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Sticks and Stones

Posted by krishnasmercy on August 17, 2010

Lakshmana “Even the mighty sun and moon, who are the eyes of the world, the epitomes of virtue and duty, and in whom the whole world is situated, have to suffer through eclipses.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.11)

It is the natural assumption that if we seriously take up spiritual life, other people will be kinder to us. We will get respect and praise from others since we are adhering to a pious way of life. In reality, however, just the opposite situation is seen. Those who are sincerely devoted to Krishna, or God, often have to deal with many hardships not seen before. Family and friends turn into enemies, and others take to ridiculing and tormenting. Just because we are virtuous, it doesn’t mean that we are immune to bad fortune in the material sense. Spiritual life is meant for advancing the plight of the spirit soul inside of us, therefore our relationship with matter will naturally suffer as a result. The key is to remain steadfast in our devotion; otherwise we can easily fall off the virtuous path.

We take to spiritual life because we feel that it will make us happy, that it will provide us some reward that we are currently lacking. It is said that one can never become a serious devotee of God unless and until they become disgusted with material life. This seems a little extreme on the surface, for why should we be disgusted with going about our daily lives? The disgust comes through the repetitious cycle of hankering and lamenting. We work hard for something, we get the rewards of our work, and then we enjoy. Yet since this enjoyment is short-lived, we are left to repeat the cycle all over again. As the rewards keep coming to us, we derive less and less enjoyment from them.

Faced with this situation, we have one of two options. We can either realize that this sort of material pursuit represents an endless pit of misery, a situation where we are chewing the chewed, or we can start to work even harder in hopes of gaining even greater rewards. Sadly, many of us choose the latter option. Drug addicts are a great example of this. A person may start out just having a few beers every now and then to relax. Pretty soon, they take to drinking every day since one or two beers is not enough. Still not satisfied, a person can take to hard liquor, or even other types of drugs. In the end we see that this search leads to more and more misery.

Lord Krishna Those bewildered spirit souls who realize that material sense gratification has its limits have a real opportunity at achieving the true aim of life, that of becoming purely God conscious. The Vedas tell us that the spirit soul inside of us is meant to be in constant association with Lord Krishna, or God. Matter is the opposite of spirit, an inferior energy. If we associate with an inferior energy, we can never derive true happiness. Simply engaging in eating, sleeping, mating, and defending is not enough, for these activities give pleasure to the animal species. Human life is meant for higher thinking, the performance of activities based on intelligence guided by experience.

Though there are many forms of religion, the highest religious discipline is known as bhagavata-dharma, or devotional service. Those who are disenchanted with material pursuits have several avenues they can go down. They can try meditating and performing yoga exercises. They can also try reading about the differences between matter and spirit, thereby slowly reaching the angle of vision where they see everything as being part of one complete energy. The best option, however, is to take to serving the creator of everything, both living and nonliving. That creator is God, who can be more accurately described as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. God is a person in the sense that He is a controlling spirit, or purusha. When we think of a person, we think of a fallible living entity with arms, legs, and a face. God is similar to a person in that He has an eternally existing transcendental form, but unlike the living entities, He has no defects. God does not possess any limiting features, so He is capable of doing everything with any part of His transcendental body. This points to God’s absolute nature.

Radha Krishna God’s original form is that of Lord Shri Krishna. This is the information that we get from the Vedas, which include volumes upon volumes of Sanskrit verses which have no date of origin. Religion in the Vedic tradition is known as sanatana-dharma, or the eternal occupation of man. So naturally when someone takes up bhagavata-dharma, or dharma aimed at serving Bhagavan [God], they expect to see some benefits. For those who regularly chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and abstain from the most egregious sinful activities, immediate benefits are most certainly seen. Peace of mind, tranquility, honesty, thoughtfulness, etc., are some of the virtuous qualities that a person acquires through the practice of devotional service. But does dedicating our lives to God mean that we will never suffer hardships again?

In reality, our most difficult times lay ahead of us once we take up devotional service. Life becomes more difficult in a material sense due to the fact that material nature itself does not go away. Even though we are engaged in spiritual activities, we must still associate with matter while we are on this earth. Matter is an inferior energy, so it is incapable of providing happiness, for it is temporary and a cause of misery. The Vedas tell us that material nature is governed by an energy known as maya. Maya is Krishna’s faithful servant; she tries to bewilder the living entities into believing they will be happy doing anything except connecting with Krishna. This may seem like Krishna is punishing us, but this is all part of His mercy. We living entities wanted to pretend to be just like God, thus the material world was created. For those spirit souls who want to forget Krishna, the Lord provides every opportunity to do so.

Taking up spiritual life means abandoning our association with maya. This is easier said than done, however. Maya will severely test us in our spiritual pursuits, for Krishna wants to see just how sincere we are in our devotion. Moreover, spiritual life is not meant to bring any type of material happiness. This includes fame, fortune, and adoration from others. In fact, the more pious we become, the more liable we are to receive ridicule and scorn from others. We see evidence of this fact everywhere. People who thank God in public or even make reference to religion are often scolded and criticized. “How dare he mention God like that all the time? Who does he think he is? How dare God be on his side and not mine?”

Newspaper cover Since we spirit souls are put on earth due to our affinity for material life, we end up being worshipers of matter by default. Therefore it stands to reason that the people who are successful in a material sense will get all the praise and adoration. We see that this is indeed the case, for the newspapers and television newscasts are all focused on the lives of celebrities and great politicians. It is a type of idol worship, with the fawning press wishing that they too could possess great wealth and fame. As a result of this desire, they end up elevating people of shady character to hero status. When these celebrities fall down from the virtuous path, the same media takes to condemnation. The situation with the famous golfer, Tiger Woods, was a great example of this. Woods was loved and adored by millions for his tremendous golf achievements and philanthropic activities. Yet as soon as his marriage infidelity was revealed, the same media took to depicting him as the greatest of villains, someone who fooled them.

For those treading the righteous path of devotional service, there will certainly be many obstacles placed in their way, but they must remain perseverant at all times. If a material discomfort causes us to give up on spiritual life, then how dedicated were we really? If we truly love somebody, wouldn’t we want to move heaven and earth to make them happy? Religious life is not meant for acquiring praise and adoration from others. The greatest devotees in history have been those who were extremely humble and remained steadfast in their devotion, regardless of praise or ridicule. The more pious we become, the more the demons will attack us. This was precisely the case with Lord Rama, an incarnation of Krishna, many thousands of years ago.

Lord Rama The sweet Lord appeared on earth during the Treta Yuga, a time when piety was still quite high in society. Appearing in the family of a famous royal dynasty, Rama was wholly dedicated to dharma throughout His life. He wanted to set the perfect example for everyone to follow. To illustrate the perseverance and dedication required in adhering to dharma, the Lord voluntarily suffered through many personal hardships. His kingdom was taken away from Him, as was His home and way of life. Forced to roam the forests of Bharatavarsha as a recluse, Rama never deviated from the righteous path, even though He had many opportunities to do so.

Since He was playing the role of a human being, Rama gave way to lamentation and sorrow on a select few occasions. One time, His lovely wife, Sita Devi, was kidnapped while residing in the forest. Rama and His younger brother, Lakshmana, were not with Sita when she was forcibly taken by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. Upon returning to the cottage, Rama could not find Sita. After searching for a while and not finding her, Rama gave way to anger and lamentation. Strongly attached to His chaste wife, Rama was ready to destroy the whole world with His bow and arrow as retaliation.

Lakshmana To calm his brother down, Lakshmana interjected with some sound words of advice. He told Rama that it is the nature of this world for men to suffer through calamity every now and then. Even the most virtuous and highly respected people have to suffer loss every now and then. In the above referenced statement, Lakshmana is giving the example of the sun and the moon. In the Vedic tradition, the sun and the moon are extremely important and highly respected. All the daily religious functions revolve around the position of the sun. The monthly religious traditions are all based on the lunar cycle as well, as is the Vedic calendar. Certain phases of the moon are considered auspicious, while others are not.

Satyanarayana Puja - typically performed on Purnima, or the full moon day As wonderful as the sun and the moon are, we see that their splendor is diminished during an eclipse. Another celestial body comes in the way and takes away the sun or the moon from everyone’s vision. This metaphor given by Lakshmana is a beautiful one, for it shows the temporary nature of both good and bad fortune. Pure devotees are always splendorous on the inside, for they are always connecting with God. In a material sense, that splendor will sometimes be covered up by bad fortune or ridicule from others. The intelligent realize that bad fortune comes and goes and that these things should not cause them to deviate from the path of righteousness.

Lord Rama greatly appreciated Lakshmana’s advice. He would regain His senses and continue His quest to find Sita. Eventually the Lord would rescue her after killing Ravana in a great battle. The demons always hated Rama, but that didn’t bother Him one bit. His duty in life was to impress His friends, family, and well-wishers, for they were all great devotees of God.

Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati By the same token, our goal in life should be to impress God and His representatives. Let others ridicule and mock us, for that will never deter us in our mission of spreading Krishna’s glories to everyone. Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, a great Vaishnava saint, peacefully spread God consciousness throughout India in the early 20th century. Yet many people hated him, and on one occasion, they threw rocks and large stones at his sankirtana party. These attacks never deterred Bhaktisiddhanta; therefore he acquired the nickname of the simha-guru, or the lion-like spiritual master.

The lesson here is that we should follow Lakshmana’s advice and Lord Rama’s example by staying committed to the path of devotional service. We should regularly hear, chant, and talk about Krishna. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but the words and actions of others will never deter us from loving God.

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As Forgiving As The Earth

Posted by krishnasmercy on August 15, 2010

Lord Rama and Lakshmana “O Lord of Koshala, even the Earth, who is the mother of the world and respected by everyone, suffers distress in the form of earthquakes.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.10)

The earth is so kind and sweet to us, even though we may not realize it. Withstanding all the punishment given to her, Mother Earth continues to supply the necessities of life which allow us to have a peaceful and happy existence. Mother Earth never breaks, and following her example, we living entities should be equally as resilient in our pursuit of spiritual perfection. The aim of human life is to become purely God conscious, and reaching that end requires a steady mind, one that is willing to survive through adversity. For those of us who take to spiritual life, there will be many hurdles thrown in our way and many people who will offend us, but we must be as forgiving as the earth. Obstacles will come and people will try to impede our progress, but we must always remain on the virtuous path. This was the example set by Lord Rama, an incarnation of God, many thousands of years ago.

Lord Rama Among followers of the Vedic tradition, the earth is very important. More than just one of the five gross material elements, earth, in the form of a planet, provides for all of our necessities. We may not realize this in the beginning stages of our lives, for we take birth and immediately begin to associate with matter. It is not until we become a little wiser that we start to question why matter exists and where it comes from. Who is controlling all of this matter that is moving around in such a complicated way that our very lives depend on it? The Vedas give us the answers to these questions. They tell us that God is the original creator of everything, meaning that He is the source of earth. More specifically, He has deputed a presiding deity for the earth whose name is Bhumi Devi.

Bhumi Devi with Sita Devi This may strike some as pantheism or a kind of mentally concocted personification, but it is actually not so. God is so powerful that He can create millions of heavenly bodies known as planets which remain in the same orbit at all times. These gigantic land masses all float in outer space on their own, without any man-made intervention. If God is capable of creating on this magnitude, why shouldn’t He be able to put the earth in the charge of a living entity? “But where is this Mother Earth? How come we can’t see her?” She is there right in front of us, but we don’t have the proper vision to see her. This is because, by default, we think of earthly elements as belonging to us. “This is my land, this is my property, these are my possessions, etc.”

We certainly have a rightful claim to the property that we peaceably and voluntarily acquire, but who owned the land before us? “Well, the person who I bought the land from.” But who was the owner before them? After all, we know that man doesn’t live for very long in this age; at most maybe one hundred years. If we ascend the chain of land owners, we’ll see that the original proprietor of everything is God. This makes sense because only He is capable of creating on such a grand scale.

Mother Earth is a presiding deity who is kind enough to provide for all of our necessities. The food that grows from the ground, the wonderful rivers, parks, mountains, plains, etc., are all blessings from her. She bestows these gifts so that we can live peacefully and happily. These benedictions are not meant to increase our sense gratification, but rather, to provide for our necessities. The motto of life given to us by the Vedas is “simple living, high thinking”. If we analyze these two terms, we’ll see that they are not mutually exclusive. Simple living by itself is certainly nice, but what do we do with all the free time we get as a result of our simple lifestyle? We must start to think on a higher level. Thinking requires effort, and most importantly, time. Time is precious, for once a moment is lost, it can never be recovered. For businesses, there are all sorts of disaster recovery plans in place which insure everything from computer records to heavy machinery. But there is no insurance plan that can recover our lost time. Time cannot be backed up or archived. Once it leaves us, it never comes back.

evolution of iPod To this end, the Vedas advise us to make the best use of our precious time. For this to occur, we must live a simple life. This means that we should perform just enough work so that the demands of food, clothing, and shelter can be met to our satisfaction. If we look around today, however, we see that most everyone is going past the bare necessities and searching for increased sense gratification. This doesn’t seem bad on the surface, for who wouldn’t want to live more comfortably by having a nice car, a big house, and all the latest tech gadgets? Yet we see that the senses are never satisfied in this pursuit. It is the nature of the human mind to hanker and lament. We hanker after something new or expensive, and after we get it, we start to lament the fact that it fails to provide us the happiness that we were expecting. Instead of stopping our pursuit for sense gratification, we begin to hanker again for an even bigger and more expensive new toy.

Offshore oil rig Through these pursuits, our mental clarity suffers and our time is wasted. We are not the only victims of this busy lifestyle. Mother Earth must bear the burden of our chase for illusory happiness. With every new invention comes new demands put on the earth. For example, the advent of the automobile brought great potential for happiness for society at large. People could now travel long distances in a short amount of time. No longer was geography a constraint on business, travel, or leisure. Yet in order to fuel these automobiles, gasoline is required. This gasoline comes from refining petroleum which is dug out of the earth.

Again, on the surface this doesn’t seem bad. After all, we have to chop down trees to get paper and also to build our houses. We have to till fields in order to grow crops. What’s so harmful about a little oil drilling? As we can see from the world’s economic climate today, oil has become a huge commodity. People are looking for more and more places to drill for oil. There doesn’t appear to be any end in sight to the oil supply, but this hasn’t stopped people from finding new places to drill. With the demands of the modern economy, oil has become a necessity, just like water and food. If we were to run out of oil today, virtually every person in the world would be negatively affected.

The Earth So we see that one small invention turned out to give us many new headaches, attachments, and dependencies. To make matters worse, Mother Earth has had to suffer greatly. In addition to dealing with the chopping of trees and the tilling of fields, she must now put up with regular drilling and mining. Yet through it all, she remains firm and stout. She even bears the burden of natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes. Though many people today believe that mankind is destroying the earth, she remains firm and strong and continues to provide for our needs. Her oceans recently swallowed up the large portion of an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico which was initially deemed to be a catastrophe. She is a lot more forgiving and strong than we give her credit for. Mother Earth always remains true to her mission of supporting mankind. She always remains on the virtuous path.

Lord Rama We living entities, in the course of carrying out our prescribed duties, can take a great lesson from Mother Earth. This was the point stressed by Lakshmana, the younger brother of Lord Rama. God is so kind that He not only deputes elevated living entities such as the demigods to manage the material affairs, but He also personally makes appearances in the world from time to time to give pleasure to His devotees and to teach future generations about dharma. The word “religion” connotes a type of faith or belief system. The Vedas have no equivalent word for this because our relationship with God is not something that changes. The best match for religion in Vedic terminology is dharma, which means something that defines the essence of a living entity. The essence of our existence is our relationship with God as His eternal, loving servant. This essence, or dharma, has always existed in the past, continues to exist today, and will remain unchanged in the future. Therefore this dharma is sanatana, or eternal.

By coming into contact with the material world, the living entities become enveloped in a cloud of nescience which causes them to forget about dharma. To reawaken the dormant God consciousness of the living entity, God sends His personal representative, the spiritual master. On special occasions, He personally comes to earth in the form of a living entity and teaches everyone by His example. One of God’s most famous appearances on earth took place many thousands of years ago in Ayodhya, India. The King of Ayodhya at the time, Maharaja Dasharatha, desperately wanted a son to pass his kingdom down to. God obliged and took birth as his eldest son named Rama. Each incarnation, or avatara, of God has specific characteristics and personality traits. Lord Rama’s signature characteristic was His devotion to religiosity. Rama means one who gives pleasure to others, and this was certainly the case with the Lord. There existed no sin in Him, nor did He ever waver from the virtuous path.

Lord Rama also suffered great hardships during His time on earth. God actually can never suffer, but by assuming the guise of a fallible human being, Lord Rama pretended to suffer and lament on many occasions. One time, His beautiful and chaste wife, Sita Devi, was kidnapped in the forest while Rama was away chasing a deer. Upon returning to His hermitage, He saw that Sita was gone and He immediately gave way to lamentation. Being the greatest kshatriya warrior of His time, Rama was ready to destroy the whole world with His bow and arrow. He couldn’t stand to be without Sita.

Lakshmana with Rama Luckily for Rama, His younger brother Lakshmana was by His side. One would be hard pressed to find any brother in history that compares to Lakshmana in kindness, intelligence, courage, chivalry, and dedication. Completely pious in his own right, Lakshmana abandoned all the mundane rules of morality in favor of serving Rama. This is the highest level of devotion to God, for it is spontaneous and bereft of any personal motive. Lakshmana saw that his brother was distraught, so he decided to impart some helpful words of wisdom.

In the above referenced quote, Lakshmana is reminding Rama that even the earth has to deal with so many hardships in life, and that she never swerves from the virtuous path. Good and bad things will happen to us along the way, but we should never divert ourselves from the path of dharma. We should learn to tolerate all hardships and be as forgiving as the earth. Lord Rama very much appreciated these words from Lakshmana. He would heed his advice and subsequently resume His search for His wife. Rama would eventually rescue Sita from the clutches of the Rakshasa demon, Ravana.

Lord Rama’s mission in life was to always abide by dharma, regardless of what effect it had on His personal situation. We living entities must also always remain on the virtuous path. The highest dharma of all is bhagavata-dharma, or devotional service. This is the discipline whereby we dovetail all of our activities with service to God. Just as attending church provides peace and comfort to many, devotional service aims to provide the same level of comfort at all times. If religion is so nice, why not be religious all the time?

Rama and Lakshmana with Sugriva For those who sincerely take up bhagavata-dharma, there are sure to be many hurdles along the way. Religious life is not easy by any means, especially considering how accustomed we are to material life. The virtuous path is filled with thorns, and the worst part is that the more we take to religious life, the more we enjoy it. This is certainly a good thing, but at the same time, we begin to loathe all other kinds of activities. This makes it difficult to cope with day-to-day affairs, for material activity causes us to feel separation pains from God. To help us get through the hard times, we should always remember Lord Rama’s example and also the teachings of Lakshmana. The earth is God’s faithful servant, well-respected by all, and yet she even meets with misery from time to time. If we keep our minds fixed on the most important task at hand, that of returning back to God’s spiritual realm after this life, then we’ll be able to withstand all of the storms and shakeups that life throws our way.

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Posted by krishnasmercy on August 13, 2010

Lord Rama and brother learning from their guru “Vashishta, who is a maharishi and our father’s priest, begot one hundred sons in one day, only to see them slain again in one day.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.9)

Any parent who has ever lost a child will tell you that the resulting pain never goes away. As soon as a child is born to a parent, an immediate loving bond is formed. The birth of a new child is a time of great joy, yet at the same time, the worrying commences immediately. “What if something happens to my child? They are so small and helpless. What if I fail to protect them? I don’t think I’d be able to live if anything happened to them.” The famous sage Vashishta had to suffer through this very nightmare, the loss of his one hundred sons in an instant. From his handling of the situation, we can take away a great lesson on tolerance and perseverance.

Lord Krishna Vashishta is one of the most celebrated sages of the Vedic tradition. The Vedas are the ancient scriptures of India, and as such, they gave us a detailed lineage of the first several generations of mankind. Lord Brahma, the self-create, is considered the first living entity, born out of the lotus-like navel of Lord Vishnu. Generally we refer to the Supreme Lord as God, but the Vedas try to be more specific in describing Him. In Vedic terminology, God is known as Bhagavan, Vishnu, or Lord Krishna. These names more accurately describe His names, forms, and attributes. God is also known as the Supreme Godhead; a term which speaks to His infinite nature. God can take unlimited forms, ananta-rupam, with His personal expansions being equal in potency to His original form. According to Vedic information, God’s original form is that of Lord Shri Krishna, and Lord Vishnu is His primary expansion who handles all matters of creation.

Lord Brahma takes birth from Lord Vishnu, and is thus put in charge of populating the innumerable planets in the universe. Many of the first living entities on earth were great sages, with Vashishta being one of them. To handle governance on earth, Lord Brahma created the kshatriya, or warrior, race. There were two famous royal dynasties started at the time of creation: one coming from the sun-god and the other coming from the moon-god. Vashishta was put in charge of the solar dynasty. He was the family priest for several generations of Ikshvaku kings, including Lord Rama, one of Krishna’s most celebrated incarnations to appear on earth.

Vishvamitra Like most sages of his time, Vashishta established a hermitage where he would perform all his priestly duties. On one occasion, the son of King Gadhi, Vishvamitra, visited Vashishta. At the time, Vishvamitra was a kshatriya king, very powerful and also quite pious. Vashishta was pleased to welcome the king, and he offered him the topmost hospitality. After being entertained to his satisfaction, Vishvamitra wanted to leave, but Vashishta begged him to stay a little longer. After finally acquiescing, Vishvamitra was treated to the highest class food which was offered by Vashishta’s cow named Shabala. Vashishta loved Shabala, for the cow would supply all his needs. Vishvamitra immediately developed an attachment to the cow and wanted to have it for himself. He offered Vashishta all kinds of gold and other wealth, but Vashishta refused to part with his cow. Shabala supplied all of his needs, especially those relating to the performance of religious sacrifices. This is all that Vashishta really cared about, for as a pious brahmana, he had no need for great wealth. There was nothing that Vishvamitra could offer him that would change his mind.

Vishvamitra wasn’t taking “no” for an answer. He took Shabala by force and began to leave. The cow immediately lamented and wondered why Vashishta wasn’t doing anything to fight back. After being petitioned by the cow, Vashishta replied that he was just a brahmana and didn’t have the strength to fight off a great a king as Vishvamitra. To help her master, Shabala agreed to supply whatever Vashishta needed to fight off the king. Thus a great fight ensued with Vashishta eventually emerging victorious due to Shabala’s help.

Vishvamitra was quite ashamed at this defeat, so he decided to convert to a brahmana. Performing great austerities, Lord Brahma eventually became pleased and acknowledged him as a rajarishi, or a saintly king. This didn’t really satisfy Vishvamitra since he didn’t want to be a king at all anymore. Regardless, he remained firm on the path of asceticism and was eventually recognized as a great sage by others. On one occasion while he was still a kshatriya king, Vishvamitra had a quarrel with Vashishta and mounted an attack as a result. In an instant, all one hundred of Vashishta’s sons were killed. Vashishta was greatly aggrieved by this, as was his wife Arundhati. Nevertheless, he tolerated it, for that is the nature of a brahmana.

Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana in the forest Lakshmana reminded his elder brother, Lord Rama, of this incident during a particularly troubling time in the Lord’s life. As part of His pastimes, Rama resided in the forests of India for fourteen years alongside His wife, Sita Devi, and Lakshmana. It may seem strange that a prince would roam the forests for that long, but this was all due to a request made by Rama’s father, King Dasharatha, and Kaikeyi, Rama’s step-mother. The exile didn’t really dispirit Rama, for He had no attachment to anything, including royal life. In addition, Sita and Lakshmana were with Him, so who wouldn’t be happy being in their company all the time?

Yet on one occasion, Sita was kidnapped by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. This kidnapping took place while Rama and Lakshmana were away from the group’s hermitage. Upon returning, they saw that Sita was gone. Immediately Rama gave way to lamentation and anger. He was ready to kill everyone in the world and destroy the entire planet in retaliation. Lakshmana then offered some sound words of advice to pacify his beloved brother. The above referenced statement was part of Lakshmana’s advice.

Learning from Vashishta The reference to Vashishta is quite noteworthy because the sage was the spiritual master for both Rama and Lakshmana in their youth. Essentially, Lakshmana’s point is that even their great guru had to suffer through hardships. In one sense, losing a child is worse than losing a spouse because the child is viewed as being completely helpless. Lakshmana was saying that if their spiritual master was able to cope with such a horrific incident, that they, being his disciples, should also be as tolerant. The highest honor a disciple can pay to their spiritual master is to follow their instructions and learn from their example.  Vashishta is described as a maharishi and family priest in this verse, which reinforces the point that even the most exalted of personalities are forced to suffer through tragedies every now and then. 

Lord Rama eventually followed Lakshmana’s advice and composed Himself. The two brothers proved themselves to be first-class disciples by not only listening to the direct instructions given by their guru, but also by learning from the guru’s personal experiences. This is the mercy of the spiritual master. They go through so many trials and tribulations not only for their own benefit, but also to help future generations learn from their experiences. A good spiritual master is one who tries to lead by example. Such a person is known as an acharya.

Sita Devi The lesson here is that we all must be tolerant of the incessantly flowing ups and downs that life throws our way. Lord Rama was God Himself, so He was in no need of anyone’s counsel. Yet just to set a good example and to glorify His great devotees, He pretended to go through so many hardships. Aside from the loss of a child, one would be hard pressed to think of anything worse happening to a person than having their spouse kidnapped and taken into custody by a demon. Sita Devi’s suffering was probably worse than Rama’s, for she had to remain inside a garden where she was harassed by Rakshasis for months. She was even given the ultimatum that if she didn’t agree to become Ravana’s wife after a set time, she would be killed.

The hardships endured by Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana make our day-to-day problems seem miniscule. This is by design, for God is the original spiritual master, the guru for the whole world. He not only teaches through the written words found in the Bhagavad-gita, Ramayana, and Puranas, but also by example. Lord Rama was extremely tolerant, as was Lakshmana. Sita Devi was able to survive the toughest of situations simply by keeping her mind fixed on the lotus feet of her dear husband.

“One who is equal to friends and enemies, who is equiposed in honor and dishonor, heat and cold, happiness and distress, fame and infamy, who is always free from contamination, always silent and satisfied with anything, who doesn’t care for any residence, who is fixed in knowledge and engaged in devotional service, is very dear to Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 12.18-19)

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana For the living entities suffering through the toils of material life, a great deal can be learned from Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana. Material fortunes will come and go, but we should learn to tolerate them. This life is not meant for material pleasures, but rather for the cultivation of spiritual knowledge. If we are perfectly God conscious at the time of death, we immediately return to the spiritual world where we never have to worry about suffering again. The greatest suffering of all is the repetition of birth and death. Only through commitment to devotional service can we find the cure to this disease. Through tolerance and forbearance, we should keep our minds fixed on the righteous path, as did all the great Vaishnava leaders of the past. Following in their footsteps, we too can successfully put a stop to the spinning wheel of material suffering.

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Nothing Lasts Forever

Posted by krishnasmercy on August 12, 2010

Lakshmana “My Lord, if, through Your effulgence, You set the entire planet ablaze and put it into a distressful situation, where will the distressed citizens go, O tiger among men, for solace? This [having to deal with temporary setbacks] is certainly characteristic of this world. Even King Yayati, the son of Nahusha, after ascending to the heavenly planets of Indra was touched with inauspiciousness.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.7-8)

This is a nice explanation given by Shri Lakshmana on the temporary nature of God’s inferior energy. Whatever material rewards we receive in life, we can be sure that they won’t last forever. We are also guaranteed to come upon hard times again in some form or another. Even if we receive the highest material benefit of ascension to the heavenly planets, we still run the risk of falling back down to earth, as was the case with the great King Yayati. Keeping these facts in mind, the wise take it upon themselves to associate exclusively with God’s superior energy.

“What goes up, must come down” is how the famous saying goes. Nothing lasts forever. In the course of our day-to-day lives, there are times when we are very happy and times when we are very sad. Sometimes this change in mood can happen in an instant. By repeatedly going through such mood swings day after day for many years, the pattern becomes easier to recognize. Realizing this, we may start to wonder if it’s really a good idea to get too caught up in either extreme; the highs or the lows. The news, friends, work, family, birth, old age, disease, etc; these things all come and go on their own. It is not wise to get too overly attached to anything which is transient.

Masters Golf This is easier said than done however. The world of sports does a good job of illustrating the reality of the temporary nature of highs and lows. Each year there are certain sporting events that are eagerly anticipated: the Masters Golf tournament, Wimbledon for tennis fans, and the Super Bowl for football fans. There is much hype surrounding each of these events, with media doing wall-to-wall coverage before and after. The drama of these events can be quite gripping too. If the Wimbledon Final goes to a fifth set, or if the final round of the Masters goes into sudden death playoff holes, fans remain on the edge of their seats. Finally a victor emerges, and fans either rejoice or despair.

Wimbledon 2007 Let’s fast forward one year after this exciting moment. Does anyone think about who won the tournament the previous year? Some certainly do, especially those fans of the previous year’s winner. Yet once the next tournament starts, the drama begins anew. The previous year’s memories are erased, if not completely, but at least partially. Even if fans reminisce of years past, they can never recapture the same feeling of excitement that existed when the event was actually taking place. For the tournaments we are watching today, the events we are so caught up in that are presently unfolding, the thrills resulting from these experiences will expire very quickly. In tennis and golf, there are four major tournaments each year. This means that as soon as the next major tournament begins, the events of the immediately preceding tournament are forgotten.

This same principle holds true with everything in this material world. Government elections also illustrate this principle. As soon as a new candidate is elected to office, there immediately begins a rush of rumors as to who will run in the next election. The news cycle changes so quickly that no one would dare think of reading a newspaper that is more than one day old. Noticing all of these patterns, the wise realize that there is no need to get overly worked up over victories and defeats, pains and pleasures, or good times and bad times. God’s inferior energy is temporary in nature, so these dualities are bound to exist.

Does this mean that we should just give up all our activities? After all, if we work hard for something, we see that the resulting pleasure doesn’t last very long. The correct approach is to break free of our association with God’s inferior energy and instead become attached to the superior energy. What is the difference between these two energies? God’s personal realm, which includes all of His personal expansions and things created by His internal energy, is known as the spiritual world. The material world is everything else, i.e. the place that we currently inhabit. Spirit is immutable, unchangeable, and eternal. Therefore anything that is part of the spiritual energy will inherit these traits. Though the material world was also created by the Supreme Spirit, God, it has different characteristics. This is by design. God’s external energy is meant to be temporary and flawed because it exists solely for those living entities who want to pretend to be God. There can only be one “God” in the spiritual world, so if we want to imitate the Lord, we have to associate with an inferior energy.

Lord Krishna “So the material world is bad and the spiritual world is good. But I live in the material world right now? How do I get out?” To help the living entities break free of the delusion brought upon by the material qualities, God gave us dharma. More than just religion, dharma is something that is ever-existing inside of us. It is what defines us. Currently we are falsely identifying ourselves as Americans, Indians, African-Americans, whites, etc. Our true identity is that of a spirit soul, an eternal servant of God. Dharma is that discipline which helps us remember this fact. When we understand that we are God’s servants and not ourselves God, our whole outlook on life changes.

“One who can control his senses by practicing the regulated principles of freedom can obtain the complete mercy of the Lord and thus become free from all attachment and aversion.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.64)

Those who are God conscious decide that the aim of life is to serve God and nothing else. Therefore they can still do the same day-to-day activities, but they don’t have any attachment to them. If we don’t have any attachment to these activities, why should we even perform them? The answer is that our bodies must be maintained somehow. We can only realize God if we are alive. We all have different qualities and desires, and therefore we have a penchant to perform different kinds of work. This work is what maintains our bodies; therefore it should not be given up on a whim. It is wiser to continue with our prescribed duties, while simultaneously developing a loving attachment to God.

How do we achieve this condition? The easiest way is to regularly chant the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. We can also read books about God, visit His temples, talk to other devotees, and sing songs about Him. The possibilities are endless. These activities can all be performed by any person, regardless of their disposition, cultural background, age, etc. This discipline is known as bhagavata-dharma, or devotional service. Bhagavata refers to Bhagavan, which is a more accurate name for God. The Vedas tell us that the supreme living entity is so great that the name God doesn’t do Him justice. A better word is Bhagavan, which means one who possesses all opulences and fortunes.

Lord Rama and wife Sital Now that we have established that material life is full of ups and downs and that our real mission in life is to associate with God, does this mean we will achieve perfection? Simply knowing the temporary nature of this world and the ultimate objective in life is not enough. We need these facts reinforced from time to time. We need to consult real-life examples of these principles in action. We also need examples of great personalities who adhered to these principles and made their lives perfect. To help us in our pursuit of religious life, the Supreme Lord Himself personally advents on earth from time to time. One such appearance took place thousands of years ago in Ayodhya, India. The great Vedic texts such as the Mahabharata and Shrimad Bhagavatam tell us that God has unlimited forms, ananta-rupam. He also has unlimited incarnations that appear on earth, meaning there are too many forms of Godhead to count. However, there is still a list provided of the primary incarnations, or avataras. Lord Rama, the handsome prince of Ayodhya, is considered one of these primary avataras.

Lord Rama’s life was full of so many ups and downs that His primary pastimes were recorded in a wonderful poem known as the Ramayana, authored by Maharishi Valmiki. The sage is considered the author of the book, but that doesn’t accurately describe his role. The Ramayana contains details of historical events, so it wasn’t as if Valmiki just made everything up. Rather, he took the most notable events and related them together in his poem. One of the more memorable events of Lord Rama’s life was His time spent in the forests of India. Banished in exile by His father, Maharaja Dasharatha, Rama roamed the forests for fourteen years with His wife, Sita Devi, and younger brother, Lakshmana. On one occasion, Sita was kidnapped by the demon Ravana while Rama and Lakshmana were not with her.

Lakshmana In the above referenced quote, Lakshmana is trying to calm his elder brother, who is quite grief-stricken over the kidnap of His wife. Rama was so upset that He was ready to destroy the whole world, something He was more than capable of doing. Playing the part of a kshatriya warrior, Rama was the greatest of archers. The arrows shot from His bow were equivalent to today’s nuclear weapons in strength. He easily could have destroyed the whole world simply by shooting a few arrows. Lakshmana advised Rama against such action. He wanted to get the point across that good and bad things come on their own, and that one should always remain on the path of dharma at all times.

“He [King Yayati ] reached the heavenly planets by dint of his pious acts, but he fell down from there because of his self-advertisement and criticizing other great souls. After his fall, his daughter and grandson bestowed upon him their accumulated virtues, and by the help of his grandson and friend Shibi, he was again promoted to the heavenly kingdom, becoming one of the assembly members of Yamaraja, with whom he is staying as a devotee.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.12.24 Purport)

Shrila Prabhupada To get his point across, Lakshmana referenced a famous incident regarding King Yayati. The great Vedic texts give us the lineage, or vamshas, of the prominent families that existed at the beginning of creation. Each one of these dynasties had a famous king who established the family’s reputation. King Yayati was one such king who was so pious and well-respected that he ascended to the heavenly planets after death. Among most followers of the Christian faith, the belief is that you either go to heaven or hell after death, depending on how you behaved during your lifetime. The Vedas also agree with this conclusion, except they give us more detail as to what actually makes up heaven and hell.

“When they have thus enjoyed heavenly sense pleasure, they return to this mortal planet again. Thus, through the Vedic principles, they achieve only flickering happiness.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.21)

Lord Rama Heaven and hell are both considered part of the material world, or God’s inferior energy. This means that both realms are subject to creation and destruction. Therefore we can conclude that anyone who resides there must have to leave at some point. The Vedas tell us that our time spent in heaven is commensurate with the merits accumulated from our pious activities. This means that ascending to material heaven does not represent perfection in life. Once we reach there, we are more than susceptible to falling back down to earth. This was the case with Yayati. He made a transgression while residing in heaven and was thus forced to come back to earth. His example is often quoted when describing the reality of reincarnation and the temporary nature of happiness and distress.

What we learn from this is that the performance of pious deeds does not represent the pinnacle of devotional practice. Dharma helps us stay on the righteous path, but our pious activities must lead to attachment to God. If we don’t develop that attachment, we can’t achieve true perfection. Lord Rama was God Himself, so He had no need for self-realization, but to play the part of a human being, He engaged in lamentation from time to time. What’s so wonderful about this incident is that since it describes a conversation between God and His brother, it is completely spiritual in nature. Simply by hearing it, we are associating with the spiritual energy. Eventually Rama would heed Lakshmana’s advice and compose Himself. He would go on to rescue Sita and defeat Ravana in battle. Though nothing in the material world lasts forever, if we dedicate ourselves to bhagavata-dharma, we can enjoy eternal felicity in the imperishable spiritual sky with the Supreme Lord.

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Weathering the Storm

Posted by krishnasmercy on August 10, 2010

Rama and Lakshmana looking for Sita “Tell me, O best of men, which living entities aren’t affected by danger, which is like a fire that catches on and then eventually vanishes?” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.6)

One of the more memorable instructions from the Bhagavad-gita is that one should remain calm and peaceful at all times, even through adversity. The Gita is a spiritual text describing the famous conversation between Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and His disciple and cousin, Arjuna. The conversation touches on a wide variety of topics, including the eternal nature of the soul and how one should go about conducting themselves in their day-to-day lives. Since the work is so compelling, even non-devotees and religious scholars have taken to studying it. The passages relating to how one should deal with stressful situations are very appealing to people of all persuasions. Lord Krishna’s ultimate instruction is that we should not let the ups and downs of material life get in the way of executing our prescribed duties. Nothing should get in the way of achieving perfection in life.

n24525368223_1401525_1785 Who among us doesn’t have trouble dealing with adversity? Something as simple as bad weather can put us in a foul mood. In the Northeastern part of the United States, the weather is always changing. It never stays too hot or too cold for any extended period of time. People living in this area have to deal with heavy rains, snow, scorching heat, and high humidity. Even during the spring and autumn months, where the temperatures are not extreme in either direction, people have to deal with allergies. The allergic reactions from pollen, grass, and trees can be more painful than even extreme temperatures. Allergies cause our skin to itch, our nose to run, and our eyes to become red.

In industrialized nations, another cause of great discomfort is automobile traffic. The car is certainly a great invention, for it allows anyone to be a captain of their own ship. The automobile is the symbol of freedom, with the inside of the car being a place where no one can boss you around. You can drive wherever you want, at any time of the day or year. Driving should be a smooth task, but what causes hiccups is the fact that there are other drivers on the road. We are all equally citizens after all, so each one of us has an equal right to enjoy our God-given liberty. Problems do arise, however, when there are too many cars on the road. This leads to a condition referred to as traffic. High volume is not the only cause of traffic either. Congestion can also result from car accidents, inclement weather, and road construction. As soon as it starts raining or snowing, people reduce their driving speeds.

Traffic Traffic can be very irritating to the impatient driver. It’s an inconvenience that usually comes unexpectedly. “Why can’t the cars in front of me just move already? Why are they driving so slow?” These are some of our lamentations as we sit in the car and anxiously wait for the traffic to clear. Inconveniences can also be caused by other drivers. Since we all possess different material qualities, not all of us will be “good” drivers. Some will drive slower than others, some will be more willing to adhere to traffic laws, and some will have no concern for other drivers whatsoever. In America, the left-hand lane on a highway is considered the passing lane. If you are stuck behind a slow car, you can move to the left lane to pass that car. Yet many people like to park themselves in the left lane and simply coast. They have no desire to pass anybody. This not only goes against driving etiquette, but it also leads to increased congestion, and eventually accidents. Cars that want to pass now have to hope that the right lane, the slower lane, is free in order to be able to get around the slow car in the left lane.

These and other issues on the road can cause us to lose our temper. There is a common phenomenon known as “road rage” which describes the anger people feel when driving. In America there are driving courses that people can take that will help them save money on their car insurance. These classes, which last for more than five hours, always include a section about dealing with road rage.

Road rage Why is it important to educate people about keeping their cool? In most instances, losing our temper leads to bad things. When driving, if we lose our temper, we are more likely to get into an accident. We may decide to start harassing another car that is out on the road, or we will start cursing and yelling. Simply based on the immediate results of this rage, we can see that it is better to keep our cool. If we step back from the situation, we see that road rage makes absolutely no sense. In the grand scheme of things, if it takes a little longer to get to where we are going, what have we really lost? If someone insults us on the road, what do we really gain by engaging them? On the other hand, if we get into an accident as a result of our rage, we can lose our life in an instant.

The wise are those who realize the temporary nature of life’s ups and downs, and thus always keep their cool. It is better to remain calm and collected since this is a condition more conducive for focusing on the task at hand. While abiding by this principle is important in our normal everyday affairs, it takes on an even greater role in spiritual life. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that human life is meant for God realization. What does this mean exactly? The human being is considered the most advanced species due to its level of intelligence. Animals, plants, and aquatics have no idea who they are, or why they are put on this earth. They don’t even realize they are going to die. Fish are not smart enough to realize that if they eat too much food at one time, they will die.

Through trial and error, and through the teachings passed down by previous generations, we human beings can understand all of these things. Every one of our ancestors has died. They were no different than us when their lives started. They had hopes and dreams; they wanted to be happy and peaceful. Yet in the end, they were still forced to die. Therefore we can conclude that we must also have to die at some point. Knowing this, what is the point to life? Why are we put here on this earth if we don’t get to stay here?

People take different approaches towards answering these questions. Some like to study nature, trying to rule out various reasons as to what the point of life is. The first thing that gets ruled out is sense gratification. By nature, an animal simply wants to take part in eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. Human beings also have these tendencies, but since we know that we are going to die, we can see that there must be more to life than just temporary sense gratification.

If sense gratification is bad, then maybe the opposite is good? Maybe the point to human life is to negate all activity and hope to eventually achieve a state of peace? This is the philosophy of the jnanis, or impersonalist speculators. This line of thinking may seem plausible, but it doesn’t explain why we were put here in the first place. If the aim of life is to stop activity, why was there any activity to begin with? If material nature is so bad, who created it? Why does it exist at all?

We can go on mentally speculating in this way forever and never come to a concrete conclusion. The great saints of the past tell us that there is a good reason for this. Our brains are products of this material creation, so they are flawed in nature. We certainly have superiority over all other species in the intelligence category, but this does not mean that we are the smartest person. After all, we weren’t even able to control the circumstances of our birth, so how smart can we actually be? The great sages of India tell us that the smartest person in the world is God. He is the source of all things matter and spirit. It is due to His intelligence that this material world exists. He allowed us to come to this world and associate with matter. For this reason, God is more accurately defined as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This supreme person also has a name: Lord Shri Krishna.

Lord Krishna How do we know about Krishna? We can’t find Him through mental speculation or by performing mathematical proofs. The only way we can even begin to understand Him is to hear from His devotee. A pure devotee of Krishna is one who has learned the science of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, from his own spiritual master. If we ascend the chain of spiritual masters, we eventually make our way to Krishna, or God. Perfect knowledge can only be acquired from someone who is perfect themselves. As human beings we are most certainly a flawed species, prone to committing mistakes and cheating. However, these defects don’t exist in God. Therefore His teachings are perfect, and anyone who properly understands them is also perfect.

“Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, offer obeisances and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.34)

The spotless spiritual masters, the great Vaishnava saints, tell us that the point of human life is to use our intelligence to serve God. The process is actually quite simple: learn to love God and you will always remain in His association. The idea is to change our consciousness. Currently all the plans that we make are related to material life, those things which are temporary. Perfection is achieved when our consciousness is changed from the material to the spiritual. We are all spirit souls at our core, but God is the Supreme Spirit. If we think of Him at all times in a loving way, we can achieve perfection in life. If we are Krishna conscious at the time of death, we immediately ascend to the spiritual sky, wherefrom we never return.

Shrila Prabhupada - ideal spiritual master This formula seems simple enough. We just take to any of the nine processes of devotional service, and everything will be hunky-dory. But things aren’t that easy. The famous acharya, Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, used to say that the path of devotional life is one riddled with thorns. This means that initially taking up bhagavata-dharma, or devotional service, can be very difficult. This is pretty easy to understand actually. We are so used to our conditional life that spiritual life is something foreign to us. The key components of devotional life are the regular chanting of God’s names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and abstention from the four pillars of sinful life: meat-eating, gambling, illicit sex, and intoxication.

Just the requirement of giving up intoxication is enough to disqualify many from becoming God conscious. There are other issues to deal with as well, such as friends, family, work, and school. Most everyone is in a conditioned state, so they are unfamiliar with the tenets of the Vedas. Anyone who takes up the sublime mission of devotional service likely won’t have many friends to consult or people to help them. This makes things difficult in the beginning stages. Spiritual life is meant to be simple, so any obstacles that come in our way can seriously hamper our mood.

Lakshmana The key is to always remain steadfast and realize that ups and downs are both temporary. This was the lesson taught by Lakshmana, the younger brother of Lord Rama. In the above referenced quote, Lakshmana is counseling Rama by telling Him that peril certainly comes to everyone, but that it quickly disappears just as how a small fire eventually burns out. Lord Rama was an incarnation of God who appeared on earth many thousands of years ago. He assumed the guise of a human being and played the role of a pious, kshatriya prince. On one occasion, Rama’s wife, Sita Devi, was kidnapped in the forest in Rama’s absence. Unable to find Sita, Rama gave way to lamentation and anger. He was ready to destroy the entire world out of rage; something He was more than capable of doing considering He was God Himself.

One would be hard pressed to find a better brother than Lakshmana. He always looked out for Rama, even though the Lord didn’t require such help. Lakshmana loved Rama purely and without any motive. Since he was a perfect devotee, it’s not surprising to see that his words of advice were perfect as well. Lord Rama was God Himself, but He was playing the role of an ordinary human being. To relate to the rest of us, Rama decided to openly show His grief for having lost Sita. After this talk, however, Rama’s spirits were uplifted and He resumed His search for His wife. With the help of Lakshmana and the Vanara army led by Hanuman, Rama would eventually find and rescue Sita.

Hanuman helping Rama and Lakshmana The best gurus, or spiritual masters, are those who give us the proper advice at just the right time. Lakshmana was one such guru. His instructions were perfect many thousands of years ago, and they still remain so today. We will all most certainly face trouble in our religious pursuits, but we should never let temporary gains or setbacks take us off the straightened path. Heat and cold, pains and pleasures, victories and defeats all come and go on their own. The aim of life is to achieve the ultimate victory of returning back to Godhead. This reward can only be secured by those who can weather all of life’s storms. Always keeping Lakshmana’s words in mind, we can most certainly achieve success.

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The Rock

Posted by krishnasmercy on August 8, 2010

Lord Rama “O Kakutstha, if You are unable to tolerate this distress, then how will the common person or the meager be able to tolerate it?” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.5)

Not everyone is born to be a leader, which means that most of us look to others for leadership and guidance. In times of trouble, even the strongest among us look to others for comfort and stability. If a friend or close confidante shows grace under pressure, our spirits are uplifted, and it makes it easier to persevere through tough times. Even if someone just says something as simple as, “Everything’s going to be okay”, it’s enough to give us temporary relief. Having these kinds of people in our life is very important, even more so for society at large. If our leaders exude confidence and show steadiness under pressure, the rest of society will follow suit.

Why is it important to not panic in emergencies? An emergency, by definition, is a troublesome situation. Who wouldn’t give way to lamentation or fear during such a time? This is precisely why it is necessary to have people around who don’t give way to grief, for most of us wouldn’t be so calm. If our authority figures panic under duress, it makes it easier for the rest of us to lose our cool. The famous American television sitcom, Seinfeld, had an episode that illustrated this principle. One of the main characters on the show, George Costanza, was attending a children’s birthday party when a fire broke out. George’s character type was that of a seedy fellow, someone who was selfish and didn’t abide by social conventions. He was always looking for shortcuts in life, and he didn’t care who got in his way.

George Costanza seeing the fireIn this particular episode, when the fire broke out, instead of remaining calm, George panicked. In fact, he lost his cool in the worst possible way. He repeatedly screamed out, “Fire! Fire!” and then ran out of the house, throwing aside any women and children that were in his way. Later on, the adults at the party confronted him regarding his behavior, and George tried to lie his way out of it. The adults were angry because he, as an adult, should have acted more maturely. Young children growing up in school are given lessons on fire safety. The breakout of a fire is one of the more common emergency situations that come up. Students repeatedly go through fire drills, wherein they are told to remain calm and exit the building, single-file, in a controlled manner. If clothing should catch fire, children are taught to remember three words: stop, drop, and roll. These three words are used to convey the need for calm and peace during an emergency. Fire on the clothing requires immediate attention, so it can be considered a greater emergency than a general fire. Yet the protocol during this increased emergency doesn’t call for increased panic, running, or screaming. Rather, the victims are told to immediately stop what they are doing, drop to the floor in a calm manner, and then roll so that the effects of the fire will be limited.

Firefighters The heroes in society are those who don’t get flustered under pressure. Firefighters and police officers are especially recognized for their bravery. In the infamous 9/11 attacks in New York City, firefighters and police officers were called to the rescue. Based on the firsthand accounts of the people on the scene, many firefighters and police officers refused to leave the burning Twin Towers, for they did not want to leave any innocent victims behind. Many of these brave men were told that the buildings were about to collapse and that if they didn’t leave, they would surely die. Many of them still decided to stay, thereby voluntarily giving up their own lives in favor of helping others.

The heroes teach us by example. If they show steadiness under pressure, we are more likely to have our fears allayed. If you conducted a poll around the world and asked people what would be the one thing they would want, the most common response would be “World peace.” Heroes help to give us some semblance of peace, especially during troubling times.

Life in the spiritual world with Krishna By the same token, our life here on earth can be thought of as a continuing saga of misery and heartache, chaos and despair. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that this world is not meant to be our permanent home. It is a temporary place, full of miseries. This may seem like a pessimistic view, but it is not intended to be. Human life is considered a great boon because it is our best chance to learn about God and use that information to love Him. This love can then take us to the spiritual world, which is free of anxieties and miseries, Vaikuntha.

The root cause of our anxiety stems from our forgetfulness of God and His powers. This is easy to forget because we are born into ignorance. We have lived many previous lives, and those past experiences determined the circumstances of our current birth. Nevertheless, we are pretty much ignorant once we come out of the womb. We have to be taught everything that we know, either directly by someone else, or indirectly through new life experiences. If no one teaches us about God, or if we remain obstinate in our pursuit of material sense gratification, we will lose touch with the Supreme Lord. Since the material world is ultimately subject to destruction, so is everything contained within. This includes our own bodies, along with all of our possessions and relationships. Knowing that we are going to die is probably the greatest cause of our distress.

“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)

Since we know we are going to die, some of us try to cram as much sense gratification into our lives as possible. This isn’t really a good solution because death is not the end, but rather the beginning of a new life. Just because we die once, it doesn’t mean that we don’t take birth again. But most of us don’t realize that we’ll take birth again, for we have no knowledge of our previous lives. If we understand the imperishable nature of the soul, we can understand that we have no reason to fear death or the loss of our valuable possessions.

Dharma So if we shouldn’t focus on sense gratification, what should we do with our time? What is the purpose of our being put on earth? How should we act? To guide us in our activities, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, gave us dharma, or religiosity. Dharma actually never gets created, but rather exists at all times. Issues arise because we forget what dharma is and why it exists in the first place. The exact definition of dharma is “something which defines the essence of something”. When applied to the living entities, it means that which defines our existence as spirit souls. Since our original nature is to be loving servants of the Supreme Lord, dharma can be taken to be religiosity, or our occupational duty.

This occupational duty manifests through a set of law codes and recommendations that we must follow in order to make our lives perfect. Perfection in life means returning back to Godhead in the afterlife. Knowing that we would have a hard time residing in the material world, Krishna imparted the system of dharma to the first created living entity, Lord Brahma. He then passed it down from generation to generation. The principles of dharma are set forth in the Vedas, which are the original scriptures for mankind. Veda means knowledge, and since the original Vedas expound on the system of dharma, they are considered the highest form of knowledge.

If these scriptures have existed since the beginning of time, why do most of us continue to live in fear? Why do we overly lament over misfortunes, and overly rejoice during the good times? Why are we fearful of death, and why do we go to any means to try to prolong our life of sense gratification? What happens is that, over time, the system of dharma deteriorates. Though we are naturally disposed towards abiding by dharma, contact with material nature tends to skew things. Matter is subordinate to spirit, but we become illusioned into thinking that the reverse is true. Material life means worshiping matter. This worship involves the intense search for sense gratification in the form of beauty, wealth, and fame. These things are all related to matter, something which is controlled by spirit.

“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion-at that time I descend Myself.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.7)

Lord Rama The more time spent associating with matter, the further we drift away from dharma. To reestablish the principles of dharma, to annihilate the miscreants, and to also give pleasure to the devotees, the Supreme Lord personally advents on earth from time to time. One such occasion was during the Treta Yuga when Lord Krishna appeared on earth in the guise of a handsome and pious prince named Rama. Each of Krishna’s incarnations has specific characteristics and features, and as Lord Rama, God was especially focused on abiding by established dharma and setting a good example.

As the eldest son of the King of Ayodhya, Lord Rama took it upon Himself to uphold the great tradition of the Ikshvaku dynasty. The rulers in this line were all known for their strict adherence to piety. They were all chivalrous and ruled the citizens perfectly. They didn’t play any favorites as far as the people went; everyone was treated fairly. Lord Rama was so well known for His detachment and equanimity that even His enemies had respect for Him. Even though Lord Rama punished them, the criminals knew that He had no personal grudge against them, for He was simply following the proper code of conduct.

Lord Rama not only set an example on how to be a great government leader, but He also taught us how to persevere through troubling situations. We tend to think of God as being very opulent and powerful, and while this is certainly true, the Lord also possesses the quality of renunciation to the fullest extent. This quality was exhibited by Rama through His reactions to a series of unfortunate events. First, the kingdom which was rightfully His was taken away from Him. Not only was Rama passed over to be the next king, but He was banished from the kingdom for fourteen years, forced to wander the forests of India. Then, as a result of being separated from his son due to the exile, Rama’s beloved father, King Dasharatha, died prematurely. To make matters worse, while residing in the forest, Rama’s beautiful and chaste wife, Sita Devi, was kidnapped by the Rakshasa demon Ravana.

Lord Rama The combination of these tragic events would be enough to make even the strongest person contemplate suicide. Though Rama was God Himself, He still played along in His role as a human being. After Sita was kidnapped, He lamented greatly. He was ready to destroy the entire world with His arrows. Rama was an expert kshatriya warrior, skilled in using the most powerful of mantras. Recitation of these mantras would make the arrows shot from His bow equal in potency to today’s nuclear weapons. Lord Rama didn’t know what had happened to Sita, so He thought the worst. He gave way to lamentation and grief.

Rama’s younger brother, Lakshmana, stepped in to console his brother. Instead of giving way to grief, Lakshmana gave Rama a pep talk. In the above referenced statement, Lakshmana is reminding Rama that He is supposed to be a leader. If Rama were to give way to grief, then every ordinary person in society would have an excuse to give up when the going got tough. Obviously Rama wasn’t really grief stricken, for He was God Himself, but this situation nevertheless shows the greatness of Lakshmana. We could only wish to have such a brother as Lakshmana. He was so devoted and pious that he was willing to even correct God Himself.

Eventually Lord Rama regained His composure and decided to continue His search for Sita. He would be successful in finding and rescuing her and killing Ravana in the process. Lakshmana’s words were certainly true though. If Rama had given up, all of His devotees and followers would have an easy excuse to give up and to not try to make the most of their lives. We should all follow Rama’s example and try to remember that we should never deviate from the pious path, even if the worst things happen to us. Good and bad things happen on their own, and we should not let them affect us.

“O best among men [Arjuna], the person who is not disturbed by happiness and distress and is steady in both is certainly eligible for liberation.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.15)

Lakshmana In today’s age, however, it is easy to forget these things. One of the symptoms of the Kali Yuga is that most people are not religious. Taking the gross material body to be the beginning and end of everything, we are worshiping matter instead of God. Therefore it is the duty of devotees of Krishna to follow in Lakshmana’s footsteps. If we believe in Krishna, have knowledge of the Absolute Truth, and have firm faith in the superiority of devotional service, we should take it upon ourselves to share this information with others. Since devotees know that Krishna is the creator, maintainer, and destroyer of all things material, they are able to persevere through even the most troubling of situations. It is incumbent upon the devotees to set a good example for others to follow. Lord Chaitanya said that all of us should become gurus, or spiritual masters, simply by talking about Krishna with others. If we regularly chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” and abide by the four regulative principles, other people will have a nice example to follow. We can make the most of this precious human form of life by being solid as a rock in our performance of devotional service.

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Posted by krishnasmercy on August 6, 2010

Dasharatha quitting his body “Being attached to Your qualities, the king, as we have heard from Bharata, attained the divine nature due to separation from You.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.4)

In the course of our lifetime, we are bound to come upon hard times. Especially as we get older, the days seem to repeat themselves. Since we’ve worked so hard to achieve our goals and maintain a steady family life, it just seems that there needs to be a break at some point. We work hard at the office for five days and then relax on the weekend. When the next week starts, we repeat the same cycle. What is the point to all of this? Why are we alive? Why do we have to perform activities to maintain our body? Even if we never think of these things, others most certainly do. Suicide hotlines exist to deal with these very situations. While there may be a variety of answers given by suicide prevention counselors as to why a person should remain alive, the most important reason is that only by living can we perform devotional service to God. This service is the highest occupation of man and is thus known as bhagavata-dharma. Commitment to this service should be the only thing that keeps us bound to this life.

When we speak of someone being bound to the material world, we are referring to attachment. It is our attachments that guide our activities. When we form an attachment for something, we feel that we can’t live without it. Whether it is a certain type of food, going out on the town, drinking alcohol, or even love for another person, attachments can give us a reason to live, something to make us get out of bed in the morning. In reality, we can most certainly live without these things, but the mind tricks us into thinking that we can’t. These attachments may seem harmless on the surface, but the Vedas tell us that if one keeps these attachments up until the time of death, they will be forced to take birth again.

“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)

Lord Krishna One may ask, “What is wrong with taking birth again? I think that’s pretty cool. It means that we live forever.” It certainly is a great benediction from God to be allowed to go through the cycle of enjoyment again. It is nice to know that we get second and third chances to get things right. But what exactly constitutes perfection in life? Why do we keep taking birth, and what can we do to stop the cycle? To gain liberation, the first requirement is the firm desire to stop reincarnation. Attachment to material objects doesn’t help in this regard. Attachment results in karma-bandha, meaning it guarantees that we will assume another material body in the next life and be forced to take to fruitive activity again. The aim should be to gain release from having to perform fruitive activities, karma-mukta.

The opposite of like is dislike, or hatred. While some people view reincarnation as a great thing, others are bewildered by it. “You mean I have to suffer through the trials and tribulations of life all over again? I have to go through twelve years of schooling and then work like a dog until the day I die? No thank you!” Many suicide attempts are the result of the inability to cope with the troubles of day-to-day life. Though suicide may seem like a way out of our miseries, the Vedas tell us that it actually leads to more miseries. Suicide involves self-inflicted violence, something which the laws of nature must give punishment for. Suicide involves a sort of material attachment as well, for there is an attachment to the idea of violence. People who commit suicide don’t even take birth again right away like other people. Instead, they remain in their subtle body consisting of mind, intelligence, and false ego. Hence they stay trapped in a ghost-like state until a family descendant performs pious activities in their favor.

King Dasharatha So we see that strong attachment and strong hatred for material life both lead to misery. So what are we to do? In reality, there is only one reason to remain alive: to take up bhakti-yoga, or devotional service to God. As spirit souls, it is our constitutional position to be eternal servants of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Krishna is God, even though others may refer to Him by a different name. Even if one is unwilling to accept Krishna as the original form of Godhead, they can still practice devotional service, provided they have an object of worship who is non-different from Krishna. The idea is to perform all of our activities as a sacrifice for the Lord. Similar to how sports teams will dedicate a particular game or a season to a fallen teammate, we living entities should dedicate all of our activities to the Supreme Lord. This was the path taken by the great King Dasharatha many thousands of years ago, and he was rewarded with salvation.

In the above referenced quote, Lakshmana is counseling his elder brother, Lord Rama. In the Vedic tradition, God’s original name is Krishna. He resides in the spiritual sky on the planet of Krishnaloka. For the purposes of creation, maintenance, and destruction of the innumerable planetary systems, Krishna expands Himself into Lord Vishnu. To show even more mercy to the fallen living entities dwelling on earth, Vishnu appears from time to time in various guises. As Lord Rama, God appeared as a handsome and pious prince, dedicated to the welfare of the saintly class. Since God is so wonderful, naturally all His closest associates will also be. Rama’s father was Maharaja Dasharatha, the king of Ayodhya.

King Dasharatha with Rama Though Dasharatha had many responsibilities associated with being king, he was not attached to any of them. He neither loved nor hated his title of king; he was firmly detached. Yet he still had someone in his life that served as his reason for living. That someone was Lord Rama, who was the son that Dasharatha had long hoped for. The king’s attachment to his eldest son was no secret. His entire life force was supported by the activities of Rama. In this regard, we see how to attain perfection in life. Even though he didn’t know it, Dasharatha was the perfect yogi in that all his activities were dovetailed with Rama’s service.

Due to a series of unfortunate events, Rama had to leave the kingdom at a young age. He was banished to the forest and forced to reside there for fourteen years, having no connection with the kingdom. Dasharatha couldn’t bear the separation from Rama, so he died soon after Rama left. In the above referenced statement, Lakshmana is reminding Rama about how and why Dasharatha died, as they had heard from their brother Bharata. It is said that Dasharatha entered the divine [devatvam] realm, or assumed the divine nature. This means that he went to heaven and took on a spiritual body. At the time of Lakshmana’s statement, Rama’s wife, Sita Devi, had just been kidnapped by the demon Ravana while the group was residing in the forest. Rama was feeling great grief due to separation from Sita. Moreover, He didn’t know what had happened to her, so He feared the worst.

Lord Rama Lakshmana tried to keep Rama’s spirits up. In essence, he said, “You were the only reason that our father remained alive. He was so attached to You that he gave up his body as soon as You left him. We are all equally as attached to You. If You give way to lamentation right now, what will be left of us? We will have no reason to live. You must continue Your activities so that our attachment will have meaning.”

Lakshmana’s words give us insight into how the great minds think. Why is it a good thing to be attached to God? From Lakshmana’s statement, we see that Dasharatha attained the divine state since He thought of Rama at the time of death. This is God’s promise to us. If we remain attached to material life, we get a material body in our next birth. By the same token, if we remain attached to the supreme spirit, Lord Krishna, we will attain a spiritual state in the next life. Having a spiritual body means we no longer associate with matter. The spiritual world is full of living entities possessing spiritual bodies who constantly associate with the Supreme Lord in His various forms.

Lakshmana We should be very thankful that we are alive and well, for every day that we wake up is another day that we can perform devotional service. If we are dead, we have no control over where we will end up next. We are alive today and conscious of our predicament. We should make the most of this opportunity by taking up the sublime mission of life, that of developing a total loving attachment to God. Though the Supreme Lord may not take birth as our son, we can have the same level of devotion to Him that Dasharatha did by regularly chanting the Lord’s names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

If we don’t take up this mission, then our lives are essentially meaningless. Simply getting up every day and performing animalistic activity doesn’t help us or those around us. On the flip side, performing devotional service not only helps the plight of our own soul, but of those around us as well. Aside from giving us a reason to live, chanting and hearing help others find their true purpose in life. The beauty of devotional service is that it is a full-time occupation, complete with variety and nuance. This means that each of us can find our niche in spiritual service, choosing that one special way to show our love for the Lord.

Sita, Rama, and familyThe more people that take up this sublime service, the more that will be rescued from the ocean of nescience represented by the activities of intoxication, gambling, and meat eating; activities which are just like quicksand in how they drag people further and further into hellish life. To make our lives perfect, we simply have to follow the great examples set by Dasharatha, Lakshmana, Sita, Hanuman, and all the other great Vaishnavas of the world. By saving ourselves, we can rescue others and thereby perform the highest service for mankind.

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The Secret Weapon

Posted by krishnasmercy on July 30, 2010

Lord Brahma “With Vaidehi [Sita] being thus insulted, all the moving and nonmoving beings of the world were put into a chaotic condition and were surrounded by a dense blinding darkness. The wind did not blow and the sun did not shine. Seeing with his divine vision that Sita was overcome, the illustrious great-father [Brahma] said, ‘My work is done.’ All the supreme rishis who were present felt both pleased and distressed.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 52.9-11)

The kidnapping of Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama, is one of the more troubling incidents to hear about for devotees. Sita Devi was beautiful, kind, chaste, and never bothered anybody during her time on earth. She was the embodiment of the perfect woman. Simply hearing about her being forcibly dragged into the aerial car of the demon Ravana and made to sit on his lap, is enough to make devotees cringe. This incident leads many to scorn God Himself for allowing such an insult to take place. On the flip side, however, Sita’s kidnapping was a very joyous occasion for the demigods.

Sita Devi Sita Devi is considered an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, the wife of Lord Narayana in the spiritual world. The Vedas tell us that the original form of God is Krishna, but that He then expands into several vishnu-tattva expansions to perform specific duties. Lord Vishnu, or Narayana, is Krishna’s primary expansion. The only real difference between Krishna and Vishnu is that Vishnu has four hands, while Krishna has two. Again, these differences exist simply because of the different functions that each must perform. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna states that He rewards devotees in the manner in which they worship Him. Some devotees prefer to worship Narayana, while others are Krishna bhaktas. In the end, there is no difference between the two.

God is not alone in the spiritual world. Just as we have our own family members in this world, the Lord has eternal associates in the spiritual world. Krishna is the energetic, and His pleasure potency expansions represent His energy. God derives pleasure from His devotees through their engagements in different transcendental mellows, or rasas. The most advanced devotees know how to give the most pleasure to God, thus they are classified as hladini-shakti, or pleasure potency expansions. Krishna’s pleasure potencies are the gopis of Vrindavana, the chief of whom is Shrimati Radharani. In a similar manner, Lord Narayana’s eternal consort is Goddess Lakshmi, a beautiful devi who provides wealth and good fortune to her devotees. Since she is God’s wife, it makes sense that Lakshmi would be in charge of fortune. No one is more fortunate than God due simply to the fact that the goddess of fortune serves Him.

Goddess Lakshmi Vishnu appears on earth from time to time to enact specific pastimes. He takes birth in the guise of a living entity, but His body always remains spiritual. God usually doesn’t come alone either, as His closest family members appear with Him. One of God’s most famous appearances took place during the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation. At the time, the demon class of men, the Rakshasa, was steadily ascending to power all over the world. Human beings are considered the most elevated species since they have the brain capacity to understand God. Not only can they learn about spiritual matters, but they can use that knowledge to free themselves from the repeated cycle of birth and death. This liberation is known as mukti, and it is the opinion of the Vedas that the human being has the best chance at achieving this.

The human beings aren’t the only species on earth. Scientists posit various theories about creatures who previously lived on the earth but that are now extinct, like the dinosaurs. We also see that scientists always seem to discover new species that they never heard of before. The Vedas, which serve as the original knowledge base for all things material and spiritual, tell us that there are 8,400,000 different species. This number is so high because the living entity can possess the three qualities of material nature [goodness, passion, and ignorance] in various combinations and permutations. One species can be in 50% goodness, while another may be in 25% goodness and 75% ignorance. The human being mostly lives in passion, but there is a catch. We have a choice as to which mode we want to associate with. Not only can we choose to act in goodness, passion, or ignorance, but we also have the option to rise above these three modes and engage in pure goodness, known as shudda-sattva. The lower species don’t have this choice due to their lack of intelligence.

“The Vedas mainly deal with the subject of the three modes of material nature. Rise above these modes, O Arjuna. Be transcendental to all of them. Be free from all dualities and from all anxieties for gain and safety, and be established in the Self.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.45)

Life in Krishnaloka The Rakshasas are a human-like species, so they have similar features to humans, except that they live mostly in ignorance. When someone is associating with the mode of ignorance it means they are performing activities that don’t help their soul advance in the next life. The soul is eternal, but the body is not. Therefore, we can conclude that it is more important to take care of the soul than it is to take care of a body that must eventually be given up. Everyone on earth performs some sort of work. The Vedas tell us that we should perform work that will allow our souls to eventually reach the final destination of Krishnaloka, or the spiritual sky. Once a soul goes back to God’s spiritual world, it never has to come back to the material world.

Acting in the mode of goodness allows one to take birth in a pious family in the next life, or even in the body of a demigod, an elevated living entity. The mode of passion allows one to remain a human being, thus it is essentially a mode of neutrality. The mode of ignorance causes one to descend to a lower species in the next life. This mode is characterized by excessive eating, sleeping, intoxication, and a general disregard for the laws of dharma. The Rakshasas of the Treta Yuga fit right into this mold. Their leader was Ravana, a ten-headed monster who ruled over the kingdom of Lanka. He was always drinking wine and having sex with his innumerable wives. He loved to eat meat, especially the flesh of sages that he and his Rakshasas had personally killed.

Ravana was very powerful and a staunch enemy of the demigods. Krishna and Vishnu represent the Supreme God, and the demigods represent His chief deputies. The demigods are in charge of various departments of the material creation. Though they are also very powerful, they are still fallible living entities. This means that they too are subject to the forces of material nature as manifested through birth and death. Since the beginning of time, the demigods have been engaged in a battle with the demons. The demigods, or godly people, are referred to as suras and the demons as asuras. Ravana was an asura who regularly fought with the demigods. Since he was too strong for them, the demigods were deathly afraid for their lives and also for the future condition of the earth. As a last resort, they sought the shelter of Lord Vishnu. They begged Him to come to earth and kill Ravana, and thereby relieve their suffering.

There was a catch to this though. Lord Brahma had granted Ravana several boons due to austerities he had performed. God is never forced to answer anyone’s prayers since He is aloof from the day-to-day affairs of the material world. The demigods, on the other hand, are duty-bound to grant benedictions to anyone who pleases them properly. Ravana took advantage of this by performing great austerities to please the demigods. They in turn granted him several boons which boosted his strength. They also granted him immunity in battle against all the demigods and other celestial beings. Thus Ravana thought he was immortal. He made a costly mistake, however, in that he forgot to ask for immunity from human beings. Ravana thought that if a celestial couldn’t defeat him, surely no lowly man could.

Lord Rama Lord Vishnu used this loophole to appear on earth in the form of a human being, the prince of Ayodhya, Lord Rama. One more issue remained though for the demigods. Rama took birth in a very pious kshatriya family that traced their ancestry all the way back to Maharaja Ikshvaku, the first king on earth. This meant that Lord Rama was obliged to adhere to chivalry and the established rules of conduct for a king. One of the most important rules for the warrior class is that they are not allowed to attack another person without just cause. This means that technically Rama couldn’t attack Ravana or take him on in battle without a legitimate excuse. This is where Sita Devi came in.

At the same time that Vishnu was appearing on earth as Rama, Goddess Lakshmi was appearing as Sita Devi, the daughter of King Janaka of Mithila. Sita and Rama were eventually married, as was their destiny. After twelve years of marriage, the pair roamed the forests of India along with Lakshmana. Ravana, hearing of this beautiful woman staying in the forest of Dandaka, decided that he had to have her. He set up a diversion which lured Rama and Lakshmana away from their cottage, leaving the door open for Sita’s abduction.

Jatayu fighting Ravana While Ravana was flying away on his aerial car with Sita, the king of birds, Jatayu, intercepted him and took him on in battle. After a fierce fight, Ravana eventually killed Jatayu, and then safely flew back to his island kingdom of Lanka with Sita. In the above referenced quote, Lord Brahma is remarking how his work has been accomplished, and the saints living in the forest are described as being both aggrieved and delighted over the incident. The saints were aggrieved because Sita was forcibly taken away from her husband. Yet they, along with Brahma, were happy because they knew that this incident signaled the end of Ravana. Lord Rama now had the excuse He needed to take on Ravana and kill him in battle.

The pious never attack without just cause. Even in today’s world, the police are never allowed to search someone’s property without probable cause. Police officers and FBI officials must obtain warrants prior to searching someone’s house. If evidence is obtained without following the proper protocol, it becomes inadmissible in the court of law. This may seem unfair, as it leads to criminals getting off on technicalities, but these laws are put into place to protect the innocent. Lord Rama, being especially dedicated to dharma, believed in these laws as well. His younger brother Lakshmana once noted that not even the people punished by Rama could find anything bad to say about Him. This was because even the criminals knew that Rama didn’t hold any personal grudges and that He always adhered to the righteous path.

The lesson here is that there is no need to become distressed from hearing of Sita’s kidnap. Lord Rama’s wife was certainly delicate, beautiful, and full of class, but she was by no means weak. Ravana was an extremely powerful demon who could not be defeated by even the greatest celestials. It was his addiction to illicit sex that led to his downfall. In this way, Sita Devi proved to be the secret weapon, the ticking time-bomb so to speak. She singlehandedly took down one of the greatest demons of all time.

Rama Darbar This shows the power of God’s pleasure potency. Sita Devi is meant to associate with God and His devotees. When put into the hands of the demons, or the enemies of God, she proves to be deadly, as was the case with Ravana. When she associates with the devotees, however, she bestows eternal fame and fortune. Lord Hanuman is a great example of this. Unlike Ravana, Hanuman had love and respect for Sita. He served her to the best of his ability, and as a reward, Sita and Rama granted him eternal devotion to their holy feet. To this day, Hanuman is known throughout the world as the greatest servant of Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana. If we kindly pray to Sita Devi to allow us to love her and her husband, she will surely be pleased with us and fulfill all our desires.

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Posted by krishnasmercy on July 25, 2010

Lakshmi Devi “How can that female swan who is accustomed to sporting with the king of swans amidst lotus flowers ever cast her eyes on a water-crow that stays amidst bunches of grass?” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 56.20)

Expensive chocolates, the finest wines, the most succulent of meats…these things are all considered part of finer living. This lifestyle isn’t enjoyed by most people, so one who can indulge in such enjoyments is considered blessed and part of the upper tier of society. More than just an issue of affordability, indulging in the finer things in life requires sacrifice and commitment. One must really derive great enjoyment from these amenities in order to make the necessary investment of money. As a result of this higher level of enjoyment, one grows accustomed to having only the best things in life. A resulting side effect is that one can never go back to their old way of life. Cheap cars, foods, and drinks become intolerable. Along the same lines, devotees of God experience the highest taste by constantly associating with the Supreme Lord. When asked to indulge in material life, a return to the miserable and temporary existence of the conditioned, devotees utterly reject such a notion, being incapable of adapting to a substandard way of life. An example of this was seen with the wife of Lord Rama, Sita Devi, many thousands of years ago.

Why are there different classes of meat? Why doesn’t everybody just eat the same kinds of food and live in the same types of houses? Things would be a lot easier that way. There would be no fuss or jealousy, and everyone could be more at ease. The problem is that every individual is born with different qualities and desires. The concept of individuality implies that there is a desire to stand out, a need to be different. A person loses their individuality if they act the same way as everybody else, performing the same activities, and enjoying the same pastimes. Not only is there a desire to be different, but this is actually the natural course of things. For example, not every person goes into the same field of work when they turn into adults. Medical schools and business schools certainly recruit their fair share of candidates in the hopes of churning out bright, new doctors and businessmen, but there is no fear from the public that every single person will become a doctor or a business. Carpenters aren’t worried that there won’t be any new carpenters around, and policemen aren’t worried that there won’t be anyone to defend the innocent public in the near future.

“According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me. And, although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.13)

Krishna speaking to ArjunaThese worries relating to the choices of occupation are absent because it is seen that people naturally take to different activities. The Vedas, the scriptures emanating from India, tell us that each individual is the same in quality but that their material bodies are composed of different modes. The individual gets their identity from the soul, or atma, which is the same in quality for every person. This atma is pure and uncontaminated, for it inherits its qualities from God. The Supreme Lord, whose original form is Krishna, can be thought of as a giant fire and the souls of the living entities as minute sparks from that fire. Though these sparks are pure and full of bliss, when they come to the material world they assume a body composed of the modes of nature. These modes are goodness, passion, and ignorance, and they are referred to as gunas in Sanskrit. Guna means a material quality or rope, and it is defined as such because a material quality causes the soul to be bound to the laws of nature. As a spiritual spark, the soul is not bound to anything, completely autonomous in its wanderings. However, in order to appear in the material world, the soul must agree to be bound up by gunas. This binding is voluntary and not instigated by the Supreme Lord.

When the soul gets covered up by gunas, the resulting life form, the living entity, takes to different activities. Since gunas can be mixed up in so many different proportions, there are no two conditioned living entities that are exactly the same. This is good in a sense because individuality is maintained, and thus differences are seen in activities and natures. Since there is no equality in the material sense, we see that some people take to enjoying the finer things in life, while others do not. For example, a rich person may require a private airplane, fully stocked with adult beverages and lavish furniture, while a middle class person may prefer travelling on a commercial airplane or simply driving their cars from place to place. Some people insist on eating high class foods, while others are fine with just simple grains, milk, and fruits. In fact, many yogis in India go their whole lives surviving simply off fruits and milk.

iPad Since the material world is full of dualities, what is palatable for one person may not be so for another. To many, the renounced lifestyle of a yogi seems torturous. These differences in viewpoints speak to the notion of dualities, the fact that everything is relative. People grow accustomed to their way of life, especially if they enjoy fine living, so what they often view as painful really isn’t. For example, in today’s age, most everyone is accustomed to watching television, talking on cellular telephones, and using computers. Just twenty years ago, cell phones were hardly used and computers weren’t even owned by most people. In today’s world, it may seem impossible to get by without the internet, but people lived for so long without it and had no problem. If our cable or satellite television goes out for just a short period of time, we panic or get angry, but in previous times there was no need for such things. This shows that one who enjoys the finer things in life, the “good life”, has no desire to return to what they deem as ordinary or substandard life. Once a person grows accustomed to using their iPods to listen to music, going back to using walkmans and CD players is not an option.

Usually when discussing this phenomenon in terms of its significance in spiritual life, the issue is portrayed in a negative light. One of the central components of spiritual life in the Vedic tradition is tapasya, or penance. The more a person becomes attached to objects of sense gratification, the harder it becomes to perform penance. Penance isn’t simply a tool of punishment, but rather a way to curb the influence of the senses and acquire detachment. This detachment is extremely helpful in fostering one’s attachment to God, which is the ultimate objective for every person in life. Though others may be unaware of this objective, it is undoubtedly the highest engagement for the soul to reconnect with its source, the Supreme Lord. Awareness of this objective can take many many lifetimes to acquire, but that doesn’t diminish the superior nature of the sublime engagement of devotional service to God, or bhakti-yoga.

Hanuman engaged in bhakti yoga Though becoming attached to the finer things in life can certainly be a hindrance towards spiritual advancement, the phenomenon actually can teach us a lot about the benefits of performing bhakti-yoga and some of the side-effects that come from associating with God. Sita Devi illustrates this point quite clearly in the above referenced statement. Many thousands of years ago, the Supreme Absolute Truth, the original fire from which all sparks in the universe emanate, God Himself, appeared on earth in the guise of a human being. The activities of this human being have been chronicled in the famous poem composed by Maharishi Valmiki called the Ramayana.

One of the nice things about God appearing on earth is that it lets others see how those who have achieved the ultimate objective in life behave. Since the goal of human life is to associate with God and to always be thinking of Him, it makes sense that God’s associates who are present during His time on earth would be perfect candidates to study. One such associate was Sita Devi, Rama’s beloved wife. She exuded all the qualities of the perfect woman, mother, daughter, and wife. In many respects she was greater than Lord Rama, for she taught others how to practice devotion through her example.

Lord Rama Sita’s execution of bhakti-yoga wasn’t without obstacles. We can look back now and see that everything ended well for her, but her life was full of pain and suffering. In this way, she showed us how to remain firmly committed to the righteous path, regardless of what setbacks we may have to suffer through. Probably the most terrifying period of her life was when she was kidnapped by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. Rama, His younger brother Lakshmana, and Sita were residing in the forest of Dandaka when one day Ravana came and set up a diversion to lure the two brothers away from Sita. Successfully taking her back to his island kingdom of Lanka, Ravana tried every which way to get Sita to turn her eye towards him. This, of course, was impossible, for Sita never turns her thoughts away from God.

While rebuking Ravana, in order to get her point across about how she would never give in to him, Sita offered up a series of metaphors, each one beautifully illustrating her desire to be with Rama and her utter repulsion towards Ravana. In the above referenced statement, we see that Sita compares Rama to the king of swans, or the greatest swan, and Ravana to an ordinary diver bird, or water fowl. She is saying that as the wife of the king of swans, she has grown accustomed to sporting with her mate amidst bunches of lotus flowers. Flowers are a symbol of the good life, for they have a pleasing fragrance and an outward appearance which is appealing to the eye. In the Vedic tradition, flowers play an integral role in beautification. They are used to make garlands which are offered to the spiritual master and to the deity residing within the temple. The lotus flower is also the symbol of Lord Vishnu, Krishna’s primary expansion residing within the spiritual world. One of Vishnu’s names is Padmanabha because He has a navel which looks like a lotus-flower. Vishnu’s wife, Lakshmi Devi, is known as Padmini because she sits on a lotus flower while residing in the spiritual world with her husband. This is a relevant point because Sita and Rama were technically incarnations of Lakshmi and Vishnu. From her statement, Sita is secretly hinting at her divinity and how she and her husband are always with lotus flowers.

Padmini Ravana, on the other hand, is compared to a low-class bird who simply hangs around bunches of reeds and grass. In this way, he is viewed as living a low-class life. Sita is saying that since she has experienced the higher taste of fine living, it would be impossible for her to associate with the low-class life that Ravana was accustomed to. What does this mean for us? Aside from helping us achieve the ultimate objective in life, bhakti-yoga is deemed to be fine living in the grand scheme of things. This may seem strange at first because we usually associate a yogi with someone who has a shaved head, simple clothing, and no possessions. In fact, the most elevated status in spiritual life is sannyasa, which is the renounced order. By fine living, we are referring to spiritual living. Bhakti-yoga is considered the high life because it involves direct association with God.

Though Sita got to travel the world alongside Rama, it doesn’t mean that we are bereft of this association today. In this day and age, we can directly connect with God through the transcendental sound vibration of His names. By regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, we can experience the high life. Fine living wouldn’t be complete without nice food, music, and clothing. These things certainly do exist in the life of a bhakti-yogi, but they are meant for the enjoyment of the Supreme Lord instead of the individual. Devotees offer up the tastiest food to the deity of the Lord, dressing Him in the nicest clothing, all the while playing the sweetest music.

Sita and Rama Bhakti-yoga represents the sublime life. If we get accustomed to this transcendental lifestyle, we can one day have the same fortitude and determination that Sita did. She never gave in to Ravana because she didn’t find him or his lifestyle appealing in the least bit. By the same token, if we become attached to the wonderful food known as Krishna prasadam, and the beautiful music known as harinama-sankirtana, we can surely reject all the unnecessary and unwanted things in life.

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Can’t Touch This

Posted by krishnasmercy on July 21, 2010

Sita Rama “It is not possible for a chandala to tread heavily on an altar which is beautifully decorated and situated amongst a sacrificial fire, pots, and ladles, and sanctified by the mantras of the brahmanas. Similarly, I, being the religiously wedded wife of one who is Himself ever committed to dharma, am firm in my vows and thus, O lowest of the Rakshasas, it is not possible for me to ever be touched by you, who are a sinner.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 56.18-19)

This is a beautiful analogy used by Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama, to describe how Ravana was unqualified and incapable of touching her. This may seem strange to hear because Ravana, a Rakshasa demon, had just kidnapped Sita from the forest of Dandaka and forcibly brought her to his kingdom of Lanka. Yet as all the great acharyas confirm, Sita Devi could never be touched by Ravana because she always remains completely spiritual. She is God’s wife in the spiritual world, meaning that she is not tainted by any material qualities. Only those elevated personalities, those whose minds have been purified through proper training, can understand and see Sita’s true spiritual form.

Sita Devi The Indian caste system is famous throughout the world. It is usually understood to be a sort of social pecking order, where certain classes of people are deemed more worthy than others. Aside from the four primary castes, there are also those considered untouchable. When learning about Hindu culture in American schools, the issue of the untouchables is almost always broached. The actual Vedic system, however, has nothing to do with social statuses or ostracizing people based on their birth. The caste system, more accurately known as varnashrama-dharma, is a natural ordering of society based on the inherent qualities that people possess and the work they perform. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, says that He created this system based on guna and karma. He never mentions anywhere that one’s varna, or caste, is inherited at the time of birth.

Lord Krishna The reason for the divisions is that every person will have different tendencies. The modern day movements aimed at providing social justice and the equal distribution of wealth are certainly idealistic, but not practical since everyone has different desires and qualities. Not every person has the same work ethic, nor does everyone want to be rich. In fact, if you conducted a poll to find out at what annual salary a person would consider themselves rich, you’d get a wide variety of answers. To some people, earning $100,000 a year is considered great wealth, while others would require multiple millions of dollars before they felt comfortable. These differences in desires and qualities are natural, and they are acquired over the course of many many lifetimes. Vedic teachings tell us that our consciousness at the time of death determines the type of body we inherit in our next birth.

“In whatever condition one quits his present body, in his next life he will attain to that state of being without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)

Lord Krishna The four varnas of the famous caste system are the brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas, and shudras. Then there are those who are considered so uncivilized that they don’t even fall into any of these categories. These “untouchables” are the mlecchas, yavanas, and chandalas. For the purpose of this discussion, we will focus on the two extreme ends of the spectrum: the brahmanas and the chandalas. The meaning of brahmana is someone who knows Brahman. Most of us understand that there is a personal God who is in control of everything. He is the person we go to when we want things, and He is also in charge of making the impossible seem possible. The Vedas give us further details into God’s nature. He who most of us know as God is actually Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Bhagavan, whose original form is that of Shri Krishna, then takes two primary expansions. The Lord is kind enough to live within our body as a minute spirit soul. We also have our own spirit soul that forms the basis of our identity, but God’s soul is there alongside ours. Our soul is known as the jivatma, or just regular atma. Since God’s soul is much more powerful, it is known as Paramatma, or the great soul. The Paramatma can be realized through yoga. Yoga itself means the linking of our soul with God’s expansion residing within our heart. There is a less granular expansion, or classification, of God known as Brahman. Brahman is an all-encompassing energy. Everything, including matter and spirit, is Brahman.

“Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, wisdom, knowledge, and religiousness—these are the qualities by which the brahmanas work.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.42)

Those who know Brahman understand that all living entities are an equal part of the creation. There is no difference in quality or quantity between one jivatma and another. To know Brahman and truly understand it, one must possess certain qualities. Such a person must be peaceful, humble, tolerant, wise, etc. These are the qualities, or gunas, of a brahmana. Along with these qualities, brahmanas must perform certain types of work. Their prescribed duties, or karma, include reading the Vedas, teaching others Vedic wisdom, performing sacrifices, teaching others how to perform sacrifices, taking charity, and giving charity.

Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati - an exmplary brahmana To be considered a qualified brahmana, one must be properly trained. There are many caste brahmanas in India who inherited their status from their forefathers. Essentially any caste brahmana can trace their family lineage all the way back to a famous sage of the past. Having this sort of ancestry is certainly very nice, and it presents a wonderful opportunity. However, as mentioned before, one’s varna is determined by qualities and work. If we are born in a brahmana family but don’t exude any of the qualities of a brahmana or perform any of their activities, we can’t be considered a bona fide brahmana.

To know Brahman means to know that we are not our bodies. The spirit soul, or atma, represents our identity. Those who live on the bodily conception of life, considering themselves to be Indian, American, black, white, etc., certainly don’t know Brahman. A person born in a brahmana family who doesn’t have respect for all forms of life certainly cannot be considered a qualified teacher of the Vedas. To know Brahman, one must be trained by a qualified brahmana, someone who knows the Truth.

Lord Krishna performing sacrifices The sacrifice is an essential part of religious life in the Vedic tradition. Sacrifice involves voluntarily giving up something that is valuable to you. In the ancient times, kings would perform grand sacrifices where they would offer a horse or some other valuable animal to God. These sacrifices were very intricate and complex, and they required the perfect recitation of specific Vedic hymns and mantras. A qualified brahmana was required to perform these sacrifices, otherwise the desired result would never be achieved. In a properly executed sacrifice, the soul residing within the animal would immediately be promoted to the human species in the next life, and the king would reap tremendous material rewards as a result.

Since the sacrifices required meticulous attention to detail, only trained sages could perform them. By the same token, those who were unclean and not trained in any Vedic discipline were strictly forbidden from taking part in such sacrifices. In the varnashrama system, the shudras are considered the fourth and lowest division. They are laborers by trade, and they receive no formal training in any Vedic discipline. The chandalas, or dog-eaters, are considered even lower. Even in today’s society where meat-eating is quite common, if someone were to start eating dog flesh, they would be considered uncivilized and an odd-ball. In ancient times, these people were not allowed anywhere near a sacrifice, for their presence would taint the whole proceeding. Such a person could surely tread across any normal area of land, but as soon as that same land became sanctified with the paraphernalia of a Vedic sacrifice along with the recitation of mantras by qualified brahmanas, such a person was restricted from setting foot on it.

Airplane takeoff Now this restriction may seem a little harsh to the lay-person. To properly understand the context, let’s take the example of flying an airplane. A plane is an enormous vehicle, requiring expert pilots to operate it. A pilot must go through hours and hours of training before they are allowed into the cockpit to personally steer a plane from takeoff to landing. We would never think of taking any odd person off the street and asking them to fly a plane, for the results would be disastrous. The plane probably would never even make it off the ground, and if it did, it most certainly would crash. The Vedic sacrifice can be thought of in the same light. Though we may not see its results directly, a yajna, or sacrifice, is performed for the benefit of Lord Vishnu. In fact, the word yajna itself means Vishnu, or the four-handed expansion form of Lord Krishna. All yajnas are meant for the satisfaction of Vishnu, which means that if a non-devotee, or person lacking knowledge of Vishnu, performs a sacrifice, there will be no tangible result. More than just nullifying the effects of the sacrifice, a chandala can do great harm by causing animals to be needlessly killed or causing the ingredients of the sacrifice to be wasted. This is precisely what occurred over time as unqualified brahmanas started taking to animal sacrifice simply as an excuse to eat meat. For this reason, the practice of animal sacrifice was eventually abolished.

Sita and Rama in the forest This analogy to a chandala being restricted from a yajna was appropriately used by Sita Devi when talking to Ravana. During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, Lord Krishna descended to earth in His all-blissful, all-knowing form of Lord Rama, the handsome prince of Ayodhya. Rama’s wife was Sita Devi, an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi. The couple was residing in the forest of Dandaka along with Rama’s younger brother, Lakshmana, when one day Sita was kidnapped by Ravana. The Rakshasa race was quite strong at the time, and their leader was the ten-headed son of Vishrava, Ravana. Though Ravana was quite capable in battle, he knew he didn’t stand a chance against Rama and Lakshmana, so he devised a plan where he could kidnap Sita in Their absence. Successfully taking Sita to his kingdom of Lanka, Ravana tried every which way to win her heart over, but he failed every time.

In the above referenced statement, Sita is letting Ravana know that he can never touch her. She compared him to a chandala, or the lowest class of man. This analogy is important because Ravana certainly viewed himself as high class. He lived in the finest palaces, drank the best wine, and had hundreds of beautiful wives. He even thought that he was a religious person, for he used to regularly perform worship of various demigods. Nevertheless, he lived completely in the bodily conception of life. He didn’t believe in a Supreme God, for he was trying to be God himself through the conquering of enemies and the acquisition of material wealth, strength, and fame. As a Rakshasa, he was accustomed to eating meat. The irony of Ravana’s haughtiness was that he was actually lower than a chandala. A chandala is so low that they eat dog flesh, but Ravana actually ate human flesh on a regular basis. He and his Rakshasa associates would harass the great sages living in the forests, attack their sacrifices, kill them, and then eat their flesh.

“To say nothing of touching mother Sita, a person with material senses cannot even see her. When Ravana kidnapped her, he kidnapped only her material, illusory form.” (Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 9.193)

Lord Chaitanya Sita was dead-on in her characterization of Ravana. The demon certainly did touch her, but just as a chandala can never properly execute a sacrifice, Ravana was never able to actually touch Sita’s spiritual form. He only associated with a material form of Sita, a sort of fake covering. Only devotees can see God and His associates as they are.

If we see God and His pure devotees as being products of material nature, we can never get the true benefit of their association. The impersonalist philosophers, the Mayavadis, encounter this very problem when they try to execute bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. The Mayavadis believe that Brahman is the ultimate feature of God, meaning they don’t believe in a Paramatma or Bhagavan. Because of this, they try to worship some imaginary form of God, or worse, they take God’s authorized forms such as Rama, Krishna, etc. to be products of maya, or material nature. For these reasons their performance of bhakti-yoga is useless. Their viewpoint is no different than how Ravana viewed Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana. In the end, Sita’s words would hold true as Ravana was never able to win her over. Lord Rama eventually came to Lanka and killed the demon and all his soldiers after a series of fierce battles.

Rama Darbar The lesson here is that if we want to truly get the benefit of association with God, we must be properly trained from a devotee. The devotees of Lord Vishnu, Vaishnavas, are actually above brahmanas in stature because they understand Bhagavan. Since Bhagavan is the source of Brahman, Vaishnavas automatically acquire all the qualities of a brahmana. In this age, we can all become Vaishnavas, regardless of our ancestry, simply by regularly chanting God’s names in a loving way, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This chanting is known as the sankirtana-yajna, and unlike sacrifices of the past, there are no restrictions on its performance. Any person can chant and receive all the glorious benefits. This is Krishna’s mercy for the people of this age, and we should most certainly take advantage of it.

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