April 2011

‘In the western countries, when someone sees the cover of a book like Krishna, he immediately asks, ‘Who is Krishna?  Who is the girl with Krishna? etc.’  The immediate answer is that Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead.  How?  He is full in all six opulences [wealth, beauty, fame, strength, intelligence and renunciation]’


‘After about an hour we returned to the temple for guru-puja and Srimad Bhagavatam class. The verse described how Kardama Muni kept his mind fixed on Lord Vishnu, and in his short talk Srila Prabhupada gave a few good examples of how one can do one’s work and still remain thinking of Krsna. ‘In South India there is a class of professional dancer. They take a big jug on the head and without any ring, it is kept as it is. The head is shaved, but they are so practiced to keep the balance that the pot does not fall down. It remains exactly. This is an art – they will dance, and the pot on the head will never fall down, keeping the balance.

So by practice it is possible. There are many professional vendors, they keep their basket on the head and taking a child, going and canvassing, ‘We have got this fruit.’ It never falls down. They are keeping the balance. So this is a crude example that everything can be done by practice. There is another example Rupa Gosvami gives, that a woman who has got an extra lover besides the husband. So she’s always thinking of that lover although she’s busy with household affairs. That means if you want somebody very seriously, you can think of him always, twenty-four hours, in spite of your being engaged in so many duties. It is possible. So we have to practice this Krsna consciousness’

[Cf. Hari Sauri Das, Transcendental Diary]

At The Lotus Feet Of The Giver Of Liberation

Tomorrow is Kamada Ekdadasi.  Ekadasi is the special fast day observed by Vaishnavas on the 11th day of the waxing moon.  The best way to observe Ekadasi is to fast from food and water – nirjala.  This should be supplemented by hearing and chanting the glories of the Lord, preferably throughout the night.  One should also minimize routine activity on this day (like washing clothes, shaving, shopping, doing business etc.).  There is a simpler standard of fasting that is permitted in the Hare Krishna Movement – refraining from eating grains or legumes on this day.  The enjoying propensity should also be minimized on this day.  Ekadasi is a day of austerity.  Here is the story of how Ekadisi came about.

Krishna is aloof from His material creation.  This material realm has been created in such a way that it functions automatically according to guna (the modes of material nature) and karma (reactions to our activity in this world).  Those who defy God’s laws suffer under the Laws of Karma.  This is also called sin. The sum total of sin is represented by the Personality of Sin or Papa Purusa. Sin was getting stronger because of the general sinfulness of humankind.

One day the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Narayana, was visiting Yamaraja’s abode.  He could hear cries of agony.  ‘What is that?’ He asked.  Yamaraja explained, ‘These are the cries of the sinners being punished.’  Lord Narayana was concerned:  ‘These are my children.  I should do something to relieve their suffering’.  The Lord, therefore, created Ekadasi – in the form of a very beautiful woman. It is explained that even the greatest of sinners could become free from sin if they observed Ekadasi.  The Hari Bhakti Vilasa (manual for Vaishnava behaviour) explains that  on Ekadasi one should fast, absorb oneself in thoughts of the Lord, serve and glorify the Lord.

As a result of people observing Ekadasi, Sin was diminishing.  He approached Krishna in his emaciated condition.  Krishna said, ‘What is wrong?’  Sin replied, ‘You created me.  I am your son.  Ever since you created Ekadasi people are becoming free from sinful reaction.  Now I am dying.  Please do something so I can live.’  Krishna said, ‘Yes.  From now on all sins will enter into grains on that Ekadasi day.  Whoever eats grains on Ekadasi will accept the reactions for sins – even if he is sinless.’

The Lord’s first expansion is Lord Balarama.  Lord Balarama expands into the first Catur-vyuha.  The Catur-vyuha, Their expansions and the vilasa (pastime) incarnations of the Lord fall under the tad-ekatma category of forms of the Lord.  Tad-ekatma forms resemble the svayam-rupa form with differences.

The Catur-vyuha are categorized as svamsa (sva means ‘own’; and amsa means ‘part’)  or expansions of the Lord.  The Lord’s prabhava expansions divide into vibhava expanions – Vasudeva, Sankarsan, Pradyumna and Aniruddha.  This first Catur-vyuha expands into the 24 vaibhava-vilasa forms of Vishnu, which preside over the Vaikuntha planets [CC M 20.191].  Catur means ‘four’, and vyuha means ‘guard’ or ‘arms’. The word Catur-vyuha means the incarnations of the Lord who have four arms and guard the four directions.

Lord Narayana expands from Sankarsana.  The second Catur-vyuha – Vasudeva, Sankarsana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha –  expands from Narayana.  The purusa-avataras expand from the Sankarsana of the second Catur-vyuha.  There are thus two divisions of avataras in the svamsa category: those coming from Sankarsana ie. the purusa-avataras; and the lila-avataras.

Today is Rama Navami, the Holy Appearance Day of Lord Ramachandra.  I’ve attended Rama Navami twice at ISKCON Juhu, in Mumbai.  I was told that over 650,000 people visit the Temple to take darshan of Sita-Rama-Laxman-Hanuman on Rama Navami.  It is quite a spectacle.  I thought I would say something about service to Lord Rama and Sri Hanumanji on this most auspicious day.

Hanuman, The Dedicated Servant Of Lord Rama

What immediately comes to mind when you think of Sri Hanumanji? Loyalty? Dedication to his master, Lord Ramachandra? His monkey-like form? This is evident in Sanatana Goswami’s Brihad-Bhagavatamrita – where Hanuman rejects the opportunity to reside with Lord Krishna in Dwaraka. Why is this so? Hanuman is so fixed in the service of Lord Rama tha he only wants to serve Rama in Rama’s kingdom, Ayodhya. Servitude (dasya-rasa) to Lord Rama in Ayodhya is the sthayi-bhava or ‘eternal mood of service’ of Hanuman. And that is why Hanuman is used as the example of servitude or dasyam when describing the nine processes of devotional service.

Hanuman is the son of lord Siva and Anjani. Tradition has it that Brihaspati’s maidservant, Punjikasthala, approached the great sage in a “loving mood”. Brihaspati, in turn, the form of a female monkey. In this form she was known as Anjani. Lord Siva entrused an embryo in the care of Vayu; and Vayu implanted the embryo within the womb of Anjani. That embryo was Hanuman.

The fact that Hanuman took the form of his monkey explains his playful nature. There is a species of monkeys in India called the ‘Hanuman monkey’ or langur. The name vanara is also ascribed to Hanuman. Valmiki explains in the Ramayana that the vanaras resembled monkeys, but were really half-human and half-monkey. The vanaras (meaning ‘proper to the forest’ or ‘animals of the forest’) were empowered semi-divine beings who wore clothing, could speak, had homes and conducted festivals and funeral-rites. In addition to this, these extraordinary beings had mystic powers and could change their size at will.

Owing to the stone-like hardness of his body, Anjani named Hanuman Vajranga. She taught him how to eat fruits that were reddish like the sun. One day, Vajranga saw the sun glowing in the sky and tried to swalow the sun, mistaking it for fruit. This angered Indra, who struck Vajranga on his chin (hanu) with his vajra (lightning bolt) weapon. Hence the name Hanuman – ‘hanu’ being chin and ‘man’ being glorious ie. ‘one who has a glorious chin’. That is how Hanuman got his cleft chin. After being struck by Indra, Vayu brought brought the unconscious Hanuman into a cave in the Patala regions. Vayu’s absence on earth caused the earth to be devoid of air. Brahma went to Patala to comfort Vayu and to bring Hanuman back to consciousness. Lord Brahma and the devas blessed Hanuman in various ways, bestowing upon him extraordinary mystic powers. Lord Brahma blessed him that no brahmastra weapon would affect him. Surya bestowed upon him one-percent of his brilliance. Indra blessed him that he would be immune to thunder. And Vayu blessed him with speed comparable to that of Garuda, Lord Visnu’s carrier. From this time, Anjani’s son became known as Hanuman.

Hanuman was cursed to forget his powers until the advent of Lord Rama by some brahmanas who were irked by his restless pranks in the forest. Though semi-divine, Hanuman had many of the characteristics of a monkey. He had a tendency to jump from tree to tree and was a bit of a mischief-maker. Hanuman is also a famous as brahmacari (celibate). Another testament to his dedication to the feet of Lord Rama. Hanuman is so dedicated to Lord Rama that he is often depicted with his hands tearing open his chest to reveal the image of his heart, Lord Rama. Hanuman is also often portrayed kneeling with his palms joined before Lord Ramachandra, Sita (Rama’s wife) and Lakshmana (Rama’s brother). Sita-Rama-Lakshmana-Hanuman ki jay!!

I remember reading a copy of the Bardo Thodol (The Tibetan Book Of  The Living And The Dead) when I was at University of Cape Town.  I thought it would be an exciting read but actually found this Buddhist scripture quite boring – especially the detailed philosophical passages and Sanskrit terminology.  The thing that struck me, however – and still does – about The Tibetan Book Of The Living And The Dead, is the idea that the state of your mind at the moment of death determines the soul’s next birth.  This doctrine was supported by the concept of a subtle body which remains with the soul after the demise of the gross physical body.

Why would a nice Catholic boy be so convinced by eastern philosophy? Firstly, I vaguely accepted the concept of reincarnation ie. the soul accepts new bodies so long as it has not attained spiritual perfection and harbours material desires. Secondly, I also held the view, which all religions do, that our consciousness and the way we conduct ourselves in this life has an impact on our state of existence in the afterlife.  I could not, however, integrate the concept of an either/or Judeo-Christian theological understanding into my own existentially underdeveloped world-view.

Reincarnation made sense to me because it gave me power over my own destiny, by dint of proper use of free will.  Why would a loving God consign his beloved children to hell eternally for sinning on earth during a fractionally limited period of time? According to the Vedic understanding of reincarnation, we have been “sinning” eternally. In the same breath, devotional service to Krishna is an eternal opportunity – available at any moment. As the saying goes, “God helps those who help themselves.” Why should salvation, therefore, be limited to one lifetime?  And why should salvation be limited to one saviour or one religion?  If you accept Jesus in your life, you go to heaven; if  you don’t, you go to hell.  I just couldn’t accept such dogma.

The Vedas teach us to take responsibility for our livesf (ie. God helps those who help themselves).  This is an integral part of sanatana-dharma (eternal religion) or Hindu dharma. In order to overcome the Wheel of Samsara (repeated birth and death), we should develop spiritual consciousness – the same pure consciousness of the Spiritual World.  It makes sense that we can only live in the Spiritual World when we have the same quality of the Spiritual World.  Therefore the Vedas teach – ante narayana smriti, or ‘remember Narayana at the time of death.’  This philosophy is corroborated in the Bhagavad-gita: yam yam vapi smaran bhavam/ tyajaty ante kalevaram/ tam tam evaiti kaunteya/ sada tad-bhava-bhavitah – ‘Whatever  state of being one remembers when he quits his body, O son of Kunti, that state he will attain without fail‘.

If you are thinking of Krishna (Narayana or God) at the time of death, you will attain His abode: janma karma ca me divyam/ evam yo vetti tattvatah/ tyaktva deham punar janma/ naiti mam eti so ‘rjuna – ‘One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.’  The impersonal and voidist Buddhist teachings of the Bardo Thodol consider it perfection, or nirvana, to become nothing – to be freed of gross and subtle and spiritual forms.  The Gita, however, teaches us that it is possible to attain to an eternally blissful spiritual form in the Kingdom of God simply by remembering Krishna at the time of death. The Bhagavata Purana documents the success of the great devotee-king Maharaja Parikisit at the time of death.  Maharaja Parikisit was the world-ruler.  Cursed to die in seven days, he gave up his kingdom in order to fix his mind on the Lord at the time of death – which he managed to do.

A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada writes in Srimad Bhagavatam Canto 1.18.4 purport: ‘Thus a submissive disciple is able to live transcendentally and continue to the end of life.  By scientific adaptation, one is able to remember the Lord even at the end of life, when the power of remembrance is slackened due to derangement of bodily membranes.  For a common man, it is very difficult to remember things as they are at the time of death, but by the grace of the Lord and His bona fide devotees, the spiritual masters, one can get this opportunity without difficulty.  And it was done in the case of Maharaja Parikisit.’

‘The spiritual planet, Goloka Vrndavana, the eternal abode of Lord Krsna, is shaped like the whorl of a lotus flower.  Even when the Lord descends to any one of the mundane planets, He does so by manifesting His own abode as it is.  Thus His feet remain always on the same big whorl of the lotus flower.  His feet are also as beautiful as the lotus flower.  Therefore it is said that Krsna has lotus feet’

[A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Srimad Bhagavatam Canto 1.16.6 Purport]