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.
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 – Role of faith in Science
Role of faith in Science
In my last article, we had seen what Krishna’s instructions on the caste system were. And there was an interesting set of comments from Mr. Hari, which prompted me to put up this article together in short notice (I was working on a more elaborate article and had updated LR only yesterday that I was running behind schedule, but looks like this one can fill the gap.)
Let the fireworks begin.
I think we hear this statement almost every day that “In science, everything is empirically verified; so there is no question of dogmatic faith in scientific methodology.”
Let us have a deeper analysis on this claim, shall we?
Here are the fundamental assumptions made by scientists in their attempt to understand the origin and functioning of this universe (and life) in purely physical terms:
1. Every natural law can be explained by mathematical expression.
2. Those expressions are valid everywhere in this universe.
3. The natural laws are simple.
People in general take these for facts because scientists say it is so. But these are just axiomatic principles which have not been proved to be correct. Nor can they be proved easily. These are just part of one approach to explain reality, and the scientists have implicit faith that these are correct. There may be no logical reason to rule out advanced alternative theories that explain the Universe and life as such, but no… many a scientist would insist his/her chosen strategy is the correct one.
Why? The reason for such an over simplified approach is that if they can describe the universe or life in simple equations, they can understand and probably manipulate them! But what if the universe in its current form is the simplest form or if it is irreducibly complex? Either way, this approach fails.
One other major assumption the scientists make is that the physical rules they discover on this earth through lab experiments is valid throughout all space and time. But they do hide nicely behind the fact that obviously no one can go back billions of years in time to see if something the scientists claims to have happened. Nor does anyone have any direct physical evidence from anything other than a limited space in our solar system (and do you want to know how limited it is, just to get an idea of our insignificant position in the universe? Click Here!).
So, believing in any ‘scientific’ theory requires as much faith as is required to believe that the universe is created and maintained by a personal God.
The moment some people read this, they would be gritting their teeth and ready to jump: “How dare you insinuate that science requires faith? It is all backed by experimental evidence, you Taliban!!”
Stand down, soldier. Now, show to me that an experiment has been conducted and has proven the validity of all known physical laws across all time and space… then, maybe, we can have a civil conversation. Without that proof, the element of faith simply reasserts itself.
We people are also to blame. We just believe in whatever our intelligent friends throw on our ears without question. For example… how do you know man really landed on the moon? Where you standing next to Mr. Armstrong? The point is NOT whether man actually landed on moon or not… but what is our means of knowing such an event actually happened? We just take it for granted the reports are true… based on faith.
So, accepting anything as a fact without one experiencing it directly involves the element of faith.
The faith on scientists is strengthened primarily based on the so-called technological advancements that they have been showing off till today. The keywords are “improved standard of living/ life”.
But in doing so, we reject the faithful teachings of ‘spiritual scientists’ like Ramanujacarya, Madhvacarya or Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who have themselves put the essence of the Vedic knowledge to practical implementation and the results of their experiments are well documented and are still verifiable by their followers to this day.
It is a pity that people are ready to accept blindly speculative theories as unshakeable truth, while they are not even willing to take the smallest effort to study and understand the basics of the teachings of anti-material, spiritual scientists.
(I have already mentioned this before, I do it again: Understand this. I do not say science as we have it today is useless. It has its benefits, but only so much as related to material aspects. One of modern scientific thought’s major shortcomings is that many scientists take the attitude called Burden of Proof towards God or any other subtler aspects of science, saying that God or soul does not exist until proved. This attitude is fine towards matters related to gross physical existence, but fails miserably when applied to subtle matters. If you read through my post on Descending Knowledge, you can understand that ‘Yes, it does take faith in the Vedic scriptures to get started in studying them, but just like in the modern scientific method, the faith gets strengthened by the results that the prescribed experiments give’. )
I will conclude with this: Trying to put down the teachings of the Vedas and Vedic scriptures as myths and what not, without understanding the Vedic teachings at least at the basic level, is like trying to comment on a work of Shakespeare without any knowledge of English.
Article written by Ambi.