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Forms for Meditation

Posted by krishnasmercy on January 27, 2014

Vishnu avataras“Even if one concentrates his mind on the boar form of the Lord, that is also yoga. As confirmed in Bhagavad-gita, one who concentrates his mind constantly in meditation upon the Personality of Godhead in one of His many varieties of forms is the first-class yogi, and he can very easily attain trance simply by meditating upon the form of the Lord. If one is able to continue such meditation on the Lord’s form at the time of one’s death, one is liberated from this mortal body and is transferred to the kingdom of God.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.19.28 Purport)

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“How was my weekend, you ask? It was okay, I guess. Now that I think about it, I’m feeling pretty good today. I tried to block out so many other distractions and just meditate. The weekends are a difficult time for me to relax. It seems like it should be the opposite, no? Since there is no pressure to go to work, I should be able to chill for two straight days, right?

“But what ends up happening is that I can’t stay focused on any one task. There’s always something to clean. All those responsibilities I neglect during the week start to mount. I have to do laundry for sure; otherwise there will be no clean clothes for the upcoming week. I have to pay bills, run to the supermarket, fill the car with gas, and prepare meals. All of this makes it very difficult to relax.

“What I did different this weekend was set aside some time for meditation. I’ve realized that the more I can stay away from my bedroom, the more I can concentrate. I’m actually more relaxed when seated upright, even if it’s just to watch television. So I found myself a comfortable chair and took out my tablet computer. That device in itself invites so many distractions, I know. I can check my email, preview the weather for the upcoming week, watch videos, and even exchange instant messages with friends.

Image of Varahadeva“This time I focused on a specific photo that I had in the camera roll section of the tablet. This photo is of a boar. I meditated upon that photo for hours on end. No, I’m not lying to you. I basically meditated on a pig this weekend. I can’t tell you how happy it made me feel. Where did I get the idea? In an ancient Sanskrit work called the Shrimad Bhagavatam there are descriptions of this boar. One can find out about its activities and appearance. It is also said in that work that mystic yogis, people who renounce the urban lifestyle for the wilderness, try their best to meditate on the personality who is that boar.

“It is said that the yogis have a tough time staying fixed in concentration on that same person who once manifest as a boar. And here I was, in the modern day, where no one has time for anything, meditating on that beautiful form. While meditating I kept thinking about how wonderful that boar was. It held up the earth after it had fallen into the water. While nobly saving the population of this world, it was verbally attacked for no reason.

“The attacker was envious. He was also very powerful, having the name of Hiranyaksha. He was golden-eyed and also golden in his ability to fight, and so he thought no one was there to properly challenge him in this world. He heard of this boar, named Varahadeva, and thought he could get a good fight from it. In the ensuing conflict, the boar absorbed all of the enemy’s blows without being disturbed. He let Hiranyaksha use his full arsenal of weapons. And then at the end Varahadeva took aim at victory. In a swift turn, Hiranyaksha lost his life, and the world of saints rejoiced, for they knew a terrorizing figure was gone.

“Actually, describing this to you right now has been a sort of meditation as well. So you’re wondering if you can pick any pig to meditate on and feel the same way? Can you meditate on just anything and get the benefits of peace and tranquility? Actually, no. There is something special to this boar. He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, which is the more descriptive term used for the entity we typically refer to as God. He is the sum total of everything, and yet He is not directly everything. The tree and the dust on the ground are part of His definition, and yet He is not the tree nor the dust. He is a distinct spiritual entity who can appear in any time and place and in any form He chooses. His personal appearances are always in transcendental forms. This means that the mystics looking to connect with God are actually trying to meditate on the person who appears in various forms, such as the boar.

Lord Krishna“I can do the same meditation by focusing on Varahadeva’s original form of Shri Krishna. Krishna is an attractive male youth who holds a flute in His hands, sports an enchanting smile, and happily plays in the sacred land of Vrindavana. His complexion is dark blue, like the raincloud, and He is beautifully adorned with jewels, a flower garland, and a yellow garment around His waist. His activities are also described in the Shrimad Bhagavatam, and setting aside time for meditating on them is most worthwhile.

“I got this idea for meditation from the works of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. He has actually translated and commented on the Shrimad Bhagavatam in English, which is a huge plus for me. I don’t know Sanskrit and so being able to learn these timeless truths in the language I am most familiar with is such a blessing. We all have this tendency to serve, and we like to contemplate on wonderful people and their attributes and activities.

Shrila Prabhupada“Shrila Prabhupada says that this tendency is purified when it is directed at God. He not only sanctions meditating on Varahadeva and Shri Krishna, but wholeheartedly recommends it. He says that the same meditation can be done through just chanting the names of those respective personalities. And the potency of saying the names of all the incarnations of the Supreme Lord comes with chanting just the names of Krishna and Rama. Therefore He recommends chanting the maha-mantra, ‘Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.’

Krishna lifting Govardhana Hill“You should give this a try, as it removes all doubts. We don’t need to speculate anymore as to how to find true happiness in life. We don’t need to wonder what God looks like or what He wants from us. If we are truly devoted, He will lift mountains for us, as He did with Govardhana Hill. If He sees us in trouble, He’s willing to bear the burden of the entire earth, as He did as Varahadeva. And just by meditating on Him, we become dear to Him, which shows that the path of devotional service is both the easiest and the most effective.”

In Closing:

With attention more and more,

Meditate on picture of a boar.

 

From strange practice what to gain?

Know that to object of yogis the same.

 

In variety of forms the Lord to come,

Though differently looking, of personality one.

 

On Krishna, Boar, Lion, or Vishnu lay eyes,

Success guaranteed for one who this path tries.

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Unanswered Prayers

Posted by krishnasmercy on January 21, 2014

Vishnu's lotus feet“Demons have lost all intelligence because they do not know what is actually their self-interest. Even if they have information of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, they decline to approach Him; it is not possible for them to get their desired boons from the Supreme Lord because their purposes are always sinful. It is said that the dacoits in Bengal used to worship the goddess Kali for fulfillment of their sinful desires to plunder others’ property, but they never went to a Vishnu temple because they might have been unsuccessful in praying to Vishnu.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.19.1 Purport)

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The natural partner of a belief in God is prayer. If you have firm faith in the existence of the highest power, the author of everything good in this world, you will surely seek benedictions from Him. Put more simply, you will ask Him for things. “O Lord, please give me the strength to fight through this. O God, please grant me the ability to succeed in this venture. O father, please hear our prayer.” What if the thing requested doesn’t arrive? What if fate takes a different turn? Does it mean that there is no God? This is a common reaction to the unanswered prayer, but from the Shrimad Bhagavatam we get the accurate understanding.

Garth BrooksA famous recording artist of recent times authored a song that praises the Lord for having not answered one of his prayers. This person later on realized that they wanted something different. They were in ignorance the first time, and they saw the light later on. Not necessarily relating to the true identity of the soul or the nature of this temporary world, but their knowledge increased on some level during the process. Therefore they were thankful that their first prayer was denied. They were glad that the man upstairs didn’t agree to their initial request.

The occasion and purposeful denial of requests makes the Supreme Lord unique from all other worshipable entities. If you simply ask God for things, you’re essentially viewing Him no differently than you would an order supplier. Like an online retail outlet that features a shopping cart, next day shipping, and one-click payment, the Supreme Lord is seen as the person who can provide any goody. You simply kneel down in front of your bed, compose some heartfelt words, and voila, you get what you want.

Praying handsBy definition things cannot work this way. For starters, there is the issue of duality. There is only one television set left in a store. Two people want it. Both go home at night and pray to God to grant them their wish. Since there is only one television, one person must be denied. This doesn’t indicate a flaw on God’s part, but rather in the request itself. If one person gets the television, the other person does not. This means that one person’s happiness comes at the expense of another’s. Is this an issue for God to resolve? If He is considered all-loving, why would He make decisions that are guaranteed to make someone unhappy?

From the Shrimad Bhagavatam, we see that the Supreme Lord Himself stands above this. There are other divine figures who can grant rewards. Their interactions with their devotees are similar to business transactions. First come, first serve. If you have enough cash, you’ll get what you want. They don’t take into account the nature of the person. If you’re purchasing a new smartphone, the retailer doesn’t do a background check to see if you have a criminal history. If you’re buying groceries at the supermarket, the cashier doesn’t ask you if you plan on eating all the food and not throwing any leftovers away.

Point of sale transactionOne of the many names of the Supreme Lord is Vishnu. This addresses His personal form, which is the original. Personal references a personality, a distinct entity who can hear, taste, touch, see and smell. As Vishnu is the highest being, He is free to do as He wishes. Therefore He doesn’t have to answer a prayer if He thinks the request is inappropriate. Those who know of Vishnu inherently understand this behavior of His. Therefore they won’t go to Him to fulfill their material desires. They know that Vishnu will sometimes say “no.”

And actually, these occasional denials show real mercy. Only Vishnu is kind enough to look into the future to see the ramifications a specific reward will have. In our ignorance during youth we think that our parents are mean for not giving us so many presents for our birthday. But actually, the more requests they deny the more good they are doing for us. They are loving us so much more by controlling our behavior and curbing our material enjoyment.

Vishnu acts in the same way for His devotees. He sometimes takes away everything from the devotee if it helps them to become more attached to Him. Vishnu takes the helm and brings the devotee towards a point where their attachment for Him can only increase. Attachment to Him is the greatest boon in life, for then one has complete reliance on the only all-powerful and all-benevolent being. Vishnu is without flaw, and He is all-pervading. He can hear prayers from any place, coming from any person. In His original form He is all-attractive, and so attachment to Him automatically brings unending pleasure.

Lord VishnuAs attachment for the Supreme Personality of Godhead increases, so does the purity of the requests made to Him. Therefore, in one sense the pure devotees never have their requests denied. This is because they only wish for good things for the Supreme Lord. They desire to remain in His association in thought, word and deed. They wish for Him to display His transcendental strength when the occasion calls for it. They ask that He reveal to the world His unmatched potency and splendid beauty. They pray for His victory, and since the pleas are heartfelt and serve the ultimate good for everyone, they are never denied.

In Closing:

Despite all sincerity applied,

Sometimes prayers denied.

 

This by Supreme Lord is done,

Unique behavior, like others none.

 

With business served who first initiative took,

Winner takes it all, loser elsewhere to look.

 

Despite motive, with Vishnu all to gain,

Since with outcome attachment to attain.

www.krishnasmercy.org

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Unshakeable

Posted by krishnasmercy on February 28, 2011

Lord Vishnu “The example is given that small lamps may become agitated by a little breeze, but the greatest lamp or the greatest illuminating source, the sun, is never moved, even by the greatest hurricane. One’s greatness has to be estimated by one’s ability to tolerate provoking situations.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 34)

The sages hearing the report from Bhrigu Muni were astonished to learn that Lord Vishnu couldn’t be angered by what seemed to be the greatest offense committed against His transcendental body. The anger aroused in Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva resulting from similar unkind behavior shown them was certainly understandable; such information wasn’t shocking in the least bit to the sages discussing Vedic philosophy. Indeed, who among us wouldn’t become agitated upon being offended, especially if our position was that of an object of worship? Based on the reactions of Brahma and Mahesha, Vishnu’s behavior firmly established His superior position as the almighty spiritual sun, the one entity incapable of being supplanted or removed from His position. Due to His causeless mercy, the same unwavering determination is bestowed upon His greatest lovers, those who know no other business in life except bhakti.

Three guna avatarasThe Vedic tradition identifies Lord Brahma, Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu as the three presiding deities of the material universe, figures who are essentially the face of Hinduism. Just as we see different species in this world who each behave differently, the activities of the human being can take on various degrees, or modes. We can think of the three modes of nature as classes of activity: first class, second class and third class. Since every life form is equal on a constitutional level, the distinctions between modes relate to the temporary and destructible outer coverings assumed. First class activity is that which leads to higher knowledge, second class activity leads to a neutral state after much endeavor and third class engagements result in further ignorance and misery.

“From the mode of goodness, real knowledge develops; from the mode of passion, greed develops; and from the mode of ignorance develop foolishness, madness and illusion.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.17)

The human being is unique in its ability to choose which mode to enter. The animal species is completely in the third class category; their potential for intelligence is zero. A fish doesn’t even know that it is wet, and a pig is satisfied rolling around in its own stool. Though the human being generally takes part in the second class mode, it can jump from one mode to the other. Since there is an opportunity of advancement for the members of the different classes within one lifetime, or even many lifetimes, there are different deities, or spiritual objects of worship, tailored to each class of human being. For those in the third class, the mode of ignorance, the worshipable figure is Lord Shiva. Known as Mahadeva, Lord Shiva takes on a strange appearance, wearing ashes on his body and hanging around crematoriums. He is also known as the destroyer, for the end of creation is ignited by his efforts.

Lord ShivaThough Mahadeva is the deity for the man stuck in third class behavior, he is not tainted by any of the flaws found in the mode of ignorance. In fact, he always worships the deity of the mode of goodness, Lord Vishnu. Nevertheless, Lord Shiva is also known as Rudra, so he has a penchant for anger and agitation. He doesn’t bother anyone, but others are always asking him for benedictions. Since he only wants to meditate on Vishnu’s lotus feet, he quickly grants whatever boons an individual asks for, provided that the gifts relate to material nature. Because of the speed in which he delivers rewards, Shiva is known as ashutosha, or easily pleased.

Lord Brahma is in charge of second class activity, the mode of passion. Most of us live in the mode of passion, so it is the easiest to understand. We take to some activity with a desired benefit in mind. The common trait of passionate activity is that the desires relate to the outer covering of the soul, the temporary and perishable body. The mode of passion is compared to activities which bear fruit, actions which are akin to planting a seed for the purpose of enjoying the plant and its flowers. Passionate behavior is considered second class because the individual is ultimately left in the same position after all the work is performed. For example, say that we spend hours preparing an elaborate meal in the kitchen. Much effort is taken to find the necessary ingredients and cook them in just the right way. But once we finish eating the meal, we’re essentially right back where we started from. The stomach was satisfied and our time was spent in constructive activity, but the end result is a position of neutrality.

“My respectful obeisances are unto You, O Lord, whose abdomen is marked with a depression like a lotus flower, who are always decorated with garlands of lotus flowers, whose glance is as cool as the lotus and whose feet are engraved with lotuses.” (Queen Kunti speaking to Lord Krishna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.8.22)

Lakshmi, Vishnu and BrahmaLord Brahma is known as Svayambhuh, or the self-born. He took birth from the stem of the lotus-like navel of Lord Vishnu. From him the entire world was created, including all the creatures. Hence Brahma can be known as the great father, the grandsire of humanity. Since sex life, which leads to reproduction, is the quintessential act of the mode of passion, Lord Brahma is the perfect person to manage this mode. He too is a great devotee of Vishnu, for he has on many occasions offered very kind prayers to the Lord. Those in the mode of passion worship Brahma for various boons, and depending on the nature of the reward sought, Brahma will grant it. Since he is involved in creating life and giving benedictions, Brahma still sometimes can get shaken from his firm position as servant of the Lord.

Lord Vishnu is considered above Brahma and Shiva because He is a non-different form of the original Personality of Godhead. There are in fact many different Vishnu forms, each responsible for a different aspect of the spiritual and material worlds. Lord Vishnu is in pure goodness, so He is incapable of mixing with the material world, which represents a manifestation of the Supreme Spirit’s external energy. Vishnu’s position of managing the mode of goodness, first class activity, is aimed at elevating the worshiper to the highest platform of understanding, the position where they comprehend that they are constitutionally spirit souls meant to be in the loving company of the original, personal spiritual entity.

Bhrigu kicking VishnuThough Vishnu’s supremacy is mentioned in many Vedic texts, including the Ramayana – a poem which highlights the exploits of one of Vishnu’s most famous incarnations to appear on earth, Lord Rama – sages will still hold debates as to which deity is superior. Such was the case a long time ago when a collection of brahmanas gathered around and discussed how to properly decipher which of the three presiding deities was the most pure. They decided that whoever would tolerate the greatest offense without becoming agitated would indeed be the deity most fixed in goodness. Bhrigu Muni, one of Lord Brahma’s sons, decided to administer the tests by approaching each of the three deities. Though it may seem like these experiments were tightly controlled, they actually weren’t. The levels of offense weren’t equal, as Vishnu was offered the greatest offense, one committed by the body. Bhrigu Muni failed to offer his respects upon meeting Brahma, and he verbally insulted Lord Shiva, but when he met Vishnu, he kicked the Lord in the chest.

Brahma and Shiva were angered by Bhrigu Muni’s behavior, but Vishnu was not in the least bit. He apologized to Bhrigu for possibly hurting his foot, as Vishnu’s chest is very hard and powerful and the muni’s foot must have been very soft. The Shrimad Bhagavatam, the crown jewel of Vedic literature, in describing this incident points to the example of how a small lamp can be faded out by a strong wind, but the powerful sun can never be bothered by anything. In the same way, Vishnu, as the Personality of Godhead, can’t be agitated by anyone, especially a brahmana, one who is devoted to Him in thought, word and deed. A brahmana engages exclusively in first class activity, wherein they study the Vedas, teach Vedic wisdom to others, perform sacrifices, teach others how to perform sacrifices, and accept charity.

More than just an order supplier and source of pleasure, God’s position is that of best friend of every living entity. He is incapable of being angered, offended, hurt, punished, etc. His position is fixed forever; there is no shaking Him. Whether we love Him or not, His promise of providing shelter to the surrendered souls never expires. Whether Vishnu is insulted or praised, His deep love for His devotees never wanes. From this information we can understand that the only worthwhile spiritual activity is to lovingly engage in the service of such a sweet and caring Person. All other manifestations of spirituality, be they of the formal religious variety or something as simple as meditation, are meant to elevate one to the stage of pure loving service, which is known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. If Vishnu’s position never changes, then the ideal yogi’s position will be similarly as sturdy. Therefore it is not surprising to see that the greatest lovers of God can never be cajoled into renouncing their vow of performing divine service to the exclusion of all other engagements.

Gopis of VrindavanaThe gopis of Vrindavana, the female cowherd residents of the sacred town, embodied and exemplified the highest form of spiritual practice this earth has ever seen. Around five thousand years ago, Lord Vishnu, in His original form of Shri Krishna, descended to earth to enact wonderful pastimes. Vishnu has four hands and is opulently dressed, so He is the ideal object of worship for those in the mode of goodness seeking to connect with God. Krishna is all-attractive, so He is perfectly suited for those bhaktas desiring transcendental sweetness in their spiritual activities. The gopis, though “uneducated” women who essentially worked for a living, loved Krishna with all their hearts. Just as the sun is never agitated by a hurricane, the gopis could never be swayed from the mood of bhakti, even when urged to do so by Krishna Himself.

“I cannot repay your continual love for Me, even throughout the lifetimes of the demigods in the heavenly planets. It is impossible to repay you or show gratitude for your love; therefore please be satisfied by your own pious activities. You have displayed exemplary attraction for Me, overcoming the greatest difficulties arising from family connections. Please be satisfied with your highly exemplary character, for it is not possible for Me to repay your debt.” (Lord Krishna speaking to the gopis, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 31)

On a few occasions, Krishna asked the gopis to stop loving Him. Most of them were young married girls, so their intimate connection with Krishna was against the established codes of conduct. Plus, Krishna did not want them to love Him so much if He was unable to return the favor. So what did the gopis do? Did they stop loving Krishna? Did they devote themselves to dharma, or established religiosity, in lieu of bhakti? The gopis love for Krishna is so strong that not even Krishna can take it away from them. Ordinarily, when the object of our affection starts to behave in ways that are unpleasant to us, our love gets severely tested. Indeed, if we loved our spouse very much and they one day decided to leave us for another partner, our love would gradually diminish. After all, the object of our affection has committed a great offense and proved that they no longer love us.

Lord ChaitanyaIn pure bhakti, there is absolutely zero expectation of reciprocation. Lord Chaitanya, the beautiful, kind, supremely knowledgeable and most merciful preacher incarnation of Godhead, prayed that Krishna could do whatever He wanted to Him, but that He would never stop loving Krishna. Indeed, this was the method of worship subscribed to by the gopis. This level of devotion is very nicely explained by Goswami Tulsidas, a favorite Vaishnava and exalted poet. In his Dohavali, Tulsidas describes his devotion to Lord Rama, another incarnation of Vishnu, by pointing to the behavior exhibited by the Chatak bird towards its beloved raincloud. The Chatak only drinks rainwater, so it constantly stares at the sky, with its eyes and beak pointing directly at the dark blue raincloud, which has a complexion identical to the bodily hue of Shri Rama, and Krishna and Vishnu too for that matter. Tulsidas says that the Chatak’s love for the raincloud cannot be accurately measured because the Chatak completely ignores any and all faults of the raincloud. Continuing with the comparison, the celebrated poet says that for the Chatak, or pure devotee, it is actually better if it doesn’t rain too often, for then the transcendental lover might become spoiled and feel that the raincloud is offering its rain in reciprocation of the attention shown it.

Radha Krishna The Vishnu-bhaktas on the highest level of consciousness always love the Lord no matter what. Whether Krishna provides immense riches or leaves the attentive onlooker standing poor, the level of affection shown does not decrease. It is for this reason that the association of the Vaishnavas is considered the greatest possible benediction one can receive in their lifetime. The sun is all-powerful and the giver of life, and similarly, the Vaishnava is the empowered servant of the Lord and the giver of eternal spiritual life, a system of worship which reawakens the sublime consciousness that is currently lying dormant within the heart and just waiting to be made active and set free. Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the golden sun for the people of this age, inaugurated the sankirtana movement and specifically empowered one prayer to grant supreme bliss and ecstasy to anyone wise enough to memorize and recite it. Whether one is engaged in third, second, or first class activity, by chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the spiritually enriched life experienced by Tulsidas, the gopis of Vrindavana, and countless other Vaishnavas can be quickly had. The fixed position of Vishnu and His bhaktas is the beacon of light for the fallen souls of the mundane world.

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Brahmanya-devaya

Posted by krishnasmercy on February 26, 2011

Lord Vishnu “My dear father, O great sage, I know that your feet are very soft, like a lotus flower, and that My chest is as hard as a thunderbolt. I am therefore afraid that you may have felt some pain by touching My chest with your feet. Let Me therefore touch your feet to relieve the pain you have suffered.” (Lord Vishnu speaking to Bhrigu Muni, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 34)

It’s natural to view religion as having a serious aura, a protective shield that requires visitors to check their jokes and kidding at the door. Spirituality is the real deal after all, as it touches on issues of life, death and the temporary nature of happiness and distress. But as the opening verse of the Shrimad Bhagavatam so nicely reveals, God is the source of everything in this world, janmady asya yatah, so even humor comes from Him. Therefore, in stories that describe Krishna’s activities and pastimes, along with teachings carrying tremendous import, there is also great humor to be found. And since everything related to the Supreme Personality of Godhead is in pure goodness, even the humorous stories can teach us valuable lessons.

Lord KrishnaTucked away in the sacred verses of the Brahma-samhita, Brahmavaivarta Purana and Shrimad Bhagavatam is authoritative information declaring Shri Krishna to be the original form of Godhead. Indeed, His status as the supreme and original person is further supported by His all-attractiveness. Man can travel far and wide, even at the speed of light through space, and never find any entity who is more beautiful, attractive and ever-youthful than Krishna. Surely, Krishna doesn’t limit Himself to one form, just as we don’t limit our behavior to one activity or interest. Every individual, being a spirit soul, is unique in their tendencies, likes and dislikes. As the well-wishing friend of every form of life – each of which descends from the original, inconceivably brilliant and large transcendental body of the Supreme Person – Krishna makes sure to have enough forms to match the innumerable varieties of penchants for worship. Heck, there is even a formless aspect of the Absolute Truth tailored to those transcendentalists who feel they are too good to lower themselves to the level of the plebs and commoners who take to outward worship through visiting temples and performing religious functions.

While Shri Krishna is the most attractive form of pure spirit because He appeals to the most individuals, His expansion of Lord Vishnu is equally as potent, though He takes on a different form. Vishnu-worship, prayers and chants offered to Krishna or one of His non-different expansions, is the most unique system of spirituality in the world, one reserved exclusively for those who are interested in bhakti, or transcendental love. Bhakti is the pinnacle of religious practice, as all other systems of worship are ideally meant to lead to the stage where all actions are performed in concert with the Lord’s desires, where the sincere servants take direction from the kindest and sweetest of puppet masters, the Supreme Lord. Bhakti, or pure love, is meant only for Vishnu and His different forms and no other spiritual entity. All other forms of worship, including one where allegiance is professed to a generic individual referred to as “God”, are on the lower stages because the pure bliss evoked through bhakti is absent. Krishna has many forms, but only His Vishnu expansions are personal and thus capable of providing direct interaction to the jiva soul, which is naturally geared towards expressing individuality and free activity.

Lord Vishnu riding on GarudaThat Vishnu-worship is unique and supreme is not merely the opinion of the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, but rather a fact substantiated by the methods of worship commonly employed and their inferior results. In poll after poll of public opinion, the number of believers in God outweighs the non-believers by a large margin. Yet in order to be considered a worshiper of something, one must make the satisfaction of their object of interest paramount in importance. For example, if we say that we love our spouse, we’ll make their interests more important than our own. Hence we move to different locations if the spouse gets shifted in their job, we go on vacation in areas that we may not like, and we pretend to get along with the in-laws during Thanksgiving and Christmas. This is all done to prove our love, to show that our words of affection aren’t empty.

Yet in the arena of spirituality, the resulting behavioral patterns don’t always match up with the original professions of faith. Worshiping God for any other purpose than love cannot be classified as pure; hence the distinction between Vishnu-worship, or bhakti, and any other style of spirituality. The most common form of religious practice is the asking for benedictions. “God, please help me out. I’m in trouble. I’m suffering so much; I really need You to come through for me.” An individual certainly shouldn’t be criticized for such behavior. At least they have the knowledge to understand that things are out of their control. Yet, we offer similar types of service to other entities. We pay the utility companies so that we have electricity and water. We pay the cable provider so that our favorite channels come on television. We pay the grocer so that we can put food on the table. Worshiping God for the express purpose of receiving benefits, be they material objects or the alleviation of distress, is really no different than offering service to other entities. The method of paying tribute may be different, i.e. instead of writing a check we kneel down in a house of worship, but the end-result, the goal in mind, is the same.

Lord VishnuWorship of Supreme Spirit in a personal form, when taken to the highest level, bears no similarity to any other type of service. Therefore, for those who are seriously interested in substantiating their claims of spirituality, ascension to this topmost platform of service is required. Even many followers of the Vedic tradition fail to ascend to the higher standard of Vishnu-bhakti, for it is very difficult to break free of the fears and demands of material life. Who among us wants to live in poverty? Who wants to be in pain all the time? It’s quite understandable then that the distressed and the worried would look to the greatest order supplier, the eternal leader in the sky, to come through. But when armed with real intelligence, information that allows the individual to understand their constitutional position as loving friend of the Supreme Lord who maintains an unbreakable link to Him that is kept in an active state through a mood of transcendental servitude, there is no need to ask for rewards that act as insulation from pain and misery.

Does this mean that Vishnu worshipers don’t ask God for anything? To nicely illustrate the difference between transcendentalists dedicated to bhakti and those hovering below the surface, we can study an analogy described by Goswami Tulsidas, the kind, humble and sweet Vaishnava poet and devotee of Lord Rama. Just as Krishna is considered to be the same as Vishnu, Shri Rama, the warrior prince incarnation of the Lord who appeared on earth during the Treta Yuga, is also the same Lord Vishnu but in a slightly different form. Rama is wholly dedicated to dharma, so He attracts those who take virtue, chivalry, kindness, shyness and other subdued features to be of utmost importance. Tulsidas, in his Dohavali, writes that through his worship of Rama he has essentially turned into a Chatak, a bird which only drinks rainwater. The analogy is very nice because the Chatak is very picky in its style of worship. Not only will it not drink anything except rainwater, but it will never divert its attention from the raincloud, which has the same complexion as Lord Rama, Vishnu and Krishna.

Lord RamaTulsidas devotes several verses to this analogy with the Chatak, with each one beautifully explaining the difference between loving God in a pure way and worshiping the Lord for some benefit. Tulsidas states that some other birds also only drink rainwater, which comes at the holy time of the year during the monsoon season. Yet the Chatak is always superior because it points its beak at the Lord, represented by the raincloud, even when there is no chance of rain. Such a beautiful comparison can be studied every single day and remembered at every moment and still not properly recognized for its brilliance. The other birds are similarly renounced, for they have decided that they will only eat what the raincloud, or God, gives them. Who can argue with the exalted position of such worshipers? They don’t even ask for benedictions from the Lord, so surely they can’t be grouped in with those who simply look to God as an order supplier.

Yet the Chatak, or pure devotee, is always superior because it devotes itself to the Lord every single day, even though it has no desire for rainwater. This represents pure love, the highest level of devotion. The worship of Vishnu in pure bhakti is done for Vishnu’s benefit, and not for any other reason. Whether the raincloud brings water or not is of no importance to the Chatak. If the pure devotee gets tremendous riches or is constantly thrown into trouble, the dedication to worship doesn’t wane. Because of this unflinching vow, Vishnu Himself becomes wholly endeared to the pure devotees, taking them to be His best friends. One can spend an entire lifetime trying to measure the limits of Vishnu’s mercy reserved for His devotees, but the end would never be reached.

Lakshmi and VishnuA glimpse of Vishnu’s merciful nature was on full display a long time ago during a funny incident involving Bhrigu Muni. A group of sages had gathered around after the completion of a sacrifice to discuss spiritual matters. According to Vedic information, the three presiding deities of the material world are Lord Brahma, Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. There are actually several different Vishnu forms that descend from the original Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna, with every form considered as non-different from the Lord and in pure goodness. We can think of goodness, passion and ignorance as different levels of intelligence, or grades of activities and qualities. One in the mode of goodness is always superior, for they know the subtleties of nature and what should be done and what shouldn’t. The other two modes are mixed, so the influence of goodness isn’t always present. Vishnu is the deity of the mode of goodness, but since these sages were discussing amongst each other in a friendly manner, they failed to reach an ultimate conclusion as to which of the three deities possessed the mode of goodness to the fullest degree.

Bhrigu Muni, as the son of Lord Brahma, decided to test the three worshipable figures and report back his findings to the sages. He first went to Brahma’s realm and purposely refused to offer obeisances upon meeting his father. Even in the least cultured society, there is some greeting that is offered upon initial contact with a close relative; there is either a hug or at least a handshake. In the Vedic tradition the custom is to offer one’s obeisances in the proper manner, showing the highest level of respect. An elder or a spiritually important figure should be respected by falling at their feet. Even today this tradition is alive amongst Hindus when they meet their parents or elders. The child will touch the parents’ feet at the times of greeting and departing. Since his son refused to offer obeisances, Brahma was quite offended. Being in charge of the mode of passion, he was fortunately able to control his anger. Bhrigu Muni was his son after all, so out of affection Brahma decided not to act on his anger.

Lord ShivaBhrigu next went to visit Lord Shiva. This time, Mahadeva got up to receive the brahmana, but the muni not only refused to embrace Lord Shiva, but he openly insulted him, telling the husband of Mother Parvati not to touch him due to his impure nature. As a recurring humorous theme in Vedic literature, Mahadeva is often made fun of for his unorthodox outward dress. As the presiding deity of the mode of ignorance, Lord Shiva assumes a strange outward appearance, one involving skulls and ashes. He also spends a lot of time around crematoriums and places related to death. Therefore, when someone wants to insult Mahadeva or disrespect him, they immediately point to these uncommon features. Lord Shiva, being the all-powerful destroyer and a great devotee of Lord Vishnu, certainly should never be insulted, but it’s indeed humorous to see the nature of the criticism that others take to. Lord Shiva, being insulted in this way, was ready to punish Bhrigu Muni immediately. Fortunately, Parvatiji was able to pacify his anger and prevent him from harming a brahmana, a member of the priestly class.

Thus far Bhrigu Muni had committed offenses by his mind and speech. Offenses of the body are far worse, so Bhrigu reserved this for Lord Vishnu. Reaching the Lord’s abode, the muni found Lakshmi Devi kindly massaging her husband’s feet. This time, Bhrigu decided to kick Lord Vishnu in the chest. In Lord Brahma’s case, there was anger that resulted from the insult, but there was nothing said or done about it. In Shiva’s case, the anger was also there and it almost manifested in violence. In Vishnu’s case, there wasn’t even the slightest hint of agitation. Lord Vishnu kindly arose and welcomed Bhrigu Muni as His most exalted guest. In fact, Lord Vishnu even apologized for having maybe caused harm to the brahmana’s foot due to His all-powerful chest. Bhrigu was certainly astonished. He had just committed the greatest offense, yet the Lord was treating him like a first-class citizen. Since that time, Vishnu keeps the imprint of Bhrigu’s foot on His chest as a sign of the meeting with His beloved devotee.

Lord Vishnu It should be noted that Vishnu doesn’t behave this way with just anyone. Many a time a demon has attacked the Lord or one of His associates, and the response was anything but favorable to the culprit. But in Bhrigu’s case, the so-called offense was made by a brahmana, one who was humble and dedicated to virtue. Bhrigu Muni not only had an exalted birth, but he exuded the qualities of a brahmana and took part in the activities belonging to his class. Such individuals are always dear to Vishnu, as the Lord is their only deva, or god.  Indeed, Vishnu is referred to as brahmanya-devaya, meaning the chief worshipable object of the brahmanas.

“My Lord, You are the well-wisher of the cows and the brahmanas, and You are the well-wisher of the entire human society and world.” (Vishnu Purana, 1.19.65)

The brahmana’s footprint on His chest proves without a doubt that Vishnu is the most merciful of all the forms of Godhead presiding over this and innumerable other planets. If there is sincerity in the mood of worship, the Lord’s mercy will always be there. Through this humorous incident with Bhrigu Muni, we learn that Vishnu has not a trace of any material mode of nature in Him; He is always in pure goodness. There is no offense that can cause Him agitation or deviation from His vow to always protect the saints. Therefore the path in life becomes quite obvious: become a devotee of the Lord and always enjoy His association and the umbrella of safety that it brings.

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Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

Posted by krishnasmercy on February 24, 2011

Narayana “But if you have faith still in the words of Lord Shiva, my dear king of the demons, then why don’t you make an experiment by putting your hand on your head? If the benediction proves false, then you can immediately kill this liar, Lord Shiva, so that in the future he will not dare to give out false benedictions.” (Lord Narayana in the guise of a mendicant speaking to Vrikasura, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 33)

“Heads I win, tails you lose” is the classic trick played on those who are temporarily out of sorts, youngsters, and those whose intelligence levels have yet to fully develop. The result of a coin toss is that the coin lands either on the heads side or on the tails side. When at a stalemate in negotiations, when no other option is available to settle the dispute, a coin toss is often reverted to since it is simply a game of chance; something which doesn’t inherently favor any party. The first party will choose one side of the coin and the other will choose the other side; thus the winner is determined by whichever side the coin lands on. By saying, “I will win if the coin lands on heads and the opponent will lose if it lands on tails”, a tautology is created; a situation where I win no matter what because the same rule was presented in both sections of the statement, but just in different words. Anyone who is thinking clearly will spot the trick right away and object to the statement, but one whose intelligence has been clouded by attachment to external objects will not notice the deceit. Such was the case with a famous demon a long time ago. He had a tremendous and potentially dangerous power available to him, but through the crafty words of Lord Narayana, crisis was averted.

heads and tailsFor a young child to be fooled by the “heads I win” trick is not surprising at all. Yet adults not only get tricked by such word jugglery in a coin toss but also in the basic arena of gambling. That excessive gambling causes a loss of rationale and unfavorable future results is a fact known to most sober individuals. When betting on a sporting event or playing a card game at a casino, the odds are always in favor of the house, regardless of what one may think. If this weren’t the case, the bookies and casinos would all be out of business. The bookmakers rely on the influences of the external sense objects to keep their business going. Only one who has completely taken shelter of the potential for quick rewards in gambling will continue to throw their money away in hopes of acquiring the fast buck.

The futility of excessive gambling is revealed in the gambler’s behavior itself. For instance, if winning a game of roulette or blackjack is worth the effort, why the need for further gambling? If I win a few hands at the card table, should not that victory bring me some satisfaction? Obviously the pleasure is short-lived; otherwise everyone would stop playing after a few winning hands. The senses, which are attached to the outer covering of the soul, bewilder the individual into taking to passionate activity without any regulation. In any field of endeavor, if there is no attention to detail and a lack of regulation, unfavorable results will ensue. In order to become a certified doctor, one must go through years of schooling and training and then pass a series of examinations. In order to fly an airplane, one must be certified to have completed a set number of hours practicing flying an aircraft. In every venture, even those bringing about tremendous sense gratification such as rock and roll and acting, if there isn’t some regulation and dedication to practice, success will not be found.

Similarly, success in the ultimate mission in life requires self-imposed regulation, or tapasya, from the very beginning. Those children who are spoiled in their youth will grow up to be malcontents and dependent on the government and other entities for their sustenance in their adult years. It is one thing to hit on some hard times and be forced to rely on others for assistance, but it is another to feel that you are entitled to the fruits of someone else’s labor. One who is taught discipline, regulation, and the value of money in their youth will likely grow up to have respect for other individuals and their property. Similarly, those who are taught to regulate the demands of their senses in their childhood years will also be able to cope with the waves of sense demands that continuously pound the shores of the mind.

“O son of Bharata, as the sun alone illuminates all this universe, so does the living entity, one within the body, illuminate the entire body by consciousness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 13.34)

Lord KrishnaThe spirit soul is the impetus for action; it is the sun in the otherwise dark realm known as the material covering, a shell which is temporary, ever-changing and ultimately destined for destruction. The soul’s natural home is in a realm where there is only spirit, a place that is self-illuminating. Can such a land exist? The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna, has such a beautiful, powerful and inconceivably potent body that His home doesn’t require a sun. Indeed, He is the source of all light and knowledge. In the realm we currently occupy, Bhagavan’s influence is felt in an impersonal manner through the workings of nature. His energies also personally manifest through the workings of the Supersoul, the powerful spiritual entity residing adjacent to the individual soul within the heart. Though blessed with the presence of Supreme Spirit within a close proximity, if the jiva, the individual spiritual spark, neglects the presence of the Supersoul, only misery, sprinkled with a few pinches of short-term happiness, will be tasted.

External objects constitute the Lord’s separated energy. Not surprisingly, association with this aspect leads to increased ignorance, wherein the soul drifts further and further away from understanding the influence of the Supersoul and the existence of the spiritual realm, where there is no such thing as a separated energy. Realizing the presence of the soul is very difficult; it requires steadfast practice of yoga, the first step of which involves regulation of sense demands. One who is serious about removing distresses and calming the mind should first of all take to mantra meditation, wherein the sacred formula of “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” is recited regularly. If one is able to chant this mantra for a good portion of each day, the opportunities for attack by the external objects and the material senses will be greatly diminished. This mantra is the greatest protective shield, so it should be chanted as often as possible, with a minimum of sixteen rounds daily recitation on a set of japa beads providing adequate insulation from foreign attack.

Shrila Haridasa ThakuraThe acharya of the holy name, Shrila Haridasa Thakura, simply chanted the Hare Krishna mantra all the time and was thus always free from even the most powerful influence of beautiful women. He has kindly informed us that this name is the most important aspect of God because it automatically includes the Lord’s forms, pastimes and attributes. For an entity to be considered an object, it must have these three aspects plus a name. In Krishna’s case, the name is so powerful that it automatically secures the other three aspects. Goswami Tulsidas, the celebrated Vaishnava poet, remarks that the form of the Lord within the heart and the form of the Lord worshiped outwardly, such as the deity or the incarnation, are like the top and bottom sides of a golden box, with the name of the Lord being the actual jewel. The name is Krishna; so it is actually the most precious commodity for those who are firmly attached to the Lord in consciousness.

“Suta Gosvami said: Maharaja Parikshit, thus being petitioned by the personality of Kali, gave him permission to reside in places where gambling, drinking, prostitution and animal slaughter were performed.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.17.38)

Mantra meditation, coupled with sankirtana, the congregational chanting of the same holy names of the Lord, is enough to defeat the influences of the senses which lure one away from God. But to provide even further insulation from the potential clouding of intelligence, one is advised to refrain from four particular activities: meat eating, gambling, illicit sex and intoxication. By staying as far away as possible from these activities, the mind can remain in a sober state, or dhira, thus increasing the odds of remaining fixed in yoga. Only when these four activities are prevalent can ignorance reign supreme, as the personality of Kali, the force of darkness, resides wherever these sinful engagements are patronized. Not surprisingly, the four pillars of sinful life are the best friends of the non-devotees, those who have no interest in performing yoga. If connecting with the Supersoul brings about the highest benefit, who would be against it? The material world exists precisely to facilitate the desires of those who want to imitate God or usurp His authority. Since these objectives can never be successfully met, a temporary realm is required to act as a playing field, a mock playground so to speak. Those who are the lowest among mankind, the dushkritinas, are slaves to the influences of the senses and the sinful activities that are recommended by such contaminated objects of acquisition. Therefore those who are in the lowest stage of understanding, a level of intelligence akin to that of an animal, will not be able to think clearly and realize that they are destroying themselves.

Krishna's lotus feetTo illustrate the wonderfully stupefying effects of the conditioned senses, we can look to the example of the demon Vrikasura. A long time ago, this nefarious character took to worshiping Lord Shiva, a celebrated guna-avatara of Bhagavan. Vrikasura underwent extreme austerities and penances not recommended in the shastras to please Mahadeva, the great divine figure. Lord Shiva is Vishnu’s staunchest devotee; he spends all his time meditating on the Lord’s lotus feet. According to the most confidential and sublime Vedic information, Lord Krishna is the original form of Godhead; He is all-attractive and the provider of transcendental sweetness to those whose eyes have been anointed with pure love, premanjana. Lord Vishnu, who is also known as Narayana, is Krishna’s four-handed form that appears more opulently adorned than does Krishna. For all intents and purposes, Krishna and Vishnu are the same, though there are always arguments amongst transcendentalists as to which form is the original. In either case, exalted celestial figures like Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva always serve Vishnu as their most dear object of worship.

“O son of Bharata, the mode of ignorance causes the delusion of all living entities. The result of this mode is madness, indolence and sleep, which bind the conditioned soul.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 14.8)

Lord Shiva is in charge of the mode of ignorance; the field of activity that brings further delusion and madness to the bewildered soul. He is given this task so as to allow even the lowest among men to gradually ascend the chain of spiritual knowledge, ideally culminating with worship of Vishnu. Those in the mode of ignorance don’t know what they want, or at least they don’t know what is good for them. Vrikasura was one such fool, as he was ready to sacrifice his own head in a fire for the pleasure of Mahadeva.

Vrikasura was searching for a benediction from the demigods and upon meeting Narada Muni, he asked the kind sage which entity he should worship. The demon wanted to know which figure would provide him a benediction in the shortest amount of time. This behavior is similar to shopping around various auto repair facilities and asking which store will provide the quickest turnaround time for an oil change. Vrikasura was interested in a business transaction, one with the guaranteed shortest wait time. Narada Muni advised the demon to worship Lord Shiva, for Mahadeva is known as ashutosha, which means “easily pleased”.

Vrikasura and Lord ShivaSatisfied with the recommendation, the demon went to work on his sacrifice, steadfastly engaging in worship for several consecutive days. Seeing that Mahadeva hadn’t approached him, the demon was ready to cut off his head and offer it in the fire. Observing the extreme level of dedication to the sacrifice, Mahadeva finally arrived and saved the demon from committing suicide. Pleased with his austerities, Lord Shiva told Vrikasura to ask for a benediction. From his inquiry of Narada Muni, we know that Vrikasura didn’t want to wait long to receive his benediction, but he also had no idea what type of reward to ask for. Lord Shiva’s wife is Goddess Parvati, the beautiful and chaste lady in charge of the material creation. Seeing that Lord Shiva was pleased with him, the demon figured if he could get a powerful enough boon, he would be able to take away Mother Parvati. Vrikasura thus asked for the benediction of being able to kill any person simply by placing his hand on their head. With the boon granted, Vrikasura immediately went chasing after Lord Shiva, wanting to touch his head in order to kill him and take away his wife.

Lord Shiva fled to Vaikuntha where Lord Narayana resides. Understanding the situation, Lord Vishnu assumed the guise of a brahmachari, or celibate student of Vedic philosophy, and humbly approached the demon. Pretending not to know what was going on, the brahmachari asked the demon what the trouble was. After hearing the issue, Narayana sort of laughed it off, making a few humorous references to Lord Shiva’s ghoulish appearance. These funny statements appear quite often in Vedic literature, as they reference the fact that those who are unaware of Mahadeva’s great powers don’t understand why he wears ashes on his body and why he hangs around cremation grounds. In fact, prior to her marriage, Goddess Parvati’s female associates were terrified at the thought of their friend having to marry Lord Shiva. They couldn’t understand why Parvatiji wanted to marry someone who had such a strange appearance.

Lord VishnuLord Narayana, in the form of a mendicant, then invoked a trick similar to the “heads I win” scam to fix the situation. The Lord very convincingly said that he couldn’t believe that the boon granted by Lord Shiva could work. In fact, if it didn’t work, the demon had full license to go after Lord Shiva and kill him. Narayana asked the demon to first test the boon by placing his hand on his own head. Since he was enveloped in the mode of ignorance, the demon gave no thought to the other potential outcome, that of the boon actually working. Rather, he was convinced by Narayana’s slick words that Lord Shiva was a liar and deserving of immediate punishment. Frothing at the mouth over the prospect of punishing Mahadeva and having Parvati for himself, not thinking rationally, the demon followed Narayana’s advice and placed his hand on his own head. Since Lord Shiva doesn’t give out false boons, the demon’s head immediately cracked, and he died as a result.

Any benediction offered by any entity, divine or otherwise, that doesn’t lead to pure love for God, or bhakti, is not useful in the least bit. Surely the higher authorities can grant any material boons to anyone who pleases them properly, but the greatest benediction of all, undying love for the Supreme Lord, can only be granted by Vishnu Himself. Therefore it is always wiser to directly worship Vishnu, or one of His non-different forms, in lieu of making business transactions with other authority figures. Vishnu will always weigh the benefits of the desired reward against the effects it will have on the petitioner. Vishnu is not so easily pleased, so if we ask for something that will only cause destruction to ourselves and to others, the Lord will certainly not meet our request. At the same time, we never end up losers by approaching Bhagavan because we at least connect with the right person. Eventually, through enough contact, we will be able to see the Supreme Lord for who He is: the ultimate reservoir of pleasure. Those whose link to the spiritual world always remains active through firm adherence to bhakti never have to worry about the influence of the senses or being tricked by the gambler’s fallacy. The holy name of the Lord is so powerful that by chanting it regularly, we always end up winners in the game of life, regardless of on which side the coin lands.

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Vishnu Worship

Posted by krishnasmercy on February 22, 2011

Worshiping Lord Vishnu “Whenever a devotee wants something from Lord Vishnu, Lord Vishnu first of all considers whether such a benediction will ultimately be good for the devotee. Lord Vishnu never bestows any benediction which will ultimately prove disastrous to the devotee, He is, by His transcendental nature, always merciful; therefore, before giving any benediction, He considers whether it will prove beneficial for the devotee.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 33)

Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesha are the three most notable figures of the Hindu faith, the Vedic tradition that has stood the test of time. Though these deities are the face of the most prominent spiritual tradition of India, they each take on vastly different roles. Moreover, their existence doesn’t make the final Vedic scriptural conclusion one of polytheism. Rather, the many deities speak to the varying degrees of activity, desire and reward. Yet of all the notable divine figures, only Vishnu and His non-different expansions stand out due to the nature of the benedictions they offer their sincere adherents. These rewards not only relate directly to the true meaning of life, but they substantiate the supreme role and position assumed by the original Person, that entity we know and address as God.

“The bewildered spirit soul, under the influence of the three modes of material nature, thinks himself to be the doer of activities, which are in actuality carried out by nature.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.27)

Lord KrishnaIn many social circles, the very mention of God or religion will cause heads to turn and eyes to roll. The flagrant reactions are understandable as God is most often invoked in the context of fruitive activity. As an example, a player may perform very well in a particular sport and then thank God for his victory. Obviously the sentiment is grounded in innocence and kind faith, for the behavior is indicative of a mindset lacking a direct, puffed up ego. Under the influence of false ego, or ahankara, which is a subtle material element, the individual thinks himself to be the doer and the ultimate controller of all outcomes. Yet these claims cannot be considered valid, as none of us are able to escape death. We can try to eat the right foods and abide by all the recommended health guidelines, but we can’t control the actions of others or of nature as a whole. Due to the limited influence we have on external forces, there is virtually no control over the outcomes of action. Only the higher authorities, the divine figures in charge of managing the results of fruitive activity, or karma, know how the future will play out.

In the arena of fruitive activity, it is silly to think that any single individual is more deserving of benefits than another. Hence those who scoff at the mention of God are certainly justified in their initial skepticism and angst. “How is God favoring you? Who are you to say what God thinks and what God wants?” These sentiments indicate at least a subconscious awareness of the limits of fruitive activity and the rewards they provide. The Vedas, the oldest scriptures in existence, fill in the missing details. The world we live in is a temporary place, a shadow copy of a more purified realm. Why the dichotomy in makeup? In one place, every individual is completely purified and working to fulfill the interests of the Supreme Friend. In the shadow realm, everyone is competing with each other to become that Supreme Individual. In the purified land, the roles never change, as it is impossible for the most powerful entity to ever lose His post. In fact, He never had to ascend to His lofty perch, for He is always the Supreme Person. In the temporary realm, there may be ascensions and falls of notable personalities every now and then, but no one is capable of remaining the most powerful person in a particular area of interest for any extended period of time. All-devouring death makes sure of that.

If efforts in the perishable realm are ill-fated, why the creation of the land in the first place? The answer is that those souls who want to imitate the behavior of the Supreme Person in the spiritual sky are not allowed to do so in the permanent realm. Instead, they need a playing field, a sort of giant room where they can pretend to be God. After checking in, the conditioned souls deluded by unattainable desires can check out at any time, provided they want to leave. Here, through a few simple steps, we have arrived at the meaning of life and the purpose to our existence. A shift in desire is all that is required, a changing of consciousness, to fulfill life’s mission. When the individual spirit souls, who though uniform in makeup still come in all shapes and sizes in the material world, want to return to the spiritual land and reassume their natural position as eternal servitors of the Lord, they are immediately granted liberation.

Lord KrishnaWhy would we want to serve God? Why is He deserving of our efforts over anyone else? These questions actually further substantiate the aforementioned information provided by the Vedas as to the universe’s genesis. God’s qualities and attributes never change. Since He is eternally locked into His position, He has always been the original proprietor, supreme enjoyer and best friend of the living entities. Taking these three features together, we can deduce that the natural activity for any life form is to use whatever property they have for God’s pleasure. Since the Supreme Lord is the best friend, naturally His happiness will also equate to the benefit of His friends, i.e. every one of us. Proof of these concepts is seen on a smaller scale in the contaminated loving affairs of the material world. Every individual is offering some type of service, even if they are unaware of it. One person loves his senses by eating rich foods and drinking alcohol, while another serves his dog by taking it for walks and cleaning up after it. A woman serves her husband, the husband his parents, the soldier the nation, the elected official the constituents, etc. There is not a single individual who is not engaged in someone or something’s service.

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

These service dealings are deemed impure because the objects of pleasure aren’t as potent as the Supreme Lord. Due to this deficiency, the pleasure derived from mundane service is always lacking; hence the constant sprouting of seeds of desire to shift from one venture to another. The living entity knows that it wants to serve; it just doesn’t know who is the most deserving of their love. God, as the Supreme Object of pleasure, is known by different names in the Vedic tradition and also around the world, but His original and most complete appellation is Krishna. This wonderful Sanskrit word speaks to the Supreme Lord’s all-attractive nature in His original form. That Supreme Spirit would be the most attractive entity should make sense, as there would be no point in taking to the service of an entity who wasn’t appealing in every respect. Yet Krishna is not God’s only form; He is kind enough to expand into other non-different spiritual bodies conducive to the particular mood of worship of the individual. The word “individual” speaks to the unique makeup of every spirit soul. Constitutionally everyone is equal, for there is no quantitative comparison between different fragmental sparks of the original spiritual energy. Yet just as no two snowflakes are alike, no two individual spirit souls have the exact same loving propensity towards the Supreme Lord. Some want to engage in loving affairs with God, some want to serve as His friend, while others even want to become His parent. All such transcendental mellows, or rasas, manifest through the personal interactions with Krishna and His different forms.

Mother Yashoda and KrishnaSince material life is governed by an illusory agent known as maya, realizing God’s true position is difficult. Hence the preponderance of flawed spiritual information that equates God with a measly order supplier, a person who only grants prayer requests for alleviation from distresses and the obtainment of various material rewards and does nothing else. Surely the Supreme Lord, as the original proprietor of matter, can supply anything to anyone. He even takes care of the food demands of the numerous species lower than the human being. If a tiger, an animal that lives off the flesh of other animals, is supplied enough food to eat, why wouldn’t a human? Since the necessities of the body are automatically supplied through divine forces, the human form of body is meant for a higher type of transcendental service, one involving an exchange of love. Since not every person will ascend to this highest platform of worship immediately, there are different divine agents, heavenly figures if you will, who serve as objects of service in the gradual progression towards the adoption of a permanent God consciousness, a mindset which, when stable enough, will take the individual soul back to the spiritual realm after the current life is over.

“Material nature consists of the three modes-goodness, passion and ignorance. When the living entity comes in contact with nature, he becomes conditioned by these modes.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 14.5)

Activities not related to transcendental love can be classified into three different modes: goodness, passion and ignorance. Since activities in goodness lead to the acquisition of knowledge, they are considered pious. Fruitive activities, those acts which lead to temporary gains at the expense of much time and effort, are considered passionate. Ignorant activities are those performed without any regard for future gain or scriptural injunction. Ignorant behavior doesn’t help anyone; the mode of ignorance is what we normally refer to as “stupid behavior.” Not surprisingly, it is advised that we at least rise to the mode of goodness so that our knowledge base will steadily increase. By taking in Vedic wisdom, teaching it to others, performing sacrifices, and giving charity to worthy recipients, our tendency towards competition with God will gradually diminish. The mode of passion is what most human beings take to by default. These are the general activities of karma, wherein one takes to a certain set of actions for the purpose of a material reward. The sublime engagement of divine love is known as bhakti, and it is strikingly similar to karma. The difference between bhakti and karma is the beneficiary of action. Under the mode of passion, karmic activities secure rewards of the material variety meant to be enjoyed by the individual performing them. In the paradigm of bhakti, similar activities may be adopted, but since the rewards are used solely for the benefit of the Supreme Lord, both the performer and the rewards themselves become purified.

Lord KrishnaLord Krishna, through His expansion as Vedic wisdom, is so nice that He allows for people in any mode of life to have some connection to spirituality. Even those mired in the darkness of ignorance are allowed a chance at spiritual upliftment. For such individuals, Lord Shiva, also known as Mahadeva, is the object of worship. Lord Shiva is described as ashutosha, which means “easily pleased”. As an exalted devotee of God, Lord Shiva just wants to spend all his time meditating on the lotus feet belonging to the eternal, blissful and transcendental body of the Supreme Lord. Since his devotees are constantly asking for this and that material benediction, Mahadeva kindly grants it to them without hassle so that they will leave him alone. Moreover, Mahadeva typically remains renounced and without much opulence. As Goswami Tulsidas so accurately notes, in this life those things which are the most needed and valuable, such as simple food grains and water, are readily available and inexpensive. Those items which we don’t really need, such as opulent jewelry and extravagant riches, are very expensive. Tulsidas says that this natural situation gives further evidence of God’s existence and His benevolence. Mahadeva, because of his complete dedication to bhakti, proves the poet’s brilliant observation to be true, as he is in need of nothing too extravagant. Lord Shiva simply requires a calm and peaceful setting and a mat on which to sit while meditating. His devotees, on the other hand, often ask for all sorts of opulences and powers, some of which are used for nefarious purposes. Indeed, these abilities aren’t required in the least bit, but due to their ignorance, these devotees constantly bother Lord Shiva. Nevertheless, anyone who at least approaches Shankara Bhagavan can gain some spiritual benefit that is not available to those on the animalistic platform of consciousness.

Brahma, Vishnu, MaheshaLord Brahma, the first created living entity, is responsible for the mode of passion. Sex life is the best example of passionate activity, for it results in the continuation of life on earth. Those who are very passionate about receiving material rewards such as victory, money, power, etc. often worship Lord Brahma. Indeed, there are many other demigods, or devas, who deliver such rewards to their devotees. It should be noted that these devas are highly exalted living entities who are not tinged by the modes of nature they are in charge of. Rather, they are simply acting at the behest of the Supreme Lord. Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva are very dear to Lord Vishnu, who is in charge of goodness.

Lord Vishnu, though considered a presiding deity of material nature, is different from Brahma and Shiva in that He is a direct expansion of an even more powerful Vishnu of the spiritual world. That Vishnu is Himself an expansion of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Lord Vishnu is generally more opulently adorned than is Krishna, for that is the wish of the devotees. Unlike those in the modes of passion and ignorance, those in the mode of goodness generally understand the differences between matter and spirit and the temporary nature of material life. Therefore when they worship Lord Vishnu, they offer nice items for His satisfaction. Vishnu is adorned with beautiful ornaments because that is how the devotees want Him to appear. “My dear Lord, please accept these offerings from me. You are the original owner of everything, so I am simply giving back to You whatever You have kindly lent me. I am in no need of material opulence, mystic power, or supreme knowledge. All I want is for You and Your eternal associates to be satisfied and for me to always be able to think of You.” In this way, those in the modes of goodness and pure goodness worship in a completely unique and superior way.

Lord Vishnu riding on GarudaYet the effects of material nature are quite strong, so even the Vishnu worshipers will fall down every now and then from the righteous path. But since Vishnu is non-different from the original Lord, worship of Him never goes in vain nor does it lead to the destruction of the worshiper. A great example of this was seen with the famous Narada Muni, an exalted sage and son of Lord Brahma. Narada is known for travelling from planet to planet through the aerial path and always chanting the name of Narayana, which is another name for Vishnu. One time, however, he became enchanted by a beautiful princess and wanted to marry her. She was so much loved by her father that she was allowed to choose her own husband. Narada, not even considering any other deva, immediately petitioned Lord Vishnu to help him. “Please let this beautiful princess choose me in the marriage ceremony”, is what Narada asked of Vishnu. Though Mahadeva, Brahma, and other demigods are beholden to the requests of their sincere devotees, Vishnu is not. This is the difference between worshiping God directly and taking the indirect route through seeking the shelter of other divine figures because of the temporary rewards they can provide. Vishnu thought the matter over and agreed to Narada’s request…sort of.

Vishnu never gives a devotee anything that will harm them. Narada had temporarily fallen down from his perch of elevated consciousness by seeing a beautiful woman. As a sannyasi he had no reason to get married, so the Lord instead decided to make Narada’s face appear like a monkey’s in front of the princess. Thus she didn’t end up choosing Narada, and he in turn became very angry at Vishnu. This shows yet another benefit of worshiping Vishnu. The devotee can get as angry as they want to at Vishnu, but there is nothing that will break their relationship of love. Narada angrily cursed Vishnu to come to earth in human form and be separated from His beloved wife. God can’t be cursed, but since He loves Narada so much, He agreed to the demand, coming to earth as the valiant warrior prince named Rama.

Lord Rama Subsequently, during one time in the forest Lord Rama was visited by Narada. The muni wanted to know why Vishnu had denied his request previously. Lord Rama kindly informed him that He takes special care of His devotees. Those who want to challenge God or forget Him believe they have full independence; thus they ignore the shelter of the lotus feet of Supreme Spirit kindly offered to them. But since the devotees worship in goodness, there is no underlying desire to challenge. Therefore the Supreme Lord always takes into consideration whether the benedictions they ask for will be beneficial or not. Vishnu, as the greatest parent, never stops loving His devotee, no matter how advanced they may become.

Through this kind oversight, the supremacy of Vishnu worship is firmly established. It is not surprising, therefore, to see that dedicated worship of Krishna, Vishnu, Rama, Narasimha, and other non-different Vishnu forms is not as popular as the worship of other divine figures or even worship of a God who is without a form. One who exclusively worships Vishnu is certainly the most intelligent, for they know that the Lord will not grant every single one of their wishes. Other demigods may be easily pleased to grant material benedictions, but not the Supreme Lord. Thus any person, regardless of which mode of material nature they find themselves in, is advised to worship Vishnu [Krishna] in all sincerity, as they will come out a winner in any scenario. If they ask Vishnu for something and get it, they will realize that the Supreme Lord is responsible for securing their possessions. If they don’t get what they want, they will either get angry at Vishnu or realize that what they wanted wasn’t necessary. In either case, there is association with Supreme Spirit, a connection which can only lead to a higher position in the future. Those who regularly associate with Vishnu are experts in the ancient art of divine love known as bhakti-yoga. In this day and age, the easiest method of Vishnu worship is the constant chanting of the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Even when chanted with contaminated motives, this mantra is so powerful that it will gradually cleanse the mirror of the heart, ultimately leading to the most favorable of circumstances, that of an unbreakable bond with the original Personality of Godhead in the spiritual sky.

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