Ganesh, by Stephen Knapp

The principal scriptures dedicated to Ganesha are the Ganesha Purana, the Mudgala Purana, and the Ganapati Atharvashirsa. Brahma Purana and Brahmanda Purana are other two Puranic texts that deal with Ganesha.

Lord Ganesh is known as the son of the Shiva and Parvati, and is the god of luck and of “opening the way.” That is why many people pray to Ganesh before starting a new project, in order to proceed with as few obstacles as possible.

Ganesha became the Lord (Isha) of all existing beings (Ganas) after winning a contest from his brother Kartikaya. When given the task to race around the universe, Ganesha did not start the race like Kartikeya did, but Ganesh simply walked around Shiva and Parvati, both his father and mother, as the source of all existence, and, thus, showed his intelligence.

The most prominent characteristic of Lord Ganesh is that he has the head of an elephant. How Lord Ganesh got an elephant’s head is related in several places in the Vedic texts. There may be a few different versions, but the general way in which it is accepted relates as follows: One day Goddess Parvati was at home on Mt. Kailash preparing for a bath. As she didn’t want to be disturbed, she told Nandi, her husband Shiva’s Bull carrier, to guard the door and let no one pass. Nandi faithfully took his post, intending to carry out Parvati’s wishes. But, when Shiva came home and naturally wanted to come inside, Nandi had to let him pass, being loyal first to Shiva. Parvati was angry at this slight, but even more than this, at the fact that she had no one as loyal to Herself as Nandi was to Shiva. So, taking the turmeric paste (for bathing) from her body(some say it was sandalwood paste) and mixing it and fashioning it into her son, she breathed life into it and she created Ganesha who manifested from this form, declaring him to be her own loyal son.

Then when Lord Shiva’s wife, Parvati, was going to bathe in the forest, she wanted someone to guard the area. Some references say she was going to bathe in her house. So she ordered Ganesh to let no one into the area while she was bathing. However, Lord Shiva came after a long absence and wanted in, but was blocked by Ganesh. Lord Shiva did not recognize the boy as his son, nor did Ganesh realize Shiva was his father, and enraged, Shiva and Ganesh began to fight. Ganesh lost the battle with his head being cut off. When Parvati entered the scene and saw what had happened, she was so upset that she was thrown into despair and threatened to destroy the entire universe. Shiva, after understanding the situation, devised the means to revive his son. Desperate to pacify her, Shiva promised to take the head of the first creature he came upon in order to give their son a new head and bring him back to life, and that first being was an elephant. So Ganesh got the head of an elephant and with Lord Shiva’s power, came back to life.

Part of the meaning behind this symbolism of the man with an elephant’s head is to represent the unity between the small entity, or man, and the large universe, the elephant. In the word “gaja”, which means elephant, “ga” means the goal, and “ja” means the origin. In the form of Ganesh, the elephant-headed man represents the culmination of the man, the origin, on the path toward universal consciousness, the goal. Ganesh, therefore, is the representation of man who understands the foundation of the reality upon which the universe rests, as is summarized in the Vedic term, “Thou art That,” tat tvam asi. (Taittiriya Aranyaka 8.1.1)

THE SYMBOLOGY OF GANESH

Ganesh is also called Ganapati. This means lord of the Ganas who are the attendants who control the function of the sense organs. According to Karapatri’s Sri Bhagavat-tattva (p. 638), the word gana means a collection of something that can be counted or comprehended. In this way, Ganapati is also the lord or ruler of categories.

He is also known as the Lord of thresholds or entrances into new dimensions. He is the remover of obstacles or obstructions. That is why students pray to Ganesh before taking a major test, to remove the obstacles. That is also why it is not unusual, especially in India, that as we enter a new space or house we may see an image of Ganesh above the door or nearby to give blessings to those who enter. Thus, he is also the guardian of the doorways. This is the case in many Vedic temples. As we enter the temple, we first see a deity of Ganesh to whom we pray for blessings and the removal of obstacles in our devotion or the rituals that we do inside the temple. That way the obstacles to our worship and further spiritual progress can be removed, in which case our spiritual development can be made more rapidly and easily.

Ganesh is also considered the Lord of astrology. He is said to know the language of the stars and the destinies of every living being. Thus, astrologers also petition Ganesh to pen such knowledge to them.

Ganesh is also said to be the writer of the scriptures. (Mahabharata 1.1.77) He accepted the position of being Vyasadeva’s scribe and wrote the Mahabharata and Srimad-Bhagavatam as it was dictated by Srila Vyasadeva, the compiler of the major portions of the Vedic texts. You can see the cave where this is said to have happened at Mana, near the holy place of Badrinatha (Badarikashrama). For this reason the ancient Brahmana texts also describe him as the god of learning.

His other names include Ganesh (related to the word gana), Vinayaka (a name familiar in South India, meaning great leader), Vighneshvara (the remover of obstacles), Gajanana (elephant-faced), Gajadhipa (lord of elephants), and Jyeshtha-raja (King of the elders).

Ganesh is said to have two wives, Siddhi (success) and Riddhi (prosperity). Thus, if anyone pleases Lord Ganesh with nice prayers or worship, the person also attains the company or blessings of the wives of Lord Ganesh. However, if used improperly, success and prosperity can be distractions on the path toward the goal of spiritual wisdom.

Ganesh is also shown in particular ways with certain symbols, which is described in the Ganapati Upanishad (11-14). He is seen with one tusk and four hands, two of which hold a noose and a hook. The noose that he holds is to catch delusion, to free one from its affects. The noose also represents attachment that can lead to anger, which hurts us like the goad. The noose or rope is also used to pull his devotees nearer to the Truth and to tie them to the Highest God. The hook or goad indicates his power and helps motivate one towards the goal. Sometimes he is also shown holding an axe, which he uses to cut off the worldly attachments of His devotees, which can thus end the cause of their sorrow.

Of the other two hands, one is positioned in the gestures for giving blessings and assuring fearlessness, and the other is often holding a rice ball. Ganesh’s hand that gives blessings shows that he can grant one’s desires and assures freedom from fear, and that he is beyond the influence of time and space wherein fear exists. In this way, he blesses all and offers protection from all obstacles on their spiritual path in seeking the Supreme. The rice ball he is often seen holding indicates the reward of the sadhana or spiritual practice for his devotees. Ganesh also has a big stomach and large ears. The fat belly of Ganesh indicates that the influence of the material manifestation is within him. His big ears represent that he accepts the truthful and positive vibrations, while throwing out the false and non-virtuous words that men may present to him. On his flag is a mouse, which is also his carrier.

Deities of Ganesh are often covered with red vermillion. The significance of the vermillion is that it represents the reddened complexion of one who is absorbed in work, which causes the intensified circulation of blood to all parts of the body. This also produces the skin’s red glow. Ganesh is also the lord of action, so he is often seen smeared with red vermillion. He is also worshiped with red flowers. Since Ganesh works wholeheartedly, he has a strong appetite and is thus offered and enjoys a steady supply of sweets and delicacies.

As Vighneshvara, Lord Ganesh also gives us the gifts that destroy obstacles, restrictions, or hindrances. All obstacles exist in the arena of time and space. Through the access of immortality, or the realization of such, we can overcome the fear that is intrinsic in the arena of temporary time and matter. Thus, Lord Ganesh gives and takes away. He gives us what can take away the hindrances and obstacles that keep us from realizing our true potential. Because of this, Lord Ganesh is often worshiped before starting any new project, or before entering a house or building. This is why he is often placed above doorways through which people enter, or is recognized and afforded respect and worship before accepting a new position, starting a new undertaking, or before beginning a new challenge, like taking a difficult test, so we can reach its completion without hindrance.

In worshiping Ganesh, there are several different mantras from which one can choose that help invoke the energy or mercy of Ganesh. There is also a specific graphic design called a yantra that is also a symbol for Ganesh. The swastika is another graphic design that can be used in representing Ganesh and the good fortune that he can provide. This is also why the swastika is a sign for good fortune.

Locally, you often see Ganesh deities as either individual images or as a bas relief carved from stone or boulders. His trunk is also curved to the right and sometimes to the left. This indicates the ways to get around obstacles to reach the goal. This is an indicator of Ganesh’s ability to master adversities, and is also a symbol for the Om mantra. His trunk also often holds a modaka, a type of sweet. The single tusk he has represents the one Truth, while the broken tusk indicates the imperfections of the ever-changing material world. He lost the broken tusk when Parashurama once arrived at Mount Kailash to see Lord Shiva. However, Shiva was sleeping, so Ganesh did not allow Parashurama to get in. When they started fighting, Ganesh lost one tusk. (Padma Purana)

The broken piece of the tusk was later used as a pen to write the Mahabharata when it had been dictated by Srila Vyasadeva to Ganesh. How Ganesh wrote the Mahabharata from the dictates of Srila Vyasadeva is described as follows: Vyasadeva entered into a state of meditation after the death of the Kaurava and Pandava clans, and after the disappearance of Lord Krishna. While the great story of events between the tribes, along with the episodes of the Kuruksetra war, was still in his mind, he wanted to write the epic in the form of a great poem. He went to Brahma for advice regarding a qualified person who could accept his dictation to write the story, and Brahma mentioned Ganesh. When Vyasa thought about Ganesh, he appeared before the sage. However, Ganesh was not so receptive to the idea, so he stipulated that Vyasa dictate it in such a way that Ganesh would never have to put down his pen before it was completed. Vyasadeva countered with the requirement that Ganesh not write down anything before he completely understood the meaning of it. Ganesh was not meant to write anything he did not understand in order that he realize the depths of the meaning, and how to write it in a way that would make the meaning accessible to all humanity. This was agreed, and the Mahabharata was completed within three years. (Mahabharata, Adi Parva, Chapter 1, verses 74-80)

Sometimes Ganesh is shown as Balaganapati in his child form, or Tarunaganapati as a young man. During the popular Ganesh Chaturthi festival, Ganesh is worshiped as Varasiddhi Vinayaka. At other times Ganesh is portrayed as Herambaganapati, with a third eye in between his eyebrows, along with five heads and ten arms. These show an extended view of his various powers, which are represented by what he holds in his hands, which include a lotus, pomegranate, water-pot, an axe, a lute, a sugarcane, ears of paddy, a bow and arrow, a thunderbolt, prayer beads, and a book.

The mouse that accompanies Ganesh is his carrier. The mouse is often seen in pictures eating or stealing the sweets that are piled near Ganesh. The mouse is the desire to enjoy material pleasures and the dangers of the ego. Though the mouse is small, this desire for material happiness, and the driver that motivates one into actions to acquire such pleasure, is like a thief that takes away all that people possess. It steals away one’s life that could be used to acquire the goal of spiritual perfection toward true happiness and liberation. The mouse also represents the mind, which is always active. It takes much weight to keep the mind from going astray. The weight of an elephant, Ganesh, on the mouse represents controlling the mind. Thus, Ganesh rides on this mouse as the controller of material desire and the effects of illusion.

GANESH MANTRAS

To Ganesh, for removing obstacles:

Aum Eikdantaya vidmahe

Vakratunaye Dhimahi

Tanno Buddhih Pracodayat

Translation: “Om. Let us meditate on Sri Ganesh, the lord with one tusk. May that great lord with curved elephant trunk inspire and illumine our mind and understanding.”

Invocation to Ganesh:

Gajananam Bhutganadisevitam

Kapittha Jamboo Phalcharu Bhakshanam

Umasutam Shokvinashkarakam

Namami Vighneshwar Padpankajam

Translation: “Oh Elephant-faced, worshiped by the existing beings, of all living beings, tasting the elephant apple (kaith) and jambolana (jamun), the Son of Uma, destroyer of grief, I bow to the lotus feet of Ganesh who is lord of all.”

Ganesh Gayatri Mantras for increasing intellect:

Om Lambhodaraya vidmahe

Mahodaraya deemahi

Tanno danthi prachodayath

Om. Let me meditate on that god with broad paunch. Oh, God with a big belly, give me higher intellect, And let the elephant faced one illuminate my mind.

Om Thatpurashaya vidhmahe

Vakrathundaya dheemahi

Tanno danthi prachodayath

“Om. Let me meditate on that great male, Oh, God with broken tusk, give me higher intellect, And let the elephant faced one illuminate my mind.”

To Ganesh for removing obstacles, a good way to start any projects, studies or rituals:

Ganapati Bappa Morya

Pudhachya Varshi Lovkar Yaa

Use this to Ganesh prayer before beginning any new project so impediments may be removed and your endeavor may be crowned with success: Om gam ganapataye namaha.

The Ganesh Mula Mantra:

Om srim hrim klim glaum gam ganapataye svaha

Om shanti shanti shantihi

Also:

Om gam-gau-ganapataye

Bighna-binashi ne-svaha

For one who wants wealth and prosperity, meditate on the golden color of Ganesh and say this prayer:

Om Lakshmi Ganapataye namaha

Another to Ganesh, Japa is 5,000 times a day for 25 days:

Om Gum Ganapataye Namaha, Om

Also to Ganesh:

Om gam ganeshaya namaha

Om klim gam gam gam mahaganapataye namaha

To Ganesh for blessings for spiritual success:

Om gananam tva ganapatigm havamahe kavim kavinamupamashravastamam

Jyeshtharajam brahmanam brahmanaspata snah shrinvanutibhissida sadanam

Mahaganapataye namaha

Translation: Om. Oh lord of speech, we worship you, the lord of the gods, the wisest among the wise, the one having incomparable fame, the best among the praiseworthy, and the lord of the Vedic hymns. While listening to our praises, come with your protecting powers and be rested in our yajnashala (temple). Obeisances to Mahaganapati.

Agajananapadmarkam gajananamaharnisham

Anekadantam bhaktanamekadantamupasmahe

Translation: We meditate, day and night, on the one-tusked one (Ganesh) who is the sun for the lotus in the form of the face of Parvati, the one with the elephant face and the one who is the giver of plenty to his devotees.

 

Advertisements

Lord Krishna Descends to Reestablish Vedic Culture, by Stephen Knapp

Why the Lord descends into this world is for multiple purposes, but primarily for two reasons. One of which is that, since He originally enunciated the ancient religious path of the Vedas for the benefit of the whole universe, whenever that becomes obstructed by the demoniac or wicked atheists, He descends in one of His forms, which is in the transcendental mode of pure goodness. Thus, He again establishes the righteous Vedic path. It is explained that He is the same Supreme Person, and in His incarnation as Krishna appeared in the home of Vasudeva with His plenary portion, Balarama, who played the part of Krishna’s brother. This was for the second reason, which is to relieve the earth of the burden of the demoniac. As Krishna, He came to kill the hundreds of armies led by the kings who were but expansions of the enemies of the gods, and to spread the fame of the Yadu dynasty. (Bhagavata Purana 10.48.23-24)

Arjuna, after understanding the position of Lord Krishna, recognized His superior position and said, “Thus You descend as an incarnation to remove the burden of the world and to benefit Your friends, especially those who are Your exclusive devotees and are rapt in meditation upon You.” (Bhagavata Purana 1.7.25)

The sages at Kuruksetra, while addressing Lord Krishna, also summarized the reason for Lord Krishna’s appearance in this world. They explained that at suitable times He assumes the mode of pure goodness to protect His devotees and punish the wicked. Thus, the Supreme Personality descends to maintain the eternal path of the Vedas by enjoying His pleasure pastimes. (Bhagavata Purana 10.84.18)

It is also described that when the Lord assumes a human-like body, it is to show His mercy to His devotees. Then He engages in the sort of pastimes that will attract those who hear about them. Then they may become dedicated to Him. (Bhagavata Purana 10.33.36) These pastimes of the Lord are so powerful that they can remove the sins of the three planetary systems and deliver those who are trapped in the continuous cycle of birth and death. (Bhagavata Purana 10.86.34) Those who desire to serve the Lord should hear of these activities. Hearing such narrations of these pastimes destroy the reactions to fruitive work [karma]. (Bhagavata Purana.10.90.49)

It is by Lord Krishna’s pastimes that He calls all the conditioned souls to Him through love. Thus, by His wondrous activities He attracts all beings to return to their natural, spiritual position by reawakening their dormant love and service to Him. This is the purpose of human life, which provides the best facility and intellect for understanding our spiritual identity and connection with the Lord. As Sukadeva Gosvami explained to Maharaja Pariksit, “He, the Personality of Godhead, as the maintainer of all in the universe, appears in different incarnations after establishing the creation, and thus He reclaims all kinds of conditioned souls amongst the humans, nonhumans and gods.” (Bhagavata Purana 2.10.42)

“To show causeless mercy to the devotees who would take birth in the future of this age of Kali, the Supreme Personality, Krishna, acted in such a way that simply by remembering Him one will be freed from all the lamentation and unhappiness of material existence.” (Bhagavata Purana 9.24.61) However, Lord Krishna also explains that when He descends in His human form, the fools who are ignorant of His spiritual nature and supreme dominion over everything deride and criticize Him. (Bhagavad-gita 9.11)

Nonetheless, Lord Krishna Himself further explains the reasons for His appearance in this world to King Muchukunda: “My dear friend, I have taken thousands of births, lived thousands of lives and accepted thousands of names. In fact, My births, activities and names are limitless, and thus even I cannot count them. After many lifetimes someone might count the dust particles on the earth, but no one can ever finish counting My qualities, activities, names and births. O King, the greatest sages enumerate My births and activities, which take place throughout the three phases of time, but never do they reach the end of them. Nonetheless, O friend, I will tell you about My current birth, name and activities. Kindly hear. Some time ago, Lord Brahma requested Me to protect religious principles and destroy the demons who were burdening the earth. Thus I descended in the Yadu dynasty, in the home of Anakadundubhi. Indeed, because I am the son of Vasudeva, people call Me Vasudeva.” (Bhagavata Purana 10.51.36-40)

OUR MISSION TO DEFEND VEDIC DHARMA

By understanding the above paragraphs, we should know that Lord Krishna appeared to reestablish the Vedic tradition because it had become lost. I emphasize this point because, in spite of the many challenges or threats against Vedic culture that Hindus face from others in upholding their tradition, sometimes they still say there is nothing for us to worry about because it is Sanatana-dharma, eternal, that it will never disappear no matter what happens in this world. When I hear this, I ask them whether they have really understood what Lord Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita. For therein we can understand that this Vedic spiritual knowledge does indeed disappear or decline from the face of the earth at times, and must be brought back, or defended in order to keep it prevalent amongst humanity.

In the beginning of Chapter Four of the Bhagavad-gita, we hear of one of the prime reasons why Lord Krishna descended into this world. He explains it this way in a conversation with Arjuna:

“The Supreme Lord said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and Vivasvan instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Ikshvaku. This supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way. But in course of time, the succession was broken, and therefore the science as it is appears to be lost. That very ancient science of the relationship with the Supreme is today told by Me to you because you are My devotee as well as My friend; therefore you can understand the transcendental mystery of this science.”

Arjuna then said: “The sun-god Vivasvan is senior by birth to You. How am I to understand that in the beginning You instructed this science to him?”

Bhagavan Sri Krishna then continued: “Many, many births both you and I have passed. I can remember all of them, but you cannot, O subduer of the enemy! Although I am unborn and My transcendental body never deteriorates, and although I am the Lord of all sentient beings, I still appear in every millennium in My original transcendental form.

“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion–at that time I descend Myself. In order to deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of dharma, I advent Myself millennium after millennium. One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.” (Bhagavad-gita 4.1-9)

So here we see very clearly that Vedic dharma and its spiritual processes may indeed by eternal, but it may also decline or even disappear from humanity from time to time. This means that if Lord Krishna appeared to reestablish this knowledge and tradition, we should be serious about defending it and making sure that it does not start to decline again. When it comes to defending Vedic dharma, we need to understand that it is not just up to Lord Krishna. It is also up to us. We cannot expect that Lord Krishna will appear again so easily when He was here only 5,000 years ago to do what we should now be doing. We should take it upon ourselves to assist in preserving, protecting, and promoting it for its perpetuation. This is for the benefit of all humanity. We should be willing to take up a bold stance to meet this responsibility, or it may again very well start to decline from the face of the earth like it did before.

This is also why there are various acharyas and devotees, representatives of the Supreme, who may be empowered to provide the guidance for humanity so people everywhere can know how to continue the ways of following Vedic dharma and apply it to their lives.

So to help in this way is not only a service to humanity, but also a service to dharma itself, and to the mission of Lord Krishna, and to all representatives of Vedic culture. What can be a higher cause for us than that?

Natural Disasters: Where is God in All of This? by Stephen Knapp

 As we look around the world, or watch and read the news, practically everywhere is affected by some kind of natural disaster. Floods are displacing millions of people, forest fires are destroying thousands of acres and burning out of control, earthquakes continue to force people to live in fear, and tornadoes and hurricanes have become more fierce and numerous than ever. And if that is not enough, droughts are causing massive crop damage and water shortages.

The fact is that nobody likes a loss, no matter how great or small it may be. And a disaster can take years to recover from, which can only increase our struggle to exist in this world. So what are we to make of all this? Is this just our own bad luck? Is this some kind of karmic reaction we are suffering? Is this merely the way life goes on in this material world? Or is this what God is doing to us? In fact, where is God in all of this?

From a spiritual perspective, when we ask “Where is God in all of this?” we must understand that to blame God for the way the world works is our own ignorance. And this ignorance is only the misguided perception of the absence of God, just as darkness is only the absence of light. From the very beginning, the world and everything in it is temporary. Or did you forget that? Our existence in this material world is also temporary. But we get so accustomed to the idea that things are going to go on the way we expect them to, that we are thrown completely out of whack when they don’t, and especially when the world throws reversals into our life. There is an old saying: Show me a world with security, and I will show you an illusion. The point is that change is the only constant in this world, which also implies that change means a lack of security due to not knowing what we can really expect in the future. And it is a challenge to remain balanced in all of this. And the only way you can do that is by attaining a spiritual consciousness. Let me explain:

Natural disasters go on in varying degrees on a daily basis, whether we notice them or not. Nature also means neutral, and it acts in whatsoever way it does to provide balance, even if it may seem cruel, as in the way stronger animals feed off the weak. That is a law of nature, and however cruel it may seem to be, in this world that is how balance is maintained in many cases so that certain species do not overpopulate. In this and so many other ways, nature acts in a way to help maintain balance in this world.

So when natural disasters hit humanity, as in events mentioned in the first paragraph, it forces us to become more clear regarding the temporary nature of this world, and more cooperative with that principle, whether we like it or not. Natural disasters can also provide a way to discern what is really important and what is not. We may have lost so many of our possessions, but we may still have our life. And if we lose our life or someone we know, we again have to realize the importance of how to live with whatever time we may have, fully knowing that tomorrow is promised to no one. Then we have to shed those things that, in the end, we are bound to lose anyway. Loss is no easy thing in one’s life, but better to go through stages of preparation than to be tested only at the very end of our lives at the time of death when it may be more difficult than ever to lose everything you hold dear. We need to be ready to go forward into the next realm rather than being held back by all the longings we have for the attachments we have accrued in this life. This is the lesson we should learn by experiencing various natural disasters on a personal level, or by observing those that go on around us. In this way, disasters of any kind can act as lessons that pull away the layers of illusion that hold us to the false impression of who or what we think we are in this material realm.

This is how there is some good in any situation, regardless of how awful it may seem. God does many things in one move, or one act. And in one major event, so many things may have been put into motion for many positive things to take place in the long run. Sometimes you can see that in the change of the psyche of innumerable people in the world that may have been affected by whatever event has happened, especially when they deal with the event by pulling together to sort out the new challenges they have to face. In this way, there is hope for a new vision, a new awareness, a new spirit of cooperation and view of each other.

For example, when a tornado destroys a neighborhood or town, everyone has to drop their ego and their differences in order to work together to make things operate smoothly again. So many trees may have been blown over, dropping electrical lines and stopping the flow of power or communication. Then people must work together to help clean up, get things working again, or check on the elderly to see if they are all right. And the more we work together, the easier it becomes for everyone. But is not that the case with life in general? Sometimes we forget, until a natural disaster again forces us to take a second look at who we are, who are our neighbors, and possibly with less judgmentalism than before. So sometimes we must get conked on the head, so to speak, to force ourselves to look at who we are and where our life is taking us. It is strange that sometimes this will not happen unless some major turning point takes place in our lives. These things show how well the world can move when we cooperate, when we acknowledge our need for each other and also our joy at being needed or giving to a higher cause by helping others.

With this new vision of ourselves and who we are and how we fit into the world, we may then see how God is found in all the acts of care and concern in each person around us. When the world comes together to help each other or those who have been affected by the disaster, all the kindness, consideration, the prayers, the donations, the heart-felt love that is now more prevalent than ever, is all part of our spiritual nature. When we consider all of this, we can see that each act of kindness is like the light of God everywhere. We simply have to be more willing to keep this spiritual renewal and vision in our heart and minds in our everyday lives.

In this way, the tragedy itself, whatever it may be, will have made us more humble, more cooperative, and a kinder person. It makes us realize our vulnerability, both individually and collectively. It makes us realize how fragile life can be, and how we should also appreciate whatever blessings we have. It forces a reassessment of who we are and, if we learn the lesson properly, gives an opportunity for a voluntary renewal in our spirituality. It also helps separate the superficial from what is really important. That is why we must always cling to our spiritual identity and the grace of God and be ready for anything.

Regarding those who may have died, what do we do for them? We have to remember that the soul, our real identity, never dies. It is eternal, so it merely moves on to another realm. Death is a soul’s change of focus from one plane of existence to another. The legacy of those who have departed is the renewed unity found in us survivors, and the reason to work together more closely than ever. It shows the reason why we must shed our dislike or unfamiliarity with each other. Their legacy is that this has brought us together in a mood of solidarity. It reawakens us to our dependency on God and His protection. This is the legacy of those we have lost in such situations. This is their gift to us. Let us keep this gift precious so it does not take another tragedy or loss to again reawaken ourselves to how special we all are.

We also must understand that in these sorts of tragedies, no one is sacrificed or dies in vain. The Lord of all casts aside no sincere soul, regardless of caste or creed, for all paths ultimately point toward the same God. They have not left us but only gone on before us. There is always a purpose behind everything, whether we understand it or not. So let us give them our blessings and pray for their safe journey to higher realms. Let God bless and guide all those who have departed from us.

However, when such disasters are related to man-made problems, like the failure of nuclear reactors, or oil spills and the like, this is simply because things are becoming too complex and out of control, or too far away from the way we need to cooperate with nature. It is a sign that we need to change and simplify our lives and actions. It is like nature shaking the tree to drop the unnecessary fruits. Then we merely have to change our vision and the values that we have to again begin to move in the right direction.

Disasters or tragedies created by fanatical religious terrorism is in a category by itself, apart from natural disasters. Such events are not a display of one’s allegiance to God, but a show of hatred for one’s fellow man, only because a section of society seems different, or that they follow a different spiritual path. This is spiritual blindness. Let us not follow in their ways of being oblivious to the unity and Divinity with all of us. But let us drop the superficialities and cooperate together, knowing full well that such is the way to make life easier for all of us. The desire to conquer or convert is the most divisive path there can be, and we have seen for many centuries that it has been the most cruel and destructive as well. And has the world gotten better because of it? No, in fact, it has only increased the fear and chaos in the world instead.

Let us also remember as we face such predicaments or tragedies, our greatest strengths and developments are often revealed through our most difficult challenges. Therefore, through such tests and by working together to improve things because of such difficulties, we will come ever closer to see the real potential and character of ourselves and the people involved. It will show the world the exceptional possibilities of real cooperation and understanding that can exist. It can show everyone the unity that can come from a spiritual renewal and reawakening.

Therefore, in such situations we should pray for the dead that they can be escorted to higher realms by God’s guiding light. We also pray for the well-being of the injured, the survivors, and the families who have lost loved ones, that they be soothed by God’s grace. We pray for us to become free from the shock and sadness that this sudden change has caused. But let us learn the lesson in the proper way so we can move forward with progress.

Let us also pray for the help from the volunteers and rescuers, those who donate much needed money to rebuild, and all who give their time and prayers to get us through this tragedy. Let the light of love, hope and upliftment shine forth and fill the world with God’s grace, beauty and power. Let everyone see the sense of living in peace and cooperation. Before we attack or criticize others, let us see our own faults which we must route out. Let us work on cleansing our own minds and purifying our own hearts, and then extend that encouragement to others.

Let us turn hate to love, enmity to friendship, strangeness to familiarity, greed to generosity, war to peace, and fear into hope. Let us pray for the good of all, and grow with the challenges, finding strength in the Supreme. May God protect us in all directions and guide us through whatever difficulties that appear in our lives.

In conclusion, let us offer our respect to God, and let Him kindly vanquish our demon-like desires for selfish or fruitive activities in this material world. Please dear Lord, appear in our hearts and drive away our ignorance so that by Your mercy we may become fearless in the struggle for existence in this temporary realm. May there be good fortune throughout the universe, and may all envious persons be pacified. May all living beings become calm by practicing devotion to You, for by accepting such service they will realize Your Divinity in each and every person, and thus think of each other’s welfare. Therefore, let us all engage in the service of the Supreme Being, Lord Sri Krishna, and always remain absorbed in thought of Him. (Bhagavata Purana 5.18.8-9)

Reaching the Ecstasy Within Devotional Yoga, by Stephen Knapp

        While on the path of spiritual development, many paths offer the means for attaining a higher happiness than through mere materialistic pleasures. But how do we actually attain the inner bliss or ecstasy that we hear about, or for which we are hankering that can overcome all other desires for wholeness and balance within?

        Yoga is known for helping us reach lofty states of mind, and elevated states of being, and thus perceiving higher levels of reality. This can be done through the means of karma yoga by directing our actions, or through jnana yoga by giving us loftier knowledge and discrimination between what is spiritual and material, or through raja or astanga yoga by preparing our bodies and minds for perceiving higher states of consciousness and spiritual dimensions, and through bhakti yoga which provides the means for attaining union with God through love and devotional activities. All of these, therefore, pave the way for a bliss that is beyond material or physical and mental stimulation. However, devotional yoga, known as bhakti, is especially known for giving the soul a higher taste in happiness and bliss by aligning our consciousness in loving attachment for the Supreme Lover, especially in the form of Lord Krishna who is known as the God of love. Why? Because that is the nature of the soul. It is the inherent characteristic of the soul to love and be loved. And the highest of all relationships are those of the spiritual dimension, or spiritual relations, beyond being dependent merely on physical expression. It goes beyond all that.

So, the way to do this is by acting in the proper mood or state of mind, which is the mood of servitude. Though some people may not agree that we should offer our service to God, the fact is that we are offering service to so many people and things around us all the time. We may be offering service to our parents, or teachers and professors in order to make progress in our education so that we can have a good career and then become good servants to our boss or to the company in order to get a good paycheck. Or we may be good servants of our wife, husband or family in providing what they need or want by earning the necessary funds to do so. Or we may be servants of the government and pay our taxes on time, or by observing the local laws properly. Or we may be slaves to the dictates of our mind and senses, which never stop telling us what they want us to do. The point is that material service is endless. And aren’t all these beings that we are serving parts of God, which means we are indirectly serving God anyway? That is why when we understand this, we may become more inclined toward our spiritual needs and learn how to engage in direct service to God.

Our servitude towards God does not mean that we become slaves to a conception of God that demands our attention or worship, but we show our humility and service attitude to God, and our hankering for an exchange with God, especially Lord Krishna who is known as the God of love. This is why Lord Krishna is bluish in color, because that is the color of pure consciousness, which is also pure unconditional love for all of the living beings. As this love between God and ourselves begins to grow, and as God recognizes our longing for offering service, at least when we are honestly sincere, the more He will reciprocate with us. Then the more we taste and recognize that exchange, the more we grow in that ecstasy that outweighs any other kind of pleasure. Thus, we find that the greatest happiness and bliss is found in that exchange of offering loving service to the Supreme who reciprocates with His love for us. Such a spiritual relationship is the highest of all relations, and invokes within us the most ecstatic joy that can be attained. The more we enter into that bliss, the sweetness of which is found in the mentality and attitude of offering service to the Divine, the more we naturally give up any interest in other relations or other kinds of happiness, like finding a diamond amongst broken pieces of glass. Then the more we long to enter ever more deeply into that ecstatic exchange.

How we should think in terms of our mood in order to enter into that spiritual ecstasy is described in many verses in the Vedic spiritual texts.

 

For example, it is described in the Sri Caitanya-caritamrita that “The conception of servitude to Sri Krishna generates such an ocean of joy in the soul that even the joy of oneness with the Absolute, if multiplied ten million times, could not compare to a drop of it.” (Sri Caitanya-caritamrita, Adi-lila 6.44)

In this way, the position of being a devotee is higher than that of equality or oneness with Lord Krishna, for the devotees are dearer to Lord Krishna than His own self. Lord Krishna considers His devotees greater than Himself. In this connection the scriptures provide an abundance of evidence. (Adi-lila 6.100-1)

As Lord Krishna Himself says, “O Uddhava! Neither Brahma, nor Shankara, nor Sankarshana, nor Lakshmi [the Goddess of Fortune], nor even My own self is as dear to Me as you.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.14.15).

Furthermore, “The sweetness of Lord Krishna is not to be tasted by those who consider themselves equal to Krishna. It is to be tasted only through the sentiment of servitude. This conclusion of the revealed scriptures is also the realization of experienced devotees. Fools and rascals, however, cannot understand the opulences of devotional emotions.” (Adi 6.103-4)

Other examples of the devotees finding the highest happiness in the mood of offering service to Lord Krishna are provided , such as in this next verse spoken in connection with the rasa dance of Krishna with the gopis, as is quoted from Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.31.6). When Krishna disappeared from His companions in the course of dancing, the gopis sang like this in separation from Krishna.:

“O Lord, remover of the afflictions of the inhabitants of Vrindavana! O hero of all women! O Lord who destroys the pride of Your devotees by Your sweet, gentle smile! O friend! We are Your maidservants. Please fulfill our desires and show us Your attractive lotus face.”

Even the beloved girlfriends of Lord Krishna in Vrindavana, the gopis, the dust of whose feet was desired by Sri Uddhava and who are more dear to Krishna than anyone else, regard themselves as Krishna’s maidservants. The following verse also appears in Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.47.21), in the section known as the Bhramara-gita. When Uddhava came to Vrindavana, the chief of the gopis or confidential cowherd girls, Srimati Radharani, in complete separation from Krishna, sang like this:

“O Uddhava! It is indeed regrettable that Krishna resides in Mathura. Does He remember His father’s household affairs and His friends, the cowherd boys? O great soul! Does He ever talk about us, His maidservants? When will He lay on our heads His aguru-scented hand?”

“What to speak of the other gopis, even Sri Radhika [Srimati Radharani], who in every respect is the most elevated of them all and who has bound Sri Krishna forever by Her loving attributes, serves His feet as His maidservant.” (Adi-lila 6.69-70)

The following verse is quoted from Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.30.39). When the rasa dance was going on in full swing, Krishna left all the gopis and took only Srimati Radharani with Him. At that time all the gopis lamented, and Srimati Radharani, being proud of Her position, requested Krishna to carry Her wherever He liked. Then Krishna immediately disappeared from the scene, and Srimati Radharani began to lament as follows:

“O My Lord, O My husband, O most dearly beloved! O mighty-armed Lord! Where are You? Where are You? O My friend, reveal Yourself to Your maidservant, who is very much aggrieved by Your absence.” This indicates the feeling of servitude in separation.

Sri Krishna explains the significance of this kind of spiritual happiness and the means to attain it to His devotee Uddhava: “O learned Uddhava, those who fix their consciousness on Me, giving up all material desires, share with Me a happiness that cannot possibly be experienced by those engaged in sense gratification. One who does not desire anything within this material world, who has achieved peace by controlling his senses, whose consciousness is equal in all conditions, and whose mind is completely satisfied in Me finds only happiness wherever he goes.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.14.12-13)

It is this happiness and inner spiritual bliss that becomes the goal of all those who begin to have even a glimpse of that ecstasy, which is attained by full absorption in the loving mood of serving the Supreme. This means that when a person actually feels this inner ecstasy, he or she loses interest in many of the issues or attractions or temptations that used to be very important to them, whether it be sports, politics, economics, current events, etc. Such a person gives up all kinds of materialistic distractions and begins to focus more and more steadily on that bliss and whatever it takes to maintain it, which automatically outweighs all other forms of entertainment and mental preoccupations that a person had previously found of interest.

Not only was this the feeling amongst the confidential servants of Krishna, such as Srimati Radharani and the devotees in Vrindavana, but the same feeling existed in the queens that lived in Dwaraka, Krishna’s opulent and royal capital city.

As it is explained, “In Dvaraka-dhama, all the queens, headed by Rukmini, also consider themselves maidservants of Lord Krishna.” (Adi-lila 6.72)

An example of this mood is provided in this verse from Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.83.8), which was spoken by Queen Rukmini: “When Jarasandha and other kings, bows and arrows upraised, stood ready to deliver me in charity to Shishupala, He [Krishna] forcibly took me from their midst, as a lion takes its share of goats and sheep. The dust of His lotus feet is therefore the crown of unconquerable soldiers. May those lotus feet, which are the shelter of the goddess of fortune, be the object of my worship.”

Like this verse, this next verse appears in Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.83.11) in connection with the meeting of the family ladies of the Kuru and Yadu dynasties at Samanta-pancaka. At the time of that meeting, the queen of Krishna named Kalindi spoke to Draupadi in this way. During the same incident, the following verse, also quoted from Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.83.39), was spoken to Draupadi by a queen of Krishna’s named Laksmana:

“Knowing me to be performing austerities with the desire to touch His feet, He came with His friend Arjuna and accepted my hand. Yet I am but a maidservant engaged in sweeping the floor of the house of Sri Krishna.”

“Through austerity and through renunciation of all attachments, we have become maidservants in the home of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is satisfied in Himself.”

The next verses that follow are also from Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.47.66–67), spoken by the denizens of Vrindavana, headed by Krishna’s father Maharaja Nanda and his associates, to Uddhava who had come from Mathura. Maharaja Nanda explains:

“My dear Uddhava, please hear me. In truth Krishna is my son, but even if you think that He is God, I would still bear toward Him my own feelings for my son. May my mind be attached to your Lord Krishna. May our minds be attached to the lotus feet of your Lord Krishna, may our tongues chant His holy names, and may our bodies lie prostrate before Him. Wherever we wander in the material universe under the influence of karma by the will of the Lord, may our auspicious activities cause our attraction to Lord Krishna to increase.”

Furthermore, “Lord Krishna’s friends in Vrindavana, headed by Sridama, have pure fraternal affection for Lord Krishna and have no idea of His opulences. Although they fight with Him and climb upon His shoulders, they worship His lotus feet in a spirit of servitude.” (Adi-lila 6.62-3)

In light of this information, this next verse, quoted from Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.15.17), describes how Lord Krishna and Lord Balarama were playing with the Their friends the cowherd boys after killing the demon Dhenukasura in the forest of Talavana near Vrindavana.

“Some of the friends of Sri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, massaged His feet, and others whose sinful reactions had been destroyed fanned Him with hand-held fans.”

“What to speak of others, even Lord Baladeva, Lord Krishna’s brother and first expansion, which is another form of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is full of emotions like pure friendship and paternal love. He also considers Himself a servant of Lord Krishna. Indeed, who is there who does not have this conception of being a servant of Lord Krishna? He who is Sesa, Sankarshana, with His thousands of mouths, serves Sri Krishna by assuming ten forms. Rudra, who is an expansion of Sadashiva and who appears in unlimited universes, is also a gunavatara [qualitative incarnation] and is the ornament of all the demigods in the endless universes. (Adi-lila 6.76-78)

“This Sadashiva also desires only to be a servant of Lord Krishna. Sri Sadashiva always says, ‘I am a servant of Lord Krishna.’ Intoxicated by ecstatic love for Lord Krishna, he becomes overwhelmed and incessantly dances without clothing and sings about Lord Krishna’s qualities and pastimes. All the emotions, whether those of father, mother, teacher or friend, are full of the sentiments of servitude. That is the nature of love of Krishna. Lord Krishna, the one master and the Lord of the universe, is worthy of being served by everyone. Indeed, everyone is but a servant of His servants. That same Lord Krishna has descended as Lord Caitanya, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Everyone, therefore, is His servant. Some accept Him whereas others do not, yet everyone is His servant. One who does not accept Him, however, will be ruined by his sinful activities.” (Adi-lila, 6.80-86)

That last statement means that those who do not want to acknowledge being a servant of the Supreme will act according to their own whims, which means by the dictates of their mind and senses. Unfortunately, such dictates always lead to what becomes sinful activities that pave the way to further rounds of birth and death in this material world, continuously chasing after the happiness they long for in order to feel fulfilled.

EXAMPLES FROM THE PASTIMES OF LORD CAITANYA

Even Lord Krishna cannot taste the intense sweetness within the love for Himself except in the mood of one of His devotees. Therefore, as was just mentioned, Krishna descends to experience the sweetness in that love by assuming the form of Sri Caitanya, who is the Lord’s avatara in the disguise of His own devotee. Sri Caitanya appeared 500 years ago in the town of Mayapur in West Bengal for two reasons: to taste the nectar that exists in a devotee’s love for Himself as Lord Krishna, and to start the sankirtana movement, which is the congregational chanting of the Lord’s holy names, which many people and spiritual groups continue to do. However, just as Lord Krishna descends into this world with His associates to perform His pastimes, Lord Caitanya, also known as Lord Gauranga for His golden complexion, also appeared in this world with many of His spiritual associates. Some of His associates included Sri Nityananda, who was an incarnation of Lord Balarama, Krishna’s brother. Then there was also Sri Advaita Acharya, who was an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, and Sri Gadadhara who was an incarnation of Srimati Radharani, along with many others, some of whom will be named in the following verses. [For more information about Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, click on the link to take you to the article about Him on my website.] In the following verses we will hear of the sentiment of servitude that existed within the consciousness of Sri Caitanya’s devotees, such as Sri Advaita and others.

“He [Sri Advaita Acharya] says, ‘Nityananda and I are servants of Lord Caitanya.’ Nowhere else is there such joy as that which is tasted in this emotion of servitude.

“The most beloved goddess of fortune [Lakshmi] resides on the chest of Sri Krishna, yet she too, earnestly praying, begs for the joy of service at His feet.

“All the associates of Lord Krishna, such as Brahma, Shiva, Narada, Suta and Sanatana Kumara, are very pleased in the sentiment of servitude.

“Sri Nityananda, the wandering mendicant, is the foremost of all the associates of Lord Caitanya. He became mad in the ecstasy of service to Lord Caitanya [who is the same as Lord Krishna].

“Srivasa, Haridasa, Ramadasa, Gadadhara, Murari, Mukunda, Candrashekhara and Vakreshvara are all glorious and are all learned scholars, but the sentiment of servitude to Lord Caitanya makes them mad in ecstasy.

“Thus they dance, sing and laugh like madmen, and they instruct everyone, ‘Just be loving servants of Lord Caitanya.’

“Sri Advaita Acharya thinks, ‘Lord Caitanya considers Me His spiritual master, yet I feel Myself to be only His servant.’

“Love for Krishna has this one unique effect: it imbues superiors, equals and inferiors with the spirit of service to Lord Krishna.” (Adi-lila 6.34-42) This means that all differences become nullified when we become absorbed in the spiritual ecstasy of loving service to the Lord. This also means that when we are engaged in our meditation, or our japa, or other devotional activities and are still not feeling the right connection with it and the higher energy that comes from the association of Lord Krishna, we have to adjust our attitude or mindset. To make the right connection, we have to be in the mood of servitude, which means that whatever actions I’m performing, I’m doing them to serve the higher cause, the higher purpose, for the pleasure of the Supreme Being. Then we can begin to feel we are connected in the right way, like a light bulb connected in the right way through the power lines to the power house, which provides the energy the light bulb needs to give its brilliance. When we are connected in the right way, through the attitude of servitude to the Supreme Soul, then the little jiva soul also becomes energized and enlightened and enlivened with the brilliance of spiritual knowledge and perception, and the bliss that naturally comes from the proper approach to the spiritual path.

“For evidence, please listen to the examples described in the revealed scriptures, which are corroborated by the realization of great souls.

“Although no one is a more respected elder for Krishna than Nanda Maharaja in Vraja, who in transcendental paternal love has no knowledge that his son is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, still ecstatic love makes him, what to speak of others, feel himself to be a servant of Lord Krishna.

“He too prays for attachment and devotion to the lotus feet of Lord Krishna, as the words from his own mouth give evidence.” (Adi-lila 6.43-46)

Even Sri Advaita loudly proclaims his servitude to Lord Caitanya, which gives Him the highest bliss,  “‘I am a servant of Lord Caitanya, a servant of Lord Caitanya. I am a servant of Lord Caitanya, and a servant of His servants.’ Saying this, Advaita Prabhu dances and loudly sings. Then at the next moment He quietly sits down.” (Adi-lila 6.86-87)

What this means is that Advaita Prabhu was not able to control his ecstasy. It made Him jump up in bliss, crying out His feelings, and then realizing that others were watching Him and not understanding His ecstasy, he suddenly sat down in a quiet mood.

“The source of the sentiment of servitude is indeed Lord Balarama. The plenary expansions who follow Him are all influenced by that ecstasy.

“Lord Sankarshana, who is one of His incarnations, always considers Himself a devotee.” (Adi-lila 6.88-89)

“Another of His [Lord Balarama’s] incarnations, Lakshmana, who is very beautiful and opulent, always serves Lord Rama [another expansion or avatar of Lord Krishna].

“The Vishnu who lies on the Causal Ocean is an incarnation of Lord Sankarshana, and, accordingly, the emotion of being a devotee is always present in His heart.

“Advaita Acarya is a separate expansion of Him. He always engages in devotional service with His thoughts, words and actions.

“By His words He declares, ‘I am a servant of Lord Caitanya.’ Thus with His mind He always thinks, ‘I am His devotee.’

“With His body He worshiped the Lord by offering Ganges water and tulasi leaves, and by preaching devotional service He delivered the entire universe.

“Sesa Sankarsana, who holds all the planets on His heads, expands Himself in different bodies to render service to Lord Krishna.

“These are all incarnations of Lord Krishna, yet we always find that they act as devotees.

“The scriptures call them incarnations as devotees [bhakta-avataras]. The position of being such an incarnation is above all others.” (Adi-lila 6.90-97) So in this way, all of the expansions and avataras of God also act as Lord Krishna’s devotees to taste the sweetness of that mentality of servitude, and to give the example of how all other living beings can also taste that natural spiritual ecstasy of love for God.

“Baladeva, Laksmana, Advaita Acharya, Lord Nityananda, Lord Sesa and Lord Sankarshana taste the nectarean mellows of the transcendental bliss of Lord Krishna by recognizing Themselves as being His devotees and servants. They are all mad with that happiness, and they know nothing else.

“What to speak of others, even Lord Krishna Himself becomes thirsty to taste His own sweetness.

“He tries to taste His own sweetness, but He cannot do so without accepting the emotions of a devotee.

“Therefore, Lord Krishna accepted the position of a devotee and descended in the form of Lord Caitanya, who is complete in every respect.

“He tastes His own sweetness through the various emotions of a devotee. I have formerly explained this conclusion.

“All the incarnations are entitled to the emotions of devotees. There is no higher bliss than this.” (Adi-lila 6.105-111)

Therefore, we can see that amongst all souls, amongst all great sages, demigods, and even forms of the Divine, the greatest happiness and bliss for which we are always hankering stems from the inner nature of the soul to be connected with the Supreme Soul, God, Lord Krishna, through the mentality of offering our loving devotional service to Him. Thus, by natural spiritual activities performed by the soul, we regain our real identity as a spiritual part and parcel of the Supreme Spirit, connected through an ever-increasing exchange of love, which is the highest and deepest form of connection between two beings. This indeed is the perfection of any path of self-realization. Furthermore, it is the epitome and the secret of bhakti-yoga, which provides the most constant or continuous form of meditation on the Divine, and the means for the strongest union between the soul and the Supreme, which thus leads to the complete absorption in the ecstasy in that devotional exchange between the Infinite and the infinitesimal. For it is by this devotional mood wherein the Infinite becomes attracted and even submissive to the infinitesimal jiva soul, which is the relationship that provides for the highest happiness and ecstasy for the individual soul. This, therefore, is the perfection of all spiritual pursuits, indeed, the perfection of all life, and the easiest way to enter back into the highest levels of the spiritual dimension.

You may also like to read the article “The Secret of Bhakti Yoga,” another article along the same line of thought on my website.

The Prison of Religion And the Freedom in Vedic Culture, By Stephen Knapp (Sri Nandanandana dasa)

        The reason why I call it “The Prison of Religion is that religion, when used improperly or without the real essence of spiritual truth, can also be a way of confining and restricting people of their understanding of the universe and themselves, and higher spirituality through the use of fear, guilt, violence, and the oppression of anything that shows a different view than what is being indoctrinated into society through a particular religion. It has been the most militant of religions that has suppressed the ancient avenues of reaching higher levels of understanding our multidimensional nature. Thus, by mere blind faith in whatever the church or priests are giving us, or allowing us to know, we are kept in a lower consciousness than what is really possible. In this way, higher realms of thought, wisdom, love, and knowledge are kept away from the masses. After all, knowledge is power, which means your ignorance is my strength. To keep power over others, the church and other religious institutions have systematically abolished a wide range of spiritual and esoteric knowledge that would, otherwise, give mankind the ultimate freedom. And because people who understand their true spiritual nature and the power that lies within them become impossible to manipulate, it is necessary to keep this knowledge hidden. So the idea would be to keep the truly spiritual knowledge concealed while creating and perpetuating a religion, or a standard of “science,” that keeps people bound by the above mentioned factors: fear, guilt, violence, and intimidation.

        To tread outside the accepted jurisdiction of knowledge or understanding, or outside the rules of the institution, will bring fear. Questioning the present system, or doubting its effectiveness, or desiring to know more about God or whatever else you would like to understand than what the church provides, will bring guilt, at least for those who consider themselves dedicated followers. In this way, some churches or religions have tried to make such ancient sciences as astrology, yoga, meditation, or the deepest understandings of the soul, and much more, to look evil or even absurd, and, thus, be dismissed, or preferably even outlawed. We need to understand and recognize this pattern, which is used in numerous places in the world.

        In this regard, reports have been given about how huge libraries and collections of ancient and esoteric books have been destroyed or were kept out of circulation from the public. This indicates the methodical removal of various levels of spiritual and metaphysical knowledge from society, while claiming that anything other than the established doctrine of the church is satanic, evil, and hell-bound. The Christian Inquisition, for example, was a wonderful method of producing this effect. Even today we can see how some people are so influenced by this tyrannical tendency that they still are afraid of looking at anything other than what the Church condones. However, most of these people are totally unaware of the “pagan” heritage found in Christianity or Judaism, which makes it very similar to pre-Christian ways, but with a different name. It is practically the same medicine yet in a different bottle. To remove this understanding from public knowledge, it became necessary that whenever Christianity or other militant religions conquered a country or culture, the first thing that was done was to capture or destroy all of the ancient sacred texts, or the ways of its worship, such as the temples and deities. However, any organization that destroys the ancient knowledge and historical records of a civilization is never going to present the true history of the world, or the spiritual wisdom of any previous culture. In this way, the view of history is controlled and the population is kept in ignorance and under subtle restraint. And the people who are allowed to understand any of the truth are those of the elite or who are already in power.

        By taking a look at the history of the conventional or western religions, for example, a person can see to what extent such an institution will go to maintain power and control, especially when it feels threatened by what it does not understand. Furthermore, the dark history of some of the religions, for example, represents the fanatically narrow-minded side of it that has continued to the present day in the form of fundamentalists thinking that if a religion or culture is not Christian, or is not Islam, then it must be of the devil or against God. Or at least its followers will not go to heaven. Such fundamentalistic people are often ready to dismiss or criticize other spiritual paths and cultures without understanding them. They may see a ceremony or ritual of another religion and immediately say it is heathen or devil worship or Satanic, without realizing that it is the worship of the same Supreme Being that they worship.

        The point is that all people have to have the freedom to find themselves to the fullest extent on whatever path it takes, providing it is a bona fide or genuine path. So how do we make sure we can continue to have this freedom? By understanding each other and the different cultures of the world and the various paths of self-discovery. And by recognizing the value that they have to offer, as we find in the Eastern traditions, such as Sanatana-dharma. We must also bury our preconceived prejudices that are based on our immature feelings of superiority because, spiritually speaking, we are all the same. We just have to attain that spiritual vision to see the reality of it. And the path we take to do that is the only difference among us.

        One problem with the religions that primarily are based on belief and faith is that they can become an effective means of manipulating the masses who follow it. If you can convince people to believe that by doing something they can go to heaven, then you can get them to do almost anything. For example, Pope Urban II implied to the soldiers who were going out on the first crusade that if they died in the name of Christ, they would ascend to heaven and live in the association of God. Thus, they rode out to fearlessly and mercilessly conquer the “heathens” or non-believers, and were willing to die to reach heaven.

        This is the same effect we see with the Palestinian youth, that if they die in the name of Islam they will immediately go to the seventh level of heaven and take pleasure in wondrous gardens in the company of beautiful virgins. The more fantastic the heaven, the more hope and conviction will be seen in the followers. It is a pattern that anyone can begin to recognize once you are aware of it.

        Another problem with this is that the beliefs that are given to you to accept often change with time, or according to the needs of the church or mosque to keep a congregation. As explained in an issue of Newsweek magazine (August 12, 2002), the concept of heaven has changed with the ages. “Dante saw heaven as the universe, and Thomas Aquinas thought of it as a brilliant place, full of light and knowledge. In the 18th century, Emanuel Swedenborg imagined heaven as a tangible world, with public gardens and parks.” Nowadays you can imagine heaven to be whatever you need it to be. This gives impetus for you to do whatever you feel you should do for your beliefs, and have it justified by your religion. However, in actuality, in the Bible, the Koran, or Torah, there is little in the way of specific information of where or what is heaven. And this leaves much for the imagination, and allows the priest or Imam to say almost anything about it, which is then gobbled up by the gullible followers.

        Another problem with religious processes that rely mostly on faith and belief is that peer pressure and the need for conformity and acceptance or approval stifles and restricts one’s ability to develop or inquire to one’s fullest. We often see children tolerated for their deep and thoughtful questions on spiritual themes, while the adults fear to reveal their ignorance of the topics, or will even stifle a child’s inquisitiveness, or anybody else’s if they seem to ask too many questions. So such religions act like self-policing institutions wherein individuals are not encouraged to develop their own spiritual realizations or ask too many questions, or show any doubts or uncertainties regarding the teachings. They are encouraged to leave it up to faith and the dictates of the institution. They are told that we are not meant to know certain things, and that faith alone in a particular savior or the power of the church is enough to take you to heaven. But if you lack faith or question it, or do not follow the dictates of the church or scripture, you will not go to heaven. You will not receive God’s grace. Thus, you must look good in the eyes of the church authorities and your fellow members or there will be no room for you, and, thus, you will be sent to hell.

        The second kind of fear is the fear that you may be wrong, or the church and its doctrines may be wrong, or there may be weaknesses in its philosophy. So people become defensive of their beliefs, defending it like life itself. Thus, they condemn and criticize those who are of other religions without trying to understand them. Sometimes you can observe this amongst the sects in the same religion. We already see so many divisions within Christianity, as well as Islam and Judaism. And each one often feels they are the only ones that are true followers of Jesus or Mohammed, and all others are going to hell. So it can become extremely divisive even within the same faith, which then leads not only to quarrels but also to war, terrorism, and so many needless killings.

        In fact, some people of particular religions may feel it is their God-given mandate that when someone is a so-called non-believer, he should be converted and “saved” at whatever cost, and then deprived of any freedom to follow an alternative view. A person in another religion may brand “nonbelievers” as infidels, and thus feel it is his duty to convert, destroy, or even kill such a person. In either case, they may use coercion, manipulation, or simply take advantage of poor and vulnerable people to bring them over to their faith. And in both cases, the people of these religions feel they are doing God’s work, and that they are justified in what they do.

        The premise that all spiritual knowledge must be connected with one distinct or localized savior is itself a stifling factor in allowing individuals to progress in spiritual understanding. There is so much more that could be learned if they did not feel that if something is not connected with their particular savior or scripture, then it must be evil, Satanic or wrong. In this way, if it is not in the Bible or Koran, for example, they refuse to acknowledge the value of any additional spiritual knowledge if it comes from a different culture or source. Thus, they act with fear or contempt toward anything outside their own sphere of familiarity or acceptability, or like people who are proud of their own ignorance and narrow-mindedness.

        The straightjacket of Western theological dogma keeps a person from looking at additional resources that could supply answers for questions not considered in western thought, or at possibilities that are elementary in Eastern traditions. What is wrong with learning newer ways of connecting with our higher selves, and with each other and with God? What is wrong with allowing our hearts and minds to expand with new vibrancy, new insights and confidence? Why not allow ourselves new hope and understanding in regard to the purpose of the universe and the nature of God, even if we look to different sources of knowledge? Why not allow ourselves to take up the path that provides the means for direct perception of spiritual reality? Who knows what additional information we can add to what we already know, or newer ways to incorporate and develop ourselves into people who are better and more aware and spiritually developed. This is natural for those who participate in the Vedic system.

        In light of this it is interesting to point out that in 1991 a letter was released from the Vatican to the Bishops which criticized zen and such spiritual practices as yoga and meditation. The letter was written by Cardinal Ratzinger, who is now the Pope at the time of this writing, but the document was also approved by Pope John Paul II. The letter warned against the sensations of spiritual well-being that one gets from practicing yoga or meditation, and said that this could lead to schizophrenia, moral deviations, or even psychic disorders, and degenerate to a cult of the body. Now on what basis do they make these claims? Are they simply using fear tactics to dissuade people from investigating such paths? Of course, if one improperly practices a complicated form of yoga, such as kundalini-yoga, there may be some adverse affects. But for the most part, yoga and real transcendental meditation means to fix the mind and become absorbed, at least for certain lengths of time, on that which is transcendent, which is God. This is real spirituality. So what is wrong with this when this is the goal of any spiritual path? Why would they issue such a letter, unless they are once again simply trying to condemn every other form of religion? If this is the case, this signifies that they are not really interested in true spirituality or in helping people with spiritual advancement. They are more interested in control over their flock. Yoga and meditation have existed for thousands of years before Christianity ever came along. Why should people not look at other cultures to get answers and experiences that are not found in conventional Western religions? The reluctance to do so is merely a reflection of the fear and misunderstanding that people have. Nonetheless, many Christians have risen to new levels of understanding biblical teachings by studying and practicing various aspects of the Vedic path.

        We have to remember that a true religion paves the way for everyone to become spiritually aware, and to establish his or her own relationship with the Supreme. And the Vedic system is an ideal means for supplying that. If a religion is not based on the higher principles of self-realization, but is merely based on dogmatic rules and regulations that it forces on others, then it becomes a trap based on fear, guilt, oppression, and intimidation. One must not be afraid to break free from such a trap. It is greater to see God’s love manifested in many sages belonging to different traditions at different times and places, among different people. Thus, the Vedic spiritual knowledge is for everyone and can assist anyone in their spiritual development. After all, if I, a Westerner can do it, then anyone can do it.

THE FREEDOM IN VEDIC CULTURE

        It is refreshing to see that you usually do not have the kind of divisiveness or criticism that is described above in the Vedic system. It is much more open and provides the individual the freedom to pursue the level of experience that he or she needs for his or her own development and still be a part of the Vedic process. You can especially see this at such huge gatherings as the Kumbha Mela festival where millions of people come together from all aspects and schools of thought within the Vedic fold. It shows that anyone can pursue their own level of spiritual development and inquiry without being restricted from within an institution or church. One can become a part of whatever line of spiritual thought or practice one needs to be in and still be considered on the Vedic path, though there are various systems that bring a person to different levels of development, consciousness, and higher perception.

        For these reasons, India must remain the homeland of a living and dynamic Vedic culture. This will allow the world to retain some of the deepest knowledge and methods of attaining the most profound spiritual insights that have been known to mankind. Thus, India should defend itself from the risk of further partition or divisions of its land. If India is divided up any more, and portions of the country are taken by others, Vedic culture could dwindle or even be lost over the long-term, except for small colonies of Vedic practitioners here and there. This may indeed be what many people would like to see. Yet, if Vedic culture is lost, the world will not even realize the treasure of human development that will disappear. Then such deep spiritual knowledge and insights will begin to permanently fade away from society.

        Once India and Vedic culture is diluted or stamped out, along with other decreasing numbers of indigenous traditions within it, then in time the whole world will be fitted with the straightjacket of Western thought and strict monotheistic religion. Thus, it will be more easily controlled by the establishment, whether that be government or religious, etc. Then individual freedom for the pursuit of higher understanding and spiritual happiness will be limited to the constraints as dictated by whatever regional monotheistic views reign in that area.

        The Vedic culture and philosophy offers deep insights into spiritual knowledge that can be found no where else. It provides for levels of thought and knowledge of the soul and the Supreme and the spiritual reality that are hardly matched elsewhere. I can safely say this because I, having been raised a practicing Christian, also seriously studied in depth all the major religions, and continue to do so, before having studied and then taking up the Vedic path. The Vedic philosophy clearly outlines the processes by which a person can uplift or purify one’s own consciousness to perceive for themselves the spiritual strata and recognize one’s true spiritual identity, which is the essence of all spiritual progress, and from which all further development grows. Many are those noteworthy sages and saints of the past who have followed this path successfully, and left profound teachings for the rest of us. For this reason, Vedic culture is the last bastion of deep and genuine spiritual truth and freedom. It is a culture that allows full liberty of investigation for the individual to practice and reach the highest levels of spiritual perception known to humanity. This is also why it should be clearly understood and preserved for the benefit of all.

Becoming a Dharmic Leader, by Stephen Knapp

            Becoming a Dharmic leader, or one who truly represents the Vedic path of Sanatana-dharma, is similar to becoming the ultimate revolutionary, but a spiritual revolutionary. It is being an agent of reality in a world that still lacks reality, meaning the genuine basis of what is our true spiritual identity. This is beyond politics or a violent revolution against the typical establishment construct, or anything like that. But it is working to bring in a new dimension, a higher consciousness, and a loftier awareness of who and what we are. It is like the saying by George Orwell: In a time of deceit, telling the truth itself becomes a revolutionary act. In this way, in this age of Kali-yuga, a time when the basis of most business transactions, politics, or relations in general is deceit and dishonesty, becoming truthful enough to speak the deeper truth of spiritual reality and following Vedic Dharma itself becomes revolutionary.

            Of course, “revolution” is a word which invokes many images or ideas. But in the sense in which we are speaking, it has nothing to do with promoting some kind of uprising against the present establishment, government, dictators, or the like. It is much more refined. It is an internal quest of an individual to reach one’s real identity as a spiritual being and then assist others in doing the same. It is a matter of reaching the ultimate freedom a person can attain. Only after becoming truly free can a person help others also become free. You cannot free others if you are tied up or confined in the same trap of ego and ego-based conceptions that are promoted and perpetuated in much of  society. In the end truth prevails, thus the main endeavor of a Dharmic leader is to never stop finding the ways to present the real truth and meaning of the deepest spiritual knowledge, which is the Vedic philosophy, for this is what can overcome all obstacles in time. Therefore, Dharmic leaders must operate on many different levels and help others in many different ways.

            Therefore, Dharmic leaders and Agents of Reality are:

1. Always working to be in touch with their higher spiritual realizations and perceptions. A Dharmic leader, teacher or guide always makes sure that he works on his own spiritual development in order to stay in touch with the spiritual dimension. That is his foundation, his inspiration, and the basis for his insights and his motivation in helping all others. Without that he knows that he cannot be free enough to lead others to the same freedom.

2. A Dharmic leader must know how to free others from being a prisoner of the false aims and perspectives that are commonplace in materialistic life. Because a true Dharmic leader has a connection with the spiritual realm through his own spiritual development, he naturally wants to give the same to others, and works for that purpose. This kind of freedom cannot be fully appreciated until it is experienced. And that is the object of everything that a Dharmic leader does. Through this process, a Dharmic leader works to help free others from the illusions, the bodily concept of life, and find the ways to deliver the higher perception of the purpose of life in a way that others can understand. This must include everyone so that no one is left behind. Thus, he lives for the benefit of others. 

As Dharmic leaders, we are trying to free others from this limited dimension of existence and bring them to a higher level of spiritual reality, at least for those who are acceptable to it. Here the material existence is like a temporary dream from which we need to awaken and of which to be free, and we must know how to maneuver our way through it.

3. A leader also has to fully understand the importance of the Vedic spiritual knowledge and its culture, follow it appropriately, and show by example how others can also benefit from it.

4. A Dharmic leader must also be properly educated in the Vedic spiritual knowledge and to work to spread that genuine spiritual information and culture for everyone’s well-being. When questioned about Vedic philosophy and culture, he must know how to answer with an equipoised mind and with proper responses. He must know how to deal with practical issues, both in the temples and how they operate and are managed, and also in regard to social issues, like casteism, caring for the poor, dealing with discrimination, and other matters that are often found in India.

He must know how to educate others so that they also understand, in whatever way is best for them, the importance of this information and how to apply it to their lives. It cannot be given in a way that appears overly lofty, impractical or too unapproachable by the average person. The point is that if a person does not understand this knowledge, they will never be able to remember it, and if they cannot remember it, they will never be able to apply it to their lives. Thus, the importance of receiving this spiritual knowledge from a Dharmic leader who has the cultivated knowledge from proper references and is also experienced or realized and knows how to explain it in practical terms is most important.

            Furthermore, Dharmic leaders must know how to explain the customs and their purpose to others, not merely go through the rituals without describing the reasons for them or what is going on. He must be able to explain the objective of the rituals and the benefits of performing them so that people comprehend their purpose. Otherwise, if such rituals do not make sense, or if people do not appreciate their purpose, soon they will be given up and forgotten.   

5. A Dharmic leader must not afraid to be inventive and look at and try to use new ways to infuse the message of Vedic Dharma that can be fun, enjoying and entertaining for both the young and old in order to invoke their desire to learn more. There are so many ways to do this. Otherwise, the message can seem to get old and boring, and then people lose interest. Another problem with many Hindus is that they think they already know all they need to know, and there is no longer any reason to learn, study, or take guidance. But when it comes time for them to explain the Vedic culture to someone else, they are at a loss for what to do. This means that, if they cannot even remember enough to repeat or present to others, then actually they have a long way to go, but may refuse to admit it. A Dharmic leader, however, can even invent new ways of teaching the message, while maintaining the proper and traditional standards. The fact is that there will need to be new variations in the approach of teaching it for each succeeding generation to make it interesting.

            6. A true Dharmic leader knows that all religions are not the same. Dharmic leaders must understand the profound and deep nature of the Vedic philosophy and not resort to some wimpy idea that all religions are the same. They are not, and you will know that if you seriously study each one. They all take you to different levels of consciousness and understanding of who you are, the purpose of life and the universe, what is God, what is the soul, and so on. Some consist mostly of moralistic principles and rules for living, and hardly touch the higher principles of deep spiritual realization. Others are more like forced dogmas which must not be questioned too much, whereas the Vedic system is to guide a person to their own ability to perceive their spiritual identity and the higher dimension, not to merely depend on blind faith. Thus, all religions are not the same, and a Dharmic leader must know how to distinguish the differences between them.

            7. Dharmic leaders understand the need to bring in the spiritual energy and infinite love that is so essential for us to become complete while living in a world that is increasingly ruled and controlled by the darkness of materialism and all the negative qualities that come with it, such as anger, jealousy, envy, prejudice, competition, hatred, etc. Infinite love is the love coming from the Supreme Being. We must be clear mediums through which that love may come so that it can be received and experienced by others.

8. A Dharmic leader will also help free others from false or misleading political views and its corruption, and from sham economic strategies and promises that are often promoted by the agents of this ignorance that misleads the general masses in a way that benefits the few for profit and power at the expense of the many. This is part of the false aims of life that distract one from the spiritual goals that are the real purpose of human existence.

            We need to work to set up a life of simplicity as an alternative to the oncoming crisis of peak oil, water shortages, environmental collapse, or other economic or political disasters, the likes of which few are working to prevent. However, if a Dharmic leader becomes successful at receiving large donations of money or land, he shows the proper example by using it for the highest good to help others both spiritually and materially, while he lives a simple life. This leads to the next point:

9. Any Dharmic leader must be beyond suspicion of inappropriate activities or association. They must act in such a way to be free from any rumors or the appearance of any improprieties.

            Especially if one is wearing saffron, which is the color of renunciation, he must be free from the association of women. (If such a leader is a woman, then she must be free from unnecessary association with men.) A person wearing saffron should never be alone with a woman. That is the proper etiquette, but also because there may be those who are simply looking for a reason to spread accusations, or who try to bring an important person in the Vedic community down and ruin his or her reputation, influence, position, or life, which thus reflects back on the culture or tradition he represents in negative ways. Therefore, Dharmic leaders must be pure in all of their actions so that they do not become vulnerable to false appearances and so that they may lead by example.

            Nonetheless, a Dharmic leader knows the spiritual equality between the sexes, that both men and women are spiritual beings inside different material bodies that are like various costumes or appearances. He realizes and knows the different roles that they can play in family life, temple management, and the importance of women role models in the community and in temples. But he also knows he must never exploit others or use his position to his advantage, and, thus, is never seen in situations that can be controversial, or become food for rumors. He must be beyond suspicion of any kind.

10. Dharmic leaders must know how to collaborate with those who are from various Vedic affiliations so they can all work together to achieve the protection and preservation and practice of the Dharma. Then we can join together as one unit by using each other’s various experiences and talents for reaching something extraordinary.

In this way, unity amongst other Dharmists is also extremely important because there is strength in numbers. And the more who work together, the more force there is for the preservation and proper promotion or defense of the Vedic culture from those who try to unnecessarily criticize it or even try to bring about its extinction. The more we work together, the easier everything becomes.

Therefore, collaborating with the larger community, and with other Vedic organizations, temples, etc., and working with the power of the collective as opposed to small groups, much more can be accomplished. Dharmists in general must let go of their ego and show how to work together. The entire Vedic community, when working in a united way, can more effectively help pass laws, institute changes to suite their needs, get the attention of politicians, and show that their vote can and will make a difference. That will provide much more influence when dealing with local government agencies. This can also help provide assistance for the whole community in times of need. Working with the collective with proper leadership will always show much more efficiency, power, and speed at getting things done than merely working alone or as only one temple or one small group.

            11. A Dharmic leader must be able to delegate duties and activities to others who are also enthused to participate in working for Sanatana-dharma. Such people can then become enlivened to continue in their work and endeavors with confidence.

            In this regard, a Dharmic leader must also know how to enhance the Hindu/Vedic Community through the temples. This means to understand the importance of uniting the community with festivals, holidays, customs, and through the performance of seva. This seva or service that can be performed by other Dharmists in the community can include helping manage the temple, serving the deities in the temples, providing the means for making the temples more effective and useful to the community, and so on. Community services, such as health fairs, or prasada and food distribution, distribution of clothes to the needy, or so many other programs, can be parts of that seva in the mood of service.

Dharmic leaders must know how to coordinate activities for the protection and promotion of the Dharma, whether it is writing letters, establishing promotional campaigns, doing radio shows, television programs, or producing videos, newsletters, websites, and so on. Each leader may not know all of the ways or details to do each endeavor, but he should know how to coordinate and inspire those who do to work in unity for the ultimate goal.

            In this way, a Dharmic leader should recognize and unite people around a common set of Vedic values, concepts and traditions that can be the universal uniting factors between all Hindus or Dharmists.

            12. A Dharmic leader must also know that many people everywhere are looking for a higher level of spiritual perception and experience, but they simply do not always know where to look. This may include Indians and westerners alike. Many are those who are looking for deeper spiritual knowledge to which they can feel a stronger connection, and many are those who become attracted to the Vedic spiritual path once they know what it is and learn more about it. It is not proper for Hindus to feel that they are some exclusive group that few others can join. Such an attitude is but a prescription for a slow extinction of Vedic culture, at least in this world. Sanatana-dharma includes everyone as spiritual beings. So a Dharmic leader provides the means and openness so others, meaning non-Dharmists, can learn about the Vedic tradition, its spiritual knowledge, temple rituals and customs, or even attend yoga classes, instruction on meditation, temple festivals, and so on, to see what it has to offer, and how it may assist them in their own spiritual progress, or even bring them a deeper level of joy and happiness. There have been many instances when such people have taken a strong attraction to the Vedic culture to lend much support to other Dharmists and the tradition itself, or who have fully taken it up in their lives and now recognize themselves as Hindus, Dharmists. Such access has often lead to greater degrees of harmony and understanding with the local community.

            From this mid-set, from this perception, and from the infinite love that manifests in a true Dharmic leader’s heart, comes the attitude as summarized by the phrase “No Hindu left behind.” No Dharmist or devotee should be left behind. A true Dharmic leader will feel this in the core of his heart. He knows that he is merely mirroring the love of God to all others in the life he leads and in the actions he performs, and in the love and patience he shows to everyone. But it is also in his heart where he feels that no Hindu can be left behind. There is space for everyone, just as there is space for everyone in the spiritual world. No one can be left behind. Everyone is a part of the whole, the Complete. We merely have to awaken that completeness within ourselves. When everyone shares this vision, when it is shared amongst the whole community, that community becomes extremely powerful. When everyone is imbibed with such spiritual unity, concerned for the welfare of all, then the spiritual vibration is no longer something to acquire but it is something to witness, to experience, and to bring together through all like-minded people who work in that unity to expand that spiritual vibration, that higher energy that exists within us all. 

            The key to this love is in everyone, but a Dharmic leader knows how to draw it out and provide the means for everyone to focus on it and perceive it as their own ultimate value, self-worth, and their own offering to God and the community. Everyone in the Vedic community must see all others as Dharmic brothers and sisters who are eligible to make the same spiritual progress as anyone else. No Hindu left behind. That means everyone is eligible to enter the temple, everyone is eligible to participate in the rituals, the sadhana or spiritual practice, and the core identity of being a Hindu, Dharmist and devotee. No Hindu left behind. Everyone should feel they have a place and are valued and have something to contribute. This is the basis of enthusiasm, which everyone should feel. This is the power a united Dharmic community. No Hindu is left behind. When this is established, it creates a most positive atmosphere in all who participate, it creates a very positive future, and it creates a winning team in which many others will want to join. Who would not be attracted? Everyone wants to be in a warm and loving environment, and there is no reason why Hindus cannot create that for the whole community. And if someone cannot accept this, if someone cannot see the unity that we all share spiritually on the Vedic path, then they have not yet understood the basic Vedic principles of Sanatana-dharma. It means that they are still in the illusion, they are in the depths of maya. Yet, no one should be left in such a condition. Everyone should be taught and shown how to raise their own vision, consciousness and spiritual perception of who they are and the spiritual unity they share with everyone else. After all, no Hindu, Dharmists or devotee left behind. We must raise everyone up to higher and higher levels of consciousness, higher and higher levels of perception. Then we all become very powerful in our ability to change this world, and bring in the spiritual vibration for one and all. That is the purpose of the Vedic philosophy and its peaceful and joyful traditions.

            With that ideal of no Hindu left behind, the Dharmic leader knows how to instill the unity for everyone to take a stand, to defend and preserve the Vedic culture and all who participate in it. The usual apathy amongst Hindus is what must be given up and cast aside as we all gather momentum to make sure we all have our freedom to follow the principles, the customs, and the traditions of the Vedic path well into the future. 

            Isn’t this worth working for? Isn’t this worth dying for? What else is the purpose of life other than to benefit the spiritual well-being of others?

13. Finally, a Dharmic leader must create the means so that others can become future Dharmic leaders. It is not enough to be a leader, but such a person must also encourage and provide the means, the example and inspiration for others to become Dharmic leaders. We all grow old and eventually leave this world. So there must be those who are younger, who are trained, educated, experienced, and inspired to take up the cause and the position as a new Dharmic leader who can also work to preserve, protect and promote the Vedic tradition well into the future.

Naturally, not everyone may have the qualities, characteristics, or even inclination to be a Dharmic leader, but everyone can instead be a “Vedic Ambassador,” for which there is also a huge need. Everyone can join forces in the ranks of being a Vedic Ambassador, and all work together to show the benefits and advantages we all had the fortune to acquire through the practice and development of the Vedic tradition in our lives. How to do this is easy, and has been described in my article, “A Call to be Vedic Ambassadors,” which can be found on my website at www.stephen-knapp.com.

Dharma Rakshati Rakshitah, and Jai Sri Krishna.         

Other articles on Stephen’s website, or here on this blog, that may also be of interest connected with this article include:

American Hindus: How to Cultivate Your Culture in America

Creating a Spiritual Revolution in India For Protecting India’s Vedic Heritage

Why All Religions Are Not the Same

Hindus Must Stand Strong for Dharma

Time to Plan the Survival of Vedic Culture

Vedic Temples: Making Them More Effective

An Action Plan for the Survival of Vedic Culture

Opening Vedic Temples to Everyone

[This article is available at http://www.stephen-knapp.com]

Vedic Literature Says Caste by Birth is Unjust, By Stephen Knapp

 

            When it comes to the sensitive topic of Varnashrama, or what many people call the caste system of India, we have seen so many talks over this issue, both pro and con, back and forth, this way and that. We all know that the Vedic system of Varnashrama has been mentioned in the Vedic literature in many places, such as in the Purusha Sukta verses of the Rig-veda (Book Ten, Hymn 90). But there is no indication in these verses that say that birth is the essential quality for one’s varna. Yet, it seems that many people still don’t understand how the varna system was meant to be implemented, as can be seen in the modern form of the caste system of today. The problem is not because of Varnashrama, but because of this misunderstanding of what it really is that has caused so many of India’s social problems. This article contains many quotes from Vedic shastra to clarify what the Varnashrama or caste system is actually supposed to be.

            This article is for those more familiar with the topic, but for those who are not we can explain briefly that there are four basic social divisions, namely the Brahmanas (those who are priests, or interested in the study, teaching and practice of spiritual knowledge and intellectual pursuits), Kshatriyas (those who are soldiers, in the military, or police, politicians, managers, etc.), Vaishyas (merchants, businessmen, bankers, farmers, tradesmen, etc.), and Shudras (those who have little interest in the study of the Vedic literature or spiritual pursuits, and would rather engage in simple labor or employment, or technicians and other craftsmen in the service of others, etc.). Outcastes are those who are outside these four. There are also the four ashramas of life, which include Brahmacharis (student life, generally celibates), Grihastas (householders), Vanaprasthas (those who are retired from family life), and Sannyasa (the renounced monks, some of whom travel the world to teach). This is the Vedic system of Varnashrama.

            The modern caste system is seen to usually dictate one’s varna or caste merely by one’s birth family, as if one automatically inherits the caste of one’s father, which is why there is a growing dislike for it. This is not the traditional Vedic system of Varnashrama. This is the difference and the problem. The traditional Vedic system calculated one’s occupational class by recognizing one’s natural talents, interests, tendencies, and abilities. It was similar to the modern system of having high school counselors adjust a student’s academic courses by discussing with the students their interests in conjunction with the results of their IQ tests. Thus, such counselors see what occupational direction is best suited for the students so they can achieve a fitting career that is of interest to them and helps them be a contributor to society at the same time. And the four basic divisions of society, as outlined in the Vedic system, are natural classifications and found everywhere, in every society, call it what you want. Plus, the traditional Vedic Varnashrama system was never so inflexible that one could not change from one occupation or class to another. The rigidity of the present-day caste system, based on jati or one’s birth family, is actually leading us away from the flexibility, and the common sense, of the Vedic varna system. 

            For this reason, you could say that the modern caste system that we find today is opposed to the Vedic system of varna. The Vedic process was a matter of bringing experience and wisdom of the ages to assist and direct a person’s life in what would be the most productive and satisfying occupation that would fit the mentality, interests, talents, and level of consciousness of an individual. It was never meant to dominate, stifle, hold down, or demean anyone. Therefore, the modern caste system as we find it today should be thrown out, and the natural system of the Vedic Varnashrama should be properly understood as it was meant to be.

            So, to show what I’m talking about, here in the shastric quotes that follow I try to provide a clear description of how the varna system was never meant to be based merely on one’s family birth, but by one’s talents, natural interests, proclivities, expertise, and activities. These quotes are from the Bhrama Parva section of the Bhavishya Purana (abbreviated as BP), and no matter how much or how little credit you give to this Purana, you still cannot deny the logic with which this information is presented. The verses cited herein from the Bhrama Parva section of the Bhavishya Purana is known to be relatively free of corruptions and its antiquity is vouchsafed as well. The same verses are also repeated verbatim in the Skanda Purana (north Indian versions) and a few verses of similar purport are also found in the beginning of the Shukranatisara. Some scholars say that the last is a 19th century forgery, but no less than Swami Dayanand Sarasvati acknowledged it as an ancient text, and most scholars date it between 300-1200 AD. So at a minimum, these verses do represent an alternative opinion and an elaboration on the Vedic varna-jaati system.
            There are many other points about the caste system that could be discussed, such as untouchability, etc., but please note, this article is not taking those up, but merely following the outline as brought up in the following shastric quotes focusing on the Bhavishya Purana. In this portion of the Bhavishya Purana that follows, the answers to the questions are spoken by Sumantu, the disciple of Srila Vyasadeva, to King Shatanika. This was at the suggestion of Srila Vyasadeva [VedaVyasa] who was sitting nearby in the assembly of sages, all of whom were listening to the discussion. (Bhavishya Purana, Bhrama Parva, Chapter 1.28-35)

HOW DO WE RECOGNIZE ONE’S VARNA?

              First of all, how do we recognize one’s varna is an ancient question, even asked by the sages of the distant past to Lord Brahma. What is it that really makes the difference between one person and the next? “The sages asked: O Lord Brahma, in the beginning of creation, how was one recognized as a Brahmana? Was it because of his birth in a particular family, his knowledge of the Vedas, the characteristics of his body, his accomplishment of self-realization, his quality of behavior, or the prescribed duties he carried out? Is it the mind, speech, activities, body, or the qualities that determine one’s social status? Surely one’s birth in a certain caste [or family] is not sufficient for one to be recognized as a Brahmana. One’s qualities and work must also play an important part in determining a person’s position in society. The Vedic literature supports this view.” (BP, 38.8-11)

            “Different social orders, such as the Brahmanas and Kshatriyas (and others) are directly seen, but simply being born in a particular family does not automatically grant one his social status. An intelligent person can easily recognize a horse in the midst of many cows. Similarly, among many who are born in a particular social status, those who are actually qualified in terms of character and activities can be easily recognized. (BP, 38.19-20)

            “Some people say that all of humanity is the topmost caste, and there is nothing more to be said than this. They fail to understand that the various purificatory processes, such as the sacred thread ceremony [initiation into the twice-born status], make a person distinct from those who do not undergo such rituals.” (BP, 38.21)

            Such customs certainly help one progress and is recommended, but the fact remains that in spite of such purificatory rites, we are all still very much the same, as described next.

WE ARE ALL QUITE ALIKE

             “How can all the living entities who take birth, grow old, become diseased, and then die, who suffer the threefold miseries of material existence, who take birth in innumerable species, such as human beings, birds, dogs, pigs, dog-eaters, insects, and tortoises, who are all placed into very awkward conditions of life, fraught with danger, illness, lamentation, and distress, and who are constantly being drowned by the burden of their grave sinful reactions, be accepted as qualified Brahmanas?” (BP, 38.23-25)

            Therefore, there must be some additional means that can help identify one’s mental makeup and high or low level of intellect and consciousness.

IT IS ONLY OUR ACTIONS AND QUALIFICATIONS

THAT DIFFERENTIATE US

             “Just as one can differentiate between a soldier, an elephant, a horse, a cow, a goat, a camel, and an ass by seeing their colors and forms [as distinguished because of their birth], all living entities have different characteristics and duties that distinguish them from one another.” (BP, 38.30)

            “[However] the question, ‘Who is a Brahmana?’ cannot be answered so easily. Actually, there is no question of a person being qualified as a Brahmana simply because he was born in a family of Brahmanas. When a person is designated as belonging to one of the four divisions of the social order [whether it be Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Shudras or Brahmanas]—that [designation] is not eternal. There is no physical characteristic that enables one to determine who is a Brahmana. A fair or dark complexion, which, after all, is temporary, is no real indication of a person’s varna.” (BP, 38.31)

            In Goswami Tulsidas’s Shri Ramcharitmanas there are many instances when this issue is also addressed. In the ‘Sabri episode’, Lord Rama speaks to Sabri about the importance of action (Chapter III, Aranya Kand, Verse 34, Line 4,5,6). It is clearly stated that “Bhakti (devotion and unification with the supreme), does not consider caste, religion, etc., rather it is determined by the character and qualities of an individual.”
 

 A CASTE SYSTEM BASED ON BIRTH IS UNJUST

             “Therefore, the conception of a caste system based solely on birth is artificial and temporary. It may seem to be reality, but that is only due to the influence of the practice of a particular period. A businessman and doctor are both human beings, but their profession is different. Their work is according to their nature and qualities, and not because of the family they were born into.” (BP, 38.32)

            “Can a person, thus, claim to be a Brahmana if he does not act according to the codes of good conduct? Can a man claim to be a Kshatriya if he does not protect the citizens? Can a person claim to be a Vaishya if he gives up performing his prescribed duties [in business, trade or farming]? Can a person claim to be a Shudra if he abandons service to the higher three classes?

            “There is no physical difference between human beings as there is between cows and horses. Actually, all living beings should be treated with respect, knowing that they are one in quality as spirit souls, although they may temporarily have different varieties of forms and activities.” (BP, 38.33-34)

            “Therefore, the caste system in human society that is based solely upon birth should be understood as superficial, because it is not prescribed in the scriptures. Unfortunately, those in ignorance cannot understand that it is a man-made concoction that can be easily refuted by a person in knowledge.” (BP, 38.35)

            “If a person considers himself to be a Brahmana by birth but engages in [such things as] taking care of cows, buffalos, goats, horses, camels, or sheep, or acts as a messenger, tax collector, businessman, painter [artist], or dancer, he should be considered as not a real Brahmana, even though he may be very expert or powerful.” (BP, 38.36-37)

            “Brahmanas who have deviated from the path of righteousness as propagated by the scriptures are to be considered fallen [from their social status], even though they may belong to a very aristocratic family, and have performed all the required purificatory rituals, and carefully studied the Vedas. No amount of accomplishments gives one the right to justify sinful behavior.” (BP, 38.42-43)

            “Thus, it can be understood how a Brahmana can become a Shudra, a Shudra can become a Brahmana, a Kshatriya can become a Brahmana or a Vaishya, and so on.” (BP, 38.47)

Herein we can understand that a Brahmana is no Brahmana if he is not endowed with purity and good character, or if he leads a life of frivolity and immorality. However, a Shudra is a Brahmana if he leads a virtuous and pious life. Varna or caste is a question of character. Varna is not the color of the skin, but the color of one’s character and quality. Conduct and character is what matters and not lineage alone. If one is Brahmana by birth and, at the same time, if he possesses the virtues of a Brahmana, that it is extremely good, because it is only certain virtuous qualifications that determine if one is a Brahmana, just as certain qualities distinguish one as a Kshatriya, Vaishya or Shudra. But if a Brahmana does not have the necessary traits, then he cannot call himself a Brahmana.

            “Brahma said: If study of the Vedas is an important criteria for being recognized as a Brahmana, then many Kshatriyas and Vaisyas also deserve to be called Brahmanas, just as Ravana became known as a demon [by qualities and actions]. Similarly, there are many dog-eaters, laborers, hunters, fishermen, sailors, and other people [outside the higher classes] who study the Vedas… Therefore, mere study of the Vedas cannot be the criteria for determining a person’s social position.” (BP, 39.1-2, 6)

            The point is that “One who is twice-born and has thoroughly studied the Vedas, along with its six branches, cannot claim to be a purified soul if he does not observe the codes of good conduct. It is the occupational duty of one who is twice-born to study the Vedas, and this is one of the symptoms of a genuine Brahmana. If a person does not perform his prescribed duties after studying the four Vedas, he is like a eunuch who cannot take advantage of having a wife.” (BP, 39.8-9)

            Here again we see that the proper classification of an individual is not the status of one’s birth family, but the qualities that he shows in life. Otherwise, even someone who considers himself to be a sophisticated Brahmana may indeed be something far less. As it is further explained: “Just like a Brahmana, a Shudra can have a shikha, chant Om, worship the deities every morning and evening, wear a sacred [Brhamana’s] thread, carry a staff, and wear a deerskin [like a forest sage]. Even Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are incapable of preventing people from becoming Shudras, and so what to speak of human beings. Therefore, wearing a sacred thread, keeping a shikha, and dressing a particular way are not really indications of a person’s position within the Varnashrama society. Who can stop a person’s Shudra mentality, even though he may be well-versed in the Vedic mantras and tantras, and is a very good speaker on these subjects?” (BP, 39.10-13)

            “[Generally it can be recognized that] All classes of men are seen to be capable of performing austerities, speaking the truth, worshiping the demigods, and chanting mantras. All classes of men generally avoid and [in some cases] even deceive those who speak harshly. Considering this, it is not possible to actually differentiate between a Brahmana and a Shudra. The power to curse and the exhibition of compassion can also be found in Shudras. One cannot ascertain from a person’s external appearance whether he is a thief, a cheater, or a prince. Just as a Shudra is incapable of relieving himself of his miseries and protecting his family, it is the same for a Brahmana.” (BP, 39.14-17)

THE DAMAGE OF UNQUALIFIED BRAHMANAS

             “It is better if there are no Brahmanas at all than to have sinful and unqualified Brahmanas in the kingdom [who thus mislead society by what they say and do], especially in Kali-yuga, because in previous ages such Brahmanas would have been censored.” (BP, 39.18)

            Furthermore, it is especially difficult in these days to find anyone who is eligible to be considered a member of the higher classes or varnas of society, for it seems that everyone is materially motivated. 

            “According to some opinion, the power to curse others, a compassionate nature, and an inclination toward spiritual life are the characteristics of a Brahmana. In spite of that, it is seen that practically everyone is attached to worldly activities, having fallen into the darkness of ignorance, and because of that they are helplessly rushing towards hell, just like flies rush towards a fire.” (BP, 39.19-20)

SO WHO IS A REAL BRAHMANA?

             We have now seen by the logic presented in the Bhavishya Purana how the jati or birth of an individual does not justify anyone’s social classification. But also how many of those who take pride in considering themselves of a higher caste or varna are actually not qualified in such a way at all. And yet, even a low-class person, meaning having taken birth from a lower social class, can indeed rise up to be a Brahmama. It all depends on one’s level of consciousness, which generally depends on one’s training and then mental disposition towards a spiritual life, and his natural inclination to follow a code of good conduct.

            “Only those who have been PROPERLY trained and who have studied the Vedas [are seen to generally] adhere to a life of piety, whereas those without training [in at least general moral standards], who have not studied the Vedas [nor their spiritual conclusion] engage in sinful activities. Because study of the Vedas is the primary duty of a Brahmana [or one who is seriously on the path to spiritual progress, thus showing Brahminical qualities], one who does not study the Vedas cannot be considered a genuine Brahmana.” (BP, 39.25-26)

            This is interesting because how many times have we met people who feel they have duly studied the Vedic conclusions but have yet to know how to apply them, nor have they continued to follow them, giving any number of excuses for their present activities. The above verses make it clear that one has to continue to follow the standards, and if he cannot, then he is no longer to be accepted as a person of a higher social class. And this can go for anyone and anywhere. If they have little respect for others, engage in materialistic pursuits without higher moral standards, then that person is someone with a low consciousness, or low varna.

A BRAHMANA CAN EASILY FALL DOWN,

WHILE A SHUDRA CAN EASILY RISE UP

             “A Brahmana can easily be diverted from his brahminical qualities and codes of good conduct if he becomes bewildered by desires for material enjoyment and blinded by pride, just like an ordinary materialistic person. Of course, anyone becomes degraded and goes to hell if he has a sinful nature, even after undergoing the samskaras. On the other hand, those who observe proper etiquette, even though they might not have undergone the samskaras, should be considered as Brahmanas.

            “It is a fact that even someone who chants various mantras and has undergone all the purificatory rituals may fall down into illusion and thereby become bereft of brahminical qualifications due to his sinful mentality. People who engage in abominable activities, and who are blinded by pride in their ability, fall down from their position and lose all brahminical qualities.” (BP, 40.15-18)  

            Here again I am reminded of what I have always said, that the present caste system based on one’s jati or birth is unjust. It is meant to depend on the person’s natural talents, abilities, tendencies, and mentality, which varies from person to person regardless of family, social class, culture, regional jurisdiction, etc. Each person has to be considered individually regardless of family background.

            “The caste system based simply on birth does not actually divide people according to their development of consciousness. It is one’s envy and hatred that allows us to place a person in a higher or lower category. If it is not helpful to divide people according to their bodily characteristics, [then why do so]? In the past, many great sages, such as Srila Vyasadeva, observed proper etiquette and became great souls, although they did not undergo the samskaras, such as the garbhadhana.” (BP, 40.19-20)

            For example, “Vyasadeva was the son of a fisherman’s daughter, his father Parashara was born from a woman who was a dog-eater. Shukadeva was born from a female parrot, Vashishtha was the son of a prostitute…” and other sages like Kanada, Shringi, Mandapala, and Mandavya all had questionable births, and yet all were highly qualified Brahmanas, and recognized as such.

            “Indeed, it is imperative that one strictly follow the instructions of these highly qualified sages, who all possess a spotless character, if one hopes to achieve success in life.

            “O King, undergoing the various samskaras certainly plays an important part in raising one to the platform of a qualified Brahmana, but there are many other important considerations. For example, the great sage Shringi achieved the status of a Brahmana on the strength of his austerities. It must be concluded that undergoing samskaras is a principal criteria for becoming a Brahmana. Still, on the strength of their penance and austerity, Vyasadeva, Parashara, Kanada, Vashishtha, and Mandapala became qualified Brahmanas, despite their taking birth from the womb of a fisherwomen, female dog-eater, or prostitute, etc.

            “[Therefore] undergoing the various samskaras is not sufficient to qualify one as a Brahmana. Those who are expert in performing the Vedic and tantrik samskaras require the attainment of transcendental knowledge and the performance of penance to support their claim of being qualified Brahmanas. Without such qualifications, one will certainly indulge in sinful activities and thus fall from his high position as a Brahmana. One who is a Brahmana in name only is not really a Brahmana.” (BP, 40.22-32)

Here in these quotations we can see that many great Rishis were born in lower varnas, such as Vashishta was the son of a prostitute; Vyasa was born of a fisher woman; Parashara’s mother was a chandala; Nammalwar was a Shudra. Similarly, Valmiki, Viswamitra, Agastya were Brahmanas in spite of their non-Brahmana origin. In more recent times, for example, Swami Vivekananda, one of the most revered Hindus worldwide, was a non-Brahmana. Or was he? In spite of a non-Brahmana birth he displayed so many high qualities. All this proves that birth is not a major player in attaining the status of Brahmana. It is the intellectual and spiritual level of consciousness that differentiates people.

In the same way, spiritual realization is not dependent on birth or book-learning, as has been repeatedly demonstrated in the lives of saints, from the very earliest times to our own day. So, then who is a real rishi? It is the person who has attained through proper means the direct realization of Dharma. That is the one who can be a rishi even if he is a non-Brahmana or mleccha by birth.  

The basis of varna is guna or the mode of nature in which a person is situated, and not birth. Therefore, one is a Brahmana not because of one’s birth or caste or heredity or color or profession or acquisition of worldly knowledge, or mere observation of social and moral codes, but because of his spiritual knowledge and insight, and his abidance in the Supreme Reality, his state of self-realization. This is the conclusion of all Vedas, Shrutis, Puranas, Itihasas, and of all great men ofIndia.

Therefore, casteism, meaning judging a person by one’s birth family, is a misguided social custom and not part of any spiritual tradition, and all our great preachers have tried to break it down. From Buddhism downwards, every sect has preached against caste.

WHEN A BRAHMANA BECOMES LOWER THAN A SHUDRA

             “According to Svayambhuva Manu, the principal characteristic of a Brahmana is that he possesses spiritual knowledge, is enriched with the power of penance, and maintains a state of purity. According to this understanding, anyone, whether he belongs to an upper, middle, or lower caste, if he never indulges in sinful activities, he must be considered a Brahmana. It is said that an honest and well-behaved Shudra is better than an arrogant Brahmana, and a Brahmana who disregards the prescribed codes of good conduct is inferior to a Shudra. A Shudra that does not keep wine in his shop or in his house is called an honest Shudra.” (BP, 42.29-32)

HOW EVERYONE CAN ADVANCE

 The proper observance of the Vedic system of Varnashrama-dharma is to help one’s growth and self-development. The great sages have explained that this system of division into varnas is the stepping-stone to civilization, providing a means so one can rise higher and higher in proportion to one’s learning and culture. Such is our ideal for raising all humanity slowly and gently towards the realization of the great ideal of being a spiritual man, who is calm, steady, worshipful, pure, and meditative. In that ideal there is God-realization.

The additional aim of Varnashrama-dharma is to promote the development of the universal, eternal Sanatana-dharma, the balanced state of being in which you perceive and live according to your genuine spiritual identity. Thus, as the saying goes, “if you take care of Dharma, Dharma will take care of you.” If you destroy it, society will become bereft of balance. Therefore, we should never destroy our Dharma. This principle holds true of the individual as much as of the nation. It is Dharma alone which keeps a nation alive and moving forward. Dharma is the very soul of man. Dharma is the very soul of a nation also, even the world. So how can we all move forward together on the sure path of progress? Here it is explained as follows:

            “Brahminical prowess progressively increases in pious persons who cultivate godly qualities such as forgiveness, control of the senses, compassion, charity, truthfulness, purity, meditation, respect for others, simplicity, satisfaction, freedom from false ego, austerity, self-control, knowledge, freedom from the propensity to blaspheme others, celibacy, cultivation of knowledge, freedom from envy, faithfulness, freedom from hatred, detachment, renunciation of the thirst for material enjoyment, service to the spiritual master, and control of the body, mind, and speech.” (BP, 42.12-15)

            “Many persons in the past became highly advanced and powerful by cultivating these qualities and practicing behavior befitting a saintly person. It is a fact that by such a practice, the heart becomes purified, freeing one from the influence of the modes of passion [raja-guna] and ignorance [tamo-guna].” (BP, 42.16)

            “According to learned authorities, those who possess these godly qualities are actually scholars of the Vedas and Puranas, and understand the confidential purport of the Bhagavad-gita. By faithfully following the principles of varna and ashrama, people in all four yugas have attained the perfection of life.” (BP, 42.17-18)

CLASSIFICATIONS BASED ON THE BODY ARE COMPLETELY FALSE

 By now we should be able to see that even a person who has taken birth from a family who has been considered of a low varna can raise him or herself up to a higher classification by having proper training and showing appropriate codes of conduct and lifestyle.

            “When a Shudra has become advanced by undergoing the [Vedic] samskaras, he can no longer be considered a Shudra. The conclusion is that a person’s external dress or appearance cannot be the criterion for his being accepted as a Brahmana.” (BP, 39.29)

            However, the samskaras or rituals and training in themselves cannot be the sole means of determining one’s social position. This certainly helps, but there must be more than that, which, as already explained.

            “If the undergoing of samskaras is the main criteria for being accepted as a Brahmana, then all those who have undergone samskaras are certainly Brahmanas. If that be the case, how can they be compared with personalities like Srila Vyasadeva, who did not undergo the samskaras. If we consider this, we see that there is no support for the theory of different castes. Although different castes are recognized in society, this is just an artificial conception of materialistic people. The material body is composed of the five gross elements—earth, water, fire, air, and sky. These elements cannot be the cause for one being accepted as a Brahmana [or anything else], because they combine for some time and then merge back into their source. Indeed, the body of an atheist, mleccha, or a yavana is made of the same material elements. [Thus, such designations based on the body are completely false].” (BP, 39.30-33)

            “Religiosity as described in the Vedas can also be found in people who are sinful, violent, of bad character, and cruel. Therefore the determination of one’s social status does not depend on undergoing [purificatory] samskaras.” (BP, 39.34)

            “Therefore, [from the conclusions that have been presented so far] there is no difference between a Brahmana and a Shudra in terms of bodily features, mentality, experience of happiness and distress, opulence, prowess, tendency toward gambling, shrewdness in business, ability to earn wealth, steadiness, restlessness, intelligence, detachment, virtue, accomplishment of the three objectives of life [dharma, artha and kama], cleverness, beauty, complexion, sexual capacity, stool, bones, holes of the body, manifestations of love, height, weight, and bodily hair. Therefore, even if the demigods were to try very hard to find distinctions between Brahmanas and Shudras [and everyone in between] in this way, they would not be able to do so.” (BP, 39.35-39)

            “One should not think that all Brahmanas are white like moon rays, that all Kshatriyas have a complexion like the color of a kimsuka flower, that all Vaishyas have a golden complexion like the color of an orpiment fruit, and that all Shudras are black like half-burnt coal. How can there be four classes of human beings when their walking, complexion, hair, happiness, distress, blood, skin, flesh, bone marrow, and fluids are totally identical? There is nothing special about anyone’s complexion, height, weight, figure, period of stay within the womb, speech, wisdom, working senses, life-air, strength, illnesses, objectives of life, and methods for curing diseases.” (BP, 39.41-43)

            “A father may have four sons and it is assumed that all of them belong to the same caste as their father. Similarly, all living entities are produced by the one Supreme Father and so, how can His children be divided into different castes? Just as the color, texture, structure, feel, and juice of different portions of a fig are the same, so are the human beings that are emanating from one source, and so it is improper to differentiate between them. The brothers, children, daughters-in-law, births, marriages, beauty, complexion, and artistic ability must be the same for the member of the lineages [or gotras] coming from Kaushika, Gautama, Kaumdinya, Mandavya, Vashishtha, Atreya, Kautsa, Angirasa, Maudgalya, Katyayana, and Bhargava.

            “Although some learned scholars accept the material body as being a Brahmana [or something else], this indicates that they are in the bodily concept of life [without spiritual perception], which exists in a condition of dense ignorance. This is like a blind person desiring to treat others’ eyes by applying a black ointment. Both are ludicrous. Because the material body has a beginning, it also has an end. After death, the elements of the body merge into the totality of material elements once again. Therefore, the body [alone] cannot be accepted as a Brahmana [or any other varna].” (BP, 39.45-51)

            In conclusion, therefore, “Only ignorant people accept this material body as being a Brahmana. According to their understanding, the position of being a Brahmana cannot be achieved simply by undergoing the various purificatory processes.” (BP, 39.54)

ONE MISSES GOAL OF LIFE WHEN PREOCCUPIED BY CASTE

             “If after attaining the human form of life, which enables one to possess things like attractive bodily features, abundant wealth, great power and prestige, one does not live according to the prescribed religious principles, it cannot be predicted what species of life he will thereafter be forced to accept on various planets. This is the fate of one who is so proud that he dares to challenge the supremacy of God. Being intoxicated by pride, thinking that their caste, race, beauty, social status, and education are very wonderful, people do not bother to understand their actual self-interest, and because of that in their next life they will suffer like eunuchs.

            “Material existence can be compared to a huge pit in which thousands of millions of living entities are drowning. Knowing this perfectly well, which intelligent person would be very proud of his caste?

            “There are many human beings who are presumed to be fully satisfied, having been born in aristocratic families, and yet because of their own misdeeds, after death they will be forced to take birth in this world in some lower species of life. In this world, no one can remain permanently in some situation.” (BP, 39.3-6)

            If this does not make it clear regarding the impermanent nature of the living being, and that even one’s high, intermediate or low birth is temporary, then I do not know what can. Yet, we see that so many people are going through life, completely asleep in regard to the real purpose of this existence. Thus, they may think their present position is so grand, not knowing that if they do not use this life properly for real spiritual progress, after death their next life may not be very great at all. But how many times must we go through this before we learn our lessons about the real truth of the matter, that our real position is as a spiritual being, beyond the body and its superficial designations, and everything else is temporary and secondary?

THE DIFFERENCE OF PROPER CONSCIOUSNESS AND INTENT,

OR MERELY GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS

             In the next few verses it is pointed out that a person must also have the proper concentration and focus, along with the proper intentions in their actions if they are expected to be qualified in their positions. Otherwise, it is seen that anyone can chant mantras and do rituals, but merely going through the motions, especially for adoration, profit and distinction, is not what is needed to suitably accept or be qualified for a higher status in one’s social classification.

            “Generally, those who are twice-born—the Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, and Vaishyas—undergo all the Vedic samskaras. For this reason, they are certainly to be considered as superior to the Shudras who engage in all kinds of frivolous activities.

            “In spite of undergoing the samskaras, if those who are twice-born engage in violent and sinful activities, such as killing a Brahmana [or worse], having sexual intercourse with the wife of the spiritual master, stealing, killing a cow, drinking wine, cheating, speaking lies, exhibiting great pride, speaking atheistic philosophy, blaspheming the Vedas, denying the authority of the Vedas, plundering the wealth of others, acting whimsically, earning money by dancing or cheating, eating all types of abominable food, and performing any other prohibited activity with the body, mind, and speech, they can never be considered purified, even if they perform thousands of sacrifices [rituals].

            “Therefore, the ability to chant mantras, perform fire rituals, practice penance, and sacrifices does not make one a Brahmana, just as a Shudra remains a Shudra, despite the ability to perform all these activities [when merely going through the motions].” (BP, 41.5-9)

            “Similarly, the Brahmanas who indulge in sinful activities must be considered fallen. Therefore, the only sane conclusion is that the concepts of Brahmana and Kshatriya etc., are temporary designations and not ultimate reality.” (BP, 41.52)

EXPECTED CHARACTERISTICS AND ACTIONS

OF EACH PERSON OF THE FOUR VARNAS

             What follows are a very few of the qualities, actions and characteristics that are typical of people in each of the four varnas.

“Brahma said: Genuine Brahmanas know very well what is to be accepted and what is to be rejected. They avoid sinful behavior, carefully control their senses, mind, and speech, and carefully observe the prescribed etiquette. They follow the rules and regulations that are prescribed for them in the scriptures, and constantly work for the welfare of others.  They work for the protection of religious principles in this world and are fixed in trance, meditating on the Absolute Truth. They restrain their anger, and are free from material attachment, envy, lamentation, and pride. They are attached to the study of the Vedas [and their supporting literature], very peaceful, and are the best well-wishing friends of all living entities. They are equal in happiness and distress, reside in a solitary place, observe all the vows prescribed for them with their body and mind, and are pious by nature. They are reluctant to perform any abominable act, and are freed from illusion and false pride. They are charitable, compassionate, truthful, and very learned in the scriptures. They know the Supreme Brahman and have high regard for the revealed scriptures.” (BP, 42.1-7)

            From this verse we can understand that if a Brahmana is not free from such things as anger, material attachment, envy, lamentation, and pride, along with the other qualities mentioned above, then such people do not have the real mentality of a Brahmana, even if they do appear to have some expertise in other areas. Thus, they are not genuinely qualified to be spiritual authorities for the rest of society, but, indeed, have much more work to do on themselves for their own progress and development.

            Another class of beings are also known as Brahmanas, as explained: “Brahma was born from the navel of the purusha-avatara [Vishnu]. All living entities were manifested by Him, and among them, those who are devotees, surrendered souls unto that Supreme Personality of Godhead, are also known as Brahmanas.” (BP, 42.9)

            Furthermore, “Those who have some realization of the Supreme Brahman, and who act according to the prescribed codes of good conduct, are called Brahmanas, and they are glorified by the other members of society.” (BP, 42.11)

            In regard to the other main varnas, namely the Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras, their expected standards are also described: “Those who give protection to others, saving them from all kinds of danger, are known as Kshatriyas. Those who engage in farming, cow protection, and trading are known as Vaishyas, and those who have no capacity to study the Vedas [or deep spiritual knowledge], and are engaged in serving members of the higher three classes are known as Shudras.” (BP, 42.10)

            “Lord Brahma has prescribed the methods for members of all the varnas that will enable them to achieve perfection by performing their respective duties.

            “Among the human beings, those who are comparatively more powerful and are thus able to give protection to others, saving them from all types of danger, should be known as Kshatriyas. Persons who approach the Kshatriyas to beg some charity after instructing them on the messages of the Supreme Lord as found in the Vedic literature should be known as Brahmanas.

            “Those who are almost as powerful as the Kshatriyas but engage in agriculture, cow protection, and trade [such as banking and business], should be known as Vaishyas. Those who, not very capable of working independently, and who are easily overcome by lamentation and illusion, should engage in the service of the higher three classes of men and thus be known as Shudras. In this way, according to their nature and qualities, there are prescribed duties for Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras.” (BP, 42.19-24)

            “The qualities of a Brahmana are peacefulness, austerity, self-control, purity, tolerance, simplicity, knowledge, the practical application of the knowledge, and inquiry into the nature of the Absolute Truth. Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity and leadership are the natural qualities of work for the Kshatriyas. Farming, cow protection and business are the natural work for the Vaishyas, and for the Shudras there is labor and service to others.” (BP, 42.25-27)

             In this way, everyone has a natural tendency for some aspect of the particular traits described, and are also a part of the social body of civilization to help contribute to its balance and progress, and the well-being of one and all.

IN CONCLUSION

 If people can understand the real basis of the Varna system, and be trained in acting accordingly, raising themselves to their original spiritual level, then the false, superficial and bodily based sectarian spirit can ultimately be put to rest. Then there is every possibility that such people can develop a spiritual vision of one another with a mood of love, care, cooperation, sacrifice, and service. This is the real purpose of the Varna system anyway, to see that everyone is a part of the larger social body, and part of the Supreme, and that each person, by their actions and occupation, has a contribution to make to the well-being of all.

            “It is therefore to be concluded that humanity is essentially one, but distinctions of caste have been made according to a person’s qualities and work [mentality and consciousness]. As far as general behavior is concerned, the entire human race is one. There is only a difference in people’s occupations and attitudes. Those who divide society into castes according to birth cannot see that human beings are essentially one.” (BP, 42.33-34)

             Another article of mine on my website that can help provide more clarity is Casteism: Is It the Scourge of Hinduism, or the Perversion of a Legitimate Vedic System?

 [This article is available at: www.stephen-knapp.com]