Practical Spirituality – The regulative principles
Everything in this universe, except for the Supreme Lord, has to follow rules and perform the prescribed duties. But Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita that though he is not bound by any rules, he still executes his duties so as to set an example to all the souls.
BG 3.22: O son of Pṛthā, there is no work prescribed for Me within all the three planetary systems. Nor am I in want of anything, nor have I a need to obtain anything — and yet I am engaged in prescribed duties.
BG 3.23: For if I ever failed to engage in carefully performing prescribed duties, O Pārtha, certainly all men would follow My path.
Spiritual practice can be a different experience depending on which path one takes. In general, the best path to take would be and should be the easiest one, is it not? This applies to spirituality as well. But easy does not mean “no rules”. There is a common misconception that is going around that you can do anything you want as long as you say a few prayers and ask for forgiveness. Some even go to the extent to say “Oh, Krishna is like my friend. He just wants us to enjoy like he did!” There are people who even seek to justify their bad habits using Vedic philosophy.
A story I heard: A Krishna devotee was visiting a home once. The lady of the house, during the course of her discussions, mentioned that her son was a good ‘naishtika brahmachari’ and a pious person but he smokes a lot. She requested this devotee to go and talk her son to put some sense in to him. The devotee went outside to the back of the house and found the lady’s son puffing out smoke like a steam engine. When he asked the son: “Sir, why do you smoke this much? Do you not know this is bad for health?” The son replied, “I am not smoking, my body is smoking!”
So, this kind of dangerous ideas can be the result of unguided, self improvised spiritual practice. Vedic Spirituality is not a simple “Be good, Get good” scheme. It is not a way to get material wealth and happiness through ‘grace of God’. Certainly, it is not wrong if someone prays to Krishna for protection in dire times or relief during extremely difficult financial or family situations, but treating Krishna or any of the devatas as “order suppliers” should be strongly discouraged and avoided.
Let’s get back to the topic. For any aspiring, sincere spiritualist, there are 4 basic regulatory principles that must be followed. These rules were followed as a matter of habit in the past, but Srila Prabhupada gave them prominence since he was preaching in a place which was abound with the below practices.
1) No meat eating (meat, fish eggs etc.)
2) No intoxication (smoking, drinking liquor, coffee and tea (yes, you read it right) etc.)
3) No gambling
4) No illicit sex
We will look at these one by one in detail in the order shown.
Before we get in to the details, here are some statements to consider.
From Śrī Īśopaniṣad:
Iso 1: Everything animate or inanimate that is within the universe is controlled and owned by the Lord. One should therefore accept only those things necessary for himself, which are set aside as his quota, and one should not accept other things, knowing well to whom they belong.
From Upadeśāmṛta (The Nectar of Instruction) of Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī:
NoI 1: A sober person who can tolerate the urge to speak, the mind’s demands, the actions of anger and the urges of the tongue, belly and genitals is qualified to make disciples all over the world.
I will leave these at this point. We will come back to these as and when needed.
Now, for the first rule… being a vegetarian. There will be so many people who might have raised their eyebrows at the other rules, but I am sure the first one comes as no surprise.
Why vegetarianism? For spiritual practice, one of the goals is going beyond the control of the 3 modes of nature. But the first step is to be in the mode of goodness… sattva guna. The other two modes of nature are mode of passion (Rajas) and mode of ignorance (Tamas).
Ok. Quote time.
BG 9.26: If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it.
BG 17.7: Even the food each person prefers is of three kinds, according to the three modes of material nature. The same is true of sacrifices, austerities and charity. Now hear of the distinctions between them.
BG 17.8: Foods dear to those in the mode of goodness increase the duration of life, purify one’s existence and give strength, health, happiness and satisfaction. Such foods are juicy, fatty, wholesome, and pleasing to the heart.
BG 17.9: Foods that are too bitter, too sour, salty, hot, pungent, dry and burning are dear to those in the mode of passion. Such foods cause distress, misery and disease.
BG 17.10: Food prepared more than three hours before being eaten, food that is tasteless, decomposed and putrid, and food consisting of remnants and untouchable things is dear to those in the mode of darkness.
You with me still? Good.
Basically, to get situated in the mode of goodness, one must avoid eating foods that are detrimental to such a progress. As such, non-vegetarian items are not categorized as ‘sattvic food’. There are several reasons why this is stressed by the Acharyas. I am not going to go in detail… but will briefly touch upon them.
There is no need to kill animals for food when the same is accomplished through grains, vegetables, fruits and milk. It is quite understandable that this is not possible for people who are desert nomads or Arctic Eskimos. But for people in civilization, where there is plenty of the vegetarian stuff available, to be eating meat is sheer indulgence which takes the animals for granted as being at our disposal. There will be some people who claim animals don’t have souls and hence ‘killing’ them is fine. That is very a foolish argument, as are the claims of some people that we cannot get all nutrition from vegetarian food.
Does this mean it is ok to gorge down on vegetarian food and kill plants as well as trees at our will?
No. Absolutely not! Here is where we refer to the quoted verse of Śrī Īśopaniṣad. Everything belongs to the Supreme Lord but we are allowed our quota for sustenance. Nothing more, nothing less.
There was a question from David on this topic. It is true that many vegetarians take pride in being so, and put down the other side. I was one too, to be honest. I have just one verse to quote on that.
Srimad Bhagavad Gita Canto 3, Verse 13
bhunjate te tv agham papa
ye pacanty atma-karanat
“The devotees of the Lord are released from all kinds of sins because they eat food which is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin.”
This is a direct statement from Krishna which is self explanatory. Anything that is prepared as food and eaten without offering it to the Lord is basically sinful. So, even it is vegetarian food, if it is not first offered as ‘nivedya’ and consumed later as ‘prasadam’, it is sinful. Obviously, non-vegetarian food cannot be offered as nivedya (as well as preparations with onion, garlic, mushrooms etc. but more on this later.) This concept of ‘prasadam’ is directly tied to the verse which mentions about controlling the urges of the tongue.
Trust me, in the current world, being a vegetarian is an austerity where one has to be very vigilant in what one eats. But I have seen the effects of food on one’s mental disposition, behavior and mood first hand as well as heard of the same from many others.
I will stop here for this article. In the next installment, we will look in what the other regulative principles are meant to accomplish.
Practical Spirituality – Introduction
(Fair warning: This series of article was born after some pretty nasty incidents that were reported in the news over the last couple of months. This would be of the very direct and no-holds barred kind of series. By the way, all opinions expressed in the articles are mine and my own.)
I am sure everyone would have heard (and probably seen the video courtesy of Sun TV) of Nithyananda and Ranjitha. No, these are not some yesteryear cinema stars. These two are just the most recent ‘famous personalities’ to be brought to disrepute by a hidden video camera, showing them in, let’s just say, compromising positions.
Were you were truly shocked upon hearing this news? Not me.
Did you also see the news item where the infamous ‘Amma Bhagavan’ – the one who named himself as ‘Kalki’ – and his ‘ashramites’ are indulging in some pretty weird stuff under drug induced frenzy?
Were you were truly shocked upon hearing this news? Not me.
(I just saw a news item again few days back which showed Mr. Nithyananda doing some odd ritual… seems like he is undergoing some ‘deep’ penance. What a show!! I really pity his ‘followers’.)
Here he goes… What is the relevance of this sleaze news item to the topic? Ambi is in rambling mode again.
Hear me out, will you?
There is another ‘famous one’ who is very market savvy, and in the guise of teaching people to live, he has made a good living himself, trying to involve in politics now and then. I was at a store last week where I saw a CD of lectures by this person. It was something about contradictions in the Bhagavad Gita. I was kind of amused, actually. Here is a person, who is ‘revered’ by oh-so-many, models himself as a spiritual teacher and yet instead of trying to teach the essence of Bhagavad Gita, he is trying to show himself to be scholarly and giving lectures on a topic which I have no doubt would simply confuse the people more.
Then, there are the VERY famous ones who actually let their followers claim them to be God himself (or sometimes they get followers by making that claim). They make statements like ‘not an ounce of dirt moves without me knowing it’ and create a mystic aura around themselves, make politicians and socialites kneel in front of them and project themselves to be the savior of the masses. It does not matter if such ‘Gods’ are confined to a wheelchair to be able to move around. The sad part is I get justifications for such a position saying ‘oh, it’s just the body. Swamiji is just acting his role in this jada (gross) world’.
The list of such people is only growing every day.
These swamis are no better than some of the fake missionaries who hold huge prayer meetings on the beach or an auditorium claiming to heal cancer and lame legs. And the more I look in to such matters, the more I am convinced that ‘most’ of the people go to such ‘famous swamis’ only for instant gratification… be it wealth, cure from a disease, or generally showing off to the world that they are also ‘spiritual’. The highest and most dangerous form of such gratification comes when you are told “You are God”. But a disclaimer follows: “You haven’t realized that yet. But I have. So worship me.” How ridiculous is that!! Well, to be fair, these are just a small but growing lot of ‘gurus’ who take advantage of the growing lack of knowledge amongst people, on what real spiritual life is.
Srimad Bhagavatam, Canto 12, Chapter 2, Verse 4:
A person’s spiritual position will be ascertained merely according to external symbols, and on that same basis people will change from one spiritual order to the next. A person’s propriety will be seriously questioned if he does not earn a good living. And one who is very clever at juggling words will be considered a learned scholar.
Is this verse relevant here? Well, Canto 12 is titled as “The Age of Deterioration” and the chapter 2 is titled “The Symptoms of Kali Yuga”. Get the idea? In just 4 lines, this verse summarizes what we have been seeing for quite a while and what is getting more and more commonplace these days.
If someone wants to feed you poison, they will not give it for you to drink saying that it is poison. They will say it is nectar and by the time its true nature is revealed, the damage is done on you. It is even more dangerous if the person feeding you thinks the poison to be nectar. So, we need to be aware of what is conducive and what is not for spiritual well being. And for that, I have to do my fair duty in pointing out the poisons from the nectar, and justifying the distinctions. And this is exactly what I will try to address in this series.
I am aware that some people might get offended or feel irritated that I go against ‘established’ Gurus or some popular siddhantas. But that is just a small inconvenience compared to the satisfaction I gain by doing my part to disperse the knowledge which I have received by the mercy of my teachers.
The next article in this series will deal with very basic information on what is spirituality, what it does it take to actually understand spiritual science, what are the first steps that someone can take in getting on to the spiritual path. Of course, all of this will be from the perspective of the Vedic teachings.
Ancient Wisdom, Modern relevance – Purpose of Life
Purpose of Life
So, here we are. Another year has passed as per the Gregorian calendar. Even as I started for home on Dec 31st evening from office, around 6:30PM, the grounds within the campus had been converted in to an ‘open-air’ ‘fun’ ‘party floor’. Laser lights, fog effects and ear-drum blasting music, alcoholic drinks… pretty much the trend these days, isn’t it? For one, I never understood the concept of ‘drunken fun’.
Drinking and driving don’t mix… how about drinking and dancing, like having something wriggling up the legs?? Surely, puking on the girlfriend’s (or boyfriend’s) dress (whatever part of it is ‘cloth’) isn’t fun now really, is it?
Well, I have seen this happen for the last couple of years, and this is becoming a tradition these days. It is cool to go to a New Year party, hang out (whatever that means) with cool buddies, stress and flush the stomach out, get up with a headache in the morning, start the daily grind… in the second day of the year, waiting for the weekend, so one can celebrate the New Week!
I won’t be surprised if I hear a “Happy Week #23!”, or a “Wish you a very happy new week! Best wishes for your promotion dreams to come true! Hope you get a good hike (for the treat, of course)!” in another couple of years.
(Does anyone think how the pay hikes are made possible? Does anyone think how ‘inflation’ occurs? This is another exercise for the readers to put their thinking cap on!)
“What’s wrong in partying? People are just having some good time… just a night of fun, to unwind, to relax…”
“Come on dude, life’s meant to be enjoyed…”
Hmmm. Hold on. Enjoyed? Is that what ‘life’ as we live it meant to be really? To be enjoyed?
Let’s dwell on this a bit, alright?
There are four activities in this world that are common to ALL living entities: Eating, Sleeping, Mating and Defending. We humans, especially, are doing all of the above extraordinarily well, since the level of intelligence we are endowed with allows a greater range of control, but along with greater intelligence and facilities comes greater responsibility… a purpose to this life, and living.
So, what is the purpose of life?
We take birth. We die. In the time between these two events, we do so many things, believing that it improves our lives, increases our standard of living and gives us happiness. Good parents, nice food and robust health, a cozy home, high education, beautiful wife, chubby children, warm friends… these are all the aspirations of anyone who wants to lead a ‘happy’ life.
But what is the purpose of life? No one taught us that really, did they? We learn everything at school and college, about math, history, zoology, music, spacecrafts, and microbes… each one is an expert in one thing or other. But where are we taught “the purpose of life”?
Truth is we are discouraged from asking such a question! You will see blank stares, snickering laughs, frowns and everything in between to such a question from ‘normal’ day-to-day people. But what else can they do? They, after all, are also as much in the dark, aren’t they? What really happens is that each one is left to one’s own imagination to cook up a purpose to their living (which might include just living without a purpose too, ironically).
Add to this confusion the modern philosophers and pseudo-spiritualists who have now begun singing a tune to “Each one decides what’s best for oneself”… and you can now see the mess it has done. I don’t even have to explain it to this audience, I hope. Nowadays, it doesn’t matter if a perspective is right or wrong… it is of no consequence, as long as everyone agrees with everybody else.
But there is an obvious difference between the individual perceptions on the purpose of life and the objective purpose underlying life itself.
“What a load of BS! Life has no purpose, other than what we imagine…”
I have heard this countless times. Yes, if the modern evolution theory is to be considered (just for a fleeting moment) as true, the above statement probably becomes valid, since the theory is based on the assumption that life evolved from matter by random, purposeless mechanical/ chemical processes. But that ‘theory’ is just that. If one accepts the teachings of the Vedas by proper guidance and application, one can easily understand that ‘life force’ cannot arise from matter and must have a spiritual origin. And consequently, everything has a purpose and reason for occurring/ existing. Just because that purpose or reason is not readily apparent to our limited senses does not mean it does not or cannot exist.
In the human form of life, a spirit soul is given great intelligence and so many facilities. But it comes with a condition, as put forth by the very first sutra of the Vedanta Sutras, which essentially states the purpose of ‘Life’:
athato brahma jijnasa
"Now is the time to inquire about the Absolute Truth."
Many say self-realization is the final goal, that once you understand who you really are (which varies from ‘you are nothing, zero’ to ‘you are God’ depending on who you ask) you become realized and nothing more to do. There are different kinds of such philosophers and spiritualists… mayavadis, sunyavadis and so on. But, unfortunately for them, we can understand from the Bhagavad Gita that self realization is just the first step towards something more important. It is only the ignorance and neglect the modern generation has been having regarding the Vedas and Vedic scriptures that have allowed all kinds of bogus philosophies to crop up in the name of spirituality.
The first step in understanding the purpose of life is to know our actual nature. Once that realization dawns upon us, the next step is to enquire in to our relationship with the Absolute being, God, revealed as Krishna through the Bhagavad Gita. Once the understanding of the relationship is got, the last step is acting on such knowledge. Considering this along with the concept of the Supreme Lord Krishna being the owner of everything as explained in the previous article, everything that we have must be used in the service of the Absolute being, Krishna (including the efforts of the scientists and leaders). That fulfills the purpose of life.
Srimad Bhagavatam Canto 1 Chapter 2 Verse 10:
lābho jīveta yāvatā
nārtho yaś ceha karmabhiḥ
“Life’s desires should never be directed toward sense gratification. One should desire only a healthy life, or self-preservation, since a human being is meant for inquiry about the Absolute Truth. Nothing else should be the goal of one’s works.”
The human form of life is especially meant for this purpose. We are given the faculties to do what many other species cannot: Think about ourselves. Yet, we would readily accept a grossly ‘unscientific’ declaration “Life has no purpose” when we can keep yapping about goodness, charity, eradication of poverty and what not.
Srimad Bhagavatam, the top most purana, explains in great detail that Bhakti Yoga is the only recommended way in this Kali Yuga to gain such a level of understanding on ourselves, the Supreme Lord and the real purpose of life easily. I am aware that all this is the ‘theory’ part… and I haven’t gotten in to the ‘how to’ part till now, because I do not consider myself as an accomplished spiritualist… consider me like a patient who has been cured by a doctor and is recommending the doctor to other ‘patients’.
With this, I end the “Ancient Wisdom, Modern Relevance” series.
Ambi’s personal Note: I do not know how effective or useful my articles were. There were so many discussions, so many arguments. I am sure there are several readers who did not participate in the exchange of comments but were silent spectators, several people who liked the articles/ comments, and several who disliked those. Almost everything I have put forth in my articles, I had learned from Srila Prabhupada’s books and his disciples (and No, I am not a member of ISKCON).
I hope at least a few of the readers would take up studying the “Bhagavad Gita As It Is” by Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada with sincerity and benefit from it for eternity. If anything, this whole exercise was probably meant to be for my own purification. Thank you.
Article written by Ambi.
Ancient Wisdom, Modern relevance – Kali Yuga gaining
Ancient Wisdom, Modern relevance – Kali Yuga gaining
I did not find a more suitable title for this article than the one given.
All this while, I had attempted to present the teachings of Bhagavad Gita in a concise manner so that even a person with no prior knowledge can get interested in the vast literature. I had planned to present the next article on describing the material nature, 3 modes of material nature, how our everyday activities fall under it, how the food we eat is classified and so on. But I somehow did not get satisfied with the reason for writing on the topic at this moment. In the meantime, I wrote one article on the issue of faith that is inherent in modern science. But even that was not satisfying for me since I had given that article to try and put to rest certain types of arguments and doubts. So, this time, I have left my ‘flow’ take over.
Be warned that this article is not as focused as I would have liked it to be, for several reasons which are outside the scope of this discussion. Let’s begin, shall we?
Lord Krishna informs us in the Bhagavad Gita about the cosmic scale of time and the manifestation of creation and annihilation.
BG 8.17: By human calculation, a thousand ages taken together form the duration of Brahmā’s one day. And such also is the duration of his night.
If you read the purport for the above verse, it is explained that Kali Yuga, this age of quarrel, lasts for 432,000 years. Of this, approximately 5000 years have passed. Srimad Bhagavatam, the spotless purana, in the second chapter of its twelfth canto, describes the age of Kali in vivid terms and also declares the descent of the Supreme Lord as Lord Kalki, who will reinstate the eternal religion and the next Satya Yuga will begin.
What is surprising is how the ancient sages could have foreseen the calamity now that is the ‘modern era’. Please do click on the above link and just read through the text part. You will be surprised on how much has already happened as described, and more surprised by the accuracy of certain descriptions.
One can dwell on these topics for days together, but let us take just one symptom which is most prevalent these days.
"So much wealth do I have today, and I will gain more according to my schemes. So much is mine now, and it will increase in the future, more and more. He is my enemy, and I have killed him, and my other enemies will also be killed. I am the lord of everything. I am the enjoyer. I am perfect, powerful and happy. I am the richest man, surrounded by aristocratic relatives. There is none so powerful and happy as I am. I shall perform sacrifices, I shall give some charity, and thus I shall rejoice."
Sounds familiar? Do you recognize any of the above mindsets? I am sure each and every one of us knows very well that these are the scales by which our current society measures us. Guess what? I did not make up the previous paragraph by myself!!
The above text is used by Lord Krishna to describe people with demoniac nature in verses 13 thru 15 of that chapter.
“Whoa! Hold on… are you calling us demons?”
Umm… not exactly, but this is what is termed as demoniac tendency. In fact, read through the entire Chapter 16 of Srimad Bhagavad Gita. It’s a pretty small chapter with just 24 verses, so don’t skip the reading part. One can easily understand the context.
We claim ownership over this world. We identify ourselves, with pride, foolishly, as a Tamilian, Andhraite (Telengaanaite??), Indian, American, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Atheist, Rich, Poor, Male, Female… everything except what we truly are: Jivatmas. This is called ‘maya’ or illusion. And add to this the tendency to lord over the tiny part of creation we are in, we have just as well branded ourselves to be the Lord of ‘all that we have access to’.
What is the reality here?
The very first verse of Isopanishad establishes the fact that the Supreme Lord is the Lord of everything that is.
īśāvāsyam idam sarvaḿ
yat kiñca jagatyāḿ jagat
tena tyaktena bhuñjīthā
mā gṛdhaḥ kasya svid dhanam
Everything animate or inanimate that is within the universe is controlled and owned by the Lord. One should therefore accept only those things necessary for himself, which are set aside as his quota, and one should not accept other things, knowing well to whom they belong.
Let us put this in perspective. ‘We’ do not ‘own’ anything in this world per se. Our ‘ownership’ is relative in the proper sense. Someone has placed all what we see and ‘we’ simply experience it. And in the insignificant space of time that we experience in the infinite timeline of creation, we think “This is mine, this is ours, it is our right, and it was meant for us” and so on. In doing so, we create misery for us and everyone around us.
How does this sound relevant in the present scenario? This is very relevant… at least to me. Without recognizing God as the owner of everything, there is no possibility of reconciliation between the warring people who are nowadays taking up arms for even the smallest of disagreements. Replacing Krishna’s position with a man-made authority like how the communists do will simply lead to further chaos or tyrannical regimes, as we already know from the several examples we have seen in this world.
At this juncture, mentioning the prayer of Prahlada to Lord Narasimha is very apt.
Srimad Bhagavatam Canto 7 Chapter 9 Verse 17:
sokagnina sakala-yonishu dahyamanah
duhkhaushadham tad api duhkham atad-dhiyaham
bhuman bhramami vada me tava dasya-yogam
O great one, O Supreme Lord, because of combination with pleasing and displeasing circumstances and because of separation from them, one is placed in a most regrettable position, within heavenly or hellish planets, as if burning in a fire of lamentation. Although there are many remedies by which to get out of miserable life, any such remedies in the material world are more miserable than the miseries themselves. Therefore I think that the only remedy is to engage in Your service. Kindly instruct me in such service.
For a person who is inheriting virtually all the wealth and status from his demoniac father, Prahlada Maharaj’s instruction is shockingly, in a good way, contrasting!
We think we can come over any problem in this material world by virtue of our limited intelligence and creativity, but we do not realize that we are creating more and more trouble for us, since our viewpoint is like that of a frog inside a well.
This can be a good exercise for the readers to do: Think and describe in brief a situation where a solution by humans for a problem has become a greater problem for mankind.
Let me conclude this article by saying this: We have dug ourselves a bottomless hole of quicksand called ‘construction-destruction paradox’. In the name of progress, we have ignored the teachings of the Vedas and ancient sages and are literally squeezing the life force out of our mother-like Earth, endangering our survival and a rare opportunity for eternal liberation.
Kali Yuga may be meant to be this way. That does not mean we don’t have any choice but to suffer. There is always a choice. It is up to us to take to the teachings of the Vedas seriously and live a purposeful life. Or ignore the instructions meant for our well-being (material and spiritual) and continue to suffer, thinking it is enjoyment.
Next topic: Purpose of Life.
Article written by Ambi.
Ancient Wisdom, Modern relevance – Caste System as it should have been
Ancient Wisdom, Modern relevance – Caste System as it should have been
In my last article, we had seen the basic essence of Lord Krishna’s instructions through Srimad Bhagavad Gita. Going forward, I will attempt to present the views from the perspective of Vedic teachings on some of the issues that we have been facing one millennium after another.
If someone writes articles about quantum mechanics, theory of relativity, chaos theory, Fourier transforms and so on, I bet that there will be almost close to ‘zero’ interaction on it. Whereas, there are couple of topics on which one can be assured of a deluge of comments from experts (no sarcasm here) who have had life as their laboratory and their own experiences as results of experiments. But no topic is as prone to sentimental ranting and fanatic following based on so many varied theories and ‘popular leaders’, like the topic of “Indian Caste System”.
Now I will attempt to present the caste system as described by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. I request anyone reading this article to set aside your prejudices, read through the article fully and then decide for yourself if it makes sense.
Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 04, verse 13:
cātur-varṇyaḿ mayā sṛṣṭaḿ
tasya kartāram api māḿ
viddhy akartāram avyayam
“According to the three modes of material nature and the work associated with them, the four divisions of human society are created by Me. And although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the nondoer, being unchangeable.”
I might probably see, if I can, a few mouths drop open!
So, Bhagavad Gita endorses the caste system? Apparently, yes… but not in its current form. Unfortunately, this has the ultimate weapon for some pseudo-experts and proselytizers. The fault is not with Bhagavad Gita, but with us for our lack of understanding on the scriptures and our false ego which twists almost everything to suit our own needs.
Lord Krishna says he created the 4 divisions in the society… namely, Brahmanas, Ksatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras. Notice the words Guna and Karma highlighted in the verse? Krishna does not mention Janma (birth) in his description. This is the crux of the problem. A brahmana’s son cannot become a brahmana by default i.e. by birth. A Ksatritya’s son cannot remain as a Ksatriya by default and so on. Somewhere in time, this system started to degrade. The change was because of people’s own selfish goals, and addiction to power that came with the caste assignment. The problem started when ‘unqualified’ people started remaining in the same caste as they were born in. The original system was simply that you go to a Gurukula, spend a couple of years learning stuff and the Guru identifies the stream of skill that you are good at and then assigns you to that caste. But that got changed and nowadays, you see a boy born in a ‘brahmin’ family still being branded as ‘brahmin’ even if he has the worst character possible and is working as a laborer in the IT industry! (Don’t get me started on how IT is a boon and such. That’s for some other time.)
So, what differentiates the 4 divisions? That is also addressed by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita.
BG 18.41: Brāhmaṇas, kṣatriyas, vaiśyas and śūdras are distinguished by the qualities born of their own natures in accordance with the material modes, O chastiser of the enemy.
BG 18.42: Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, knowledge, wisdom and religiousness — these are the natural qualities by which the brāhmaṇas work.
BG 18.43: Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity and leadership are the natural qualities of work for the kṣatriyas.
BG 18.44: Farming, cow protection and business are the natural work for the vaiśyas, and for the śūdras there is labor and service to others.
I think the verses are self explanatory.
There is one more area where pseudo-secularists raise a hue and cry. They quote Manu Smriti (or Manu Samhita) and make an appeal to pity for their cause by citing verses which talk about punishments to be given for people who deviate from their caste… like a Sudra speaking Vedas. In opposition, if a person without a qualified MBBS degree is found to be working a doctor, will the law enforcers remain silent? In the same way, a person who has been identified by his Guru to be NOT having any qualities or work tendencies to be a Brahmana or a Ksatriya or a Vaisya, becomes a sudra. So how does this person have any right to lecture on the Vedas? Looking from the perspective of how the caste system should have been, I see nothing wrong in the punishments.
I quote my teachers:
“In the Vedic setting, if it is ascertained that one has the nature of a sudra, they were given vocational education; literacy for the masses was not given great importance in Vedic society. However, as the sudras gave service to the other varnas, it was in turn the duty of brahmanas to systematically disseminate shastric knowledge to the general public. In fact, the temple in a Vedic community was to serve just this purpose – as a center of learning – where the mercantile and laborer classes would come and learn about religious principles through art, drama and regular discourses on scriptural teachings.”
Nowadays the word Sudra has taken a ‘derogatory’ tone… while it is simply equivalent to being called a ‘dancer’, ‘mechanic’ and so on. I am 100% against the concept of ‘untouchability’, which is again the perverted rendering of the Vedic system by the pseudo-brahmanas of recent times. And one should also be careful while dealing with ‘modern reformers’ who are quick to denounce the Vedas and have ‘converted’ to Buddhism and such… they are more dangerous than the pseudo-brahmanas because not only are they wrong in their understanding of the scriptures, they are also proud of it and do what they do as a sense of duty and right.
So, the next time someone lectures to you on the caste system and starts denouncing the Vedic scriptures, you remember that it was we people, not the scriptures, who are responsible for the current mess.
Ancient Wisdom, Modern relevance – Main Topics of Srimad Bhagavad Gita
In my previous article, I had concluded stating that if we want our understanding of the Bhagavad Gita to be perfect, one must understand it as Arjuna understood it. We now begin our journey through the vast ocean of knowledge that is the Bhagavad Gita.
There are five basic truths that Bhagavad Gita addresses
They are as below:
1. Īśvara – Supreme Lord, the supreme controller, the supreme soul
2. Jīvas – the living beings that are controlled, spirit souls.
3. Prakṛti – the material nature
4. Kāla – Time
5. Karma – Activity
Can anyone point the odd one out in the above? No? Well, it so happens that the Supreme Lord, the spirit souls, material nature as well as Time are all eternal. Karma, activity, is the only one which is temporary. (Amusing, isn’t it? It takes 4 eternal entities to create something that is temporary!)
Now, let’s see how these topics are addressed.
Srimad Bhagavad Gita establishes the superiority of Īśvara above everything else. And Lord Krishna is established as the Supreme Controller of everything that is there, throughout Gita. Krishna himself declares it in Chapter 10, verse 8:
ahaḿ sarvasya prabhavo
mattaḥ sarvaḿ pravartate
iti matvā bhajante māḿ
“I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who perfectly know this engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.”
In fact, Arjuna understood this perfectly. And that is the reason why we should try to understand Bhagavad Gita in a submissive mood, as a devotee of Lord Krishna, accepting him as the Supreme God (even if just theoretically), because otherwise the import of his teachings will be lost. We will see this in detail when I start addressing the chapter contents later on.
Next in line come the Jīvas, the living entities or spirit souls. While the subject of Īśvara is dealt in detail only at a later stage, the subject of the spirit soul is dealt with by Krishna in Chapter 02, verses 11 to 31. It is explained in Bhagavad Gita, as well as by the Acharyas, that each of us is a spirit soul (atma), infinitesimal sparks that are qualitatively the same as Īśvara, God. But just as a water droplet from the ocean of water cannot compare to the ocean itself even though being qualitatively same, we cannot compare ourselves to God in any manner. We are subordinate to the Supreme Lord and as such do not have the capabilities attributed to him.
Then we come down to Prakṛti or material nature. Bhagavad Gita clearly establishes that material nature is completely controlled by the Supreme Lord.
In Chapter 09, verse 10, Krishna states this:
“This material nature, which is one of My energies, is working under My direction, O son of Kuntī, producing all moving and nonmoving beings. Under its rule this manifestation is created and annihilated again and again.”
Previously, he also states in Chapter 07, verses 4 and 5:
bhūmir āpo ‘nalo vāyuḥ
khaḿ mano buddhir eva ca
ahańkāra itīyaḿ me
bhinnā prakṛtir aṣṭadhā
“Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego — all together these eight constitute My separated material energies.”
apareyam itas tv anyāḿ
prakṛtiḿ viddhi me parām
yayedaḿ dhāryate jagat
“Besides these, O mighty-armed Arjuna, there is another, superior energy of Mine, which comprises the living entities who are exploiting the resources of this material, inferior nature.”
Here, Krishna states that he is the Lord of the material nature and makes a clear distinction between himself and his energy. He also states that the living entities, the Jivas, are part of his superior energy whereas material nature is part of his inferior energy. Now, since the Jivas are part and parcel of the Supreme Lord, they have the tendency of trying to lord over the material nature. The only problem is that they are not the Supreme Lord and hence cannot exercise full control over it.
While we stay on the topic of material nature, I wish to clarify an important point. What we are in, is part of material nature. It is real. But because material nature continually manifests and unmanifests itself under the effect of yet other energy of the Lord, Eternal Time, its manifestation is considered to be temporary. But its manifestation, this world and countless others, is never illusionary or false.
So, that brings us neatly to our next item: Time. Krishna mentions in Chapter 10, verse 30 that “kālaḥ kalayatām aham”, meaning “of the subduers I am Time”. As energy of the Supreme Lord, Time wears down everything. We see time only in relation to existence and movement in the material nature, whereas it does not have an end or a beginning. Since this is very difficult to understand at the outset, we will deal with this as and when we encounter it during the course of our study.
Last in line is Karma or activity. It is not activity performed just now. It includes everything from time immemorial, and by the laws of which our enjoyment and suffering are determined. Karma is affected by all the eternal entities. Activities arise due to the effect of combinations of 3 mode of Material nature (Goodness (Sattva), Passion (Rajas) and Ignorance (Tamas)), along with the influence of time. Karma, though its effects can stretch across millennia, is still temporary as we do have the ability to change our karma and hence the reactions to our Karma, based on perfection of our knowledge. Chapter 05 of Bhagavad Gita talks about Karma and Karma Yoga in detail and I will present that in due course of time.
(Phew, that was a heavy dose? Well, that is required as a foundation to proceed further. So, I will take a more relaxed pace from now.)
So, the next question anyone should ask is
How does one go about getting this knowledge perfectly?
If you want to learn or earn a degree in physics or nuclear medicine, I think you would pretty much know how to go about it. One has to go through 14 years of schooling, 4 years of college, another 2 years as post grad, and probably a Ph.D, before one can be considered as an expert in that field. Now, it so happens that for learning Spiritual science, there is a process to be followed. One must be humble in searching for the truth, must be able to identify a bonafide Guru, render service to him and inquire from him submissively. If you are wondering “Oi… hold it! That’s all? Are you sure you aren’t making this up?” well, here’s what Krishna says in Chapter 4, verse 34:
tad viddhi praṇipātena
upadekṣyanti te jñānaḿ
“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth.”
There. Satisfied? But note that I never said this is easy, since most of us (including me) fail miserably in the first criteria, which is humility. It is only by the mercy of our teachers that we are somehow dragged in to a higher level of understanding, regardless of whether we are taught modern science or Spiritual science.
(For a detailed description on the process of gaining knowledge in the Vedic methodology, please have a look at the article “Descending Knowledge” which I posted on my blog a while back.)
What made Arjuna lose his composure before the battle? What did he lament about? How does that relate to our current times? These I will address in the next article.
Ancient Wisdom, Modern relevance – Introduction to Srimad Bhagavad Gita
What is happiness?
If you ask anyone, ‘what is happiness?’ I am sure that the answers that you would get from most people would be similar. Good health, nice family, enough money, time to enjoy the little pleasures of this world, love, peace… it is not hard to imagine what would make people happy. Everyone in this world aspires to be happy all the time. The only problem is what WE define and seek as happiness, once gotten, doesn’t last forever. A few hours or days at best, that’s all. And then the rigors of the material world seize and engage us.
We use so many tools to aid us in our search for happiness, good health and why, even immortality! As a result of that relentless endeavor, modern science has enabled us to do so many things seemingly better than before, compared to natural alternatives. Life has become so dynamic that many people started professing that ‘change’ is the only constant in this world.
All these attempts at improving our condition of life, all the progress that we made, ignore the four other constants that come by nature in material life: Birth, disease, old age and death. Whatever efforts we make to improve our lives, and to be happy, the four constants always manage to get the better of us. And with death, everything comes to a very efficient end.
An intelligent person begins to think as to why he is forced to suffer, when all he wants is to be happy. A natural progress of that thought process would lead to questions like where did I come from, what am I doing here, where I would go after death and culminates in asking the most fundamental question which forms the basis of Vedic philosophy:
‘Who am I?’
The Vedas and associated Vedic scriptures offer great insight in to life’s mysteries. These ancient treasure troves of wisdom and knowledge, being coeternal with God and infallible in their own right, direct us to change our attention from the temporary towards the permanent, from matter to spirit, from the body to the soul.
They teach us that our endeavors to be happy through gratifying our senses would lead to only misery. They also inform us about our original spiritual nature – that each of us are not the body but infinitesimal spiritual sparks, Spirit Souls, that are not of this material world and that the only way to have eternal happiness to revive our natural relationship with the Supreme Soul, God, of whom we are all part and parcel of, yet different.
The Vedic knowledge was primarily transmitted orally in the previous ages. In order to make the Vedic knowledge easily accessible to the people in the Kali Yuga (the present age), the great literary incarnation, Sage Vyasa, compiled the entire knowledge in to principally the 4 Vedas, 108 Upanishads, 18 Puranas and 2 Itihaasas (epics, namely Ramayana and Mahabharata).
Understanding the Vedas, which are compiled in exquisitely perfected Sanskrit, is a nightmare even for the most erudite scholar these days. Learning Sanskrit itself would take close to 12 years of study and then one has to study the various siddhantas (philosophies) and Bhashyas (commentaries) as expounded by the great Acharyas of the past, to grasp even the basics of complex texts like Vedanta Sutras.
Of the texts that form the Vedic scriptures, Srimad Bhagavad Gita, which is found in Mahabharata, is the most important section. It is the essence of all Vedic knowledge. It is also called Gitopanishad, and is the consolidated description of the most intense, hair-raising dialogue between the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna and his dearest friend, the warrior-archer, Arjuna. Running in to 700 verses over 18 chapters, it is described in much simpler Sanskrit, which leaves absolutely no room for interpretation and logical debating which is allowed by the Vedanta sutras.
This dialogue starts with questions asked by Arjuna, who is feeling very confused, dejected and sad on the eve of a great battle against his cousins, the Kauravas and their army. Arjuna is one of the ‘Mahajanas’, and being a friend to the Lord, he is above all ignorance. But the Acharyas explain that he was put in to this situation specifically to enquire about problems of life so that Sri Krishna himself can explain it for the benefit for future generations, namely, us.
(It is to be noted that this great dialogue was spoken on the eve of battle, in the middle of two armies standing ready to fight. It lends credence to the practicality of such a philosophy, much against a common belief that any spirituality or philosophical pursuit is meant for practice only in peaceful times or in a forest away from common day to day works.)
The spirit with which one should hear and accept the teachings of Srimad Bhagavad Gita is shown by Arjuna in the course of his discussion with Lord Krishna. When a physician gives a medicine, you take it only by following his directions. Similarly, the instructions given in Bhagavad Gita are to be taken only as Lord Krishna means it and not as per one’s own whim and wish. The perfect example for such a proper acceptance is shown by Arjuna himself. In the second chapter, verse 7, Arjuna surrenders:
pṛcchāmi tvāḿ dharma-sammūḍha-cetāḥ
yac chreyaḥ syān niścitaḿ brūhi tan me
śiṣyas te ‘haḿ śādhi māḿ tvāḿ prapannam
“Now I am confused about my duty and have lost all composure because of miserly weakness. In this condition I am asking You to tell me for certain what is best for me. Now I am Your disciple, and a soul surrendered unto You. Please instruct me.”
Here’s how Arjuna accepts Lord Krishna’s instructions, in chapter 10, verse 12 thru 14:
paraḿ brahma paraḿ dhāma
pavitraḿ paramaḿ bhavān
puruṣaḿ śāśvataḿ divyam
ādi-devam ajaḿ vibhum
āhus tvām ṛṣayaḥ sarve
devarṣir nāradas tathā
asito devalo vyāsaḥ
svayaḿ caiva bravīṣi me
“Arjuna said: You are the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the ultimate abode, the purest, the Absolute Truth. You are the eternal, transcendental, original person, the unborn, the greatest. All the great sages such as Nārada, Asita, Devala, and Vyāsa confirm this truth about You, and now You Yourself are declaring it to me.”
sarvam etad ṛtaḿ manye
yan māḿ vadasi keśava
na hi te bhagavan vyaktiḿ
vidur devā na dānavāḥ
“O Kṛṣṇa, I totally accept as truth all that You have told me. Neither the demigods nor the demons, O Lord, can understand Your personality.”
So, to conclude, one must understand the teachings of Bhagavad Gita as Arjuna understood it. Only then, that understanding is considered perfect. Only when one hears it in a submissive mood, in devotion to the Supreme Lord, one can understand the teachings of Bhagavad Gita as understood by Arjuna, which is to say, correctly and perfectly.
What do Arjuna and Lord Krishna talk about? What subject matters does Bhagavad Gita address? How does one go about getting this knowledge perfectly? These I will address in the next article.