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 – Laying the Path
I tried to complete this article thrice before, but somehow or the other it didn’t turn up in a way I wanted. I have rewritten this article thrice. And yet I am not satisfied with the outcome. It just makes me wonder if my current disposition is so bad, because of all the traveling I have been doing and the food that I am eating. Being a very strict vegetarian, having proper food is an austerity, almost a penance, while on travel, especially to a place where not even plain rice is vegetarian, except at the few Indian restaurants. My teacher on several occasions had mentioned that not only the food we eat, but also the person cooking it, the person who bought the raw materials and so on, all have influence on our mood, behavior and disposition. Guess I am having that experience firsthand. So, I am leaving this to my ‘flow’ of thoughts.
I was having lunch with a group of engineers who were discussing some highly sophisticated technology stuff and as the lunch began to take effect, the topic drifted to focus on a guy who claimed he was into hatha-yoga for the last one year and on how it has been extremely beneficial for him. And as the initial conversation was winding down to the normal ‘yeah, yeah, that’s right…’ kind of semi-disinterested agreement, one person quipped that “yoga is all about breathing, you know”. I suppressed a ‘whoa! Hold on!’ and continued spooning the food in to me.
Several years ago, when I was about 20 or so, we had arranged a family pilgrimage to several temples in Kerala. We were about 11 people in a van and in due course of time, our conversation came to discussing about how my studies with Bhagavad Gita were progressing and what impact it was making on me. Not many of the ‘elders’ really gave any importance to what I had to say, but one of my uncles suddenly turned to me and said “All this is not required. Just chant ‘Om Namo Bhagavate Rudraya’… all bad things will go away, you will study well, get good money’… “. I was kind of amused but had to resist the urge to debate him, merely out of respect to an ‘elder’ person.
I even had my father yell at me once because he thought I was getting too much in to ‘this unproductive stuff’. He is supposedly a very religious person and he boomed, “This stuff is for people above the age of 50, when they get all the time they need for this kind of time pass!” I didn’t mean to be disrespectful but I shot back. “Appa, YOU are above 50. I don’t see you spending time on this ‘stuff’. Instead, you just sit around when you DO get time and watch only the stupid mega-serials.” That stopped him short. He glared at me for a few moments and walked away.
Couple of lessons learnt from the above incidents:
1) The tendency to show that ‘oh, I know something’ about a topic, especially when it is related to spirituality, is pretty hard for a normal person to resist.
2) It is only by sustained practice and ‘living the philosophy’ can we actually hope to transform anyone’s opinion. Even then, there is a risk that it might only inflame anger as well as enviousness and not acceptance.
I just wanted to share these with you all before actually getting to the topic at hand.
So, we see people going to temples, churches and mosques every day. We see them immersed in prayer, with some people weeping, some serene and a few whose prayer style borders on eccentricity. But I was standing at a restaurant counter, when a man came and stood next to me. After giving the token, he kept smiling and talking to himself. After a minute or so, he took his mobile out. I saw the wallpaper was a nice picture of Tirupati Balaji. He started mumbling something, touched the mobile to his eyes, and kept it back in to his shirt pocket. He did this a couple of times until his food packet got delivered.
Is this man spiritual? Some might think of him as a weirdo. Others might marvel at his ‘devotion’.
If you are born in a Brahmin family, or grown up around one, you would have seen the myriad of pujas and homams (fire sacrifices) being conducted. The young kids do sandhya-vandanam meticulously and the morning and evening times resonate with chanting of the vedic hymns. It is really an indescribable experience. May be not these days, but the families usually follows so many rules, Acharam and Anushtanam, and what not, right from the time of waking up to eating and sleeping.
Are these (we?) ‘brahmins’ spiritual? Also, some think of the myriad of rituals and hymn chanting as a waste of time. Others think of it as a necessary burden for the discipline that spiritual practice requires.
I used to work as a teaching assistant during my Master’s course. I had this boy who came to the class and instead of listening to what I was saying, was busy reading the bible. This repeated itself over the entire semester. I did try to tell him subtly to focus on the class, for the money he had paid, but yeah, it didn’t work. I heard another TA describe this boy as being “addicted to the bible”. He was usually very quiet in class and never troubled anyone, did not too bad in study but he kept praying now and then.
Is the boy spiritual? Some might say that he is a ‘Jesus-freak’. Others might see him as being devoted.
I had a friend who was my junior in the same university. A Muslim, if you hadn’t guessed already. He was the normal devout Muslim who never bothered anyone except me, of course. Don’t take it in the wrong way, he was good friend.
(I just thought I will mention this, not wishing to leave any Muslim friends here feel bad… no question for this part).
So, individual perceptions vary because people have varied (sometimes pretty weird) notions of spirituality. I once read an article where a mother was feeling proud of her son who had become very thoughtful after going to some Osho classes and now silently munches on a chicken burger at breakfast (I assume he did it noisily before)! Some people think they can just live as they want, but just have to do a little good here and there. Some think building schools and hospitals gives them spiritual uplift. There are some others who think they need to put an external show of ‘religiosity’ in order to feel ‘spiritual’ and convince others as such. The increasing number of fake swamis these days is proof enough.
The point I am trying to get to is this. Do we actually know what spirituality is? Who is a spiritual person? What does it take to become and remain a spiritual person?
Note: It is impossible to teach Spiritual Science without an associated ‘philosophy’. Whatever I am going to present in this series is fully based on Vaishnava Siddhanta.
We can say a spiritual person is one who has realized his actual identity as an eternal, undivided, indestructible ‘anu-atma’, an infinitesimal spirit soul. This in common terms can be termed as ‘self-realization’. So, spiritual science starts off with this fundamental understanding that we are the spirit souls. And the purpose of this science is in realizing one’s true nature and purpose of existence in relation to the Supreme Lord.
There are many versions of ‘self-realization’ going around. Some term it as ‘realizing oneself as the divine’. The more popular version is ‘realizing that God is in everything, so everything is God’. I keep coming to these statements over and over again since these ideas have taken over so many millions of people in a deadly grip of self-glorification, and false hope of ‘becoming God’ one day.
There are also so many people who subtly demand to be glorified and worshipped by projecting themselves as ‘self-realized’. So, in order to make proper spiritual progress, it is critical to understand that we are not the body, but it even more critical to understand that we are NOT God and the commonly stated goal of spirituality, Moksha, does NOT mean oneness or nothingness. I know that there would be many people who subscribe to the ideas of this oneness or even nothingness quoting Aham Brahmasmi, Tat tvam asi etc. It would suffice to say that I do not follow Advaita and it is not my interest to try and prove to anyone as to why it is so.
Nowadays, to say that we believe in the existence of the soul is to invite the ire of the ‘modern scien-tellectuals’. They say that there is no soul, because they do not have any evidence of the same. The Vedas repeatedly say that the soul is not a gross material entity, which by default makes it beyond the reach of our material senses, skills and our contraptions. So we cannot realize the existence of the soul by direct experience or direct perception. The only way we do this is through ‘Shabda’, which are the ‘Vedas’. If one does not accept the Vedas as an authority, they have no business commenting on spiritual matters that stem from the Vedas.
Let’s take a look at around us. There are so many machines around us. Billions of buildings are being built and have been built. You see flights taking off or landing, ships afloat on water. Computers rule the world these days. But there is one thing that will bring all this to a stop if removed from the scene.
Us. The ‘living’ beings.
Without the presence and touch of a spiritual entity, gross matter can NEVER gain conscious abilities or the inspiration or impetus for creativity. Without the spirit inside, even this body will have no capabilities, even though it might be perfectly healthy from a ‘medical’ point of view. So to believe that all that is around us was somehow manifested by chance is gross foolishness. It takes that ‘spark’ of spiritual energy to…
Anyway, let’s get back to topic. We have seen what self realization is. How does one get self realized? Spiritual science is actually very simple and extremely complex at the same time. This is not word play. For a person who accepts the Veda pramana, this science is very simple. For one who wants to get to the spiritual stage by logical analysis, it is very complex and difficult to understand.
This spiritual science comes with its own set of rules and regulations, just like modern science. But unlike modern science, there is an additional component that renders the outcome of a spiritual experiment as unpredictable sometimes: personal resolve. It does require a person’s undivided attention and resolve to progress on the spiritual path. This resolve comes from faith, built through proper ‘sanga’ or ‘association’, properly guided by the grace of one’s Guru and by the mercy of the Supreme Lord Krishna.
It only takes humble service and truthful enquiry to an Acharya, to understand spiritual science. And it is the same thing that makes this that much more difficult. Through experience I can say that when you in search of spiritual knowledge and are sincere, when you are ready, it is actually your Guru who finds you. This is difficult to grasp logically, but that is how it works in the spiritual dimension.
I know my focus has been in all directions in this article, but I hope that my condition will improve. From the next article onwards, I would like to take things in a more easy pace, starting with the basic regulatory principles for spiritual practice. Thank you for your patience.
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 – Perfection of Yoga
Ancient Wisdom, Modern relevance – Perfection of Yoga
In my last article, I had addressed the details on who can be a Guru and how to identify a bonafide spiritual master. In the article before that, we saw Lord Krishna addressing Arjuna’s despondent pleas. Instead of going through a chapter-wise discussion as I had planned earlier, I am taking a thematic approach on presenting the conclusions made by the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna on various paths of Yoga as he explained in the Bhagavad Gita. This will reduce my effort significantly, thereby helping me to spend time on the discussions that might follow.
“Yoga” means “linking of our consciousness with the Supreme Absolute Truth”. When the linking process is predominantly through fruitive activities, it is called Karma Yoga. If it is done through empirical means, it is called Jnana Yoga. If it is done through unalloyed devotional service to the Supreme Lord, it is called Bhakti Yoga.
The Bhagavad Gita teaches us of a “Yoga Ladder”, a series of steps made of yoga practices which ultimately lead to the Perfection of Yoga. Following this process, a conditioned soul can purify its existence gradually in this material world and reawaken its spiritual consciousness.
The first step in the ladder is called “Karma-Kanda”. This step has no spiritual objective. In this stage, a conditioned soul/ person, is introduced to regulated sense enjoyment, and to the Vedas which dictate the performance of sacrifices for the sake of results. This basically increases faith in the sastras.
Read BG 2.31, BG 3.11, BG 3.16.
Next is the step of “Karma Yoga”, which is performance of fruitive activities. The person begins to get frustrated with the sense enjoyment and shows inclinations of detachment. But he is still too attached to completely stop working for his own enjoyment.
When a person works for his own enjoyment but has a spiritual objective interlinked to the effort, the stage is called Sakama Karma. Continued practice of work in partial detachment to the results of fruitive activities leads to Nishkama Karma, work which is uncontaminated with material desires and has a pure spiritual objective.
Since any sense enjoyment leads to frustration in the end, a person gradually elevates himself through Karma Yoga to a stage where he begins to examine the ‘Jnana’ section of the Vedic literature. Here, as described by Lord Krishna in Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 06, one gives up all societal obligations and sets on a pursuit in search of knowledge of the Brahman. This path of realization is not easy at all to follow, as correctly pointed out by Arjuna and Lord Krishna in the chapter 06 of Bhagavad Gita.
Read BG 5.2.
Beyond Jnana Yoga, once the Jnani achieves knowledge of the Supersoul, the Paramatma, and begins to lead a life of austerity and meditation on the Paramatma, he enters the stage of “Ashtanga Yoga”, an eight fold process as the name implies. Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Prathyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi are the 8 steps.
Read BG 6.30, BG 6.31
At the pinnacle of this Yoga ladder is “Bhakti Yoga” or “Unalloyed, pure devotional service to the Supreme Lord”. This is best summarized by Lord Krishna himself:
BG 9.34: Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, become My devotee, offer obeisances to Me and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me.
BG 18.65: Always think of Me, become My devotee, worship Me and offer your homage unto Me. Thus you will come to Me without fail. I promise you this because you are My very dear friend.
BG 18.66: Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.
And what does the Lord have to say about the other paths?
BG 6.46: A yogī is greater than the ascetic, greater than the empiricist and greater than the fruitive worker. Therefore, O Arjuna, in all circumstances, be a yogī.
Note: The ascetic is the ‘tapasvi’, the empiricist is the ‘jnani’ and the fruitive worker is the ‘karmi’.
BG 6.47: And of all yogīs, the one with great faith who always abides in Me, thinks of Me within himself, and renders transcendental loving service to Me — he is the most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all. That is My opinion.
So, you see, the Bhagavad Gita offers devotional service to Lord Krishna as the Perfection of Yoga, with pure devotional service being the goal. There are several stages of Bhakti too, but this is too premature a point in this series to get in to that. Bhakti Yoga is the path recommended for this age of quarrel, the Kali-Yuga. We do not reject the other paths, but making progress in them is extremely difficult, if not impossible, in this age. This was stated very clearly by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. Although one passes through one level or another of the previous stages even while trying to take to the path of Bhakti, it is much easier and the effect seen on oneself as well as the progress gained towards liberation is permanent.
I have tried to summarize the entire siddhanta of Bhagavad Gita within 900 words above. Now, there are certain issues which I would like to clarify upon.
I have read several articles on Bhagavad Gita where the author has very elaborately discussed on the merits of Bhakti Yoga as described in the Bhagavad Gita. Throughout the text, the author says “Krishna said this, Krishna said that”… and finally concludes “Krishna is instructing us to be surrender to the impersonal, all pervasive, inscrutable Brahman”. Throughout the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says “Surrender unto me”, means surrender unto Krishna… not something within him. I am sure the Lord as well as Vyasadev knew enough Sanskrit to state exactly what they wanted to state. Sure, Lord Krishna talks about people who want to ‘mingle’ with the Brahman as their final goal… but he does NOT conclude it is the ultimate goal or is the easiest way. Here’s what he says on that issue:
BG 12.5: For those whose minds are attached to the unmanifested, impersonal feature of the Supreme, advancement is very troublesome. To make progress in that discipline is always difficult for those who are embodied.
BG 12.6-7: But those who worship Me, giving up all their activities unto Me and being devoted to Me without deviation, engaged in devotional service and always meditating upon Me, having fixed their minds upon Me, O son of Pṛthā — for them I am the swift deliverer from the ocean of birth and death.
I have stressed upon one point so many times in the series till now and I am doing so again. The current trend seen among ‘spiritualists’ is basically to take the Bhagavad Gita, pick and interpret just a few specific verses completely out of context to suit their own philosophy, and present their own speculation in an (pseudo)authoritative manner. If one has to take reference from Bhagavad Gita, the conclusion arrived at MUST be the one presented by Lord Krishna and as it is accepted by Arjuna, as below.
BG 18.73: Arjuna said: My dear Kṛṣṇa, O infallible one, my illusion is now gone. I have regained my memory by Your mercy. I am now firm and free from doubt and am prepared to act according to Your instructions.
Giving any other conclusion on the Bhagavad Gita, anything different from what is being said by Lord Krishna, is akin to cheating, no matter how popular or scholarly the person giving the different conclusion might be.
With this article, I would like say that enough foundation has been laid for any sincere seekers of Truth to go forward on their own. I hope the comments and the discussion in my previous articles as well as the ones that are to follow would add more fuel to their interest. If and when required, my help would always be available.
From here, I would like to get in to addressing issues that we face on a day to day basis and how the knowledge received through our ancient scriptures can help us even now. So, if the readers have any topics on which they would like me to elaborate with relevance to our current position in time, please feel free to add the suggestion as a comment.
The next article title from me would be “The Caste System – as it should have been”. I hope to complete it another week or so.