Gita Contest 2021
Once there was a king who had presented his daughter, the princess, with a beautiful diamond necklace. That necklace was very dear to the daughter. But one day, the necklace was stolen, the daughter became terribly sad. The king ordered his men to find to find it, but all their efforts were in vain. Some people said that they saw a bird carrying it. The king announced a huge reward for anyone who found it. Then one day, the king’s clerk was walking home along a river next to an industrial area. This river was completely polluted and filthy. The clerk saw a shimmering in the river and when he looked closely, he saw the diamond necklace. He put his hand in the filthy, dirty river and grabbed at the necklace, but some how he couldn’t catch it. He tried again and again but every time he failed to catch it! Finally he plunged into the river, dirtied himself and tried to grab the necklace and yet he failed. He came out feeling very depressed.
Just then a sage who was walking by, saw him, and asked him what was the matter. The clerk very reluctantly shared the truth with the sage. The sage could see that this man was troubled; the sage could actually see where the necklace was and told the man to look upwards to the branches of the tree, instead of in the filthy river. The clerk looked up and true enough, the necklace was dangling on the branch of a tree. He had been trying to capture a mere reflection of the real necklace all this time.
Now, this is what is called maya or illusion. maya means ma (not) – ya (which is), in other words, “that which is not”. In this incident, he was thinking he saw the necklace, but that was not the necklace. That was a mere reflection, in other words, it was illusion.
Due to illusion, a poor thirsty animal in the desert keeps running towards a mirage, thinking that he can find water, but actually as he runs after the mirage more and more, his thirst and his distress increases more and more and eventually he dies.
When we run after illusory things, illusory happiness, instead of getting happiness, it actually increases our distress. The more we run towards it, the more the distress will be.
However, we should carefully note that, unless there is real object, there is no reflection.
Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita,
aśvatthaṁ prāhur avyayam
chandāṁsi yasya parṇāni
yas taṁ veda sa veda-vit
The Blessed Lord said: There is a banyan tree which has its roots upward and its branches down and whose leaves are the Vedic hymns. One who knows this tree is the knower of the Vedas. (15.1)
So this material world is a perverted reflection of the spiritual world, where the eternal reality exists.
In this material world, we see the reflection and mistake it to be real. Just like in the dream, we consider the dreamy happenings to be real and we become worried. What if our whole life from birth to death is like this dream. And after death, we enter into another dream, another birth/death sequence, and so on so forth. Finding happiness in this dreamy illusory existence is like trying to find the illusory reflection of the necklace. Or it is just like the animal trying to run after the mirage.
It is said further in the Bhagavad Gita:
The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal, fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind. (15.7)
Even though we are supposed to be eternally happy with Krishna, we are struggling in this material world, trying to exploit matter and looking for illusory happiness.
Does this mean that everything we see in this material world is illusion, it has no reality and no value?
Matter does exist. In fact Krishna says that matter is his energy:
bhūmir āpo ‘nalo vāyuḥ
khaṁ mano buddhir eva ca
ahaṅkāra itīyaṁ me
bhinnā prakṛtir aṣṭadhā
Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego—altogether these eight comprise My separated material energies. (7.4)
Matter is not false or illusion. It is real. But it is transient in nature. Just like a dream, it exists for certain duration and it ends. Material happiness, whatsoever, is short lived and transient. It does not satisfy our quench for eternal never-ending happiness. So, to think that matter is meant for my eternal happiness and thus living a life exploiting it for my sense gratification – this false conception is called illusion.
Some might argue that this is being pessimistic and that there is lot of happiness we tangibly feel even in this so-called illusory existence. Yes, we may feel we do enjoy some happiness in this world. But the scriptures say that that kind of enjoyment is like eating a delicious sweet rice mixed with particles of sand, just like the person in the story tried to catch the necklace but got muddied with all filthy water, and was only happy for the time being thinking he will get the necklace!
How do we get freed from this illusion?
When we understand that matter is one of the energies of Krishna and hence must be used for his service, that is not illusion. That is eternal reality!
Krishna consciousness is a process by which we use everything in this material word in the service of Krishna. Then we don’t live in illusion, rather we live in reality and our consciousness gets purified from the illusory concept of life.
Just like a person in the dream can be woken up by an alarm sound, the spiritual sound is the only way to wake up the sleeping soul from his illusion. Krishna sends His pure devotees, His holy names, His Temples, His Deity into our material existence to get us out of the dream. So while living in the material world itself, we can use the material energy in the service of Krishna and eventually at the time of death, we go back to the real spiritual world.
On the evening of October 1, 2017, Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old man from Nevada, opened fire upon the crowd attending a music festival in Las Vegas. From his 32nd-floor suite in the Hotel, he fired more than 1,000 bullets, killing 60 people and wounding 867. About an hour later, he was found dead in his room from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His motive is officially undetermined.The incident is the deadliest mass shooting committed by an individual in the US history!
Now, the 60 people who were killed, were they destined to die? Was Stephen Paddock destined to kill them? Was he a victim of circumstances beyond his control – “a pawn in the hands of fate”? Or did he have a free-choice to avoid it? Would those people have survived if he didn’t choose to do this?
The philosophical question of fate versus free will is an old one. Are we captains of our fate, or do we have no control over our thoughts and actions?
Bhagavad Gita reconciles the two poles of the fate-and-free-will controversy.
Bhagavad-Gita talks about karma or destiny in this way:
yajñārthāt karmaṇo ‘nyatra loko ‘yaṁ karma-bandhanaḥ… (BG 3.9):
Any activity done for our own sense gratification produces “karma bandhanah” or a certain future bondage. This is what is called future destiny.
At the same time, Krishna talks about free-will to Arjuna:
…vimṛśyaitad aśeṣeṇa yathecchasi tathā kuru (BG 18.63)
“Deliberate fully and do as you wish”.
mamaivāṁśo jīva-loke… (BG 15.7)
God is supremely independent and free. Since we are His amśa (parts and parcels), we are also independent and have free-will, but to a minute degree.
So according to Bhagavad Gita, the situations or circumstances we are currently placed in, is a result of our previous activities or previous choices we made. That is, we paved our own destiny. At the same time, within a given situation or circumstance, we still have the free-will to act in a particular way.
Some examples to clarify this concept:
- A young man is given $100 by his father to purchase things at a mall. Now, the $100 can be compared to his destiny. And what he does within that $100 is his free-will.
- A person buying a ticket for an roller-coster ride in an entertainment park. He goes and sits in the seat, buckled up. When the ride starts, he has very little control of the situation. And his free-will becomes even more restricted. He can either close his eyes, or open up his arms, or can scream or choose to stay silent etc.
- If one does unregulated and sinful activities unbefitting a responsible human life, they will become an animal in the next life. And in animal life, they have to act like an animal and the free-will becomes restricted even further.
So, in other words, every moment we are making choices with our available free-will and that is paving the way for our future destiny.
Human form of life is obtained after transmigrating from 8,000,000 lower species of animal life. The human form of life gives us more free-will to choose our actions, unlike the animal life where they are completely under the control of material nature. By our actions, we can either become an animal or we can go to the highest spiritual planet, known as Goloka Vṛndāvana.
Now, Krishna tells Arjuna in Bhagavad Gita:
kālo ‘smi loka-kṣaya-kṛt pravṛddho
lokān samāhartum iha pravṛttaḥ
ṛte ‘pi tvāṁ na bhaviṣyanti sarve
ye ‘vasthitāḥ pratyanīkeṣu yodhāḥ
“All these people assembled on the battlefield are put to death by Me already because of their previous actions.”
Whether Arjuna participated in the war or not, they will die, somehow or the other. But Krishna gave Arjuna a choice to be part of His plan and thereby be freed from any future bondage (mukta-saṅgaḥ samācara – BG 3.9). Similarly, if we use our free-will in choosing service of God, that action does not lead to any future bondage or destiny. If we choose our own path, then a certain future destiny will be created according to our actions.
So it is clear that Stephen was responsible for his choice. If those 60 people were to die by destiny, they would be put to death through some other way by nature’s arrangement. No one should act on their own behalf, for you will be held responsible for your actions.
Now, what if someone had to rob or steal because of extreme hunger or poverty. Or someone became drunkards or smokers or even terrorists because of extreme circumstances or injustices beyond their control. As discussed above, we should accept that we created our own bad situation by our previous actions. Now forced by the situation, if we choose a wrong path, our future gets even more worse. So we have to educate ourselves and educate everyone about this knowledge of Bhagavad Gita. Irrespective of how tough the material situation is, we can still choose to act in a Krishna conscious way, because Krishna consciousness is ahaituki and apratihata i.e., it is beyond any material limitations. Finally, Krishna gives assurance in Bhagavad Gita:
mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja
ahaṁ tvāṁ sarva-pāpebhyo
mokṣayiṣyāmi mā śucaḥ
“I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.”
Once, a 23-year-old New Mexico man, Perry, was facing a murder charge after fatally beating his friend Chris with an electric guitar and a microwave. Why did he do it? Because his friend Chris had been binge-watching The Walking Dead on Netflix and allegedly became a zombie and tried to bite Perry. Perry was also highly intoxicated at that time. The police concluded that the root cause of this incident was: binge-watching and binge-drinking.In both cases, it was their uncontrolled mind that caused their downfall.
We all decide to do something important but for some reason we always just get side tracked by other petty engagements.
Our addictions, bad habits, lack of determination, lack of focus, negativity, envy, greed, lust, anger, inability to control our words — all of these is because of our uncontrolled mind!
The scriptures compare the human body to a chariot, the senses to the horses driving the chariot, the mind is compared to the reins, and the intelligence to the driver who maneuvers the chariot. The passenger of the chariot is compared with the soul, the real occupant of the body.
Ideally the passenger (spirit soul) is supposed to direct the driver (the intelligence) and the driver (intelligence) is supposed to control the reins (the mind), and the reins are supposed to control the horses (the senses).
What happens when the horses run wild and the reins are not properly handled? The whole chariot is destined to go haywire and the passenger (the soul) suffers.
Srimad Bhagavatam therefore says:
One who thinks that he has many enemies is an ignorant man. A person in knowledge, knows that there are no enemies but those within oneself—the uncontrolled mind and senses. (SB 7.8.9)
On the other hand, a controlled mind is the best friend of the living entity.
Haridas Thakura was an exalted Vaishnava saint. Once an envious man conspired to spoil the reputation of Haridas Thakura and hired an attractive prostitute to woo him. But in spite of extreme temptations, Haridasa Thakura restrained his senses with a controlled mind, and even transformed her heart and the prostitute eventually became a devotee of Lord Krishna.
Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita,
bandhur ātmātmanas tasya
anātmanas tu śatrutve
For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his mind will remain the greatest enemy. (Bhagavad Gita 6.6)
So how to control the mind?
cañcalaṁ hi manaḥ kṛṣṇa
pramāthi balavad dṛḍham
tasyāhaṁ nigrahaṁ manye
vāyor iva suduṣkaram
“The mind is restless, turbulent, obstinate and very strong, O Kṛṣṇa, and to subdue it is, it seems to me, more difficult than controlling the wind.” (Bhagavad Gita 6.34)
The most qualified Arjuna himself certified that to control the turbulent mind is even more difficult than capturing the wind.
Then what is the easiest process?
Story of a genie:
Through a boon, a man once got a magic bottle and a genie inside it. When invoked, the genie comes out of the bottle and tells his master, “I will do whatever you tell me, but you must keep me busy. And as soon as I don’t have anything to do, I will kill you.” The master says, “Okay, you can begin by cleaning the kitchen.” The genie cleans the kitchen and comes back. “All right, clean the living room.” “Okay, clean the bedroom.” “Clean the hallway.” “Clean the basement.” “Clean the attic.” Pretty soon the whole house is completely clean. Now, the master is running out of ideas and begins to panic, because if he doesn’t keep the genie busy, the genie is going to turn on him and kill him. Suddenly he gets an idea. He keeps a ladder against a wall and asks the genie to go up and down on that ladder continuously and tells the genie to be engaged like this until he calls him again.” The genie is happily put to work and the man becomes relieved!
Now, in this story, the genie represents the mind. If we don’t keep the mind engaged, the mind will turn on us and murder us. As the saying goes, “an idle mind is a devil’s workshop”. We have to keep our mind engaged. Not just materially, but spiritually. Material engagement is temporary and unsatisfying for the mind just like how the genie kept coming back. But when the mind is satisfied with a higher spiritual engagement, the mind’s restlessness is cured and the mind is happily engaged always.
So the easiest way to control the mind, as suggested by Lord Chaitanya, is chanting “Hare Krsna,” the great mantra for deliverance, in all humility.
mantra means man + tra, one which delivers the mind from all anxieties.
The genie was never able to fix on one thing until it got its final task of going up and down the ladder. This refers to the process of going up and down the japa mala (chanting beads) and the mind is happily engaged.
Srimad Bhagavatam also confirms this process: sa vai manah krsna-padaravindayoh: one must engage one’s mind fully in Krsna. Only then will there remain no other engagements to agitate the mind. Then one should engage the various senses in serving the mission of Lord Krishna. Only by such higher engagement can the senses be controlled.
In conclusion, if we divert our mind to thoughts of material enjoyment, then our mind becomes uncontrolled and an enemy, and if we concentrate our mind on the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa, then our mind becomes controlled and our friend. Hare Krishna!
Why was the caste system followed in ancient vedic times if it lead to discrimination, oppression and abuse?
Well, this is a popular misconception. This system, actually called as “varnashrama system” and not “caste system”, was not a mundane system where people are divided by region, race, family, color etc. This Varnashrama system engaged different people according to their own nature, and eventually helped them elevate from animal consciousness to God consciousness!Lord Krishna explains in Bhagavad Gita:
cātur-varṇyaṁ mayā sṛṣṭaṁ
tasya kartāram api māṁ
viddhy akartāram avyayam
“According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me…” (BG 4.13)
These divisions are created by the Lord for the systematic development of Kṛṣṇa consciousness in a human being.
These divisions are quite natural. For example, there is always a class in society which is known as the intelligent class (called as brāhmaṇas) and they are interested in knowledge, spirituality and philosophy. Similarly, there is a class of people who are interested in administration, protection and justice (called as kṣatriyas). Similarly, there is a class of people who are interested in economic development, business, farming, industry and money-making (called as vaiśyas). And there is another class who are satisfied by labor and providing service to others. They are called śūdras, or the laborer class. Human society always has these four natural divisions. It will be unnatural to stop this.
Scriptures compare society to the human body. The brahmanas are compared to the head, the kshatriyas to the arms, vaishyas to the belly and sudras to the feet. One part may be positioned higher than the other just to facilitate its optimum contribution to the body. But all are necessary for proper bodily functioning.
Interestingly, we find similar divisions in modern corporate companies – researchers, managers, financiers and workers. This division is not discriminatory, rather it is fair, because people are classified as per their abilities.
As Lord Krishna says in BG 4.13 above, birth is not the criterion of this social classification. It is based on “qualities (guna)” and “activities or working capacity (karma)”. And in 18th chapter of Bhagavad Gita, Krishna explains various qualifications by which these divisions are done (BG 18.41 to 45).
“Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, wisdom, knowledge, and religiousness-these are the qualities by which the brāhmaṇas work.” (BG 18.42).
“Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity, and leadership are the qualities of work for the kṣatriyas.” (BG 18.43)
“Farming, cow protection and business are the qualities of work for the vaiśyas, and for the śūdras there is labor and service to others.” (BG 18.44)
Finally it is concluded that: “By worship of the Lord, who is the source of all beings and who is all-pervading, man can, in the performance of his own duty, attain perfection.” (BG 18.46). So everyone can progress spiritually by engaging in duties which are natural to them, without having to feel that it is lower or higher.
The default “caste-by-birth” idea is not prescribed in vedas:
There was once a boy named Satyakama Jabala who approached Gautam rsi to become a disciple. Gautama rsi wanted to find out who the boy’s father was. The boy approached his mother who happened to be a prostitute. The mother honestly admitted to her son that she does not know who his father was. The boy went back to Gautama rsi and unhesitatingly revealed the truth. Gautama rsi immediately accepted the boy as his disciple and declared the boy to be a brahmana, as he spoke the truth unhesitatingly.
Furthermore, Suta Gosvami, Kanaka, Kanchipurna, Tukaram, Sura dasa and Haridasa Thakura… were all revered as saints, despite being low-born.
Engaging people as per their psychophysical natures is natural and scientific.
When a person is trained according to their natural inclination, they excel in their vocation, become emotionally satisfied, economically secure and avoids unnecessary competetion for others’ so-called lucrative careers.
How did this system avoid exploitation?
Firstly, the brahmanas, even though socially situated as the upper class, would voluntary accept material poverty to not be distracted from their absorption in service to God, and from their study and teaching of scriptures. A well-known example is Chanakya Pandit, who was instrumental in installing Chandragupta Maurya as the monarch of Northern medieval India, lived in a simple hut. Similarly, the kings would understand and demonstrate detachment that the kingdom belonged to God and they were acting as servitor-caretakers on His behalf. When the lower classes would see the upper classes’ detachment and service to God, they would also peacefully and unhesitatingly execute their role, without revolting.
And then it was imperative for the upper castes – the brahmanas and kshatriyas – to retire at around fifty (called the ‘vanaprastha’ stage) and focus fully on self-realization. This facilitated their spiritual goal of life, but also checked them from becoming exploitative.
Then how did the widespread perversion of caste-by-birth originate?
In medieval times, a coterie of unqualified upper caste people, wanting to hold on to upper caste privileges, started claiming that caste was decided by birth and was unchangeable. And thus began the unfortunate history of casteist discrimination.
Similarly, there are many other problems around the world in other societies and countries – like slavery, racism, inequality, oppression, exploitation and so on so forth, the root cause of all of them is “materialism”. When people imagine that material things – wealth, power, positions and possessions – are the only way to happiness, they seek to acquire these by any means – and cause all these problems.
The antidote for materialism is spirituality, or Krishna consciousness i.e., to understand that we are eternal souls, beloved sons and servants of God, Krishna, we can attain eternal happiness only in His devotional service. So actually varnashrama is the best social order and the springboard to foster Krishna consciousness.
And in this age, whether or not varnashrama is possible to be resurrected, it is advised that one focus on improving one’s Krishna consciousness by hearing about Krishna and chanting “Hare Krishna”!