Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Keeping The Darkness Away: Diwali & Govardhana

Diwali, the Festival of Lights is a fitting time for the Hindu New Year.  One of the main stories behind this day is the return of Rama to Ayodhya. Rama and the monkey forces had defeated Ravana and his Raksasa hordes. Ravana had superior weapons and superior forces. The monkeys had only crude weapons – trees, rocks and clubs – but they won nevertheless. By the grace of Lord Rama, the monkeys were unstoppable. Having faith in Rama, we also have to be unstoppable in our efforts to serve Rama and glorify Him.

Several weeks later after the victory, Rama, Sita, Laksman and Hanuman boarded a flower airplane which took them back to Ayodhya. The citizens there waited in great anticipation. The city was bedecked with candles shining from every home. After so many long years the people were eager to see their Lord once again. His return would mark a new era for them - RamRaj. And we also must light the candles. Not only in our homes, but in our hearts. To renew our faith in the Lord and, at this time of year, welcome Him back into our lives.  But why every year? Indeed, we must welcome Him every day and every moment.

The day after Diwali is Govardhana Lila, and so, the devotees delight in worshiping Sri Rama and Sri Krishna back to back. They are one and the same. Krishna, as a child, growing up in Vrindaban, was very mischievous. One day,  Krishna’s father Nanda and the residents there were getting ready to worship King Indra who brought the much needed rain to the land. But in the middle of getting ready for one event, Krishna asked them to make another type of sacrifice – to worship Govardhana Hill instead. Krishna sometimes does that to us. You know what I’m talking about.

There’s a saying attributed to John Lennon: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” We’ve all experienced this in one way or other. Earlier this month my wife and I were a little concerned since Hurricane Sandy was supposed to brush by us (we had heard about the disruption in New York and New Jersey – and I pray for everyone in that area)  And so Sandy came, leaving us without electricity for only four hours.  What a relief! That wasn’t so bad (especially since at the beginning of the summer we had no power for eight days).

My wife and I thought that now we could get on with our lives. But even though the power went back on, our house remained without water for four days. For four days we had to fetch water to bathe and clean and cook. Normally, we get water from our own well. Now we were worried that the pump in the well stopped working, or worse yet, that the well caved in (which happened to us before). But Krishna was merciful. It was only a bad pressure tank in the basement, which our plumber fixed in several hours. 

Krishna often calls upon us to make some sacrifice. We’re expecting to do one thing, but something happens and we’re forced to do something else. So we could do it begrudgingly and curse our circumstances. Or we could find the strength to say “Thank you Krishna for giving me this opportunity to surrender to Your will.”

These holy-days can give us clues on how to live everyday.

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Chasing Red Herrings

Last installment of Getting By In The Kaliyuga

Balancing the budget is a red herring. Politicians make it sound like it’s the most important thing in the world, but at this point and time, it’s not. Five years ago the economy  took a nose dive. When Bush left office, we were in  a free fall. First, you have to stabilize the economy.  When that’s done then you can think about balancing the budget. This takes years to unravel. Romney even said recently that, if he gets elected, he needs eight to ten years to turn things around (but blames Obama for not getting things done in four years).

What happened to the budget to begin with? What happened to the jobs?  Who made out big time when the economy went down? Did you? Is the debt your fault?   Should you and your children be penalized for the debt?  Follow the money trail. Look the events of the last thirty years. The people that are responsible for all this don’t want us to look at the past. And did you ever see those Senate hearings   where the senators are all indignant and huffing and puffing, and the Wall Street guys are cowering at the table in front of the bench. People swallow this stuff up.  But it’s a charade because nothing ever comes of it. Nothing ever changes.

If the bankers make a profit, they get to keep it for themselves and in turn keep the politicians who helped them in office. And if the bankers screw up then  they get the politicians to convince us that we   all need help clean up the mess they created.  This is capitalism and socialism at its finest.

Prabhupada explains in Light of the Bhagavat (in the purport of text 44) that politicians "want to flourish in the guise of servants of the people...(that they) want to exploit the administrative power for their own self-interest...although professing democracy, they want to be kings.... they compete for votes by bad propaganda."  This sums up the mentality and modus operandi  of many politicians. Nowadays politicians and bankers throw out so many misleading “facts” and “figures” to confuse people. They even hire so-called “research firms” to come up with the conclusions they want you to see. Someone said that you’re entitled to you own opinions but your not entitled to your own facts.  So the problem is if you don’t (or can’t because of the misleading information) study and learn from past mistakes then you’re  condemned to repeat them. You might remember Laural and Hardy – “Here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into.”  They never learn.

Of course, we have to learn how to maneuver through this material world, which often seems like a battlefield.  Sometimes, the battle is raging around us, and sometimes even within us. We have to try our best to do the right thing, without attachment to results, and in his books  Srila Prabhupada has provided an excellent basis, both materially and spiritually.  He has shown us that ultimately real happiness  is not about cultivation of mundane facts and figures. It’s not about who’s in the White House.  It’s not about attaining  satisfaction through the temporary connection we have to this body of ours.   It is about understanding our  own eternal nature as spirit souls and our loving relationship with the Supreme Soul of souls, the Lord Within The Heart.  It’s understanding the journey we're on in this life,  a journey of self discovery. Be true to yourself. Stay focused on the real goal. Don’t go chasing after red herrings.

"One who has renounced the fruits of his actions, whose doubts are destroyed by transcendental knowledge, and who is situated firmly in the self, is not bound by works, O conqueror of riches."  Bhagavad Gita 4:41

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Down With Entitlements!

What’s with these politicians signing pledges not to raise taxes? And why do some want to sacrifice Big Bird on the economic altar? If we have to sacrifice someone, why not  the lobbyists?

But nobody wants to touch the lobbyists. Why is entitlement for lobbyists good, but entitlement for seniors bad? Why do we tolerate the lobbyists? Of course, the lobbyists are the one’s really  writing the country’s legislation nowadays (not our elected politicians). That means they have the laws tilted to the advantage of big business. So where is the government “of the people, by the people, for the people?” Does this apply any more or is it just a myth?

In the Vedic culture the leaders had advisors. But the advisors were totally impartial. They didn’t care about Profit for themselves. They cared about upholding the Dharma. That was their contribution to society. So if politicians want to sign pledges, let them sign a pledge to have nothing to do with the lobbyists.  This would be a good start.  Then maybe the lawmakers could really become lawmakers. 

And while they’re at it, the lawmakers  could also sign a pledge not to participate in insider trading.  On Wall Street, insider trading could get you a jail sentence or at least a stiff fine. But not the politicians. Talk about entitlement!!! They can, and do, take advantage of the information that they are privy to in their committee meetings and as they cast influential legislation.  Are they entitled to  think about making extra money for themselves while they’re supposed to be working for us? What would your boss do if he/she caught you working for yourself while you’re on the job?

And the medical plans for politicians? Why should they be entitled to special plans for the rest of their lives even if they only serve on the Hill for five years? When’s the last time you held on to you’re medical plan after you left your job?  Let’s get a comprehensive medical plan for everybody – or for nobody – including the politicians.  Unresolved or ambiguous medical situations take an invisible  toll on the country. Politicians telling people to go to the ER is no  solution.  All of us pay for it in one way or another.

Down with entitlements for politicians. Don’t let politicians 1) be controlled by or morph into lobbyists 2) don’t let them make extra money for themselves while they’re working for us 3) don’t let then walk away with medical plans after they leave the job. 

The Vedic culture shows that governments can work. In this ancient culture, the leaders are beholden to the principles of the Dharma.  They are not immune from the law.  The leaders often made the biggest sacrifices rather than simply asking other take on the burdens.  Unfortunately, the governments of the world have now degenerated into societies of  cheaters and the cheated. If politicians had to scramble like many folks,  they might start working together pretty quickly to find solutions.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Getting By In The Kaliyuga #2

Human life is all about regulation. Morality means regulation. Children and young people getting an education requires regulation. Married life requires regulation. And driving safely on the road requires regulation. Why shouldn’t this apply to businesses? After all, as some proclaim, “businesses are people too.” So why do some politicians insist that de-regulation, or absolutely no regulation, is the easiest and best way for big business to move forward? It's like a child in the store crying and demanding. It’s a lot like the hippies back in the 60’s clamoring for a lifestyle of “free sex” and “free drugs.” And today’s big business wants a free and easy ride as well.

The Vedic system is one of order and opportunity. Both Narada Muni and Grandfather Bhisma taught Yudhisthira that the fruits of a civilized culture are Justice, Profit, and Happiness – this is echoed in the Declaration of Independence which proclaimed our inalienable rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Narada and Bhisma explained that this system of order and opportunity only works if Justice isn’t abused to generate Profit; and that Profits are never to be used to influence the workings of Justice; and that no amount of Justice (liberty) or Profits can actually bring about Happiness, because real Happiness only comes about by an internal process.

Time and again, like a child, big business is eager to run recklessly after quick profits to secure some immediate happiness, casting good sense to the wind. Imagine the chaos if this unregulated dynamic were allowed to be played out by drivers on our roads. It would be pandemonium, and death.

To govern properly, and to live peacefully, requires training and education. People need to be educated so they understand and identify the qualities of proper leadership. What is the value of uneducated voters electing unqualified leaders. It becomes a case of the blind then leading the blind.

In the “Light of the Bhagavat,” (verse 2) Srila Prabhupada explains that education of the citizens is the most important ingredient if democracy is to thrive. The citizens, he writes “should be honest in the payment of taxes to the state and should have honest representatives to look over the administration. In the modern setup of democratic states the citizens can have no cause for grievances, because the whole administration is conducted by the people themselves. If the people themselves are dishonest, the administrative machinery must be corrupt…. if the people are not good they cannot have good government, regardless of which party governs the administration. Therefore good character in the consciousness of the mass of people is the first principle necessary for a good government….”

Actually, the Vedic approach amalgamates the best of what both the Republicans and the Democrats have to offer: that everyone assume personal responsibility; that the leadership provide a fair playing field so all citizens have the opportunity to thrive; that the leadership assumes the greatest responsibility and makes the greatest personal sacrifice in time of hardship; and that they also offer protection, or a safety net, for the most vulnerable citizens. And if the leadership were remiss in giving proper protection, they would practically be embarrassed out of their posts.

All to often the so-called political and business leaders find ways to exploit their positions for their own personal gain. If they are not brought to task, then everything becomes spoiled. The panacea (and this is what the Vedic system is about) is for citizens to be educated in the principles of self realization, and in what real leadership is, and in what real responsibility is, and how to live a good and honest life.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Getting By In The Kaliyuga

The race for the presidency of the United States is in full swing and many politicians are making promises and saying that they know what is best for the country. Five thousand years ago Grandfather Bhismadev lay on a bed of arrows at Kurushetra. And just as he gave Yudhisthira good advice in managing the kingdom, the modern day politicians would do well to listen to him also. The thing is that people usually can’t or won’t listen to good advice, especially in the Kaliyuga.

Bhismadev offered many elegant points to Yudhisthira on how to be a proper king, or leader. One of the first points Bhismadev makes is that the leader must be devoted to the truth. Unfortunately, there is a wanton parade of half-truths, misleading information, and outright lies emanating from so-called leaders today, and, it seems, especially from those of the Republican persuasion.

A leader is a man of action. For instance, Bhismadev gives the example if someone’s property is stolen, the leader (i.e. the government) must be able to retrieve it. If he cannot, then the leader must replace that property. Bhismadev also mentions that a leader should not neglect the needy, the children, the widows, the elderly. The leader (and government) must provide protection and well being for all, and not just for the privileged. Nowadays, a family’s savings could be wiped out if a family member becomes gravely ill or is born with health problems.

Bhismadev explains the many responsibilities of a leader. Above all, the king must be concerned about the happiness of his citizens and act in a way that will benefit and protect them. He also gives special attention to protecting the brahmanas. The modern leaders are guided by self-interested lobbyists seeking favors for their banks or corporations. Real guidance comes from qualified brahmanas who offer a clear understanding of proper behavior (Dharma), of what is to be done and what is not to be done. Brahmanas, conversant in this Vedic knowledge, understand how to maintain the well being of society and secure a future for all the inhabitants of the land.

The Mahabharata shows us that Yudhisthira, throughout his career, sought guidance from the brahmanas and also from well-wishing elders like Vidura and Bhismadev. This is the proper way to absorb oneself in the Dharma. It’s not that we go to school in our youth for an education, and when we receive a diploma our learning is finished. Students of the Dharma never tire of studying it and seeing how it applies in their lives and in their particular circumstances.

The highest understanding of Dharma is found in the Bhagavad Gita and also the Bhagavat Purana. Krishna states in the Bhagavad Gita (15:15 ) that He Himself is the author and the knower and the goal of all knowledge. And at the end of the Gita (18:70) Krishna explains that “One who studies this sacred conversation (the Gita) worships Me by his intelligence.”

Leading up to the election, I’ll provide an occasional commentary – a mix of Krishna’s Gita, Bhismadev’s instructions to Yudhisthira, and the modern political process, along with the challenges we face today. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

An Offering for Vyasa-Puja

Composed by my wife (Ruci) and I 

O Prabhupada how can we properly glorify you
When we can’t fully understand what you’ve given us
Nor comprehend the sacrifice you’ve made for us
Leaving your simple life at the Radha Damodhar Temple
Where you served Rupa Goswami
And prayed to him for his blessings
And then crossed the ocean
To challenge the formidable forces of the earthly elite
Who looked out from their New York sky scrapers
And fancied themselves as gods 
And who seemingly had everything to offer
As their fantastic machines devoured endless resources
And rapidly spewed them out as products for our pleasure
And you,  an old man at the fag end of life
Came only with your prayer beads and a trunk full of books
You, a seemingly harmless old  man
But you said  “if they knew what I was doing they would kill me.”
O Prabhupada,  you are like a maharatha warrior
Who can challenge tens of thousands
The struggle which you made for the conditioned souls
And the love you have shown us
Is beyond logic
It is beyond our feeble calculation
There are not enough computers in the world
To make such a calculation
We pray that we may somehow serve you
And your devotees
And please allow us to selflessly chant the holy names
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Karma Trackers

A New York Times article of  June 17 tells  of a company which brings to bear the probing and far reaching powers of Big Brother, Santa Clause and the FBI.  We’ve heard about this  before, but not on this scale.  The article, entitled “You For Sale” by Natasha Singer,  describes a multibillion dollar operation called Acxion located in Conway, Ark. with 23,000 computer servers at its beck and call, finding out every tidbit of information it can about each one of us. This could surely be heralded as one of the new seven wonders of the world or one of the marvels of modern technology, but it’s supposed to be under wraps, as if they are watching us from the Twilight Zone.

So Acxion knows if you have a medical condition, the types of food you buy  , the magazines you read, how much you pay where you live, if you like to eat out and where, if you’re a cat lover, what type of car you drive,  or if you like to gamble or travel or how many times you’ve been married. Acxion probably knows more about you than your mother or your spouse combined. They might very well know if you follow the four regulative principles. They could be called Karma Trackers, or Agents of Yamaraj (aka  AOY – as in aoy vey). I wonder if they see inacxion in acxion and acxion in inacxion?

Acxion wants to know all this info to better connect you with the things that will make you happy (and help keep you entangled in the material world – i.e. – to keep you spending money and keep you in debt forever). To keep you on a vicious thread mill. Like Alice in Wonderland says – I’m running as fast as I can, but I’m still in the same place. And somehow, all the stuff that you buy is suppose to make you think that you are a winner. (Game show music goes up as balloons descend and contestant is seen jumping for joy and wildly clapping hands). 

Basically this is Kali’s game. This is what he has in store for each of us. To keep us “winning” by buying more and more and more. And in the end we lose.

“One who sees that there is nothing beyond the modes of material nature at work  in all activities, and who knows that the Supreme Lord is transcendental to all these modes, then that person can attain  My spiritual nature.”  Bhagavad Gita 14:19