Thursday, February 28, 2013

the cure for lamentation

Verse 2.28: All created beings are unmanifest in their beginning, manifest in their interim state, and unmanifest again when annihilated. So what need is there for lamentation?

Everything in the material world has a beginning, middle and an end. Whether it be life, relationships, career, hobbies, hunger, happiness...everything. However, instead of understanding this truth (which we all have first hand experience of), we still are so surprised every time it happens to us.

It reminds me of an incident that takes place in the Mahabharata. As was mentioned in earlier posts, Arjuna is one of five brothers who collectively were called the Pandavas of whom Yudhisthira was the eldest.

At one point in time, the Pandavas princes were exiled to the forest for thirteen years. Humbly, they accepted their fate. Despite being banished to the forest, they still helped anyone that they could. One day, a sage asked them for their help to get back some special sticks that a deer had taken by mistake. Searching and searching for the deer without success, the five brothers became tired and were overwhelmed with thirst.

Yudhisthira, noting their sunken spirits and need for water, asked the youngest of his brothers to search for a nearby lake. Spotting one, the younger brother went to the lake and cupping his palms brought some water up to his lips to drink. At that time, a voice suddenly spoke saying "Stop! This is my lake. You cannot take water without my permission or else you will die." Paying no heed to this warning, the young prince drank the water and fell down dead.

Some time passed and when their youngest brother did not return, Yudhisthira sent another of his brothers to find out what happened. Another brother went and the same incident occurred. Over and over this happened until Yudhisthira was left alone and went searching to find out what happened to his brothers. When he saw his brothers all lying lifeless by this lake, Yudhisthira was overwhelmed with grief and left wondering how anyone could harm them. When he too went to drink some water, the same voice issued the same warning and told Yudhisthira that the reason why his brothers were dead was due to the fact that they had drunk the water without this person's permission.

Yudhisthira was compassion and righteousness personified. Despite the fact that he heard that this voice revealing that they were indirectly responsible for his brothers' death, he immediately complied and asked what this person wanted. Revealing himself, this guardian of the lake asked him to answer a series of questions. One of those questions was "What is the most wondrous thing?" Yudhisthira's answer always amazes me even though I've heard and related this story for years. Yudhisthira said, "The most wonderful thing is that although everyday innumerable humans and their animals go to the abode of death, still a man thinks he is immortal."

This story, or at least this part of the story, always makes me reflect on how surprised we are when something finishes or ends. We all pride ourselves on being intelligent persons, right?. If we are intelligent, then why are we so surprised that anything that is initiated or born will eventually terminate and end? Pragmatically speaking, there is no need for lamentation.

So why do we lament? Having read the Bhagavad gita, I can only come to one conclusion. The soul is eternal and is never subject to birth or death. That is who we really are. Therefore, when we encounter the temporariness of the material world in all its facets, it feels artificial and doesn't sit right with us. Since we don't know what to do or how to get out of this cycle of "beginning, middle and end", we lament.

That's why bhakti is so important. It teaches us the way out. It opens our eyes to the brilliant truth - we are eternal and therefore we should only seek out those things that are eternal since that is what will make us truly happy. And what is it that is eternal? God and our relationship with him.

That's why bhakti is the cure for all lamentation.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

are you ready to walk out?

Verse 2.27: One who has taken his birth is sure to die, and after death one is sure to take birth again. Therefore, in the unavoidable discharge of your duty, you should not lament.

Today, we are indirectly introduced to the concept of karma. As Prabhupada writes in the purport "One has to take birth according to one's activities of life. And after finishing one term of activities, one has to die to take birth for the next."

Let's spend a little bit of time talking about karma here. First of all, what is it? Simply put - what goes around comes around. For whatever action we perform, a corresponding reaction will be given. As a society that claims it's "scientifically driven" we observe this reality and expect this. Why then do people struggle with the concept of karma and its application in their own life? I think part of the reason is due to the fact that the effect(or reaction) may not manifest in this lifetime.

Did you know that? It's true! There is such a thing as instant and delayed karma. Not only is there good and bad karma, but delayed and instantaneous as well as group and individual karma.

Somewhere along the road, it appears that mainstream society latched onto the idea of karma and associated the word "now" to it. Probably because we are a "now" society. The truth is, we have no control over when we will feel the results of the karma we accrue, irregardless of whether it's good or bad. For somethings we may feel it right away, but for others we may have to wait lifetimes to feel the effects.

That's the reason why some people just seem to "have it all" without doing anything and the reason why some people may work hard all their life without any apparent result. In looking and judging others (something we are all guilty of doing,) we neglect to remember that we are only seeing a snapshot of that soul's journey.

Just think of a movie. When we see a movie, most of us forget that the movie is actually composed of individual frames which compose the moving picture. "When the moving picture is displayed, each frame is flashed on a screen for a short time and then immediately replaced by the next one. Persistence of vision blends the frames together, producing the illusion of a moving image." Credit: Wikipedia

Similarly, we forget that our journey in this lifetime is also just an individual frame. Puts things into perspective, doesn't it? Our problem is that we mistakenly think that what we are see happening to others, and what is currently going on with us, is the entire movie.

That's what Krsna is getting at here in this verse. Unless we stop accruing karma (whether it be good or bad), this process of birth and death will continue on and on and on. Remember the last movie you saw where you felt the story dragged on and on? Afterwards you probably commented, "They should have made it shorter! That last hour was a waste!" Well, the "movie" of our journey in the material world has become just like that - too long. Enough already!

That's what Krsna will soon present to Arjuna. Think of this like the previews....coming soon in a Gita near you! Yes, there is good and bad karma, but there is also something called "no karma". Those same good activities that you perform right now for "your pleasure", when instead done in the consciousness of service and gratitude to the Lord, result in no karma.

That's our ticket out of the cycle of birth and death. Our sojourn in the material world has become like a bad movie that just keeps dragging on. It's time to get out.

The only question remains: are you ready to walk out of this bad movie, or are you going to continue to suffer through it?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

getting to know you...

Verse 2.26: If, however, you think that the soul [or the symptoms of life] is always born and dies forever, you still have no reason to lament, O mighty-armed.

In the middle of all the intricate and wondrous explanations about the soul, Krsna decides to play devil's advocate! Can you imagine? God is now taking the other perspective. All along we've been hearing that the soul is eternal, it can never die, it can't be harmed, etc. Now, Krsna says, "But...if you still think that the soul is born and dies after this one lifetime..." Krsna understands our skeptical nature better than we do!

But back to that in a second. This verse is incredible for another reason because it serves to remind us that the Gita is not just a book that we are holding in our hand. It's a conversation that took place five thousand years ago between two people. Of course, one of those person's was God, but work with me here! It's totally relatable. Just think about the last time you were giving advice to someone. It might have been a sibling, a daughter/son, a friend, whoever. You may have started off by giving reasons why they should do something. Then, in the middle of the conversation, you suddenly stop and play devil's advocate. Your arguments and advice are so strong, that even taking the opposite position, you can still convince them of your point.

This is exactly what Krsna is doing right here. We've been hearing Krsna explain that one need not lament at the thought of death because the soul is eternal and can never die. Now, he's saying that even if you don't believe that, I'll give you further reasons why you have no reason to lament at the thought of death.

This is how incredibly intelligent Krsna is. He understands the different kinds of mentality that we all have and he addresses it head on.

This is what bhakti is all about. It's about getting to know Krsna. How can we even think or hope of loving someone if we don't know who they are. All the bhakti texts and processes of bhakti such as hearing, chanting, remembering, offering prayers, offering worship etc., are simply there as different means by which we can get to know Krsna better.

Do you remember when you were really intrigued by someone? What did you do? If you were anything like me, you'd find all kinds of excuses to get close to them and find out more information about them. The path of bhakti facilitates this process. We get to hear about Krsna, we get to remember him, offer prayers to him, worship him, and thereby get to know him. The only thing is, when we try to cultivate relationships with one another here, there is always a chance that the other person won't reciprocate.

We don't have to worry about that with Krsna. He'll reciprocate. In fact he'll reciprocate with our attempts to know him and love him so much that we'll wonder why we never thought to do so sooner. So now you know the hidden secret. Bhakti is about getting know Krsna.

Monday, February 25, 2013

power of repetition

Verse 2.25: It is said that the soul is invisible, inconceivable and immutable. Knowing this, you should not grieve for the body.

For the past few verses now we have been hearing over and over again the descriptions of the soul and the truth that we are not this body but the eternal spirit soul. One could question, "Why the need to keep repeating this over and over again?! Can't we move on to something new?"

This is exactly my mentality. I always need something new and shiny to occupy my attention and hearing something repeatedly is often quite challenging for me.

The thing is, there is great power in repetition. It is only by hearing something over and over again that it actually sinks in. Think about it. How did you learn the alphabet? It was only by saying and writing the letters over ad nauseum that it became natural. Now, when your eyes take in the written word, you don't stop to think how you put together words and phrases, it's become natural.

Similarly, the beginning of bhakti yoga also starts of with it's own alphabet. The basics. Those a, b, c's are that we are spirit souls that are currently existing in a particular body. That body is temporary and limited, whereas the soul is eternal. If we don't realize this, even theoretically, then everything else we may know and hear becomes superfluous. This is the starting point and from there we can build and advance. That's why Krsna is spending so much time educating Arjuna (and us!) about the intricacies, characteristics and importance of the soul.

It's amazing if you think about it! Even basic principles that we take for granted and practice in everyday life originated from God! We all are constantly exposed to repetition, just think TV commercials. It's nothing new. Now, it's about applying it to spiritual life!

In fact, the cardinal rules of giving a speech/presentation is all about repetition: Tell your audience what you're going to tell them. Tell them. Then tell them what you told them.

Krsna, gets all the credit, since he originated the concept. So the next time you are going through a Vedic text, or even your homework, just remember: if something is being repeated over and over again there is a reason behind it. It's of great value and importance.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

the right prescription

Verse 2.24: This individual soul is unbreakable and insoluble, and can be neither burned nor dried. He is everlasting, present everywhere, unchangeable, immovable and eternally the same.

I'd like to find someone who actually welcomes change in their life. The material world, due to being temporary, is full of change, but very few embrace it. Here, we find out why. The soul itself is unchangeable. Cue lightbulb popping over all makes sense now!

If we delve a little deeper as to why most of us resist change, there are many reasons such as fear of the unknown, lack of control, and perhaps most commonly, the fear that something will be taken away.

Just ask any professional athlete. What are the top two things that they fear the most? My guess would be injury and age. Both result in changes in the body which they have no control over and can affect their performance.

Every single one of us fears change to some degree. We cannot forecast the outcome most of the time and hence we are left with a huge question mark. In the world we live in, where control is the name of the game, this goes against everything we are inculcated with. Yet, change is inevitable. So how does one deal with it?

The bhakti texts prompt one to examine how and where this change affects us the most. We view change through the lens of the senses and the body. So really, it's a matter of changing the lens by which we view the world.

Recently, I had to get my eyes examined. Anyone who goes to the eye doctor will tell you how you're plopped into a chair and subjected to a battery of tests. One of those tests is viewing a series of lines with letters that become smaller and smaller as you read down the page. If you do require a new prescription, oftentimes the doctor will ask you to read a line and then switch a lens and ask you whether "Lens A" or "Lens B" was better.

Krsna is acting as our eye doctor here. He is educating us on how we can view, not only the world, but change as well. We can view it from the perspective of the body and the senses or we can view it through the perspective of the soul. The soul is unchanging but our experiences are every changing. So what does that mean? It means that we (the soul) are undergoing an experience. Instead of getting caught up in that experience we can chose to rise above it or wallow in it.

For those who would like to rise above it, Krsna will give us the magic formula. Just like the eye doctor figures out the prescription for your glasses/contacts so that you can see better, similarly Krsna will give us the proper glasses that are outfitted with the lenses of bhakti. Right now, we are simply sitting in the chair being educated about our condition and given options as to which lens we want to view the world. It's our choice, which one's we want to choose.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

the best teacher

Verse 2.23: The soul can never be cut to pieces by any weapon, nor burned by fire, nor moistened by water, nor withered by the wind.

Knowledge of both the material and spiritual are given in different ways throughout the Gita. Knowledge is given in a way direct way (i.e. we are not this body but the spirit soul), it is given in extremely detailed ways (as we will come to see) and here we are seeing knowledge given to us in another way - through negation.

As spiritual beings who have undergone lifetimes of experiences, it can be very difficult to understand subject matters that cannot be explained through the material senses. So what does Krsna do? In order to help us understand what the soul is, Krsna is putting it in context of the material senses. That is, he is describing the existence of the spiritual by explaining what it is not.

We all have experience of this. Sometimes when we are trying to explain a concept or object to someone, we define it by "what it is not." That is, if we cannot express what it is, then we express it in a way that describes what it isn't.

Since the spirit soul is not material, but due to the fact we can only relate with what is material, this explanation through negation is being utilized. That's not to say that Krsna hasn't tried to explain what the soul is in a detailed way. As a reminder, in previous verses, Krsna explained that the soul (by the symptom of consciousness) pervades the entire body, is eternal and is infinitesimally small.

Here, however, more detail is being given. The soul cannot be cut to pieces, be burned, be moistened by water nor withered by the wind. All the material elements cannot effect the soul. That's how powerful and protected the spirit soul is.

God is the perfect teacher. He knows the advancement and level of his students and thus teaches accordingly. We are so lucky to have a Lord who loves us so much!

Friday, February 22, 2013

shopping around

Verse 2.22: As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, the soul similarly accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.

Do you like shopping? I do. I especially like shopping for new clothes. There's something about purchasing a new garment because of the way it feels, the way it hangs, the colour, style and/or design. I think one of the ideas that marketers promote is the notion that new clothes represent the "new" you. Since you are constantly changing, your clothes should reflect that as well.

Similarly, that's what happens when we give up one body and take on another one. One could say that as you're going through this lifetime in your current body, you are (for most) unconsciously shopping around for your next body. How so? All the desires that one accumulates have an impact on the thoughts that circulate throughout one's mind. Ever notice that? At least that's the case for me. As soon as I want something, really want something, I can't think of anything else. It totally occupies my thoughts and think of ways to satisfy my desire to acquire it.

So all the thoughts and desires that one cultivates throughout one's lifetime sets the stage to "purchase" the next body once this one has run it's course. In shopping for material clothes, we go through the same process. Although the time frame for choosing an item maybe mere seconds, there are certain motivations or inclinations that push us to purchase the item.

This means that we need to become more aware! If we can actually have an impact on the type of body we can receive in our next life, we need to become aware of our desires. As aspiring bhakti yogis, however, the goal is different. The bhakti yogi would prefer to make this life, in this body, their last. Why so? Because the soul is eternal. Continuing the cycle of taking on different temporary bodies will never give the soul satisfaction irregardless of how strong, beautiful or intelligent that body maybe.

The goal of the bhakti yogi is to quit shopping! Just like the time may come when you look at your closet and feel, "This is ridiculous. I have way too many clothes!" Similarly, the bhakti yogi thinks "Doesn't matter if I get another body if I'm still going to be subject birth, disease, old age and death. I want out!"

That's what the Bhagavad-gita is all about. It's for those who may have never considered, are curious about or have decided - enough shopping!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

utility is the principle

Verse 2.21: O Pārtha, how can a person who knows that the soul is indestructible, eternal, unborn and immutable kill anyone or cause anyone to kill?

The principle of utility is being highlighted in today's verse. If someone fully understands something, it is only then that they can utilize it to it's full extent.

In this case, when one fully understands that the soul is indestructible, eternal, unborn, and immutable, it is then that spiritual life can begin. It's as though everything falls into place for the bhakti practitioner and all the questions and confusions that may arise due to misidentification with the body just washes away.

Everything has a purpose and whether an aspiring spiritualist or not, we all experience it in our lives. Why else do people feel like they are "meant to do" something? The bhakti texts speak about this in fact. They state that one contributes effectively to society when one works according to their nature and inclinations. The sad truth remains, however, that nowadays very few are encouraged to actually contribute to the world by honing and utilizing their talents and skills. Instead, security and money are the goal. So even if one is operating in the consciousness that "I am this body", they cannot be satisfied by trying to do something that we are not inclined towards. It's like fitting a square peg in a round hole.

Interesting, isn't it? This is the depth of the bhakti texts. Although ultimately they are there to help us develop our dormant love for God, they simultaneously provides us with information on how to function effectively in the material world. They tell us how to usefully engage our given body and mind. If you think about it, it makes perfects sense. Although we are not of this world, we are currently residing here. If we are not guided as to how to operate in the material world properly, then we will not only be unsuccessful materially but also spiritually!

For those who want to take it a step further, the bhakti texts then introduce the fundamental truth that we are not this body but actually the spirit soul. That knowledge is one of the keys to advancement in spiritual life. From there, one can now utilize the body in a way that serves the soul's actual purpose. So one has choices. One can learn how to utilize the body effectively for the sake of the body (which is temporary and subject to birth, disease, old age and death) or one can learn how to utilize it for the sake of the soul (which is eternal).

So in this way the body can be utilized either to gratify the senses or in devotion. So what does that mean? This is where bhakti is so practical. The practice of bhakti is not about negation but one of proper engagement. Those very senses which we use as a means to satisfy ourselves can instead be used in service of God. By our hands we can offer items in gratitude, by our lips and tongue we can glorify him, by our legs we can visit places of pilgrimage and so on and so forth.

It's our choice. We can continue in our vain attempts to satisfy the body through the senses or use our body in the service of satisfying God, which will naturally make us happy. This goes to show, that despite the fact the body is temporary, it is so useful! It is the vehicle by which we can show our devotion to Krsna.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Verse 2.20: For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time. He has not come into being, does not come into being, and will not come into being. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.

Ever wonder where we come from? Have you ever wondered what prompts you to ask that question? It's interesting how even our questions are subject to our experiences and identifications. Srila Prabhupada, the translator of the Bhagavad-gita as it is, very succinctly brings to light an important point in the purport to this verse. That is: Under the impression of the body, we seek the history of birth, etc., of the soul.

Puts a lot of things into perspective if we take the time to unpackage this statement. Our identification with the body effects us on so many different levels. It's not that we simply identify ourselves as "human". That's just the start of our assigning designations to our bodies. From there we start identifying ourselves as male/female, with country, race, religion etc... All of these things that we associate ourselves turn into identities. And like Prabhupada says, due to the fact that we associate the body with birth and death we bring in that same type of thinking when it comes to the soul. That is why Krsna is taking so much time to convince us that the soul is totally different than the body. It is not subject to birth, death, disease and old age like the body.

Let's get back to the concept of identifications. What did you answer the last time someone asked you what you did? Most people immediately throw out titles like student, professional, doctor, mom and so forth. Does anyone ever actually think to answer: "I'm trying to purify my heart so that I can re-establish my loving relationship with God and realize that I am actually the soul?" As an aspiring bhakti yogi or one is trying to love God, that is what we are actually doing! We may be a professional or a student or whatever, but that is not who we are actually are. What we do should be a direct reflection of who we really are.

It is true that we may have duties to perform and roles to fulfill but those titles don't represent the soul. They represent the body, circumstances and environments that we are in right now and are subject to change. This is not to minimize their importance, as we should fulfill them all to the best of our ability. In fact, the advanced bhakti yogi fulfills their roles as mother, father, provider, friend, citizen etc., expertly. However, the point is that we should not be so caught up in identifying with these designations alone that we lose sight of the fact that we are actually spiritual beings that are undergoing a material experience.

That is why the bhakti texts state that designations serve as obstacles in trying to realize we are the soul. It is very important to remember the context. No where do the bhakti texts recommend that one should detach themselves and give up everything. In fact, it is frowned upon as artificial renunciation. Practical realization that one is actually the soul will only serve to enhance relationships with others since such a person will be able to see all living entities as equal and worthy of the greatest respect.

However, coming back to the fact that many of us do identify ourselves with various material designations, the fact that we are conditioned to "accept truth" with our senses makes it even more challenging when we look in the mirror. We don't see the soul, but the body! If we can get over that fact and realize that it is the soul that causes the body to function, then we have all these other designations to trip us up. How so? Due to the fact that these identifications prompt various desires.

When a desire arises, what does a living entity do? They start making a plan as to how to fulfill that desire and so the endless cycle of planning and desiring continues. In fact, it is said that if we even have a pinch of material desire to execute our plan to fulfill that desire, we will have to accept another body. However, if instead we engage in devotional service (acting in the consciousness that everything is Krsna's and everything I do is an offering to Krsna), that begins the process of purifying our desires. Simply by acting in this consciousness, the process of bhakti starts to work.

Just yesterday, a friend of mine was relating an experience to me. She got cable TV in her house and was saying that she tried flipping through various channels trying to find something to watch but just felt uninterested and bored. Instead, she chose to spend that time glorifying God by chanting his names. She was expressing how peaceful and focused she felt afterwards. Simply by choosing to engage in one of the nine potent forms of devotional service (one of which is chanting), she automatically experienced practical experience of how God reciprocates with one who chooses to spend time with him.

This is how potent the process of bhakti is. Sometimes it may seem almost impossible to attain God consciousness with all the distractions that surround us. Hence the bhakti texts serve as a guide to make us aware of these impediments. Ultimately though it all boils down to love. God wants us to love him. All we need to do is: always try to remember him and never forget him.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

a requested verse on forbearance

Recently I posted up beautiful verse from one of the most amazing bhakti texts we are fortunate to have, the Srimad Bhagavatam. One of my friends liked the verse so much that she asked me to write about it. I eagerly took the opportunity since the Bhagavatam has always been there for me like a trusted and loyal friend and deserves to be honoured and recognized for being so invaluable.

The reason why I love the Bhagavatam so much is that it explains philosophy through stories. For someone who doesn't like to be told what to do (i.e. me!), this is such an effective teaching tool. Instead of saying "Do this," the reader gets to hear about great personalities who faced the consequences of making certain choices (whether they be positive or challenging) This way, if the aspiring bhakti wants to, (remember, we always have free choice!) they can learn from someone else's experience and benefit greatly. In essence, they won't have to realize things the hard way!

The verse I posted was this one: The devotees of the Lord are so forbearing that even though they are defamed, cheated, cursed, disturbed, neglected or even killed, they are never inclined to avenge themselves. Srimad Bhagavatam 1.18.48

There are so many things that could be said about this verse, but you know what? One can only speak/write according to one's realization. I am in NO position to say anything on this verse from the application perspective since I can only hope to aspire to become like this one day. One thing I can do, however, is give the back-story to this verse so that I can remember and honour a very great bhakti yogi - King Pariksit.

The story of his birth, in fact, is so incredible that I'm tempted to start there, but we'll save that for another day. Once, King Pariksit was out in the forest hunting. After a long day and feeling incredibly fatigued, he and his entourage started searching for water. In his quest to relieve his thirst the King happened upon the hermitage of a well-known sage called Samika. There the sage, along with many others, were sitting in deep meditation.

The king, who was incredibly thirsty, approached the sage and requested for some water. He was met with silence. I think everyone can relate to this, right? You've had a long day at work, waited for your bus for an hour, trudged through a blizzard and all you want when you get home is a glass of water and as you're taking off your shoes you ask a family member to get you a glass and you're totally ignored. Well this is how the King felt. In fact, he felt extremely insulted as the sage didn't even get up to properly welcome him or offer him a seat. Instead, the King felt that he was being ignored. Feeling insulted and angry, the King picked up a dead snake and lay it on the sage's shoulders and left.

Returning to his palace, the King being greatly pious and a sincere bhakti yogi, started contemplating his actions. Just like we often get confused and start pondering our actions after doing something rash, the King too started wondering if the sage actually had been in meditation or had simply been ignoring him. This is the consequence of anger. It robs us of our intelligence.

During this time, the son of the sage Samika heard about what had happened to his father. He, although young in age, had great power. He could not tolerate this dishonour done to his father and out of anger, cursed the King saying " On the seventh day from today a snake-bird will bite the most wretched one of that dynasty [King Pariksit] because of his having broken the laws of etiquette by insulting my father." He returned to the hermitage where he saw his father and out of grief started crying.

The sage slowly came out of his meditation hearing his son's cries and when he saw the snake lying around his neck, casually brushed it aside and asked his son what was causing his distress. This reaction by the sage is so telling. He did not ask why the snake was around his neck, but casually brushed it away as though nothing had happened.

When the sage found out what his son had done, he started to lament. The sage said, "The Emperor Pariksit is a pious king. He is highly celebrated and is a first-class devotee of the Personality of Godhead. He is a saint amongst royalty, and he has performed many horse sacrifices. When such a king is tired and fatigued, being stricken with hunger and thirst, he does not at all deserve to be cursed." The sage predicted, "Due to the termination of the monarchical regimes and the plundering of the people's wealth by rogues and thieves, there will be great social disruptions. People will be killed and injured, and animals and women will be stolen. And for all these sins we shall be responsible."

The sage knew that due to his piety the King actually had the ability to counter-curse his son and somehow save himself from his fate. However, the sage also knew that the King would never do such a thing since he was a first-class bhakti yogi who would never use such power for his personal benefit.

This is where this verse comes in. These are the words spoken by the great sage Samika in glorification of King Pariksit. Just see. Normally it is the sages who are glorified, but here a sage is glorifying a King. This is the power of bhakti yoga. Anyone can become exemplary and a great lover of God despite one's station.

As for King Pariksit, can you imagine being in such a position? You are condemned to death actually have the power to do something about it, but you choose not to? Instead, you accept your fate as being deserving of the action that you performed. In fact, what does Pariksit do after hearing of the curse? He abandons everything, goes to the forest and seeks out a bona fide spiritual master who teaches him the purpose of life. The Srimad Bhagavatam that we now hold in our hands are the words that were spoken to King Pariksit in his quest to know the highest purpose of life.

So, how does this apply to us? Well if you're like me, just hearing these stories over and over again is so helpful. One day, by constantly hearing and remembering such exemplary acts, we can pray that it will sink in and we can actually implement this lesson at a time when we are tested. The situation may come in the form of someone speaking ill of us, when we are neglected or even if we are cheated etc... Instead of becoming upset and looking to avenge the wrong that has been done to us, we'll remember King Pariksit and patiently endure. We'll choose forbearance.

necessity of guidance...

Verse 2.19: Neither he who thinks the living entity the slayer nor he who thinks it slain is in knowledge, for the self slays not nor is slain.

An interesting paradigm is set forth here which one can easily be confused by. It almost appears that Krsna is saying that nobody can actually kill or harm anybody (please note- this also pertains to animals!!!) since the soul cannot be slain. This could be easily taken out of context so let's clear that up that possible confusion right here, right now.

Srila Prabhupada, one of the foremost bhakti yogis of our time, paints a beautiful analogy to help us understand this concept. If a man is living in an apartment and you somehow drive him away from that apartment illegally, what will happen? The man will have to go out and seek some other shelter. The fact remains, however, that you driving him away illegally from his rightful place of shelter. This is a criminal act punishable by law. One cannot try to justify that by saying, "Although I have driven him away, he'll find some other place." That maybe true, but since it was his legal position to live in that apartment and since you forcibly drove him away you will be tried as a criminal and punished.

Similarly the same truth applies here. This is the greatness of realized and pure bhakti yogi practitioners. They can make seemingly confusing and intricate concepts so easy to understand.

The law, in this case, is a universal one propounded by numerous traditions, philosophies and religions: Thou shalt not kill. So, if one tries to drive another living entity out of his/her dwelling (i.e. their material body), what will happen? That soul be subject to another birth in another body according to their past karma. Though that soul will find another body to inhabit, it still holds true that you drove that soul of it's body illegally (i.e. the law states that thou shalt not kill). That means that you will be subjected to the laws of karma and will be held accountable and be punished for this crime.

This simple verse illustrates the complexities and nuances of bhakti. It is so easy to take things out of context if one does not have a proper guide to teach them. Still not convinced? Let's try to put this in a way that's extremely relatable. If you are really close to somebody and they say something, isn't it only natural that you will understand the subtexts that may underline their tone, choice of words and mood? That you will be able to glean what they really mean although others may not get it? Similarly, only those who are close to Krsna and who truly understand him, like Srila Prabhupada, can truly explain to us what Krsna is saying.

Remember, the Gita is a conversation so we can't just think to come into a conversation between two extremely close friends and hope to understand it on our own. We need a guide who is also dear to Krsna to explain it to us. Bhakti is all about personalism, so it's important to understand how to practically apply that even in the study of such great bhakti texts, like the Gita.

Monday, February 18, 2013

strength within

Verse 2.18: The material body of the indestructible, immeasurable and eternal living entity is sure to come to an end; therefore, fight, O descendant of Bharata.

The past few and upcoming verses specifically deal with the characteristics of the soul. Here we are told that it is indestructible, immeasurable and eternal. You know, it's interesting how we as a society are so preoccupied with the external. In our day to day lives, we are bombarded by descriptions and advertisements of the material body - beautiful people with the right body, hairstyle, clothes, makeup, accessories etc., and are told to run after it. Our knowledge of how to make our physical "look good" is far advanced, but what about the soul?

Whoever asks about descriptions of the soul? Very few people. In fact, most would be hard pressed to even name a scripture or text that gives specifics of the nature, size and qualities of the soul. This is why we are so lucky to have the bhakti texts. As inquisitive beings, it is not satisfying to hear vague answers, especially about important topics.

We know so much about the body, which we have mistakenly identified with for millions of lifetimes, so isn't it just as natural that we should become equally if not better versed about who we really are? Just as each of us know our eye colour, hair colour, size of clothing and physical capabilities of the machine we are currently operating (the body), similarly we should just as easily be able to list all the qualities that define the soul which is operating that machine.

This verse is educating us on the qualities we really should associate ourselves with. The soul can never die by any means. That is the actual meaning of indestructible. It's so strong. Something to take comfort in when we are feeling weak. The soul cannot be measured. The Gita gives descriptions of how small the soul is, but it cannot be measured by any material means, hence it is immeasurable. And finally, the soul is eternal. That means we do not need to fear death because we will never die. The machine, the external coverings we are currently inhabiting may wither away and cease to function, but we, the soul, will never die.

These three characteristics can give the bhakti yogi so much hope and strength. Self-help books often say that "We should look to see the positive qualities within ourselves". Well, I doubt anyone can find more comforting and empowering qualities than these ones. So remember this, as you continue your journey as a spiritual warrior. All the strength you are searching for is truly within.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


Verse 2.17: That which pervades the entire body you should know to be indestructible. No one is able to destroy that imperishable soul.

Consciousness. Today I had a realization about a very deep phrase one of the greatest bhakti yogi's, Srila Prabhupada, said regarding the practice of bhakti yoga. He said, "First be conscious. Then be Krsna conscious." Until today, I think I only understood that verse on a superficial level.

I used to think that this meant we needed to be aware of everything that was going on around us. Let me frame that for you. In the times we live in, multi-tasking is the "must-have" quality for anyone to succeed. The sad thing is that we forget about what we lose in the exchange. Sure, it's great to be able to do a lot of things simultaneously, but ultimately that means that we are not actually focused on anything at all. Our attention and energy is divided which means...our consciousness is also divided. We are not aware of any one thing that is going on because we get so easily directed by all the other things that are on our to-do list.

So that was my understanding of the phrase, "First be conscious. Then be Krsna conscious." By becoming more aware (and present) of what was going on in front of me now, this would mean that I would have a greater chance of seeing Krsna in those very things. I see now that although that is's only the tip of the iceberg.

In this verse, we hear about that which pervades the entire body - the soul. And what is the symptom of the soul? Consciousness. By this effect, "First be conscious" now takes on a whole new deeper meaning. It means: realize that you are the soul. When you realize you are the soul then naturally you can be Krsna conscious.

Of course, one can say "Easier said than done" and that's absolutely true...and that's where practice of becoming aware and being present in everything that we do or say comes in handy. It makes us aware of the superficiality that we assign such importance to. It is the practical application that we can engage in so that we can ultimately realize the truth: we are not the body, we are the soul. What happens when we realize that we are the soul? All the petty things that used to bother us won't anymore and we can focus on what's most important: becoming conscious of God (Krsna).

Saturday, February 16, 2013

the easy way

Verse 2.16: Those who are seers of the truth have concluded that of the nonexistent [the material body] there is no endurance and of the eternal [the soul] there is no change. This they have concluded by studying the nature of both.

Would you consider yourself to do/learn things the hard way or the easy way? Think about it...carefully. On greater inspection, personally, I've realized that my tendency is to do things the hard way. In fact, most of the material world seems to like to do things the hard way.

The clear indication of that is our tendency to just not "get it". For example, we all have experiences of trying to achieve something by doing the same thing over and over again thinking that "this time it will be different." This pretty much sums up our experience in the material world. Constantly hitting our heads against the wall without getting what we want.

That's doing things the hard way. In fact, Einstein said it best, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results."

So here, Krsna is telling us, "I"m giving you the answer. Not only I, but the great souls, have concluded that the material body is temporary and the soul is eternal." All we need to do is take this to heart. But oh no, our ego is thinking we know best and that we need to figure it out. What actually gets accomplished in the end with this thinking? Nothing. More frustration and anxiety.

This highlights the importance of taking bona fide guidance, not just in our spiritual lives, but in everyday life as well. Can you imagine trying to learn all the parts of a car, how they function and how they interact with one another on your own? It's not to say that one couldn't do it, it's just that it's the hard way! Instead if we learn from an expert mechanic and study under their guidance, everything is sped up.

So that's what the Bhagavad-gita and bhakti yoga is all about. It's the easy way to help us reconnect with God. So it's up to you, what are you going to chose in your material and/or spiritual life? The easy way or the hard way?

Friday, February 15, 2013


Verse 2.15: O best among men [Arjuna], the person who is not disturbed by happiness and distress and is steady in both is certainly eligible for liberation.

This verse talks about a topic that is pervasive in our society. The concept of eligibility. If you look at the way our world works, everything is about having the right qualifications to be considered eligible. Whether it be for a job, school, right to speak, finding a partner...that's what it really boils down to.

The funny thing is that although we encounter it daily in our lives, we don't talk about it often enough when it comes to spiritual life. It only makes logical sense that even in spiritual life there are eligibilities that one may aspire for, just like one may study certain subjects in high school so that they are eligible to further master them in University.

Of course, the Lord is so merciful that he allows anyone to approach him at any time, no one is refuting that. However, there are numerous things that can help us become eligible for even more of the Lord's mercy and empowerment. It's like this: just by being a son or daughter, we are automatically loved by our parents. But if the child reciprocates and does things for his/her parents, it makes the parents' hearts melt even more and often times even more facilities, opportunities and affection are given to the child.

Two of the most important qualifications to begin and develop in spiritual life are faith and sincerity. Faith allows one to continue on, even when times get rough, and sincerity results one in being honest with themselves and the level they are at in their spiritual advancement. These fundamentals allow for a strong foundation to grow in bhakti.

In this vein, it is important to note that there are different qualifications that make one eligible for further advancement in bhakti and that is what we are hearing about in today's verse. We hear about a person who is equipoised. One who is not disturbed by happiness or distress. Krsna, in fact, not only states this quality but then qualifies it by saying that "They are the best among men" and that "Such a person is certainly eligible for liberation."

I think this is an important point to remind ourselves of. Whether one is just beginning or has been practicing bhakti yoga for many years, just floating or maintaing the status quo is a trap we can easily fall into. It's so easy to just be comfortable. That's why it is important to read such verses where God is telling us exactly what we need in order to achieve something greater (i.e. all steps to re-establishing our relationship with him). In fact, I think we should read such verses and hear about these qualifications everyday. It's so inspiring and positive. What's more, it will give us the impetus to invest more in our relationship with God.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

one of my favorite verses!

Verse 2.14
: O son of Kuntī, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.

I'm so happy! Today I get to write about one of my top three ABSOLUTE favorite verses of the Gita. Verse 2.14. Why do I love this verse....oh probably for a million different reasons. I'll share the top five that came to mind today.

1. It's so beautiful. From a purely literary standpoint, this verse screams poetic. The imagery is just so vivid. Can you not just picture the melting of the snow, the warmth of the sun, the coldness of a windy, screaming blizzard and the scorching heat on a mid-summer's afternoon? These images mimic so beautifully our own experiences of feeling happiness and distress.

2. I love similes. For those of you who might have forgotten the rules of English (hehehe!) a simile is used when comparing two things using "like" or "as". In this case Krsna is comparing our experiences/feelings to seasons.

3. The reminder that happiness and distress are non-permanent is so expertly conveyed here. Everyone can relate to the winter and summer seasons having a definite beginning and an end, right? (Though that being said, sometimes Canadian winters do seem to drag on forever!) We often hear people say, "I can't wait for Spring," or conversely "I can't wait until Winter is over!" The thing is when it comes to experiencing feelings of happiness or sadness, we forget that the same temporariness applies during our actual experience of them. When someone is up they are really up and often feel like nothing can bring them down, but conversely the opposite is so true as well. Krsna is so sweetly and kindly reminding us of that fact and saying, "Hey! Don't get too caught up in those waves of highs and lows."

4. An extremely important truth is brought here. The idea that happiness and distress arise due to sense perception. What does that mean? One way of looking at is that one person's pleasure is another person's pain. Hence, there is no such thing (in the material world) of absolute happiness or absolute distress. As well, this reminds us that this happiness and distress we are experiencing is the interaction of the senses with the sense objects. It's not the soul that is actually taking pleasure or displeasure in these experiences, it is the body and mind that are decoding it as "good" or "bad".

5. So Krsna begins with a beautiful comparison that illustrates the temporariness of our enjoyment, then delves deeper by explaining exactly it arises from come from (sense perception) and then finally concludes powerfully by saying "one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed" Wow, personally, that's a pretty tall order. But before getting into that a bit deeper, let's first just rewind and unpack what "tolerate without being disturbed" actually means.

First of all, this does not propound that one shouldn't feel and/or repress one's emotions. Secondly, it is crucial to note that this phrase applies not just to our experiences of distress but ALSO those of happiness (and everything in between). That's right. One should "tolerate" happiness. So why does Krsna use the word tolerate here? He does so because he's trying to stress that these experiences actually have no impact on the soul and since we are the soul, we should tolerate them!.

The soul cannot be satisfied by anything material. Krsna is saying that everyone will have these experiences, since these experiences arise due to the bodily senses coming in contact with the sense objects. But remember! We are not our senses! So if we are not our senses, why are we investing so much time and energy and throwing ourselves into the experiences that arise due to them? Doesn't make a lot of sense does it? Instead Krsna is giving us a recommendation. Why not accept that these experiences come, but learn to be aloof. That way when these experiences come and emotions arise you can view them more objectively instead of becoming attached to them.

On the most practical level, when a bhakti yogi learns to tolerate happiness and distress, it allows him/her to become fixed in their practice of bhakti yoga. How often have we not accomplished or done something simply because we didn't "feel like it"? Furthermore, when one actually tolerates happiness and distress (go ahead and try it out for yourself!) one can see more clearly how often we attach importance to little things. This doesn't come easy and it take purification of heart, but next time you feel yourself feeling very distraught or supremely happy, take a step back. Analyze where those feelings are coming from. If you're happy, take the opportunity to thank God and if you're sad, remember that this too will pass.

the soul

Verse 2.13: As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change.

Arjuna's misconceptions (and our own) are directly addressed in this verse: misidentification with the material body. Krsna clearly outlines here one of the fundamental tenets of the Gita - we have a material body (which is temporary) and a soul (which is eternal). Our true identification should be that "I am a soul" and not be bewildered by the body that is currently on loan to us.

One may question, "So what if I identify myself with the material body? What does it matter?" It matters because the body is temporary, limited and is often a cause of misery. The soul, on the other hand, is characterized by three intrinsic characteristics. It is eternal, full of knowledge and full of bliss.

A beautiful analogy is given with respect to this verse. Just as a person puts on cloths and discards them later, the material body can be viewed in a similar way. The only difference is we wear this body for a longer time than the pants or shirt we might have put on this morning.

The body we receive is a direct result of our karma and consciousness in our previous life. That determines the type of body and facility we receive now. Like this, the cycle continues and so the soul gets trapped in the cycle of repeated birth and death.

With respect to death, this verse can help ease our misconceptions and trepidations regarding death. This verse and those to come propound that the soul never dies. The body, any body will die, but the soul will live eternally. The loss of friends, family and loved ones is certainly painful and never easy. However, one can take comfort that the soul that we were lucky enough to come in contact with will live forever.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

supreme comfort

Verse 2.12: Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.

All of us want to be eternal. Some may not wish to actually live forever (often this thinking is associated with the body and relationships we currently have) but all of us crave it in some fashion or another. The concept of legacy is very much related to eternality. Even if this material body ceases to exist, we all want to leave something behind and be remembered. Whether it be children, accomplishing one's goals or somehow affecting other's lives in a meaningful way, this concept of eternality is within us because it is who we are.

The soul is eternal and we are the soul. Due to the fact that the soul is wearing a material body, we easily forget that we are actually eternal and identify ourselves with the body which undergoes birth, disease, old age and death and which grows from boyhood to youth to "distinguished (aka: old)." :D

In this verse, Krsna gives us supreme comfort. He comforts all of us by saying that we have always existed and need not fear death. This is really powerful. Modern society tends to ignore death and hides it behind lots of other things. It is interesting to note though that many religions and spiritual traditions, including that of bhakti, speak of death in a matter of fact way and address it head on. They do not bring in the negative aspects, but instead focus on the positive. Some may question, "Is there anything positive about death?" The bhakti texts loudly answer by saying "YES!"

By being aware of death we can reflect on how we utilize our time. Our time is spent in so many ways whether it be in performing our duty, honouring commitments, having fun or just plain wasting it. For how many is spiritual life an actual priority? Sadly to say, not that many. But this awareness can help shift one's priorities. This doesn't mean one should neglect one's duty, family, job etc.., it just means that spiritual life has it's rightful place in one's schedule.

As well, this verse speaks of how loving and compassionate God actually is. Here Krsna reassures Arjuna by saying there was never a time when both Krsna, Arjuna and everyone else didn't exist. Krsna is saying here that, "My relationship with you is also eternal." It's not that we are eternal and don't have a relationship with God. No! Our relationship is eternal too. This goes to show how much God loves us. He will never give up on us and our relationship with him (whether we acknowledge it's importance or not). How lucky are we to have such a Lord that loves us unconditionally?

Remember that next time you feel unloved and down in the dumps. The Lord loves you more than you can imagine and is just waiting for you to remember him.

Monday, February 11, 2013

don't try to pretend to be something that you are not

Verse 2.11: The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: While speaking learned words, you are mourning for what is not worthy of grief. Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor for the dead.

As soon as Arjuna seeks shelter from Krsna as his student, the relationship changes. Although the love and affection is still there, Krsna immediately takes on the role of teacher and spiritual guide. And what is his first words? A chastisement.

Krsna immediately identifies the root of Arjuna's confusion and anxiety- his identification with the material body and not the eternal spirit soul. Note how Krsna does not waste any time. Interestingly, Krsna is also subtly scolding Arjuna. Arjuna is posing himself as a learned man spouting off all kinds of philosophy and Krsna is saying, "Why are you posing yourself as someone who is learned when you yourself are in anxiety? A learned person is one who knows the difference between matter and spirit."

This is actually a very important point, not just for anyone who wants to share spiritual knowledge but for one who is looking for guidance and a teacher to learn under. In this day and age it is very easy to propound oneself as an expert or guru. All you need to do is a little research, have some charisma and boom! You're revered.

Krsna is warning Arjuna of that here: don't try to pretend to be something that you are not. This requires some introspection and a warning that you may not like what you find. Most of us would like to think that we are honest and genuine. However, as aspiring bhakti yogis, it is not sufficient to just assume that we are filled with good qualities. The path of bhakti is one that actually reveals to us our shortcomings and gives us the process by which we can overcome them.

Upon introspection, one may find that sometimes the tendency does come up to embellish one's own qualities. I mean, who doesn't like to be asked for their opinion? There's nothing wrong with giving an opinion or advice in and of itself. It's the mood and consciousness that really matters. If anyone is in any position to give spiritual guidance, it is always the most important thing to give credit where it is due.

Although I try to write something on the Gita everyday, I always try to do so in the mood of an instrument. On my really good days, I'm overwhelmed with the feeling of feeling very tiny and incompetent. It's wonderful because I finally can realize the import of a beautiful prayer that is oftentimes spoken before a speaker gives a discourse on bhakti yoga:

mukam karoti vachalam
pangum langhayate girim
yat-kripa tam aham vande
shri-gurum dina-taranam

The translation to this verse is as follows: "I offer my respectful obeisances unto my spiritual teacher, the deliverer of the fallen souls. His mercy turns the dumb into eloquent speakers and enables the lame to cross mountains."

This attitude helps to put one in their rightful place. That of an instrument. Any spiritual understanding or realization we may experience only comes from the blessings of one's spiritual teachers' and Krsna. We ourselves can't do anything, but with the power of blessings we can do anything.

Similarly, the sincere student should always look for the appropriate qualities in a teacher. Don't let yourself be fooled by a vibrant and eloquent speaker who glorifies their own self. A true lover of God will always look upon themselves as a recipient of God's grace and feel themselves to be very low. Despite their humility, their actions will always reflect their true dependence on God and his empowerment. Practically, the manifestation of that empowerment will be felt by how they inspire and empower you.

That is a real bhakti yogi and a true teacher who can help us to not only love God but teach others to love God as well.

Sunday, February 10, 2013


Verse 2.10: O descendant of Bharata, at that time Kṛṣṇa, smiling, in the midst of both the armies, spoke the following words to the grief-stricken Arjuna.

On the surface, this verse seems pretty astonishing. Krsna is smiling at Arjuna's grief? What kind of God is this? Someone who takes pleasure in others' suffering?

Firstly, let's clear one thing up. Krsna is not smiling at Arjuna's grief. Krsna is smiling because his dear friend has now taken shelter of him. He is smiling because Arjuna wants to let go of the material suffering he is experiencing, as a result of identifying with his body, and instead wants to understand what reality is all about. Now that puts things in a whole different perspective, doesn't it? Just like a parent who may smile with compassion and understanding when their child comes to them in a heartbroken state and asks for help, Krsna too is smiling because this dear soul is now turning to him.

Arjuna is putting all his faith and trust in Krsna, a lesson we can all take inspiration from. Oftentimes, when things don't go the way we want, when we lose loved ones and when we see someone else getting something we think we "deserve", we blame God. C'mon, if you are in any way religious, spiritual or just believe in a higher force or entity, I'm sure you know what I'm talking about.

Our problem is that we have been burned by the material energy so often. Not just in this lifetime but in previous lifetimes. Although we may not remember those previous lifetimes, what we carry with us are the impressions from those lifetimes. Having been hurt, disappointed, misled, and betrayed, it is no wonder that we have such a hard time trusting one another, what to speak of God.

God doesn't work by "our rules", which by the way are often different for every single living entity. He gives us what we need. And what is that need? Normally it's not the red Porsche, million dollar book deal or perfect relationship. No, often those things will just drive us away from him since we will feel we don't need anything but material temporary pleasures. What we do need is a reminder that our trust and faith should be put in that person who will never let us down - God.

But we forget this and keep questioning "Why? What did I ever do to deserve this?" Thing is, we cannot remember everything we've done to deserve what we're receiving now, but Krsna does. The law of karma states that for every action, there is an equal reaction. Because we tend to live our lives thinking that nothing comes before or after this lifetime, this truth doesn't often bring solace to the heart. But, if we were to actually remember this, things won't affect us as strongly as they do.

Krsna only wants us to come back to him. So everything that happens to us, whether good or bad, is actually an opportunity to remember that. Anyone who is aspiring to reconnect with God will go through this. "But why?" we may ask and the answer is actually quite simple. To make us stronger. To deepen our faith.

Growth only occurs when there is some pressure. Whether it be a weight-lifter, academic or aspiring bhakti yogi, we grow the most in difficult conditions. Not conditions that will break us, but those that will stretch us. God loves us more than we can even fathom, so the next time you pose the question "Why?" remember that. The answer is because we need to grow and he's giving us the opportunity to come closer to him.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

attitude and the senses

Verse 2.9: Sañjaya said: Having spoken thus, Arjuna, chastiser of enemies, told Kṛṣṇa, "Govinda, I shall not fight," and fell silent.

The sanskrit to today's verse includes one of numerous names of Krsna - Hrisikesa. Hrisikesa means he who is the master of all senses. Arjuna in saying that he will not fight is taking on the position of all of us. He is still putting his personal sense gratification first. He is thinking that performing his duty as a warrior will bring him pain and so is situated in the "I am this body, and everything, whatever we find in this world, belongs to me" mentality.

But, as most of us have already figured out, this doesn't work. We can of course adopt this mentality, but it doesn't take us very far. Instead it brings us frustration and anxiety. Like a small child who is throwing a tantrum, we refuse to accept that there may be another alternative.

As aspiring bhakti yogis, the knowledge that Krsna is the master of all senses can be an impetus for us to a run an experiment. As one of the greatest bhakti yogis, Srila Prabhupada, writes "Krsna is the mater of the sense, and therefore, whatever senses I have got, the master is Krsna, the proprietor is Krsna. So when our senses are engaged in the satisfaction of the master of the senses, that is called bhakti."

Our senses can ultimately only be utilized for one of two things: ourselves or in the service of pleasing God. What many don't realize is that pleasing God will always bring us happiness whereas selfishly trying to satisfy our own senses, without acknowledging God for everything that we receive, only serves to further inspire us to become more selfish and illusioned.

See, the senses are not the problem in and of themselves, they just act as a medium. It is the attitude in utilizing this medium. This is not to say that we should never try to take pleasure in our senses, it is just the way we go about it. Bhakti is so practical that it explains to us in great detail how all the senses can be used:

Once there was a great king called Ambarisa who was (and is still) famous amongst bhakti yogis. He is held as a role model because despite having all the luxuries associated with royalty, his only interest was the spiritual welfare of his people. He is known as one of the greatest practitioners of bhakti yoga since he used all of his senses to bring pleasure to Krsna.

With his words he would describe the glories of Krsna, with his ears he would hear the words spoken by or about Krsna and his eyes would be engaged in seeing Krsna's form, temples and holy places. His sense of smell would be engaged in smelling the fragrance of various scents offered to the Lord and his sense of touch would be used in serving great bhakti yogis.

Try it and see for yourself. A simple way to begin this experiment is to simply become more aware of everything that is being given to you and take the time to say "Thank you Krsna." You'll begin to see that your whole world will change for the positive.

Friday, February 8, 2013

blind leading the blind

Verse 2.8: I can find no means to drive away this grief which is drying up my senses. I will not be able to dispel it even if I win a prosperous, unrivaled kingdom on earth with sovereignty like the demigods in heaven.

The purport to this verse is very beautiful and so I'd like to include the beginning of it here since I feel it's extremely relevant:

"Although Arjuna was putting forward so many arguments based on knowledge of the principles of religion and moral codes, it appears that he was unable to solve his real problem without the help of the spiritual master, Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa. He could understand that his so-called knowledge was useless in driving away his problems, which were drying up his whole existence; and it was impossible for him to solve such perplexities without the help of a spiritual master like Lord Kṛṣṇa. Academic knowledge, scholarship, high position, etc., are all useless in solving the problems of life; help can be given only by a spiritual master like Kṛṣṇa. Therefore, the conclusion is that a spiritual master who is one hundred percent Kṛṣṇa conscious is the bona fide spiritual master, for he can solve the problems of life."

Wow. "Academic knowledge, scholarship, high position, etc., are all useless in solving the problems of life." How often have we been taught to go after these very things in order to solve our problems? If there was any doubt, it's being cleared up here. We are a completely backwards society.

As a society, we value external beauty rather than taking the time to appreciate the good qualities that are inside. We emphasize money and power over morality and truthfulness. We look for the short-cuts and easy fixes instead of taking pride in hard work and developing patience.

In short, we are a society where the blind are leading the blind. All the "role models" and celebrities of today that are being emulated do not have the answers. We are being fooled. We are easily duped and mislead by lots of gloss and shine.

Just like Arjuna however, we need to come to this realization. We need to realize that living in this material world is hard work and we actually need to come to the point of frustration. It is from these feelings that we can start to crave something more and finally start to question. "Why is everything so difficult? Why does nothing turn out the way I want it to? Even if my desires are granted, how come I'm not as happy as I thought I would be?"

See, material problems cannot be solved by material answers. The only answer to material problems is spiritual solutions. Once again, this brings us back to the concept of guru. Although we are spiritual beings, we have forgotten our true selves. In order to tap into that essence, we need someone who has realized that they are not actually the body, but the soul.

So the next time you feel that sense of frustration, don't look towards a material solution. Even if it works, it's just a temporary quick fix. Instead use this as impetus to realize that as spiritual beings, we'll never be satisfied with that which is not permanent.

Thursday, February 7, 2013


Verse 2.7: Now I am confused about my duty and have lost all composure because of miserly weakness. In this condition I am asking You to tell me for certain what is best for me. Now I am Your disciple, and a soul surrendered unto You. Please instruct me.

I've been waiting for this verse for over a month now! This is one of the most important verses in the Gita and signifies a major turning point not only in the conversation but in Krsna and Arjuna's relationship.

All this time, Arjuna has been venting to Krsna about his confusion as a friend. He hasn't asked for answers or reached out for guidance. Now, Arjuna is asking for guidance. He is submitting himself to Krsna as his student.

Let's explore that word submit. One definition of the word means to yield oneself to the authority or will of another. That's pretty strong, stuff. This is what a real guru (spiritual teacher) and student relationship looks like. This type of relationship can only exist when there is strong faith and trust, on both sides. The student has faith and trust that this person can help them re-awaken their relationship with God and the guru has faith and trust that their student is genuine and sincere in his/her inquiry. How and why else would anyone want to "submit" oneself to another person? Essential to submitting oneself to a spiritual teacher is also the acknowledgement that "We don't know it all."

Our material conditioning has brainwashed us into thinking that we can figure everything out. This is the influence of the ego. However, to be an authentic student, we need to push that big, fat ego out of the way and face reality. The reality is when it comes to spiritual life, we don't know much. Why? Because real spiritual knowledge is not book learned. Yes, understanding philosophical concepts is important, but more important is to realize that knowledge. We need someone who has faced the trials and tribulations that one will undoubtedly encounter on the path of bhakti, who hasn't given up and has (as the Gita will describe in Chapter 4) seen the truth. One who has realized knowledge.

On the path of bhakti yoga, there are principles and details. Realized knowledge means being able to apply these principles and details according to time, place and circumstance. For example, one who is just learning how to cook is on the theoretical platform. Such a novice may think that certain spices are only used for certain dishes. But for one who has realized knowledge, they understand that spices not only accentuate dishes, they can be combined and even be used medicinally.

Arjuna is realizing that he is a novice. He knows a lot of theory but he is having trouble applying it practically. He has also realized that is leading him to only think in the short-term. Being intelligent, he understands that what is best may not be what feels good right away. So what does he say? He tells Krsna, "I am asking You to tell me for certain what is best for me." He is asking his guru, Krsna, for help.

The word guru is tossed around so flippantly these days. It's become like the word mantra and has entered mainstream vernacular. The downside to this is the fact that many people don't have a clue what guru means. Guru in sanskrit translates not only to mean teacher but to mean "heavy". See, having a guru is not a fad and the guru is not there to make you feel better materially. A true guru, a genuine bhakti yogi, is there to help you on your spiritual journey to reconnect with Krsna.

I remember when I was searching for my Guru in 2004-2005. I had met several authentic, powerful and realized bhakti yogis but I kept coming back to one person. I remember revealing my heart to this bhakti yogi and asking hims "What should I look for in a guru?" I'll never forget what he told me. He said, "You don't need someone who'll pat you on the back and say 'Good job!' all the time. You need someone who will ground you." Eventually that is the person who so kindly agreed to guide me on the path of bhakti yoga and I'm still in the process of learning how to submit myself to his spiritual guidance. Being a student is just a great responsibility as being a guru.

This is a very important point. Not only is it important to realize the need to have a bona fide spiritual teacher to guide one in their life, it's also essential to understand what having a guru means. It is a great gift and one that should not be taken lightly. In fact it is said: From Krsna we are given Guru, and it is Guru who can give us Krsna.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

good and bad

Verse 2.6: Nor do we know which is better — conquering them or being conquered by them. If we killed the sons of Dhṛtarāṣṭra, we should not care to live. Yet they are now standing before us on the battlefield.

I always find it incredibly amazing when things just line up in place. Some may call it coincidence, serendipity or luck, but I am more convinced then ever that it is direct reciprocation from God. The only thing we need to do is wake up and pay attention! Something that I certainly need to work on. :)

I bring this up because today's verse talks about duality and wouldn't you know, I was just listening to a talk on duality this morning. For those who may not understand what the bhakti texts speak of when they refer to duality, it is the aspect of labelling things as good or bad, hot or cold, black or white etc... Duality is something that surrounds us and is a large part of the material experience we are undergoing. There is a beautiful verse in the Vedic text called Caitanya Caritamrita that speaks on duality which I'd like to refer to here. The text is spoken in Bengali and I'll include it since it's so beautiful:

'dvaite' bhadrābhadra-jñāna, saba — 'manodharma'
'ei bhāla, ei manda', — ei saba 'bhrama' (CC. Antya. 4.176)

The translation is as follows: "In the material world, conceptions of good and bad are all mental speculations. Therefore, saying 'This is good' and 'This is bad' is all a mistake."

What I've always found of interest in this verse is the translation to the word 'manodharma' which means "religion of the mind." Have you ever thought that of your mind as having its own religion? Well, it does! And that religion is to categorize things as good or bad. See when the mind is trapped in the illusory conception of life (i.e. seeing everything separate from God), then its only frame of reference is to see everything in relationship to the body. Hence, the religion of the mind is different for every living entity since its frame of reference is itself. "Itself" here being the material body and not the true self- the soul.

It's a valuable lesson to keep things in perspective. We all go through moments, minutes, months and even years of feeling confused, hurt, resentful and misunderstood. When we feel this way it's because we are seeing good and bad in relationship to something that is only temporary - i.e. our material body. We get so worked up, no? Then we feel justified to act in a way that is unbecoming of a true lady or gentlemen.

I've taken to running my own personal experiment. I've stopped trying to label things that are and aren't happening to me as good or bad. Instead, it's simply an "experience". Although I'm still in the initial stages of my research, I notice that my mind isn't as disturbed as it normally is. Instead of boiling up inside and feeling that/it/he/she is good or bad, I consciously try to simply observe the situation, note the feelings that come up (bhakti is not about becoming numb or emotionless!) and try to look for the root cause of my emotions. Every single time, I've come to the conclusion that when I start to label something as good/bad it's because I'm perceiving the situation a certain way in relation to my body. I'm either feeling that I don't get enough credit, honour, glory, am misunderstood....the list can go on forever.

If we could only look for the lesson, life really wouldn't be so complicated. I'll end today by relating a small story that my spiritual teacher shared in a class today.

Close to thirty years ago, my guru was living in an asrama and was heading up a project to distribute bhakti texts across North America. The asrama received a new leader in charge and for whatever reason he would take to putting down my spiritual teacher. My teacher related how much this hurt his heart. He never told anyone, but at a certain point in time it was starting to become unbearable (i.e. he felt the situation was really "bad"). However, he was praying to Krsna to please help him and it just so happened the person who was insulting him went away for a few days. During that time, my teacher was asked to give a series of classes on a beautiful bhakti text called the Srimad Bhagavatam.

The story and texts he was asked to speak on were in relation to a great bhakti yogi who was being insulted. There, that bhakti yogi responds to the insults by saying that he is not affected since all the insults are in relationship to his body and not his true self - the soul. So why should he feel hurt or disturbed, since it actually has no meaning! My spiritual teacher felt such relief in these words and in fact from that day forward started to feel grateful to the person who was insulting him!!! He felt that, "This person is helping me to realize that I am not this body." When this person came back to the asrama, my teacher started noticing that this person stopped insulting him after some time. In fact, years later, this person actually came and apologized profusely to my teacher.

I find this experience so inspiring. It goes to show that everything we undergo here in this material world is simply happening to teach us that we don't belong here. The body we are in right now is not our permanent residence and so everything that we undergo that is seemingly good/bad is simply a tool to help remind us of that.

So the next time you feel something is good/bad, try not to engage in the religion of the mind. Instead, look for the beautiful lesson that is actually of value - we are spiritual beings having a material experience.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

real value

Verse 2.5: It would be better to live in this world by begging than to live at the cost of the lives of great souls who are my teachers. Even though desiring worldly gain, they are superiors. If they are killed, everything we enjoy will be tainted with blood.

Arjuna's words really hit me hard today, "Better to live in this world by begging..." This is not just anyone, but a person of kingly descent who is stating this.! It reveals to us what real detachment looks like and what true duty. Arjuna is on the battlefield only out of a sense of duty - to regain the kingdom that is rightly his (and his brothers) so that they can properly take care of the inhabitants. Arjuna has no attachment to wealth, as we can see by his words here.

So the question can be posed then, why are we running after wealth when Arjuna, who is actually royalty, is more than willing to give it up for the sake of morality? Why are so many people here in the material world more than willing to give up morality to make a few bucks?

The reason is we are empty and we don't realize it. We are beggars who think that a large bank account can fill the void that is growing larger in hearts. Name, fame, profit, adoration - everything that the material world promises can be likened to Monopoly money. It's fake and you can't actually do anything with it in terms of actual reality.

Gone are the days when children and adults alike are encouraged to question, "Why are we here? Who are we? What are we meant to do?" Instead those questions have been replaced with, "How much do you make?" and "How much influence do you actually have (i.e. what is your Klout score on Twitter?)".

I can't claim to not want name, fame, adoration, prestige and wealth. Wish I could, be that wouldn't be honest. However, the little I can claim to know is that it won't make me happy. I know this because I've experienced happiness. It's been when I've been singing my heart out in a kirtan. It's when I've been fortunate to get a few precious moments hearing directly from my spiritual mentor. It's when I've felt Krsna's direct reciprocation and grace in my life.

None of those moments involved any great wealth, but they left an indelible impression in my heart. The realization that despite still being attracted to the externals of the material world that it's only my relationship with Krsna and those who are dear to him that really fulfill me.

Arjuna can easily turn his back on wealth because he has the greatest wealth sitting beside him on his chariot and he knows it! He has has Krsna. In relation to this, there is a beautiful story of how much Arjuna values his relationship with Krsna that I would like to share.

Before the battle began, both Arjuna and Duryodhana came to see Krsna. Duryodhana arrived first and immediately sat at the head of the bed where Krsna was resting. Arjuna came sometime later and immediately went to Krsna's feet where he folded his palms and offered prayers. When Krsna awoke, he saw Arjuna first and a moment after twisted his body around to see Duryodhana. Duryodhana immediately spoke up and said, "Krsna, I came first and so according to etiquette, you must give me preference." To this Krsna replied saying, "What you say is true, but when I woke up the first person I saw was Arjuna. Besides, he is also younger and so we must give him preference." Duryodhana agreed and so Krsna continued saying that, "I know you have both come to me to help you out in the battle. However, I must tell you that I have taken a vow not to fight. So you may choose. You my have the large powerful army which I have at my disposal, or you can have weaponless me." Arjuna immediately chose Krsna and Duryodhana walked away happy with Krsna's army, not realizing that without Krsna on his side victory, morality, opulence and power could never be within his grasp.

This pastime illustrates Arjuna's love and faith in Krsna. He didn't care if he wins or loses as long as he had Krsna on his side. This is what true happiness is about - the realization that our relationship with Krsna is the most important thing. All the happiness, satisfaction and knowledge that come along with it are merely side benefits.

Monday, February 4, 2013


Verse 2.4: Arjuna said: O killer of enemies, O killer of Madhu, how can I counterattack with arrows in battle men like Bhīṣma and Droṇa, who are worthy of my worship?

I find it interesting how Arjuna speaks of counteracting those who are worthy of worship with arrows. Again, this is very relatable even in our own lives. Just replace actual arrows with the arrow-like words that we sometimes use to pierce people's hearts.

Ever speak harsh words to someone worthy of worship? Shamefully, I have to admit I do. All the time. They are called my parents! Mercifully they still love me and tolerate me but sometimes my temper gets the better of me and I say something that is just mean-spirited.

It's often hard to think of those who are nearest and dearest to us as those worthy of our worship. My parents are not only worthy of such respect because they are my parents, but they are also great bhakti yogis. I think that's where the problem lies. When we have a particular relationship with someone, it colours our perception. And it works both ways. We either become too familiar and forget to see whatever greatness that lies there or conversely we only see the good and then we are not able to recognize short-comings which we possibly might try to emulate.

In my own personal instance, I definitely fall into the "too familiar category." Interestingly though, Arjuna is falling into the "rose-coloured glasses category." As we'll hear about tomorrow, Bhīṣma and Droṇa are not conducting themselves in a way that is worthy of respect.

It's a balancing act. Whether it be regular life, or even more importantly, spiritual life, balance is required. If we are unable to see things "as they are" then our judgement and perception can be easily clouded. Hence, the importance of once again having a spiritual mentor. Such a person, who is balanced themselves, or as the Gita describes, is equipoised, can help sort us out. They can tell us when we are veering too far to the left or to the right and help ground us in the middle.

You know, today I really didn't know what to write about. There are days when I really feel that I haven't written anything and instead I've just been there watching as words appear on the page. Today was such a day. I think Krsna knew that I needed to be reminded of these two points. Firstly, there are several persons worthy of our respect/worship that surround us and it's important to recognize them and be aware of how we treat them. Secondly, being balanced in how we not only view others but in everything that we do is extremely necessary in the practice of bhakti; the only way we can learn to become equipoised is from those who already live it.