Krishna’s last lesson for Arjuna

As soon as Sri Krishna concluded his divine play on Earth and left the planet, Arjuna understood that it was not his power that had won the Mahabharata war but that he was only a puppet — an instrument that Krishna had shaped to carry out his plan. It is interesting to note that Arjuna, in spite of his nearness to Krishna, took an entire lifetime to understand this, reflecting the situation of all jivas.

Earlier, Arjuna had seen his own chariot turn into ashes and a big miracle by Ved Vyas and had heard the lecture by Krishna, especially delivered to him. Yet, being a human being, he could not understand the most important points. Sometimes, difficult lessons in life are understood by revising the related theoretical concepts again and again; when this approach does not work, we have to experience the difficulty ourselves and come out of it. Now that Arjuna’s time to leave Earth was also near, Nature delivered the final lesson: Arjuna lost a battle to ordinary thieves who were fighting with wooden clubs and running away with Dwarka’s wealth. To make it worse, he even forgot how to discharge his arrows from the bow. For a warrior who possessed all the divine weapons reachable in the solar system, this was a major blow to the ego — the biggest loss that he had ever experienced. Possibly, this event was much bigger for him than the destruction of all the generals of the Kuruvansha and the Yaduvansha.

As the Vishnu Purana tells us, when Arjuna visited Ved Vyas after losing his last battle, Vyas said “Everyone that is born must die. Everyone that rises must fall. A union always ends in a separation, and all accumulation ends with a loss.” Vyas further advised the Pandavas to renounce everything, leave the kingdom, and spend their remaining days in the forest.

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In a temple: Rituals vs. Devotion

If journalists are asked by their boss to visit a temple and find out whether attendants are performing a non-devotional ritual or an act of pure devotion, why would this task be scary for them? Because both events would probably be occurring simultaneously in the temple, and the answer would depend on the intention and desires present in the minds of the participants. While one person may be immersed in the selfless remembrance of the Deity during the ceremony, the other, a job hopper, may be performing the same ceremony for better opportunities. In fact, it takes an antaryami to actually differentiate between sakama karma and nishkama karma [1]. And the universe has only one true antaryami. But we mortals can still discuss the differences between devotion and a ritual to further our understanding.

Assume another similar real-world scenario, where a seeker goes to a nearby temple for worshipping the Deity everyday. But after continuing for a few days, the worship creates a sense of achievement in his mind. With some mutual admiration, the ego (ahamkara) darts off and the individual starts thinking that he, now closer to becoming a saint, is much superior to the people around him, especially the ones not present in the temple [2]. Would you classify this person’s actions as devotional? Wouldn’t directly requesting the Deity for material gains be preferable to this kind of worship?

Many modern intellectuals like to group selfish rituals and devotion (bhakti) together. As a result of their approach, Hindu devotionalism gets wrongly interpreted as being ritualistic. At the same time, the idea of this post is not to follow the experts who label “ritual” as an inferior word, for that would be another mistake. But it only aims to underline that devotion and rituals are not synonyms. What is the take home message? A ritual may be an expression of devotion, but devotion does not need any rituals.

 [1] Antaryami refers to the personality who knows the inner feelings of beings. Sakama karma refers to actions performed with a material desire; nishkama karma refers to selfless actions.
[2] Such phenomena are not limited to Hindu temples but can be observed in the places of worship of all world religions.

Feel free to share your views on rituals and devotion. Don’t hesitate if our views differ.

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Nine forms of Bhakti

We have already talked about the Navadha bhakti summarized in the Ramacharitamanasa. For a quick comparison, the nine forms of bhakti from the Puranas are listed in the table below.
FORM
FOCUSES ON
AN EXEMPLAR
Shravana
Listening
Kakbhushandi
Kirtana
Chanting
 Valmiki
Smarana
 Remembrance
 Kaushalya
Padasevana
 Lord’s Lotus feet
 Bharata
Archana
 Worship
 Shabri
Vandana
 Prayer
 Vibhishana
Dasya
 Service
 Jambavan
Sakhya
 Friendship
 Nishadraj Guha
Atmanivedana
 Surrender
 Lakshmana

Though the examples selected in the table above are all from the Ramayana, the nine forms of bhakti, being timeless, are experienced by contemporary devotees of all forms of the Divine. Also, because one form of devotion generally attracts the other forms of devotion in the heart, most bhaktas radiate more than one type of bhakti.

And if you are searching for Lord Hanuman on the list, he has been excluded. Why? Because his name can not be placed on a list with others; all beings, mortals and immortals, receive Rama-bhakti solely by his grace.

Please feel free to use the comments section to share the name of your favorite bhakta/saint (Vaishnava, Shaiva, and/or Shakta) and indicate the type(s) of bhakti that he or she focused on.

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Hinduism: Main beliefs

I am sharing some Hindu beliefs that I personally find significant. Though these beliefs are popular, I would not like to impose them on all Hindus.

Existence of Truth

Hindus believe in the existence of a supreme reality. For most, this refers to the Divine – Rama, Shiva, or Durga. For the atheistic, this could refer to supporting the notion that goodness is a better option in life than hurting others. After all, the actual word for Hinduism is “Sanatana Dharma.”

Multiplicity of paths

Hindus believe that there is more than one way to approach the ultimate reality and therefore respect alternate viewpoints. They understand that there may not be a right answer for every question. This aids in maintaining the dynamic nature of Hinduism.

Dynamic learning

Just like beings can amend the constitution in a democracy, the knowledgebase of Hinduism can be updated. This does not mean that anyone can write a new Upanishad. It means that we can become a Brahman-rishi or bhakti saint one day and then write a new Purana or Upanishad.

Because of Hinduism’s adaptability, every vote, even that of the unrealized, counts in Hinduism. Because every viewpoint has some lesson, it is worth listening to, though we do not have to follow it.

Liberation for all

Freedom is a property of the soul; every being deserves it and eventually reaches a state of total bliss. This is the final aim of life in Hinduism.

Perishability

Everything other than the Divine and his name is perishable or less permanent.

Divine jurisdiction

Sita-Rama, the queen and king of the universe, the Bhavani-Shiva, our divine parents, continuously observe our actions, including the intention with which they are performed. Saying “sorry” for our bad karma may wash away some of our karma, but we still have to change ourselves to reach bliss.

Grace

Hindus believe in the existence of grace (kripa), but even the best saints and philosophers of Hinduism do not quite understand how the grace of Rama works. So I’ll stop here as well.

Beyond theory

Bhakti and realization are independent of philosophy. If we like a specific philosophy or Vedantic commentary and want to use it on our path to God, we can. But all theories are optional; they are not necessary for reaching God.

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Does Rama need the prefix “Bhagavan”?

Beings who like Rama are free to use the term Bhagavan as a prefix to his name if they wish to. In fact, they can alternatively choose any other word from a big list of similar words, including Paramatma, Para Brahman, Parameshwara, Para Shakti, and Purushottama. Yet the truth is that Sita-Rama, unlike many other forms of the Divine, does not need any of these titles. Such terms can not be combined to create the beautiful sound of Ramanama, but these terms simply remain eternally seated around Rama’s name as adjectives [1, 2].

Though Rama is extremely calm, his leela speaks out for itself. During Sita Devi’s swayamvara, right after Rama broke Shiva’s bow, an incarnation of Vishnu had begged Rama for his own karmic purification. Because this incarnation, who accepted Rama’s grace, can also be addressed to as “a form of the Divine” by jivas, the incident highlights the extensive difference between Sita-Rama and other divine beings. Besides, in today’s world, more and more mortals have started claiming themselves to be Bhagavan or Brahman. This gives another reason to why these words no longer eulogize Rama as they could.

Happy birthday to Rama, who is beyond thought!

[1] The same also holds for Bhavani-Shiva, whose name is independently blissful and beyond such theoretical adjectives.
[2] Also read an earlier post on why Goswami Tulsidasa feels that we can never praise Rama enough.

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