We read from Srimad-Bhagavatam, Canto Two, Chapter Seven: “Scheduled Incarnations.”
asmat-prasada-sumukhah kalaya kalesa
iksvaku-vamsa avatirya guror nidese
tisthan vanam sa-dayitanuja avivesa
yasmin virudhya dasa-kandhara artim arcchat
Due to His causeless mercy upon all living entities within the universe, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, along with His plenary extensions, appeared in the family of Maharaja Iksvaku as the Lord of His internal potency, Sita. Under the order of His father, Maharaja Dasaratha, He entered the forest and lived there for considerable years with His wife and younger brother. Ravana, who was very materially powerful, with ten heads on his shoulders, committed a great offense against Him and was thus ultimately vanquished.
PURPORT by Srila Prabhupada
Lord Rama is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and His brothers, namely Bharata, Laksmana, and Satrughna, are His plenary expansions. All four brothers are visnu-tattva and were never ordinary human beings. There are many unscrupulous and ignorant commentators on Ramayana who present the younger brothers of Lord Ramacandra as ordinary living entities. But here in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, the most authentic scripture on the science of Godhead, it is clearly stated that His brothers were His plenary expansions. Originally Lord Ramacandra is the incarnation of Vasudeva, Laksmana is the incarnation of Sankarsana, Bharata is the incarnation of Pradyumna, and Satrughna is the incarnation of Aniruddha, expansions of the Personality of Godhead. Laksmiji Sita is the internal potency of the Lord and is neither an ordinary woman nor the external potency incarnation of Durga. Durga is the external potency of the Lord, and she is associated with Lord Siva.
As stated in the Bhagavad-gita (4.7), the Lord appears when there are discrepancies in the discharge of factual religion. Lord Ramacandra also appeared under the same circumstances, accompanied by His brothers, who are expansions of the Lord’s internal potency, and by Laksmiji Sitadevi.
Lord Ramacandra was ordered by His father, Maharaja Dasaratha, to leave home for the forest under awkward circumstances, and the Lord, as the ideal son of His father, carried out the order, even on the occasion of His being declared the king of Ayodhya. One of His younger brothers, Laksmanaji, desired to go with Him, and so also His eternal wife, Sitaji, desired to go with Him. The Lord agreed to both of them, and all together they entered the Dandakaranya Forest, to live there for fourteen years. During their stay in the forest, there was some quarrel between Ramacandra and Ravana, and the latter kidnapped the Lord’s wife, Sita. The quarrel ended in the vanquishing of the greatly powerful Ravana, along with all his kingdom and family.
Sita is Laksmiji, or the goddess of fortune, but she is never to be enjoyed by any living being. She is meant for being worshiped by the living being along with her husband, Sri Ramacandra. A materialistic man like Ravana does not understand this great truth, but on the contrary he wants to snatch Sitadevi from the custody of Rama and thus incurs great miseries. The materialists, who are after opulence and material prosperity, may take lessons from the Ramayana that the policy of exploiting the nature of the Lord without acknowledging the supremacy of the Supreme Lord is the policy of Ravana. Ravana was very advanced materially, so much so that he turned his kingdom, Lanka, into pure gold, or full material wealth. But because he did not recognize the supremacy of Lord Ramacandra and defied Him by stealing His wife, Sita, Ravana was killed, and all his opulence and power were destroyed.
Lord Ramacandra is a full incarnation with six opulences in full, and He is therefore mentioned in this verse as kalesah, or master of all opulence.
COMMENT by Giriraj Swami
Srimad-Bhagavatam is the supreme scripture, or book of knowledge, in the science of God. It explains the Absolute Truth in detail. The Vedanta-sutra says, janmady asya yatah, that the Absolute Truth is that from which everything emanates, and Srimad-Bhagavatam begins with the same words—janmady asya yatah—and proceeds to explain that the Absolute Truth is a person, the Supreme Person, Krishna. Krishna expands Himself into various plenary portions and portions of plenary portions, and the Bhagavatam, after listing so many incarnations of Godhead, says, krsnas tu bhagavan svayam, that all of the abovementioned incarnations are either plenary portions or portions of the plenary portions of the Lord but that Lord Krishna is the original Supreme Personality of Godhead.
So Lord Rama is an expansion of Krishna. There are so many expansions of Krishna mentioned in Srimad-Bhagavatam, but Rama is an expansion of Vasudeva, who is an expansion of Krishna. Laksmana is an expansion of Balarama, who is the first expansion of Krishna. Bharata and Satrughna are also direct expansions in the category of visnu-tattva. They are all God but manifest in different forms. Sri Brahma-samhita gives the example that from one candle you can light a second, from the second you can light a third, from the third you can light a fourth, and so on. All the flames are the same fire, and all have the same strength, but still, there is one original candle, and that is Krishna. Still, Rama, Laksmana, Bharata, and Satrughna are all God. They are all the same as Krishna, but they descend into the world for different pastimes. The verse says, avatirya. Avatara means “one who descends.” They descend from the spiritual world into the material world out of mercy—prasada—for the conditioned souls, to deliver the conditioned souls from the quagmire of material existence.
All of us here, from Lord Brahma to the insignificant ant, have somehow or other fallen into the material world and thus are forced to suffer. We are being attacked at every moment by some sort of misery, big or small, gross or subtle. Certain major sufferings, major miseries, afflict all of us, and they are mentioned in the Bhagavad-gita: janma-mrtyu-jara-vyadhi—birth, death, old age, and disease. None of us wants these miseries, but they are forced upon us. Once we come into the material world and accept a material body, we are forced to suffer repeated birth, disease, old age, and death—and rebirth.
As explained in the Vedic literature, the purpose of life is to become free from this repetition of birth and death. And the way to become free is to become God conscious, Krishna conscious. In the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna says, yam yam vapi smaran bhavam, that in whatever state one leaves one’s physical body, one attains the same state in the next life.
yam yam vapi smaran bhavam
tyajaty ante kalevaram
tam tam evaiti kaunteya
“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, O son of Kunti, that state he will attain without fail.” (Gita 8.6) The Bhagavad-gita further states that if one thinks of Krishna at the time of death, one will go to Krishna—back home, back to Godhead.
anta-kale ca mam eva
smaran muktva kalevaram
yah prayati sa mad-bhavam
yati nasty atra samsayah
“And whoever, at the end of his life, quits his body remembering Me alone at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.” (Gita 8.5)
The Lord descends into the material world to show us who He is. Everyone speculates about God. They know that God is the oldest, so sometimes they imagine that He must be an old man with a beard and gray hair. They know that God is the ruler of the universe, so they imagine that He must sit on a throne. Therefore God Himself descends into the material world to show us who He is, and He does so in His original form as Krishna as well as in the form of Lord Ramachandra, who has the same, full potency as Krishna. Thus Ramachandra is described here as kalesa; He is full in all opulence. The Lord displays His pastimes to attract the fallen, conditioned souls to Him to engage in His service. The pastimes of Krishna and those of Rama are very attractive.
The history of Lord Rama, summarized in Srimad-Bhagavatam and elaborated on in the Ramayana (in particular, we accept the authoritative version of the Ramayana by Valmiki), has existed for thousands of years, and people still read it, hear it, recite it, and stage dramatic performances of it. It is ever fresh, as the Lord is ever fresh. We never tire of hearing the pastimes of the Lord. The ordinary news of the conditioned souls is not so attractive or fresh. Once, when a newspaper reporter from The New York Times came to meet Srila Prabhupada, Srila Prabhupada held up the Bhagavad-gita (it could just as well have been Srimad-Bhagavatam) and said, “Every day your employer prints so many newspapers. Especially on Sunday, the paper is so big that one can hardly carry it. But after reading it an hour, people throw it away. Here is the Bhagavad-gita. People keep it and read it for a lifetime, and in this way it has been read for the past five thousand years.” And the newspaper reporter acknowledged the truth of what Srila Prabhupada had said.
So, these descriptions of the pastimes of the Lord are ever fresh. We relish them year after year. We relish them day after day, moment by moment. The pastimes of Lord Ramachandra and Lord Krishna can be discussed eternally, and to cover even the basic history would take many days and hours, so in the limited time we have today we can’t really discuss in detail. But I will comment on this one point that is mentioned in the verse, that the great demon Ravana, who was very materially powerful, kidnapped Sita and that in the end he was killed by Lord Ramachandra and his entire dynasty and opulence were destroyed.
Sita is the energy of the Lord. In fact, everything we see is the energy of the Lord. In the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna says that He has two energies—the spiritual energy, which includes the living entities, and the material energy, which we experience as earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence, and ego.
bhumir apo ’nalo vayuh
kham mano buddhir eva ca
ahankara itiyam me
bhinna prakrtir astadha
“Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence, and false ego—all together these eight constitute My separated material energies.
apareyam itas tv anyam
prakrtim viddhi me param
yayedam dharyate jagat
“Besides these, O mighty-armed Arjuna, there is another, superior energy of Mine, which comprises the living entities who are exploiting the resources of this material, inferior nature.” (Gita 7.4–5)
Basically, whatever we see is the energy of the Lord—either the material energy or a combination of the material and spiritual energies. The Lord Himself is fully spiritual (sac-cid-ananda-vigrahah). But until our senses are completely purified and spiritualized, we cannot see Him in His original form. What we can see is the Lord’s energy, which is His property and is meant to be engaged in His service. If you go into someone’s house, whatever is there is meant for the pleasure of the proprietor of the house. Of course, if the proprietor is a devotee, he knows that Krishna is the true proprietor and therefore everything is meant for His pleasure. But in any case, you can’t take the property for yourself or use it for yourself—at least not without permission.
Sita is the internal potency of the Lord, His pleasure potency, and Ravana made the grave mistake of coveting her, lusting after her, to the extent that he abducted her, which was a great insult to not only her chastity but also the dynasty of Lord Ramachandra.
It is a long story, but ultimately Lord Rama, who on the order of His father was in exile in the forest, gathered together a band of monkeys and bears who marched on Lanka armed basically with trees and boulders; they didn’t have any other weapons. And Ravana had a massive army with very sophisticated weapons. When Rama and His forces reached the southern tip of India, they had to cross the ocean to reach Lanka. And at that stage Rama glanced over Lanka with red-hot angry eyes, as described in the next verse:
yasma adad udadhir udha-bhayanga-vepo
margam sapady ari-puram haravad didhaksoh
“The Personality of Godhead Ramacandra, being aggrieved for His distant intimate friend [Sita], glanced over the city of the enemy Ravana with red-hot eyes like those of Hara [who wanted to burn the kingdom of heaven]. The great ocean, trembling in fear, gave Him His way because its family members, the aquatics like the sharks, snakes, and crocodiles, were being burnt by the heat of the angry red-hot eyes of the Lord.” (SB 2.7.24)
There at the ocean a small incident took place that is very instructive in terms of bhakti. After Rama cast His glance, the ocean personified came before the Lord and said, “You may use my water as You like. Indeed, You may cross it and go to the abode of Ravana, who is a great source of disturbance. Please go kill him and regain Your wife, Sita. Please construct a bridge over my waters and spread Your transcendental fame.” So Lord Rama’s soldiers, chanting Rama’s name, started to hurl into the ocean great stones, all of which floated, and thus they constructed a bridge over which Rama and His army could pass. There at the shore a small squirrel was putting little grains of sand in the ocean, to contribute to the effort, and Hanuman, the mighty servant of Rama, chastised the squirrel, “What are you accomplishing with your little grains of sand? Can’t you see that I am throwing these huge boulders? Get out of my way.” And the squirrel replied, “But I want to serve Lord Rama too.”
Lord Rama overheard this exchange and rebuked Hanuman: “This squirrel wants to serve Me, just like you. And he is serving to his capacity, just as you are. So in My eyes you both are the same. And besides, I am the one who is making all the boulders float. Ultimately, I am the one who is doing everything.”
This is a very instructive point. The qualification to engage in devotional service is simply one’s sincere desire. One’s material qualifications don’t matter. The Lord does not require anyone’s service; He just wants to see our mood of devotion. If one has the sincere desire to serve, that’s enough. Whether one is an insignificant ant or spider or squirrel—or a great monkey like Hanuman, a powerful human being, or Lord Brahma himself—what the Lord sees is the living entity’s sincere desire to serve. That is what He considers—whether we are sincerely serving to our full capacity—however great or small that capacity may be. It is said that the Lord sees not what we give but what we hold back. If a poor man can afford only ten dollars and he gives ten dollars, the Lord will see that he has given to his capacity. And if a rich man can afford ten million but gives ten thousand, the Lord will see, “Oh, he gave Me ten thousand, but he is keeping 9,990,000 for himself.”
The essence of bhakti is the desire to serve the Lord fully, to one’s capacity, and the opposite of bhakti is the desire to exploit the Lord or the Lord’s energy, as exemplified by Ravana. He didn’t want to serve the Lord. He wanted to steal the Lord’s energy, to enjoy the Lord’s property, in opposition to the Lord, in defiance of the Lord, and that is demonic.
Sita, the Lord’s energy, is Lakshmi, who is associated with wealth, opulence, good fortune. Generally, conditioned souls, who are materialistic, want Lakshmi—they want to engage Lakshmi in their service. But Lakshmi is meant to be engaged in the service of her husband, the Lord, Narayana. As devotees, we worship the Lord and His energy together as the complete whole—as Radha-Krishna, Sita-Rama, Lakshmi-Narayana, Lakshmi-Nrsimha—and that satisfies both the Lord and us. But if we, like Ravana, try to enjoy the Lord’s energy independent of the Lord, we will never be satisfied, and in the end we will be vanquished and all that we have will be lost.
The pastimes of the Lord are not mythological stories. They are factual—recorded in authentic books such as the Ramayana and Srimad-Bhagavatam—not imaginary or merely symbolic. Although there are lessons to be learned from the pastimes, the persons and events are real. Rama is real, Sita is real, Laksmana is real, Hanuman is real, Ravana is real, Lanka is real—they are all real. And we can learn from these historical accounts. In ordinary affairs, people say that the only thing we learn from history is that people learn nothing from history—and that may be true in material society, where people don’t learn. But in the association of devotees we can learn and improve. By hearing the pastimes of the Lord, we can learn that the Lord’s energy is meant to be engaged in the Lord’s service. We can learn from the example of Hanuman, who jumped over the ocean to Lanka to find Sita and discovered her in an asoka grove. His purpose was not to exploit her, enjoy her, or keep her for himself. His purpose was to find her for the sake of Rama, so that she could be reunited with Him to serve and please Him. The Lord’s energy is meant to be engaged in the Lord’s service.
Once, a devotee told me that Srila Prabhupada had said that all of our service here in the material world is meant to bring Radha and Krishna together in the spiritual world. I wasn’t sure about that statement, so I asked Srila Prabhupada, and he replied that materialists are like Ravana and that they have kidnapped Sita, or Lakshmi. And that we, as devotees, act as Hanuman to get Lakshmi back from Ravana and return her to Rama, or Narayana, by engaging the materialists’ money in the service of the Lord. Of course, Rama is an expansion of Krishna, and Sita, or Lakshmi, is an expansion of Radha. Transcendentally, accepting money from the materialists and engaging it in the Lord’s service is reuniting Radha and Krishna.
Especially in Kali-yuga, everyone has these two tendencies—to serve the Lord and engage the Lord’s energy in the Lord’s service, and to exploit and try to possess the Lord’s energy and enjoy it for ourselves. The process of bhakti-yoga is meant to purify the consciousness, so that the Ravana-like tendency to exploit and enjoy slackens and the devotional tendency to serve becomes more prominent. And the way to purify our hearts, especially in the present age of Kali, is to chant the holy names of the Lord.
The Personality of Godhead appears in different ages. As Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita (4.8),
vinasaya ca duskrtam
sambhavami yuge yuge
“To deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I Myself appear, millennium after millennium.” He says, paritranaya sadhunam: to deliver the devotees, vinasaya ca duskrtam: to destroy the miscreants, and dharma-samsthapanarthaya: to establish the principles of religion, sambhavami yuge yuge: I appear in every millennium. Yuge yuge means “in every age, or millennium.” In Treta-yuga He appeared as Lord Rama, some two million years ago. In Dvapara-yuga He appeared as Lord Krishna, some five thousand years ago. And yuge yuge suggests that He also appears in Kali-yuga; in Kali-yuga He appeared as Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
yajanti hi su-medhasah
“In the age of Kali, intelligent persons perform congregational chanting to worship the incarnation of Godhead who constantly sings the names of Krsna. Although His complexion is not blackish, He is Krsna Himself. He is accompanied by His associates, servants, weapons, and confidential companions.” (SB 11.5.32) Krsna-varnam means that He is in the same category as Krishna, which means that He is Krishna—because no one else can be in the same category as Krishna other than Krishna—and is always singing the glories of Krishna. Still, tvisakrsnam: His color is not blackish like Krishna’s in Dvapara-yuga; as described in sastra, it is golden. Sangopangastra-parsadam: He is accompanied by His associates. Every incarnation descends with eternal associates—Rama with Sita, Laksmana, Bharata, Satrughna, and others; Krishna with Nanda, Yasoda, Balarama, Radharani, and others; and Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu with Nityananda Prabhu and others. Yajnaih sankirtana-prayair: in Kali-yuga intelligent people (su-medhasah), people who have good intelligence, will worship (yajanti) the Lord by sankirtana-yajna, by the chanting of the holy names of the Lord. And that is the method by which the heart is cleansed (ceto-darpana-marjanam), the demonic mentality of Ravana is vanquished, and the devotional mood of Sita, Laksmana, Bharata, Satrughna, Hanuman, and others—even the squirrel—is manifest.
nitya-siddha krsna-prema ‘sadhya’ kabhu naya
sravanadi-suddha-citte karaye udaya
“Pure love for Krsna is eternally established in the hearts of the living entities. It is not something to be gained from another source. When the heart is purified by hearing and chanting, this love naturally awakens.” (Cc Madhya 22.107) Nitya-siddha krsna-prema—pure love of Godhead exists eternally within the heart. ‘Sadhya’ kabhu naya—it is not to be gotten from any other source. Sravanadi-suddha-citte—by hearing and chanting the glories of the Lord our consciousness is purified, and karaye udaya—that eternal love is awakened.
This is our goal. By hearing the pastimes of Rama, the pastimes of Krishna, our love for Them awakens. When we chant the maha-mantra—Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare—our love for Radha-Krishna, Sita-Rama, and Gaura-Nitai awakens. That is Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s mercy.
Two full chapters in the Ninth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam are devoted to summarizing the Ramayana. Srila Prabhupada remarks that everyone wants Rama-rajya, the ideal kingdom that existed during the reign of Lord Ramachandra. Lord Rama cared for the citizens exactly like a father, and the citizens, accepting Him as their father, loved and obeyed Him. Although He became king during Treta-yuga, because of His good government the age was like Satya-yuga, and everyone was fully religious and happy. Srila Prabhupada states that the same conditions can be evoked now by the chanting of the Lord’s holy names, which have been made available to us by Lord Chaitanya—by Lord Ramachandra, who has so kindly appeared in the present age as Chaitanya-chandra.
“If people take to this sankirtana movement of chanting Hare Krsna, Hare Rama, they will certainly be freed from the contamination of Kali-yuga, and the people of this age will be happy, as people were in Satya-yuga, the golden age. Anyone, anywhere, can easily take to this Hare Krsna movement; one need only chant the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, observe the rules and regulations, and stay free from the contamination of sinful life. Even if one is sinful and cannot give up sinful life immediately, if he chants the Hare Krsna maha-mantra with devotion and faith he will certainly be freed from all sinful activities, and his life will be successful. Param vijayate sri-krsna-sankirtanam. This is the blessing of Lord Ramacandra, who has appeared in this age of Kali as Lord Gaurasundara.” (SB 9.10.51 purport)
We should take advantage of the mercy of the Lord. Out of His causeless mercy upon all living entities (asmat-prasada) He appears in every age (yuge yuge)—as Rama, as Krishna, and in the present age as Krishna Chaitanya. And we should take advantage of the special mercy that They give us in the form of the sankirtana movement, which teaches people to engage in the chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra and in the entire process of devotional service (bhakti-yoga). Lord Krishna gave the preliminary instructions in the science of God, the science of bhakti-yoga, in the Bhagavad-gita; Lord Chaitanya and His followers, especially the Six Gosvamis, explained the science elaborately; and Srila Prabhupada has presented it to us in a way that we can very easily follow, to cleanse our hearts and awaken our love for God. But those little Ravana-like demons in our hearts keep telling us, “You can enjoy. Why should Krishna have all the fun?” Of course, we want to enjoy—that is natural. The Absolute Truth, Krishna, is by nature full of pleasure (ananda-mayo ’bhyasat), and we, as His parts and parcels, are also meant for pleasure. But we cannot enjoy real, eternal pleasure based on these dead bodies, these bags of blood and stool and other such things. We, as spirit souls, can enjoy true pleasure, ananda, on the spiritual platform, in relationship to the Supreme Soul, in the spiritual energy, in the spiritual world.
The Lord doesn’t want us to suffer. He wants us to be happy, but He knows that we can be truly happy only in relation to Him. Therefore He comes—as the ideal king as Lord Rama, in His original form as Krishna, and most recently in His devotional form as Krishna Chaitanya—to show us the way. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu with Nityananda Prabhu came especially to give us this method of chanting Hare Krishna and dancing, hearing the pastimes of the Lord (krsna-katha), worshipping the Deity, and taking krsna-prasada. And this method, as described by one great devotee, is kevala ananda-kanda: simply joyful—just chanting, dancing, hearing about Krishna and His incarnations, and taking prasada.
So we should take advantage of this wonderful opportunity that has been given to us by Lord Rama, who has appeared as Lord Gaurasundara, and which has been presented to us in the most pleasant and accessible way by His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada. Even the smallest effort—by anyone—can bring the greatest result, as demonstrated in the pastimes of Lord Ramachandra. He engaged even monkeys and other creatures of the forest in His service, and in the end He took all the residents of Ayodhya back home, back to Godhead.
na janma nunam mahato na saubhagam
na van na buddhir nakrtis tosa-hetuh
tair yad visrstan api no vanaukasas
cakara sakhye bata laksmanagrajah
[Sri Hanuman says:] “One cannot establish a friendship with the Supreme Lord Ramacandra on the basis of material qualities such as one’s birth in an aristocratic family, one’s personal beauty, one’s eloquence, one’s sharp intelligence, or one’s superior race or nation. None of these qualifications is actually a prerequisite for friendship with Lord Sri Ramacandra. Otherwise how is it possible that although we uncivilized inhabitants of the forest have not taken noble births, although we have no physical beauty, and although we cannot speak like gentlemen, Lord Ramacandra has nevertheless accepted us as friends?
suro ’suro vapy atha vanaro narah
sarvatmana yah sukrtajnam uttamam
bhajeta ramam manujakrtim harim
ya uttaran anayat kosalan divam iti
“Therefore, whether one is a demigod or a demon, a man or a creature other than man, such as a beast or bird, everyone should worship Lord Ramacandra, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who appears on this earth just like a human being. There is no need of great austerities or penances to worship the Lord, for He accepts even a small service offered by His devotee. Thus He is satisfied, and as soon as He is satisfied, the devotee is successful. Indeed, Lord Sri Ramacandra brought all the devotees of Ayodhya back home, back to Godhead.” (SB 5.19.7–8)
Thank you very much.
Guest: I have heard that Lord Rama is green. Do you know anything about how can someone be green?
Giriraj Swami: The Lord’s body is spiritual—sac-cid-ananda-vigraha. Although the scriptures describe the Lord and the spiritual world in terms that correspond to our experience in this world, the reality of the Lord is different from anything we have ever experienced here. Lord Rama is greenish, but His complexion is not a material green as we see in this world but a spiritual hue from which the material color green comes.
Madhusudana dasa: Lord Rama is described as being the color of freshly sprouted grass.
Devotee: How long does it take for a soul to be transferred to another body?
Giriraj Swami: As soon as the next body is ready, one leaves the present body, just as when one’s next step is secure, one gives up the last one.
vrajams tisthan padaikena
dehi karma-gatim gatah
“Just as a person traveling on the road rests one foot on the ground and then lifts the other, or as a worm on a vegetable transfers itself to one leaf and then gives up the previous one, the conditioned soul takes shelter of another body and then gives up the one he had before.” (SB 10.1.40)
Devotee: So it varies between each body?
Giriraj Swami: When the next body is ready, one leaves the present body, but depending on the type of body, one may take less or more time to be born. The period of gestation may vary. For example, in the case of a human being, after the soul is placed in the womb of the mother through the semen of the father, it takes nine or ten months for the embryo to grow and develop to the stage when the entity is ready to come out of the womb and be viable. That period will vary according to the species.
Of course, our actual goal is to become free from the repetition of birth and death. And the main process by which we can attain liberation, especially in the present age of Kali, is to chant the holy names:
kaler dosa-nidhe rajann
asti hy eko mahan gunah
kirtanad eva krsnasya
mukta-sangah param vrajet
“My dear king, although Kali-yuga is an ocean of faults, there is still one good quality about this age: simply by chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, one can become free from material bondage and be promoted to the transcendental kingdom.” (SB 12.3.51)
As mentioned, the chanting cleanses the dirty things from the mirror of the mind, or heart:
anandambudhi-vardhanam prati-padam purnamrtasvadanam
sarvatma-snapanam param vijayate sri-krsna-sankirtanam
“Let there be all victory for the chanting of the holy name of Lord Krsna, which can cleanse the mirror of the heart and stop the miseries of the blazing fire of material existence. That chanting is the waxing moon that spreads the white lotus of good fortune for all living entities. It is the life and soul of all education. The chanting of the holy name of Krsna expands the blissful ocean of transcendental life. It gives a cooling effect to everyone and enables one to taste full nectar at every step.” (Siksastaka 1)
The first of the dirty things within the heart is false identification with the body. That is the first misconception; we think, “I am this body, and everything in relation to this body is mine—to enjoy.” And whatever we do that follows from the premise that “I am the body” takes us further and further from the goal. Srila Prabhupada gave the example that if in a mathematical problem you make a mistake in the first step, even if you perform all the other steps perfectly, you will likely get further and further from the solution—because you made a mistake in the first step. So if from the beginning you think you are the body—given that in fact you are not the body but are the soul—then even if you do everything thereafter perfectly for the sake of the body, you will get further and further away from the actual goal. So we have to understand from the beginning that we are not the body, that we are the soul within the body, and that to act for the benefit of the soul is in our real self-interest.
Everyone wants his self-interest—that is natural—but people don’t know what their real self-interest is. Unless they know what their real self is, how can they know their real self-interest? Na te viduh svartha-gatim hi visnum: they do not know that their real interest is to serve Vishnu, or Krishna, and go back home, back to Godhead.
na te viduh svartha-gatim hi visnum
durasaya ye bahir-artha-maninah
andha yathandhair upaniyamanas
te ’pisa-tantryam uru-damni baddhah
“Persons who are strongly entrapped by the consciousness of enjoying material life, and who have therefore accepted as their leader or guru a similar blind man attached to external sense objects, cannot understand that the goal of life is to return home, back to Godhead, and engage in the service of Lord Visnu. As blind men guided by another blind man miss the right path and fall into a ditch, materially attached men led by another materially attached man are bound by the ropes of fruitive labor, which are made of very strong cords, and they continue again and again in materialistic life, suffering the threefold miseries.” (SB 7.5.31)
There is no harm in wanting to pursue one’s self-interest, but we should know what our real self is. The first instruction of the Bhagavad-gita is that we are not this body but are the soul within the body. And our spiritual life proceeds from that understanding.
After we gain theoretical knowledge, we must realize the knowledge, and by faithfully chanting the holy names we can actually realize that we are not these bodies but are eternal spirit souls, eternal servants of Krishna. First, we hear. For example, we hear in theory that rasagullas are sweet, and we want to try one. And when we actually taste one, our knowledge becomes realized. Then we know the sweetness of a rasagulla by practical experience, and we want others to experience that taste. So, by chanting with attention, one can actually realize that he is not this body but is the soul within the body, and one can taste the sweetness of Lord Krishna’s holy name. Thus, Srila Rupa Gosvami, who actually realized the sweet nectar of the holy name, could write,
tunde tandavini ratim vitanute tundavali-labdhaye
karna-kroda-kadambini ghatayate karnarbudebhyah sprham
cetah-prangana-sangini vijayate sarvendriyanam krtim
no jane janita kiyadbhir amrtaih krsneti varna-dvayi
“I do not know how much nectar the two syllables ‘Krs-na’ have produced. When the holy name of Krsna is chanted, it appears to dance within the mouth. We then desire many, many mouths. When that name enters the holes of the ears, we desire many millions of ears. And when the holy name dances in the courtyard of the heart, it conquers the activities of the mind, and therefore all the senses become inert.” (Vidagdha-madhava 1.15)
But first we have to realize that we are not this body, that the body is just a machine that the soul inhabits for some time.
Chanting is a serious practice—although the process is easy. As Srila Prabhupada said, “Chanting is easy, but the determination to chant is not so easy.” Anyone can say “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” but the determination to chant a prescribed number of rounds daily and to be attentive while chanting—to actually hear every word and every syllable—requires some effort. But if we can do that, we can realize that we are not these bodies but are actually parts and parcels of Krishna, eternal servants of Krishna. Then we will act exclusively for the pleasure of Krishna, and that will be our pleasure—greatest pleasure—and satisfaction.
sa vai pumsam paro dharmo
yato bhaktir adhoksaje
“The supreme occupation [dharma] for all humanity is that by which men can attain to loving devotional service unto the transcendent Lord. Such devotional service must be unmotivated and uninterrupted to completely satisfy the self.” (SB 1.2.6)
The natural function of the part is to serve the whole. Srila Prabhupada gave the example that the hand is part and parcel of the body, so the natural function of the hand is to serve the body, to serve the stomach. If there is a nice rasagulla (we are talking so much about rasagullas, I hope they have some!) and the hand thinks, “Why should I feed the stomach? I will enjoy myself,” and then tries to absorb the rasagulla directly, to enjoy the rasagulla separately, it can’t. The hand is not meant to enjoy apart from the stomach. But if the hand feeds the stomach, then the hand and all the other parts of the body are naturally nourished and satisfied. In the same way, if we try to enjoy independent of Krishna, we can’t. We are not meant for that. We are part of Him and are meant to serve Him. And if we do serve Him, then all of Krishna’s other parts and parcels are satisfied. And if we want to enjoy independent of Krishna, we can try—that is what is going on in the world today: everyone is trying to enjoy independent of Krishna. But they are not successful. They are never satisfied. They always want something more, something new, something better—they are never satisfied. We can be happy and satisfied only when we serve Krishna with love, for His pleasure.
Devotee: People seem to do that very happily—go through the ups and downs of never being satisfied and then forging back into looking for satisfaction without Krishna. They seem to do it happily.
Giriraj Swami: Yes, ordinary people keep doing it over and over again. Punah punas carvita-carvananam: chewing the chewed again and again. For example, you get a piece of sugarcane and chew it to get the juice out. After chewing it and getting all the juice out, you throw it away. If you come back and start to chew it again—you can chew it, but there is no juice in it, nothing to be gotten from it. Ordinary conditioned souls, in the bodily concept of life, try to squeeze some pleasure out of the body, and after getting whatever little pleasure they can, keep trying to get more and more out of it but are never satisfied.
matir na krsne paratah svato va
mitho ’bhipadyeta grha-vratanam
adanta-gobhir visatam tamisram
punah punas carvita-carvananam
“Because of their uncontrolled senses, persons too addicted to materialistic life make progress toward hellish conditions and repeatedly chew that which has already been chewed. Their inclinations toward Krsna are never aroused, either by the instructions of others, by their own efforts, or by a combination of both.” (SB 7.5.30)
Then what is the way out? Krishna consciousness—realized by the mercy of pure devotees.
naisam matis tavad urukramanghrim
sprsaty anarthapagamo yad-arthah
niskincananam na vrnita yavat
“Unless they smear upon their bodies the dust of the lotus feet of a Vaisnava completely freed from material contamination, persons very much inclined toward materialistic life cannot be attached to the lotus feet of the Lord, who is glorified for His uncommon activities. Only by becoming Krsna conscious and taking shelter at the lotus feet of the Lord in this way can one be freed from material contamination.” (SB 7.5.32)
Such pure devotees, following the scriptures and previous authorities, induce us to chant the holy names of the Lord.
harer nama harer nama
harer namaiva kevalam
kalau nasty eva nasty eva
nasty eva gatir anyatha
“In this Age of Kali there is no other means, no other means, no other means for self-realization than chanting the holy name, chanting the holy name, chanting the holy name of Lord Hari.” (Brhan-naradiya Purana 38.126)
A vivid example is Valmiki Muni himself. He had been a robber and murderer. He would plunder innocent people on the road, kill them, and take everything. But by chance he happened to associate with the great devotee Narada Muni, who requested him to chant the holy name of Rama. Valmiki refused: “I am a murderer—what have I to do with chanting God’s name?” But then Narada asked him to meditate on the meaning of death by repeating the word mara, which means “death.” Valmiki agreed, and by repeating mara, mara, mara, mara he came in effect to chant Rama, Rama, Rama, Rama. Living in a previous age, he was able to meditate on the holy name of Rama for many thousands of years, and when he was liberated he wrote the Ramayana. By the power of the holy name, his heart became purified, and he became a great devotee and rishi (seer), empowered to glorify and personally serve the Lord. So anyone, even the greatest sinner, can become the greatest devotee of the Lord by serving the instructions of a pure Vaisnava and chanting the holy name of the Lord.
Sri Sri Sita-Rama-Laksmana-Hanuman ki jaya!
[A talk by Giriraj Swami on Rama-navami, April 14, 2008, San Diego]