American meal consists of meat and potatoes. This being the case, it is very difficult for people to suddenly give up meat eating. One doesn’t have to renounce everything in the material world in order to make spiritual advancement. Instead we can spiritualize material things by using them to further develop our Krishna consciousness. We can start by using our challenging spirit to help us refrain from prohibited activities. We can dare ourselves not to eat meat for a day, or for a week. Many of us have had bad experiences from intoxication which make us we swear that we’ll never drink again. Quitting anything cold turkey is very difficult to do. Instead of completely swearing off of it, maybe we can try avoiding intoxication for a few days or weeks. We can create intoxication-free streaks and reward ourselves after we pass certain milestones. Once we pass such challenges, we can create new goals for ourselves. In this way, we make real advancement and change our habits at the same time. Once we get in the habit of living a clean lifestyle, those habits will be very hard to break. These same techniques can be used to strengthen our chanting regimen. Slowly but surely, if we develop a nice routine, we can easily give up sinful activity and instead focus our time on devotional service.

The highest goal in life is for one to always be thinking of Krishna and have his consciousness completely dovetailed with the spiritual consciousness. This is a very difficult task and many are not successful even after many many births. Lord Krishna Himself declared in the Bhagavad-gita that one who is unsuccessful in transcendental realization in this life, picks up where he left off in his next life. In this way, our efforts in serving Krishna never go to waste. If we challenge ourselves and are sincere in our devotion, then our success is guaranteed.

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Renunciation Made Easy

Posted by krishnasmercy on June 26, 2009

Hanuman worshiping Lord Rama "We don’t simply prohibit that ‘You don’t do this,’ but we supply something which is engaged by the senses and the mind, the intelligence, so that you do not require to be engaged otherwise.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Lecture 690101BG.LA)

Religion is sometimes misunderstood as being something very restrictive, full of rigid rules and regulations that must strictly be adhered to. While there are many rules that exist, they serve only a beginning step, a way to guide a person to a much higher end goal.

Understanding God and learning to love Him is the real purpose and meaning behind religion. In the Vedas, this is referred to as sanatana dharma. Sanatana means that which has no beginning and no end, and dharma means duty or prescribed occupation. So the idea of religion really refers to the eternal occupation of man and not simply to blind faith.

Due to rapid advancements in technology, today’s society has more free time to indulge in leisurely activities and sybaritic pursuits than generations past. We spend our free time watching movies, playing different sports, or surfing the internet. Many people focus all their free time on activities of intoxication, gambling, and chasing after sex life.  If one becomes overly attached to these activities, they trap themselves in an endless cycle of mundane sense gratification that always leaves them wanting more.

These activities may be bad for us, but what else are we supposed to do with our free time? This is where bhakti yoga, or devotional service, comes in. Not to be confused with the modern day definition of yoga involving various breathing exercises and sitting postures, bhakti yoga is a way of life where all of one’s activities are dovetailed with service to the Supreme. Instead of retreating to a mountain top and chanting the syllable Om over and over again, devotional service is a call to action. In the Vedas, if one is serious about making spiritual progress, it is recommended that they abstain from the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, illicit sex, intoxication, and gambling. Abruptly renouncing something, quitting it “cold turkey”, isn’t very easy for most of us to do. We have built up an attachment to sinful activity over many many births and it is very difficult to break free of them. To help us in our renunciation, the Vedas recommend that we constantly engage ourselves in God’s service. By taking this approach, we will be so busy that we won’t have any time for sinful activity. If we prepare all our food to be offered to Lord Krishna first, we will automatically stop eating meat, for the Lord does not accept food consisting of animal flesh.

“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)

If we engage ourselves in chanting His names and reading books about Him, we’ll experience a feeling of bliss that surpasses any highs that we get from intoxication. By using our hard earned money to purchase nice flowers for the Lord’s deity, or to construct nice temples for Him, or to support His devotees, we’ll lose any desire we may have to gamble. The husband and wife serving the Lord together, performing various sacrifices and rituals in their home, will become even more committed to each other, losing any desire they may have for illicit sex life.

Renunciation is commonly viewed as an end-goal, something that we have to strive for.  In actually, renunciation is automatically acquired by those actively engaged in a higher cause. If we gradually devote ourselves to God’s service, our love for Him will increase, and our desire for sinful activity will diminish without us ever having to think about renouncing anything.

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