Reaching God through various means

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Lord Krishna tells Arjuna that devoting one's entire mind and heart to Him is the essence of Bhakti Yoga. When with this involvement one also seeks refuge in Him, one will gradually understand His infinite greatness without any trace of doubt and thereby gain the highest spiritual experience, Bhakti.

In a lecture, Nochur Sri Venkataraman pointed out that Bhakti is something already inherent in the mind and heart of the individual soul. But with the appearance of the sense of I and Mine, the individual becomes involved with the world. When this involvement is directed towards God, it becomes Bhakti and this is the state of mind of saints and realised souls.

In the Bhagavata Purana , Yudhishtira asks Narada how Sisupala, who displayed open enmity to Lord Krishna, attained salvation instead of getting punished. Narada replies that God waits for some kind of relationship with Him who is the Antaryami, even if the relationship hinges on hatred.

Sisupala's enmity to Krishna occupied his mind with such tenacity that he never forgot his sworn enemy. Because of this association, he merged with the Lord in a dramatic manner when Krishna was honoured for His pre-eminence during the Rajasuya Yaga performed by Yudhishtira.

Narada also explained the story of the gatekeepers of Vaikunta, Jaya and Vijaya, who were cursed and sent away from their posts for preventing the sages Sanat Kumaras from seeing the Lord. They regretted their mistake and opted to fulfil the curse through three consecutive births when they would seek God by showing enmity to Him. Their births show that it is easy to think of God constantly as an enemy.

In like manner, God can be reached through love, fear, friendship or kinship. The Gopis sought God through love and were steeped in Krishna to the extent of forgetting their own status and position. Kamsa's thoughts dwelt on Krishna, propelled by fear ever since he became aware of the prediction of his death. The Vrishnis sought Him through kinship, while the Pandavas' friendship with Krishna was tantamount to Bhakti.


How to use your wealth in a wise manner

Sunday, 17 July 2011

There is a deep-seated desire for wealth in every individual and sastras accept wealth as a legitimate aspiration. It is included in the four main goals of life (Purusharthas) — righteousness (Dharma), wealth (Artha), desire (Kama) and liberation (Moksha). Scriptures teach us to evaluate wealth in philosophical and secular terms, said Srimati Prema Pandurang in a lecture.

Though renunciation is the ideal to be practised in one's lifetime for the attainment of salvation, wealth is shown as necessary for worldly upkeep. Scriptures teach us that wealth has to be earned by rightful means and warn us of its dangers. An excess of wealth can make one inebriate, become a constant worry and, if put to wrong uses, can destroy one's peace of mind.

When Bali began an Asvamedha Yaga to gain mastery over the worlds, the Lord incarnated as Vamana and approached Him for alms. Bali was impressed by the handsome youth and was willing to give him whatever he wanted. The boy wanted only that much of land he could cover with three paces. Sukracharya warned Bali not to give all in haste. His insightful advice at this juncture is practical and teaches us how to use wealth in a wise manner. Charity should not endanger one's life and livelihood.

Wealth has to be used for the practice of one's religion. A part of our earnings has to be set aside for selfless acts that will bring us fame even after we die — such as protection of the scriptures, cows, etc. Acts of charity for the purpose of people's welfare, for the family and for the needy are also encouraged. This paves the way for the growth of a welfare society. There are long-term benefits as well for those who engage in such deeds — for their generous acts take care of their well-being in this world and hereafter. Such is the power of righteous deeds.

But Bali had already committed himself to the youth and found himself shorn of the immense wealth that had been his just a minute ago. He had to offer his head in all humility to fulfil his promise. This shows that wealth is slippery especially when one lacks humility.


The story of Lord Siva as bangle seller

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Once Lord Siva took the form of one involved in penance and appeared before the wives of sages. He looked so handsome that it seemed the God of love, Manmatha, himself had come as a sage. The women ran towards Him. Their hearts melted at His sight. Such was their anxiety to make acquaintance with Him, they lost their weight instantly and their bangles slipped off! They then asked Him to return the bangles.

Lord Siva then indulged in some teasing conversation with them. They then looked into His eyes and saw images of some women in His eyes. The women were none other than these women themselves but they were unable to discern this. So they requested Him to hold their images in His eyes too.

The Lord replied that a handsome man could be seen in their eyes too, but they must have the capacity to discern this.

What He meant was that the Lord resided in everyone but only realised souls were aware of this.

The women then tried to embrace Him, but He eluded their hug, for He can be caught only in the net of bhakti. He is easily approached by His devotees but not by others, said Raghu Bai, in a discourse.

The women asked the Lord when He would return their bangles and He promised to return them soon. They tried to embrace Him, but He vanished.

The sages, whose wives had thus seen the Lord but failed to recognise Him, knew that the One who had appeared before them was Lord Siva.

Yet the sages' wives had sinned in trying to embrace someone other than their husbands. So the sages cursed their wives and said they would take another birth and that Siva would rid them of their curse.

The women were reborn accordingly. And when they attained marriageable age, Lord Siva appeared before them as a bangle seller. He displayed the bangles He had, and when He slipped them on the hands of the women, they had goose bumps. He then revealed His true form, and He ascended in a vimana.

As for the women, they were rid of their curse, because they were touched by the Lord, and thus rendered pure.


True bhakti

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The Tamil poet Kambar said of Rama, that those who saw His shoulders, continued to see only His shoulders.

Those who saw His feet saw nothing else. But this is not a matter of surprise, for who can see the Infinite One in His entirety?

Every aspect of Him is enough to hold our attention forever. So where is the question of our turning our attention from one aspect of the Supreme One to another aspect of His? Can He be comprehended so easily?

One would think that if a person could see nothing but His shoulders, there must be some defect in the person's vision. But Kambar describes those who saw Rama as having sharp vision.

The fault was not theirs. The reason for their focus lay in the greatness of Rama. What they saw was so great, that taking in everything was impossible.

When we say we have seen the sea, do we mean that we have seen the sea up to its other end? What we mean is that we have seen a portion of it. If that is the case with the ocean, what of the One who made the oceans? Can we expect to see all of Him?

But He can be reached through love, said Damodara Dikshitar.

All He expects is a simple offering of flowers. Or if even that is not possible, then just a sloka that we know should do. If even that is not possible, then just love towards Him will do. But when we worship God, we must not place before Him a list of our demands.

In other words, our bhakti must not be to get something in return. We must expect nothing in return.

The joy that devotion towards Him brings knows no bounds. Devotion towards the Lord with a view to attaining something can never qualify as true bhakti.

There have been devotees like Tukaram, who did not even seek moksha as a boon from God. God is the embodiment of love. His body is made of love.

He can be reached only through love. He can be likened to a mountain in His greatness. And yet this mountain can be held in the fist of love.

The Omnipotent One submits to His humble devotees, who seek nothing from Him, and whose bhakti is not with a view to getting some boon from Him.


Teachings on human conduct

Monday, 11 July 2011

The Mahabharata lays emphasis on good conduct and virtuous behaviour. A deferential(i.e., courteous) attitude to the superiors, performance of yagas and sacrificial rites, adherence to truth, freedom from anger, pride, lust and avarice(extreme greed for material wealth) — are to be practised by those desiring to be virtuous.

Those who reflect upon the sense of the scriptures with patience and carefulness develop good behaviour, said Srimati Prema Pandurang in a lecture. They are devoted to the study of the Vedas and follow only the practices of the honest and the good.

But those who do not have faith in the Sastras tend to become self-indulgent and mock, belittle or ignore the tenets enjoined in the scriptures. If they thus fall into wrong ways, they invite their own downfall.

The Yaksha Prasna episode is a dialogue between a Yaksha and Yudhishtira. The questions have a bearing on the philosophical and metaphysical aspects that govern human nature and conduct. A vast range of subjects is covered and Yudhishtira, by virtue of his upright nature and adherence to the code of Dharma, is able to promptly answer the questions accurately. The dialogue is a manual for good living and an individual would gain insight into the matter of dealing with problems that may arise when he relates to family, society, and country.

The story of Rantideva teaches a valuable lesson in sharing and caring for fellow beings. He spent his entire wealth to feed the hungry and the distressed people during a famine.

He vowed to observe a fast for 48 days without food and water; and at the end of it, even at the risk of his own life, he did not hesitate to give up the last morsel of food and the drop of water that he was about to partake.

He stated that he did not seek the bliss or attainment of the eight siddhis or even freedom from the cycle of birth. His only desire was to empathise with the sufferings of beings and serve them so that their misery could be alleviated.

The Rig Veda hails the man who cares for the poor and the hungry, and asserts that not only will he really enjoy his food but his charitable and philanthropic acts will confer on him plenty of wealth and friends who would offer help in times of need.


The people's grief upon the Lord's separation

Sunday, 10 July 2011

The people of Ayodhya sensed Lord Rama's imminent departure (along with Sita and Lakshmana) to the forest when He began giving away His possessions as charity, in keeping with the practice of the times. They were shocked, disturbed and filled with grief.

Sage Valmiki describes this grief of the people in moving terms. He says the people feel extreme pain at the thought of the hardship inflicted on this protector of the world, as a tree which acquired flowers and fruits is damaged by injury caused to its root. If the root of a tree is affected, the tree falls; in a similar manner, the people depended on Rama as a root and His going away would render them rudderless since He is their supporter. Their anguish is similar to the one undergone by organisms in water when they are afflicted by water scarcity in summer.

The same sentiment is expressed in the context of Lord Krishna's departure from Gokula, said Sri B. Sundarkumar in a lecture. Akrura, an emissary of Kamsa, came to the land of the Vrajas to take Krishna and Balarama with him to Mathura to attend a bow festival at Kamsa's court. The entire country was unable to bear the separation.

The Gopikas became sorrow-struck at this turn of events. Even the trees began to stoop, the sun looked eclipsed, and the ponds withered without water. There was no life in nature. Krishna left behind not only the sorrowing Gopikas but also the grief-stricken animals and trees of the forests and was gripped by the thoughts of the Gopikas.

Rama then bestows parting gifts to Vedic scholars and their wives, the servants, children, the aged, and the poor. One brahmin named Trijata, is given an unusual gift — of cows filling a distance of many miles.

All those who received gifts from the Lord blessed Him a safe stay in the forest, wishing Him enhanced reputation, strength, delight and happiness. The people extol Rama's greatness.

Rama knew the taste of sovereignty and was one who could grant the desires to the desirous. Even then, because of his respect for virtue, he is careful not to transgress his father's words.


Importance of Education

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Education helps us to realise our flaws and correct them. That is why Greek philosopher Diogenes observed that the foundation of every state is the education of its youth. Education helps a poor man come out of his poverty. As for the rich man, education becomes an ornament for him.

When the Gurukula system of education was prevalent in India, students served their teachers in their spare time, for the teacher was considered on a par with God Himself. Students from different strata of society studied under the same guru, and their years of study together led to a deep bond of friendship developing among them. And there can be nothing greater than friendship in this world, because friends do not bother about differences in status between them. Thus a poor Kuchela and Lord Krishna were friends. To Krishna, Kuchela's affection was all that mattered. Kuchela's poverty did not put Him off.

Education has a vital role to play in our lives, for not only does it impart knowledge and provide us with skills to make a living but it also teaches us the value of interpersonal relationships. We also learn the value of friendship in the course of our years of study.

If a person does not use the gift of sight to read, his eyes are of no use to him, says Thiruvalluvar. Knowledge we acquire in one birth will stand us in good stead for seven births. When we are in difficulty, our education and knowledge will come to our rescue.

When a man is learned, and can give us timely advice, or can help us in a moment of crisis, do we not look forward to meeting him and benefiting from his knowledge?

Those who seek the company of the learned are to be treated with as much respect as the learned themselves. The flame of a lamp is not huge, and yet we light lamps and worship them. A fire in a stove gives out a lot more heat than a lamp, but we do not give it the regard we give to the light from a lamp. Likewise, educated people may be small in physical stature, or they may be poor. But people will show them more regard than they would to a rich man who has no education.


Sweetness of the Lord's name, RAMA

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Dasaratha had at first refused to send Rama to the forest with Viswamitra. It was Vasistha who convinced him to send his son with the visiting sage. Thinking of how Vasistha had done it so easily, Viswamitra was silent for the first few miles of the journey from Ayodhya. He then addressed Rama. What a sweet name is Rama!

Viswamitra was known for his anger. But even on his tongue, the name Rama sounded pleasing. Having composed the 24,000 verses of the Ramayana, Valmiki enjoyed their beauty. How could the verses not be beautiful when they were about Rama? The name Rama is simple to say, yet how potent it is! Recitation of the Lord's name will ensure peace of mind and all auspiciousness, said Adur Asuri Madhavachari.

It is a name so simple, even a child can say it. In fact, the verses of the Ramayana are themselves easy to recite, unlike the verses of Srimad Bhagavata, which are far more difficult. To test the knowledge of a scholar, he is asked to recite the verses of Srimad Bhagavata, not the Ramayana, since the latter is easy to recite, and the former is not.

The sweetness of the name Rama was such that Viswamitra, who thought of Sage Vasistha as his arch rival, still chose to use the name that Vasistha had given the Lord. Viswamitra could not think of a sweeter name than Rama. He had thought hard for a long time of what to call the prince of Ayodhya and concluded that there could be no substitute for the name Rama. Having decided to go along with the name Vasistha had chosen for the son of Dasaratha, Viswamitra continued to use the name. Hence, his famous words to wake up the Lord, in which he used the name Rama and elevated Kausalya by referring to Rama as her son.

Rama was a strict adherent of the dharmas. He never preached what He himself did not practise. His obedience to His parents, His refusal to go back on His word, His embrace of those who surrendered to Him, His righteous anger when needed — all these show His exemplary conduct. Rama is a name we should utter and Rama is the One who should be our role model in life.

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