Have Your Cake and Eat It Too

Hanuman worshiping Rama“Having sweets in such abundance that they fill up a large bowl, having the power and glory of a king while remaining humble and forgiving, having worldly assets and spiritual assets at the same time – these [seemingly contradictory] combinations of benefits can be acquired easily by having prema for Shri Rama’s holy name.” (Dohavali, 15)

mīṭho arū kaṭhavati bharo rauṃtāī arū chema |

svāratha paramāratha sulabha rāma nāma ke prema |

Everything in the material world, including enjoyment, is checked to some degree or another. We can’t always get what we want. Even if our dreams do come true, there is a price to be paid, as some delights automatically cause other indulgences to diminish in availability. Much progress has been made in the areas of technology and medicine today, but negative consequences have resulted as well, such as rising medical costs and worries over losing health insurance. With every pursuit, there is another set of actions that is neglected, as the human being is limited in its capabilities. Therefore the engagements and enjoyments that are considered the most important are given highest priority, while the noise and pollution resulting from such activities simultaneously get ignored. The famous saying, “you can’t have your cake and eat it too”, speaks to the difficulty in worldly affairs, wherein the forces of nature check every movement. Even if we believe ourselves to be independent and fully capable of providing for our needs, external forces – such as those originating from the mind or body, Mother Nature, or other living entities – come and attack. Yet with the Supreme Lord, the one person who is always beyond duality, there is no such defect or contradiction in pursuit. He is capable of enjoying at both extremes, showing the full range of attributes and qualities simultaneously and to the fullest extent. As such, He is also able to kindly bestow the same abilities and conditions to His ardent supporters, those sincere souls who cast aside all desires for enjoying or renouncing in excess in favor of remaining in Bhagavan’s company at all times.

What are some examples of enjoyments and abilities that are contradictory? Goswami Tulsidas, the celebrated Vaishnava poet and the eternal servant of Lord Rama, mentions a few examples in the above referenced verse from the Dohavali.  He begins by painting the picture of a large bowl full of delightful sweets. In the Vedic tradition, mithai, or sweets, play an integral role in bhoga, or enjoyment, for the Supreme Lord. Since the ultimate objective of human life is to seek out God’s pleasure, there are specific processes that can be adopted that very quickly cause a shift in consciousness. The discipline of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is the topmost engagement, spiritual or otherwise, because it seeks to alter consciousness through explicit acts of love and devotion intended to please the Supreme Loveable Object, our spiritual life partner, the Supreme Lord.

Shri Rama deityA timeless practice of bhakti is the archana-vidhi, wherein prayers, obeisances, food and flowers are offered to the deity representation of God. Though the neophytes and those unfamiliar with Vedic traditions may mistake deity worship for idolatry, the statue or picture that is honored is carefully crafted to match the figure of the saguna forms of the Supreme Lord. In His original form, Bhagavan is referred to as Krishna, or He who is all-attractive. Yet Krishna doesn’t limit Himself to only one manifestation. He is kind enough to assume many other visible forms which are equally as complete in terms of spiritual happiness, bliss, and worthiness of worship. The incarnations and expansions are referred to as saguna because they give the appearance of having qualities, or material attributes, to the conditioned eye. The full breadth and scope of the original transcendental bodies of Krishna and His Vishnu forms are impossible to comprehend for the living entity destined for destruction within their present body. Therefore Krishna kindly incarnates into visible, spiritual forms that appear on earth and enact pastimes. The deities are non-different representations meant to act as worshipable objects that relay the obeisances and prayers offered directly to the spiritual personality in question. The commonly invoked analogy to the mailbox helps explain how this works. A mailbox is just like any ordinary box, but since it is authorized by the post office, any letter placed into it will automatically reach its intended destination. Dropping a piece of mail into any other type of box will not have the same effect.

Similarly, the deity accepts the items properly offered and automatically carries them to Bhagavan, who subsequently enjoys the offering and leaves the remnants as prasadam. Mithai is ideal for offering to Krishna because He especially loves sweets that are made of milk products. Indian sweets are unique in their taste and makeup due to the strong presence of milk and butter. Many Indian sweets take a long time to make, so they are not as readily available as other food items. Neither are large quantities of mithai inexpensive, as milk and butter are not the cheapest food items. Therefore the consumption of Indian sweets is always limited, especially for children, who are given sweets as a reward or delight. How many children are given an entire gallon of ice cream to eat at one time by their parents? The intense sweetness is meant to be enjoyed in moderation, but children don’t always understand the principles behind eating with control. Thus for a child to get such an abundant volume of sweets is unthinkable.  Enjoying such heavenly sweets all the time is not good for the health either, as an imbalance of nutrients results within the body. Just imagine eating candy bars all day and nothing else. Obviously there would be negative health effects. For these reasons the condition of having an abundant supply of sweets, enough to fill a large bowl, is seemingly contradictory, or at least very rare to find.

mithaiTulsidas next mentions the reward of having the abilities of a king while remaining forgiving and controlled in desires. The sequencing of this reference is no accident, as it can directly relate to the previous example of the bowlful of sweets. Let’s say that we are on a diet. Our aim is to lose weight by limiting our food intake during each given day. This seems simple enough; we just watch what we eat and don’t give in to temptation. Now let’s up the ante by placing an entire buffet cart full of food and desserts in front of us the entire day. Our task is still the same, that of limiting food consumption, but now we have to avoid the visible temptation that is directly in front of us throughout the day.

Obviously most of us would fail miserably in this task, as the inclination would be to simply have a few bites of food every now and then, not worrying about the after-effects. Powerful personalities and people in positions of high authority face similar conditions, for being king means being able to get whatever you want. The famous longing, “If I could only be king for a day”, speaks to the desire to have all wishes and wants granted immediately. As a king can have pretty much any desire satisfied, his behavior becomes more and more like an animal’s. The human form of life is meant for tapasya, or austerity, because only through sense control can the Supersoul, the plenary expansion of the Supreme Spirit residing within the heart, be realized. Connecting with the Supersoul results in yoga, the steady practice of which brings liberation to the heavenly realm in the afterlife. Sense demands, on the other hand, lead one further and further away from permanent yoga. And lest we think the senses will leave us alone after being satisfied a few times, the waves of demands keep pouring in, as the material desires of the living entity can never be truly satisfied. Indeed, the more quickly and regularly we feed our sense cravings, the stronger they become. Therefore the king who has every enjoyment at his disposal automatically has the toughest time trying to control his senses, especially in the areas of illicit sex, gambling and intoxication. When sense control is lost, so are forgiveness and kindness. For a celebrity accustomed to receiving heaps of praise from adoring fans, it is very difficult to remain truly humble and down to earth. Therefore those famous personalities who are kind, generous and compassionate are marveled at for their unique ability to maintain a level head.

The third paradox mentioned by Tulsidas is the most broad in scope, and is thus automatically inclusive of the previous two. Artha is a Sanskrit word that refers to profit, which is one of the four primary rewards available to the God conscious individual. Profit doesn’t have to refer to money; it can relate to any type of tangible benefit, or interest. As such, there are two types of profit, worldly and spiritual. In the Hindi used by Tulsidas, artha becomes “aratha”, which can be of the “sva” or “param” variety. Svaratha refers to personal interests, those gains which are seen in the present life. A nice family, a good job, a steady income, etc. are all svaratha. These are very difficult to attain, so it is not surprising to see that this type of profit serves as the impetus for almost all activity and endeavor.

Lord KrishnaParamaratha is supreme for a reason, however, for it relates to the interests of the soul after it has quit its present body. The spiritual spark within the body forms the basis of identity. As such, it never takes birth or dies. When the body is renounced, a new, temporary dwelling is crafted based on the desires and work performed in the previous life. Paramaratha refers to those benefits that lead to a better condition for the soul in the next life. There is no more beneficial future condition than residence in the Supreme Lord’s personal realm in the spiritual sky, a place wherefrom no living entity ever has to exit upon entering once.

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

Svaratha and paramaratha seem diametrically opposed to one another. As consciousness is the key determining factor in the future destination of the soul, one who is blessed with personal profits will have a mindset firmly attached to their current way of life. If the mind is always pondering how to enjoy money, wealth, home and family, when will there be time to contemplate on the Supreme Object of Pleasure? As such, the consciousness at the time of death will indicate a desire to return to the temporary realm, thus igniting the search for svaratha all over again.

To attain spiritual profits, some kind of renunciation from worldly affairs is necessary. If the mind is firmly attached to activities aimed at satisfying the senses, consciousness will never be purified. Therefore spiritual practices aimed at providing benefits in the afterlife entail dedication to ritualistic performances, the adherence to strict austerities, study of the Vedas, and giving in charity. If spiritual activities take up all the time of the individual, however, what opportunity will there be for personal enjoyment? Therefore paramaratha is seen as being contradictory to svaratha.

Lord RamaYet Tulsidas says that by regularly reciting Shri Rama’s holy name with prema, or love, all of these diametrically opposed rewards can be very easily had. Chanting the holy names of the Lord, especially those found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, falls under the category of bhakti-yoga. This discipline is different from any other system of maintenance or regulation, spiritual or otherwise. The soul’s constitutional position is one completely enveloped by bhakti, or pure love for God. When firmly linked to the Supreme Consciousness belonging to one of Krishna’s transcendental forms, such as that of Lord Rama, who is an incarnation of Godhead and the worshipable figure for the sweet and kind Tulsidas, every activity the living entity engages in is considered profitable and beneficial. The devotee is never in need of anything. All of the seemingly paradoxical occurrences mentioned thus far arrive without any effort.

“Krishna had one brahmana friend whose name was Madhumangala. This boy would joke by playing the part of a greedy brahmana. Whenever the friends ate, he would eat more than all others, especially laddus, of which he was very fond. Then after eating more laddus than anyone else, Madhumangala would still not be satisfied, and he would say to Krishna, ‘If You give me one more laddu, then I shall be pleased to give You my blessings so that Your friend Radharani will be very much pleased with You.’” (Shrila Prabhupada, Nectar of Devotion, Ch 41)

$(KGrHqJ,!jIE3SBQI7 zBN7Gm VRww~~_3We don’t need to just take Tulsidas’ word for it, as there are countless examples illustrating the divine power of the holy name and the sweetness of the results that come from steadiness in bhakti. During Lord Krishna’s childhood years in Vrindavana, one of His closest friends was Madhumangala, who was the son of a brahmana. Madhumangala especially enjoyed eating sweets, so he would often reference different Vedic rituals and make jokes about how they should be performed so that he could enjoy the bhoga offerings. He wouldn’t miss any chance to get jalebis, sandesh, or other wonderful Indian sweets. When Mother Yashoda would call Krishna and His elder brother Balarama to come home from playing to eat, Krishna’s friends would sometimes accompany Him. As any good mother would do, Yashoda would feed them all very sumptuously. Since they were children and such good friends with Krishna, they would receive more food than they could even handle. Therefore Madhumangala would have no problem securing sumptuous mithai by the bowlful; so much so that his stomach would hurt afterwards.

King Janaka of Mithila, the celebrated father of Sita Devi [the eternal consort of Lord Rama], had every royal opulence available to him, yet his senses were completely under control. Though he was originally an expert yogi who focused exclusively on the impersonal aspect of the Supreme Truth known as Brahman, Janaka later became an authority figure on devotional service after being enamored and taken by the two brothers, Rama and Lakshmana. Through the medium of his son-in-law Shri Rama and His holy name, Janaka further glorified himself and his line by remaining ever dedicated to virtue and piety while simultaneously having all the glories and perks of a king.

The simultaneous possession of svaratha and paramaratha is seen in all elevated devotees, as the bhaktas are never lacking anything either in the material world or in the afterlife. Shri Hanuman, the glorious bhakta of Shri Rama, personally has all his needs met by Sita Devi during his time on earth. Since he only wants to chant Rama’s name all day and hear about His pastimes found in the Ramayana, Hanumanji doesn’t require much. Nevertheless, he doesn’t need to exert any extra effort, as the goddess of fortune, the giver of every boon imaginable, makes sure that he has everything he needs.

Hanuman thinking of Sita and RamaThe incomprehensible workings of the holy name and the benefits its constant recitation provides shouldn’t surprise us. Krishna possesses every seemingly mutually contradictory set of attributes. Though the Lord is the most renounced, being atmarama, He still enjoys transcendental loving affairs with Shrimati Radharani and the gopis of Vrindavana. He is the most spiritually lusty, yet He is the most celibate at the same time. He is the greatest bow warrior in His form of Shri Rama, yet He is also the most generous, kind and merciful as well. He is the most controlled in terms of indulgence in sense gratification, yet He can still enjoy every offering of heavenly mithai made to Him by the humble devotees. Since the Lord is fully endowed with every beneficial feature, then surely the same gifts are present in those who are never forgetful of His divine nature and sweet form. Our ordinary affairs may be checked in every way, but he who adores Rama’s name and never lets it go can find enjoyment in every situation and surrounding. If we eat the birthday cake presented before us, we no longer have it, but the holy name of Shri Rama can be enjoyed over and over again and still be there for us to invoke and adore. Just as the fire of bhakti never dies, the devotee’s enjoyment and spiritual profits in sharanagati, or full surrender, never exhaust.

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