Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Karma-Infallible justice

Once there was a man who was born blind. He was the eldest son of a king, but his blindness denied him the throne. He was blessed with a hundred sons- but they were all butchered in war, while he lived.
This man was Dhritrashtra- the father of the Kauravas.
"How cruel! How unfortunate! What a sad fate!" you may think.
But consider this: In a previous life, Dhritrashtra was a hunter. Once he saw a bird nest with 100 newly hatched chicks. Out of sport, he killed all the chicks, blinded the parent birds and left. Now- didn't he get what he deserved?

Karma-the law of nature

There is a simple law that exists in the material world:
"Every action has an equal reaction"
What goes around, comes around.
You do good and enjoy the positive fruits, you do bad and you get punished. Ofcourse good and bad are also clearly defined in the scriptures-your own notions of good and bad are not going to change anything. Ignorance of the law too is no excuse.

Free will Vs destiny

Destiny is chartered out by your activities in a previous life. For eg previous karma determines your looks, your family background, your health and your intelligence. It is not random chance that determines why someone was born in the Gandhi family and why someone else was born to a beggar on the street. Its karma....
And free will? It is the choices you make while using the facilities given to you.
For eg: If you are born in a powerful family- you have a choice. How are you going to utilize the power given to you? If you chose to misuse your position in exploiting others, this facility will definitely be taken away in the next life.
We can chose how to act- the results of our actions are determined by karma. And our actions are determining the path our next life will take.

Heaven and hell

The Vedic understanding of heaven and hell is more complete than the Biblical understanding.
When you accumulate a lot of good karma, you get to go to the heavenly planets to reap the benefits. There are numerous heavenly planets and they have numerous facilities for enjoyment. For eg, you will get a beautiful body with a very long lifespan. They say that the most beautiful woman on earth looks like a frog compared to the heavenly damsels. There is great wealth and so much power. You could be made the head of wind, or of water or even become the King of heavens- Indra. But when your accumulated piety finishes off- you must once again return to earth.
Similarly too many sinful activities take you to hell. There you are punished for the stipulated time period and then sent back to earth. Recently I was reading the descriptions of hell given in the Srimad Bhagvatam. Quoting directly:

"One who appropriates another's legitimate wife, children or money is thrown into the dark hell known as Tamishra. There he is starved, given no water and is beaten until he falls unconscious"

23 hells are thus described and there are many more which have not been elaborated. Thus no crimes go unpunished.

Karma-the escape

As you can see karma keeps us bound. We keep getting different bodies, in different situations, as per our desires and our karma. Karma is compared to a dense network of banyan trees- roots from one tree lead to the growing of another tree until you can find no beginning and no end.
This network can be cut only by taking the shelter of Lord Hari. We cannot be inactive- action must be done. Hence action is done for God. When you work for God by offering the results of your activities to Him- then it is 'akarma'- karma that brings no reaction.(Eg, before eating, the cooked food is offered to the deity, time and money are utilised in His service etc)

Being liberated from these karmic chains we can then go to our true home- the spiritual world which is beyond both heaven and hell.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Nature of God

(Disclaimer: I do not intend this article to be a litany against atheism, agnosticism, impersonalism or any other 'isms' that are out there. If you are a firm believer in any of the isms, you most probably are as bad as any religious fanatic and nothing anybody says is gonna sway you. If you are terribly narrow-minded and cocksure about your beliefs, please do not read any further. (Instead please see this and this.)However, I am of the opinion, that most people believe in God and even claim to have experienced Him, in the form of little miracles or unexplainable positive experiences. If you are confused about God, or curious, or you have never thought about these things, this article is for you. Anyways, my intention in writing this article is only to make an humble attempt to glorify that Supreme Being, who has created us, who is always with us and who loves us-unconditionally.)

1) God is a person- Yes He is the supreme person with a pure spiritual body. When the bible says, "God created man in his own image" or when the Koran says-"He has lotus feet and lotus eyes" this is what they mean. The original form of God is similar to ours, but ofcourse He is infinite and we are infinitesimal. His spiritual body is the source of everything-spiritual and material. And ofcourse, He is not bound by material nature to accept different material bodies like the living entity(i.e the soul) is.

2)He has the following 6 opulences in full- all beauty, all knowledge, all wealth, all strength, all fame and all renounciation. These are the opulences that all of us hanker to attain- but we can do so only in small measures, temporarily. He has them all the time, in FULL. And because He is renounced He is not attached to any of the other five opulences either.

3)The following is a verse from Brahma Samhita which very aptly describes the nature of God:
"Ishvarah paramah Krishna
sachidanand vigraha
anadir adi govinda
sarva karana karanam"

God is the supreme controller, He is all attractive , His body is eternal, full of knowledge and full of bliss. He is the first person-'adi purush'. He is Govind(who gives pleasure to the cows and to the senses) and He is the cause of all causes.

Yes-He controls everything-not even a blade of grass may move without His explicit will. He is the reason behind all reasons..... And He is so attractive-you only need to open your heart and your mind to Him-to experience His love.

4)Another beautiful verse from the Ishopanishad says-

"Om purnamadha purnamidam
purnat purnamadyuchyate
purnasya purna madaya

God is complete. And His creation is complete. Complete emanates from the complete and yet the original complete remains complete :)
Well basically this verse says that where God is concerned 1minus 1 is still 1. How?

Because He is God. He is so much more superior to us that we cannot understand Him with our limited intelligence.
We do not even aim to understand God. We are simply His servants. Our aim is to please Him, to serve Him. True happiness can be achieved simply by doing this.

As we travel from body to body, God travels with us, as the supersoul, or paramatma. He is simultaneously within and without us.He never leaves us alone. He simply observes and waits for us to turn our attention towards Him. He will never force us to love Him- because as unique individuals we have our free will- we always have a choice- to turn to Him or away from Him.

What is your choice?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Birds in my life

Living in an area, which has hills and a lake nearby, and in a society with more trees than buildings,we always have frequent visitors of the feathered kind. And thanks to a friend who was devoted to 'bird-watching'(the right kind) I even learned to identify our guests.

Our annual visitors are Mr. and Mrs Tailorbird. We have this particular plant in our terrace, with long leaves, ideally suited for their nest. The first time they came, we were fascinated by the entire nest making process. Using cotton and thread(no idea where those little birds even found this stuff) they wove two leaves together into a perfect cone. Once the chicks were born, the poor parents were continually stressed out, hunting insects to feed them with. We often entertained ourselves by lightly shaking the plant when the parents were away. Instantly, the chicks would stretch out and start opening and shutting their beaks. But if mum and dad happened to be there, they would start trilling a warning and the chicks would dive inside, hidden perfectly. The chicks soon grew fat and fell out of their nest. Honestly, they were bigger than their parents with stumpy little wings that flapped feebly. We had fun chasing the green fuzz balls while they hopped around, and this encouraged them to try harder, until they eventually flew away.

Then we had Mrs Dove. Earlier, our terrace was uncovered, and we had a shelf that we had built into the wall to keep pots on. She had built her nest in one such pot. Unfortunately, Mrs Dove didn't have a very good experience with us. She laid 2 eggs, of which only one hatched. And then 1 day the little chick just disappeared and so did Mrs Dove. Most probably a vicious crow had eaten her baby.

Speaking of crows, they are the mafia lords of this area. There is a huge tree here with a large number of crows' nests. Not only do we have crows, but also their larger and meaner cousins the ravens. I have seen one catch a fan-tailed drongo(a sparrow sized bird with a Japanese fan like tail) in mid-flight. One particularly bold specimen had also once pecked me hard on the back of my head, while I was eating a snack on the terrace. I was stunned,but I didn't drop the treat and the poor fellow had to fly away disappointed. (Not before giving me a disgruntled look though :D) Now that the terrace is covered, the supporting poles beneath the roof have become a cozy monsoon retreat for crow couples. You'll find them sitting there and watching the rain - and they are kind enough to leave behind droppings as payment :(

Then we have the red-vetted bulbuls. They are my favourites. I used to leave grapes and other fruit treats for them on the bedroom windowsill. Since this particular window is usually open, they flew in and attempted to build a nest on the tubelight. But they quickly dropped the idea when they realized that the window could be shut and they could be denied access to their home by outside forces :) Eventually, the nest was built on the ground-floor tubelight of our building. But they continue to come and sing for treats. :)

By singing, I am reminded of Mr.Sparrow. He was a pain! He had a ' singing phase' where he would come everyday to the above mentioned window and chirp incessantly 4 am onwards. Later on, we discovered that its the sparrow's mating ritual. Once they have found an ideal nesting spot, they keep calling out, until a female comes, inspects and approves of the place. This did happen and he left us in peace. (We tried searching for the nest later, but it was well hidden in the rafter above.)

In the same rafters we have also had tree sparrows make their nest. (We found this one- its empty now and beautiful! Like a dome made of woven grass) Tree sparrows are a deep brown in color and very shy- unlike their 'common' cousins. We would leave puffed rice for them-and they would eat it only after complicated maneuvers that involved staking out the area atleast 5 times and then hopping from grill to grill in a very round-about fashion.

My bird stories don't end here. We have had pigeons building nests above our bathroom window(only they could bully Mr Sparrow and make him fly away for some time), humming birds come in to sip the nectar when the gladiola bloomed(in my covered terrace- how did they find it?) and parrots who come to eat the beans off this particular tree. We have the cuckoo in spring time-(We still coo back at him in our 'cuckoo' moments - pun intended), the babblers who harass us with their continual babbling(shrieks that resemble the keening of a wounded dog ), and the Indian pheasant(Bharatbaaj), on seeing which we religiously fold our palms and make a wish.

Love them birds. :)

Friday, September 11, 2009

A golden day in world history

A seventy year old man stepped off the cargo ship 'Jaldoota' anchored of the port of New York. He wore saffron clothes and carried a trunk that contained 3 books, a typewriter, his kartals (metal cymbals) and Rs 40 (Approximately 7 dollars then)
He had had 2 heart attacks on the way from Kolkatta to the USA, while crossing the turbulent Atlantic Ocean. When he alighted from the ship, he did not know whether to turn right or left.

This man was 'His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami'. Fondly called Srila Prabhupada, He went on to launch the International Society For Krishna Consciousness(ISKCON). Today it has 350 centres, 60 rural communities, 50 schools and 60 restaurants worldwide.

ISKCON is not just an organization- It is a movement. The Hare Krishna movement of love, peace and spiritual awareness. It is a movement which has taken the glorious Vaishnav culture and tradition, earlier concentrated only in the state of Bengal, to every country and every continent- from Russia to China, from Dubai to South Africa from United Kingdom to Singapore. A movement that is rapidly growing, ensuring that the holy names of the Lord are sung 'in every town and every village'.

Before leaving for the US, Srila Prabhupada was staying in the beautiful place of Vrindavan. He had accepted sannyasa, renounced worldly life, and he could have chosen to remain there, peacefully meditating on the Supreme Lord. What prompted him to leave the place so dear to him, at the fag end of his life, to go to a land with a culture completely opposite to the one he was used to?

It was the instructions from His spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur, given to Him when He was a young man. His Gurudev told him ," You are an educated man. Go preach this knowledge to the west in English." He took this instruction to heart and spent his entire life trying to fulfill this aim, eventually succeeding beyond anybody's wildest imagination.

It was Prabhupada's compassion towards all living entities, and his strong faith in the Supreme Lord that enabled him to go through so much struggle to fulfill his life's mission. He wanted to give what was dear to him to the entire world. For this purpose, he authored some eighty volumes of translations and summary studies of India's great spiritual classics. Highly respected by the academic community for their authority, depth and clarity, they are used as standard textbooks in numerous college courses. His writings have been translated into over fifty languages. The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, established in 1972 to publish the works of His Divine Grace, has thus become the world's largest publisher of books in the field of Indian religion and philosophy. In just twelve years, in spite of his advanced age, Srila Prabhupada circled the globe fourteen times on lecture tours that took him to six continents.

It was his sacrifice, his efforts, his love and nourishment, his straightforward attitude, his refusal to compromise on spiritual standards, that softened the hearts of materialistic people all over the world. Thousands of people have given up meat-eating, intoxication, gambling and illicit sex and are leading pure vaishnav lifestyles. His disciples are simply carrying forward his inheritance and this movement is benefiting everyone across the globe.

Everyone can be a part of this glorious movement.
To know more about ISKCON click here.
To know more about Srila Prabhupada click here.
To know about ISKCON Pune and find out about our activities click here.

Jai Srila Prabhupada!!!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The true goal

Imagine a man driving swiftly down a highway. He is cutting through traffic, honking crazily, in a big rush. Somebody stops him and asks him, "My friend, where are you heading?" And the man says, "I don't know."
Absurd? This unfortunately is the situation of our life today. The whole world is in a big hurry, but nobody knows where their life is heading.....

This brings us to another important question- What is the goal of my life?
Everybody has certain goals- may be earning lot of money, or fame, or power. Some want to have a happy family life and some others want to travel the world.
But if you think about it all these goals will finish at death for they are all related to the body. You on the other hand are the eternal spirit soul. What then is your goal?

The true goal of human life is to awaken the dormant love that we have for God and escape from the cycle of birth to death.

Ok now that needs a little explaining. Let us discuss some of the problems we have in our life. You are unhappy with petrol prices? The oil owning countries are getting richer. Grumbling about your sibling bugging you? But your sibling is having fun.
Mosquitoes kept you up at night? Oh but they were having a delicious feast.
My point is - "one man's meat is another man's poison" What may seem like a problem to you may actually be a solution to someone else.

However there are four problems which are common to all living beings. Everyone has to face these. They are birth, death, old age and disease.
Old age and disease are situations of extreme discomfort. Death is so painfully that it is equivalent to 40,000 scorpions stinging you at once. As for birth, spending nine months trapped in a constricted space, unable to move, in bile and acid and being bitten by all kinds of bacteria and worms is terrible.
We are stuck in this cycle, getting one body after the other. The body we get need not be human. We get a body based on our activities and our desires.(More on this in the next blog)In every body we try to seek happiness by fulfilling different desires.

But really, can we of spirit find happiness in matter? No. All our attempts will always be futile. The human body that we have is our one chance to escape from this cycle of birth and death. And where can we escape to? To the spiritual world- which is eternal and full of happiness. That is the place where we get what we keep trying to find here, but never succeed - love. Love that is eternal and that wont ever be taken away from us, for it is in relation to God. True happiness lies in serving God.

And how do we go about it? In this age of Kaliyuga, the process is simple-
chant the names of God. It can be any name - allah, jehova, Krishna. For the name of God is non-different from Him.

"Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare"

O Radharani(Hare), the energy of God, O all attractive one(Krishna), O reservoir of all pleasure (Rama) Please engage me in your service.

You can listen to it here:

By chanting this mantra regularly, we can all escape the cycle of birth and death.

Reference - Bhagvad Gita As It Is- Srila Prabhupada

(This blog may have raised many questions. Whether you agree/disagree please do give feedback. (I have even kept the anonymous comments option :) )

Friday, September 4, 2009

Five Little Puppies

Five Little Puppies
Five little puppies were born today,
Nuzzling and cuddling- so happy and gay.

Five little puppies in the downpour,
One shivered and froze and then there were four.

Four little puppies feeding 'neath a tree,
One couldn't grab his share and then there were three.

Three little puppies walking in a queue,
A car reversed carelessly and then there were two.

Two little puppies having some fun,
A vicious stray attacked and then there was one.

One little puppy lying in the sun,
The dog van arrived, and then there were none.

This poem is in remembrance of the five puppies born in my society this summer. This was the second year that 'Bimbo', their mother, gave birth to a litter of pups. Once again, none survived.
Now you know why stray dog sterilization drives are so important......

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The parrot and the cage

Once upon a time there was a rich old lady. For her personal amusement, she purchased a parrot. It was a cute green bird with a lovely curved red beak. Now she wanted to display her new pet to all her friends. So she ordered a cage to be specially made for the parrot. Being rich and eccentric (and a show-off), she had the cage made of the finest gold and studded with precious gems. It had delicate carvings of miniature designs. She hired servants who polished the cage 5 times a day with silken cloths. People came from far-off lands for the lady's fancy parties and the cage was greatly admired. "What design?! How artistic! How expensive!" they exclaimed. And the poor parrot? No one noticed it. No one fed it or even gave it water to drink. It died within days.

This, unfortunately, is the case, of our lives today too. We are so busy doing everything for our body and for all things related to it - like our family, our status in society etc that we completely forget about ourselves. We spend 24 hours maintaining the body and not one second for us-the soul.

Along with IQ and EQ(emotional quotient) it is also important to build our SQ(spiritual quotient).
This can be done through mantra meditation, prayer, deity worship, listening to devotional songs and reading spiritual literature.

So stop polishing the cage and start feeding the parrot. :)

Reference: (Bhagvad Gita As It Is-Srila Prabhupada, Discover Yourself-Radheyshyam Das, www.thespiritualscientist.com)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The science of the soul

I have often asked people "Who are you?" and for some reason this simple question leaves people confused. Some answer "Rahul" or "Anita". But really thats just a word. Its your name. Its not you. Some say "girl" or "boy" but again thats your gender.
Just like when you claim- its my bag or my book you do not become the bag or book. You are different from either of those two. Similarly you cannot say I am my body. They are your hands, your eyes, it is your body. You are not that body.
So then who are we?

The scriptures state that we are the spirit soul- a spark of energy that animates the body. The body is simply a dead machine unless it is activated by the soul. We can consider the analogy of a car. The car has wheels and the body has legs for motion, the car has a horn to generate noise and the body has the lungs, vocal cords etc. But the car will never move until the driver activates it. Similarly the body needs spirit to activate it.

Now some of you may be thinking the above is just word jugglery. I, my - just playing with pronouns. People want proof of the soul's existence. This is a little funny- you are actually asking for the proof of your own existence :) But anyways for cynics

1)Common sense
The body is ever changing. It is claimed that every seven years all the cells of the body are replaced by new ones. Everybody knows that as a baby, a toddler, a teenager and as an adult your appearance has changed tremendously. But you are still you right? Your identity is not dependent on the appearance of your body. Then how can you identify yourself with your body?

Some times people ask, why cant I see the soul? But is seeing or (direct experience) the only way to accept something's existence? In fact the entire field of electrostatics is based on something which we cannot perceive with any of our senses- the electron. We know that an electron exists from its symptoms.(You can see its light reflection on a CRT screen). Also we cannot percieve X-rays. We can only see their effect on the right material. Similarly consciousness is the symptom of the soul. Consciousness differentiates a dead body from a live one.

3)Near Death Experiences-
Many cases have been documented where patients undergoing a critical operation are able to recall later, in very accurate detail, the operation theater, people present, instruments used, conversations etc. Many cases have been scientifically documented(See link)

4)Intutive understanding-
When someone dies the common phrase is "he passed away" but the body is lying right there. Then who passed away? Also the fact that near death experiences are called out-of-body experiences goes to show that you are not the body - you are the soul.

Hopefully by now you might be convinced that you are not your body, you are something different. Now what exactly does it mean to be a soul?

It means that
1)The soul is sat, chit and anand. i.e. full of knowledge, eternal and full of bliss. ("Strange", you wonder "I cannnot claim to be full of knowledge and nor am I always happy") Yes, this has happened because we identify ourselves with our body. We are covered by this material nature which is exactly opposite. Everything related to matter is temporary, full of ignorance and can never give us true happiness.
By appropriate spiritual training we can all realize our true nature.(More about this in next blog)

2)Knowledge that we are not the body frees from fear, stress and lamentation that arises when near-and-dear ones pass away or when we suffer illness or disease related to the body.

3)Realization of the soul also brings true universal brotherhood. Major problems like terrorism, racism, infact everything arise because people identify themselves on factors related to their body(eg race, caste, etc) and hate everybody else externally different from them. Knowledge that we are all eternal spiritual beings encourages
universal love.

Reference: (Bhagvad Gita As it is-Srila Prabhupada, Discover Yourself-Radheyshyam Das, www.thespiritualscientist.com)