duḥsańgaḿ sarvathaiva tyājyaḥSYNONYMSduḥsańgam — bad association; sarvathā — in all its aspects; eva — indeed; tyājyaḥ — to be given up.TRANSLATIONOne should give up all kinds of degrading association.PURPORTAfter stating that the association of pure devotees is as good as being with the Supreme Lord, Nārada informs us of the destructive effects of bad company. As we mentioned previously, Lord Caitanya once defined a Vaiṣṇava as one who gives up the association of worldly people and nondevotees: asat-sańga-tyāga — ei vaiṣṇava ācāra. Caitanya Mahāprabhu specifically enumerated different types of asat-sańga: strī-sangī, eka asādhu krsnābhakta āra (Cc. Madhya 22.87). A Vaiṣṇava should avoid strī-sańgī, those who associate loosely with women, and he should also shun the kṛṣṇa-abhaktas, those who are not devotees of Kṛṣṇa. This especially refers to Māyāvādīs.Lord Kapila states, "The infatuation and bondage that accrue to a man from attachment to any other object is not as complete as that resulting from an attachment to a woman or to the fellowship of men who are fond of women" (Bhāg. 3.31.35). In the Kali-yuga, we are constantly invited to partake in illicit sex through advertising and television. Unrestricted social mixing between men and women is a major distraction from the spiritual path.The statements about women should not be taken as a criticism of women as a class. Just as woman is often the symbol of māyā for a man, so attachment to men is also the main entanglement for a woman. As Lord Kapila states, "A woman, therefore, should consider her husband, her house, and her children to be the arrangement of the external energy of the Lord for her death, just as the sweet singing of the hunter is death for the deer" (Bhāg. 3.31.42). Of course, it is not possible to completely restrict the sexes from associating with each other, and so the positive approach is to put Kṛṣṇa in the center of one's life. If a man and a woman live in a Kṛṣṇa conscious marriage, transferring their main attachment to Kṛṣṇa, then their relationship may become a source of spiritual rejuvenation.When Lord Caitanya says that one should avoid the non-sādhus, he means persons who don't follow basic principles of religious life. For example, every Kṛṣṇa conscious devotee follows the four rules, but the non-sādhus always indulge in illicit sex, meat-eating, intoxication, and gambling. If a devotee begins to intensively associate with non-sādhus, he will eventually pick up their habits, despite all his knowledge and training. As stated in the Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya, "Association is very important. It acts just like a crystal stone, which will reflect anything put before it" (The Nectar of Devotion, p. 106). And as Lord Caitanya taught Sanātana Gosvāmī, "One should not even see those who are bereft of devotional service in Kṛṣṇa consciousness and who are therefore devoid of pious activities" (Cc. Madhya 22.92).When the demon Hiraṇyakaśipu sarcastically inquired from his son about Kṛṣṇa consciousness, Prahlāda explained why the demons cannot possibly know about Kṛṣṇa:matir na kṛṣṇe parataḥ svato vāmitho 'bhīpadyeta gṛha-vratānāmadānta-gobhir viśatāḿ tamisraḿpunaḥ-punaś-carvita-carvaṇānām"[Prahlāda Mahārāja said:] 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 Kṛṣṇa are never aroused, either by the instructions of others, by their own efforts, or by a combination of both" (Bhāg. 7.5.30).Those with uncontrolled senses can never know Kṛṣṇa themselves, and if an aspiring devotee associates with them, he will also lose his ability to know Kṛṣṇa.Association with nondevotees takes place in many ways, aside from face-to-face encounters. Through books, movies, gathering places — the possibilities of contact are unlimited. Especially nowadays, a person may apparently live alone in a city apartment and yet be completely immersed in bad association through mass media and technological entertainment. It takes deliberate cultivation, and a fight, to remove oneself from bad influences.One may object to these injunctions and claim, "God is everywhere! Why say that certain people are bad?" The topmost devotee, the mahā-bhāgavata, can see all persons as perfect servants of God. He humbly thinks that everyone is a servant of the Lord except himself. But another qualification of a mahā-bhāgavata is that he always thinks of Kṛṣṇa and never forgets Him for a moment. One should not imitate one aspect of the mahā-bhāgavata's activities while lacking his qualifications. In other words, on the plea of following the example of the great devotees, one should not indulge in bad association and claim, "It's all Kṛṣṇa."The great majority of devotees have to make an effort to come up from the lower (kaniṣṭha) stage of devotion, where one sees God only in the temple. They have to strive to reach the second stage (madhyama), where one acknowledges that God is in everyone's heart and yet discriminates in his relationships. The madhyama-bhakta saves his love for the Supreme Lord, makes friendships with like-minded devotees, shows compassion to innocent persons, and avoids the demons. He takes seriously the following injunction from the Kātyāyana-saḿhitā: "It is better to accept the miseries of being encaged within bars and surrounded by burning flames than to associate with those bereft of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Such association is a very great hardship" (Cc. Madhya 22.91).tad eva sādhyatāḿ tad eva sādhyatāmSYNONYMStat — that; eva — only; sādhyatām — should be strived for; tat — that; eva — only; sādhyatām — should be strived for.TRANSLATIONStrive, strive only for the association of pure devotees.PURPORTNāradadeva blesses the hearers of the Nārada-bhakti-sūtra with his advice, repeated twice here for emphasis — strive, strive for attaining the lotus feet of guru and Kṛṣṇa via the association of pure devotees. When the Lord and His devotees see our sincere efforts, they will give us all required assistance.The best expression of single-minded devotion to Kṛṣṇa was given by Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. Let us strive to follow in His footsteps, always asking for direction from His well-wishing followers and always praying as He showed us in His Śikṣāṣṭaka (4):na dhanaḿ na janaḿ na sundarīḿkavitāḿ vā jagad-īśa kāmayemama janmani janmanīśvarebhavatād bhaktir ahaitukī tvayi"O almighty Lord, I have no desire to accumulate wealth, nor do I desire beautiful women, nor do I want any number of followers. I only want Your causeless devotional service, birth after birth."

You need to be a member of ISKCON Desire Tree | IDT to add comments!

Join ISKCON Desire Tree | IDT

Email me when people reply –


  • Volunteer

    Hindu Festivals

    Navaratri: Navaratri or the nine sacred nights dedicated to the Mother Goddess are celebrated in the month of October-November. Navaratri includes the Sarasvati Puja and the Durga Puja festivals. "Nava" means nine and "ratri" means night. So Navaratri literally means nine nights. It is during these nine nights of festivities that the goddess is worshiped in Her different forms of Durga, Lakshmi and then Sarasvati. Durga is worshiped during the first three nights of the festival because of her destructive aspect. She destroys the anarthasor unwanted barriers that hold us back from our true spiritual potential. She reduces the evil tendencies in the mind, which is the meaning of durgati harini. Thus, she is worshiped to relieve us of our destructive desires of desire, lust, passion, greed, anger, etc. Without removing these obstacles, the spiritual unfoldment cannot take place.

            The next step is to apply the positive process of adding the qualities we need. So Lakshmi is worshiped over the next three nights. She gives one the wealth of good qualities, such as love, goodness, compassion, forgiveness, cooperation, nonviolence, devotion, purity, and the like. Virtue is the true wealth, which is given by Lakshmi. This is not merely the wealth of riches and possessions, but the real wealth that can propel us toward the spiritual goal. These positive uplifting qualities replace the bad ones that were removed by Durga.

            At this point the seeker can become fit for the philosophical study and contemplation that is required. Then Sarasvati, the goddess of knowledge, is worshiped the remaining three nights. Sarasvati gives one the intelligence, knowledge and wisdom by which spiritual realization is possible. She represents the highest knowledge of the Self. By invoking her blessings, she plays her well-tuned vina of knowledge and insight, which can then tune our mind and intellect for working in harmony with the world and the purpose of our existence. Then our spiritual practice, study, and meditation become effective for producing the victory of rising above the influence of our mind and senses. Then we can perceive our real identity of being spiritual entities and parts of the spiritual dimension, free from illusion.

            After having removed our impurities, gained the proper virtues, and then acquired the knowledge of the Self, then the last day is called Vijayadasami, or the day of victory over our minds and the lower dimension after having worshiped the goddess in her three forms. The celebrations of Navaratri are held at night because it represents our overcoming the ignorance of the mode of darkness, the night of tamoguna.

            Additionally, Navaratri commemorates the day on which the combined powers of the three Goddesses of Durga or Maha-Kali, Maha Lakshmi and Maha Sarasvati put an end to the evil forces represented by the buffalo-headed demon Mahishasura. The ninth day is also the day of the Ayudha Puja in the south. The Ayudha Puja is worship of whatever instruments one may use in one's livelihood. On the proceeding evening, it is traditional to place these instruments on an altar to the Divine. If one can make a conscious effort to see the Divine in the tools and objects one uses each day, it will help one to see one's work as an offering to God. It will also help one to maintain constant remembrance of the Divine. Children traditionally place their study books and writing implements on the altar. Throughout the ninth day, an effort is made to see one's work or studies as imbued with the Divine presence. The tenth day is called Vijaya Dashami. Devotees perform a puja to the Goddess Sarasvati to invoke the blessings of Sarasvati on books, writing implements, musical instruments and tools of trade. After the pujas, little children are initiated into the learning process.

            So the Vedic festivals are performed in these phases of first preparation, then purification, realization, and then celebration. It represents one's progress toward the real goal of life. First the mind must be purified of all unwanted thoughts and habits. Then it must become focused on one's concentration of the Supreme. As the knowledge of our spirituality of the Self and our connection with the Supreme Being becomes revealed, then there is realization. When such realization has been reached and the ego destroyed, then there is celebration. Living life on the basis of spiritual realization means that life is a constant joy and celebration.

    Dusshera, also known as Vijaya Dashami, is celebrated on the tenth day of Navaratri. This signifies the victory of Lord Rama over the demon Ravana, which is often observed with special celebrations and the burning of the effigy of Ravana. On that day there is often a huge bonfire in which people burn the effigy of the demon Ravana, which also represents the destruction of the false ego. Thus, it is a festival which shows the process by which humanity can reach the perception of God. It incorporates the means and worship by which one can purify themselves of the ten sins, meaning the sins committed by the ten active senses. It is the process of purification so that one is meant to become free of the dictates of the mind and the temporary world of sense objects, which paves the way for one to enter into the transcendental experience.

            What this shows is that all aspects of the Vedic process, whether we are familiar with them or not, are ultimately meant to be a vehicle by which we can transcend the mind, senses, and the temporary material world and enter into the Supreme Reality wherein we can reestablish our lost relationship with the Supreme Being.

    Karva Chauth: This is a fast undertaken by married Hindu women who offer prayers seeking the welfare, prosperity and longevity of their husbands. Karva Chauth is celebrated before Deepavali some time in October or November. It is the most important fast observed by the women of North India. A woman keeps such a fast for the welfare of her husband, who becomes her protector after she leaves her parents home. Her husband provides her with food, shelter, clothing, respectability, comfort and happiness. This is a tough fast to observe as is starts before sunrise and ends after worshiping the moon, which usually rises late evening.

    Deepavali: Deepavali, or Diwali as it is popularly called, is the festival of lights. It symbolizes the victory of righteousness and the lifting of spiritual darkness. The word Deepavali literally means rows of clay lamps. It is celebrated on the New Moon day of the dark fortnight during October-November. It is also associated with the return to Ayodhya of Lord Rama, His wife Sita and His brother Lakshmana after their fourteen-year sojourn in the forests. The day also marks the coronation of Lord Rama.

            The meanings of Diwali, its symbols and rituals, and the reasons for celebration are innumerable. Another is how Lord Krishna tamed and killed the demon King Narakasura. It also  commemorates Lord Krishna's victory over the demon Narakasura. It is said that Narakasura, the son of Bhudevi, who ruled the kingdom of Pradyoshapuram, often troubled the devas and disturbed the penance of the sages. Narakaasura also had kidnapped and terrorized the gopis of Vrindavan. Tired of this harassment, Indra and other devas approached Lord Krishna and pleaded with Him to protect them from the demon Narakasura. But the demon king could only be killed by a woman. So Lord Krishna asked His wife, Satyabhama, the reincarnation of Bhudevi, to be His charioteer in the battle with Narakasura. Lord Krishna waged a fierce battle and killed the demon. When the evil Naraka was finally killed by Bhagwan Krishna and Satyabhaama, he begged pitifully for mercy; thus, upon his entreaties, Bhudevi declared that his death should not be a day of mourning but an occasion to celebrate and rejoice. Since then, Deepavali is celebrated every year with lots of fun and frolic and fireworks. It is also known as Krishna Chaturdashi. It is also celebrated as the day Bhagwan Vishnu married Maha Lakshmi.

            Central to Hindu philosophy is the assertion that there is something beyond the physical body and mind which is pure, infinite, and eternal, called the Atman. Just as we celebrate the birth of our physical being, Deepawali is the celebration of this Inner Light, in particular the knowing of which outshines all darkness (removes all obstacles and dispels all ignorance), awakening the individual to one's true nature, not as the body, but as the unchanging, infinite, immanent and transcendent reality. With the realization of the Atman, come universal compassion, love, and the awareness of the oneness of all things (higher knowledge). This brings Anand (Inner Joy or Peace). In India, Diwali is now considered to be a national festival, and the aesthetic aspect of the festival is enjoyed by most Indians regardless of faith.

            Diwali is also associated with the story of the fall of Bali - a demon king who was conquered by Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu appeared to the demon king Bali in the form of a dwarf and requested only three steps of land. The evil and egotistic Bali granted the dwarf's meager request of only three feet. Suddenly, Lord Vishnu took on His grand size and placed one foot on the Earth, another on the Heavens and His third on the head of the evil Bali.

            In general, Diwali signifies the triumph of good over evil, of righteousness over treachery, of truth over falsehood, and of light over darkness.

            Diwali also marks the New Year. For some, the day of Diwali itself is the first day of the New Year, and for others the new year's day is the day following Diwali. But for all, this season is one of heralding in the New Year. In the joyous mood of this season, we clean our homes, our offices, our rooms, letting the light of Diwali enter all the corners of our lives. We begin new checkbooks, diaries and calendars.  It is a day of "starting fresh."

            On this day we clean every room of the house; we dust every corner of the garage, we sweep behind bookshelves, vacuum under beds and empty out cabinets.  But, what about our hearts?  When was the last time we swept out our hearts? When did we last empty them of all the dirt and garbage that has accumulated throughout our lives?

            That is the real cleaning we must do. That is the real meaning of "starting fresh." We must clean out our hearts, ridding them of darkness and bitterness; we must make them clean and sparkling places for God to live. We must be as thorough with ourselves as we are with our homes. Are there any dark corners in our hearts we have avoided for so long? Are we simply "sweeping all the dirt under the rug?" God sees all and knows all. He knows what is behind every wall of our hearts, what is swept into every corner, and what is hidden under every rug. Let us truly clean out our hearts; let us rid ourselves of the grudges, pain, and anger that clutter our ability to love freely. Let us empty out every nook and cranny, so that His divine light can shine throughout.

            Diwali is celebrated in grand fashion. For some, they have a oil bath early in the morning and wear new clothes. Children love the fireworks associated with Diwali. A lot of sweets are distributed to friends and relatives. And homes are often lit with rows and rows of little clay lamps called diyas that light up the dark New Moon night. Businesses begin their new book keeping with Diwali. The trading community celebrates the thirteenth day of the month of Kartika (Oct.-Nov) as Dhanteras or Dhantrayodashi, the first of the five-day festival. The word Dhan means wealth, and the day is of great importance for the rich mercantile community of Western India. Their homes and business premises are all decked up in lights to usher in prospering times. The day ends with a Lakshmi puja at home. Some temples also conduct large Lakshmi Puja celebrations.

            This is the third, and perhaps most important, aspect of Diwali: the worship of Maha Lakshmi. Maha Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth and prosperity, bestowing these abundantly upon her devotees. On Diwali we pray to her for prosperity; we ask her to lavish us with her blessings.  However, what sort of prosperity are we praying for? All too often, we infer wealth to mean money, possessions, material pleasures. This is NOT the true wealth in life; this is not what makes us prosperous. There is almost no correlation between the amount of money we earn, the number of possessions we buy and our sense of inner bliss and prosperity.

            So on Diwali, we must pray to Maha Lakshmi to bestow real prosperity upon us, the prosperity that brings light to our lives and sparkle to our eyes. We must pray for an abundance of faith, not money; we must pray for success in our spiritual lives, not a promotion at work.

            Another point about Maha Lakshmi is that we tend to worship only her most prominent of aspects - that of bestowing prosperity upon her devotees. However, she is a multi-faceted goddess, filled with symbols of great importance.  As we worship her, let us look more deeply at her divine aspects.  First, according to our scriptures, she is the divine partner of Lord Vishnu. In Hindu tradition, there is almost always a pair - a male and a female manifestation of the Divine, and they play interdependent roles. In this way it is said that Maha Lakshmi provides Lord Vishnu with the wealth necessary in order to sustain life. He sustains, but through the wealth she provides. 

            Therefore, in its highest meaning, Maha Lakshmi provides wealth for sustenance, not for indulgence. Our material wealth and prosperity should only sustain us, giving us that which is necessary to preserve our lives, and for our spiritual development. All surplus should be used for humanitarian causes and for making the ways that others can make spiritual progress. She does not give wealth so that we may become fat and lazy; yet, that is what we tend to do with the wealth we receive. Let us remember that Maha Lakshmi's material wealth is meant for sustenance and preservation, not for luxury and decadence.

            So on Diwali, decorated and renovated to the hilt, the day begins with a bang of fire crackers with the performance of Lakshmi puja in the evenings. To indicate Her long-awaited arrival, small footprints are drawn with rice flour and vermillion powder all over the houses. Entrances are decorated with lovely, colorful motifs of rangoli to welcome the Goddess or Wealth and prosperity. Lamps are kept burning all through the nights and women make it a point to purchase some gold or silver, or at least one or two new utensils, as it is considered auspicious and a symbol of prosperity, a manifestation of the goddess Herself. In South India, cows are offered special veneration and are adorned and worshiped as the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi.

            Another interesting story that is related to this day is about the son of King Hima. He was doomed to die of a snakebite on the fourth day of his marriage. The young daughter-in-law of the king, to save her husband, laid out gold ornaments, lots of gold and silver coins in a big heap at the entrance of her husband’s boudoir and lighted innumerable lamps all over the place. She kept herself awake the entire night singing songs. When Yama, the Lord of Death, arrived in the guise of a serpent, his eyes were blinded by the dazzle of the brilliant lights, the gold and silver ornaments, and he was unable to enter the Prince’s chamber. So he climbed on top of the heap of ornaments and coins and sat there the whole night listening to the melodious songs. In the morning he quietly went away. Thus, the young wife saved her husband. And so the day is also known as Yamadeepdaan and earthen lamps are kept alight throughout the night in the reverential adoration of Yama.

            The following day is celebrated as Narka-Chaturdashi or Choti Diwal. Lord Krishna and His wife Satyabhama are said to have returned home victorious after killing demon Narakasura, early in the morning on this day. The Lord was massaged with scented oils and was given a good bath to wash away the filth from His body. Since then, on this day, the custom of taking an oil bath with fragrant uptan before sunrise has become a traditional practice in Maharashtra and South India.

            The Diwali day is devoted entirely to the propitiation of Goddess Lakshmi, burning lamps, firecrackers, card games and lots of masti. On the dark night of Amavasya, businessmen perform Chopda Pujan and open new account books. On this day special puja ceremony is observed to worship Lord Ganesha and Goddess Lakshmi. Lord Ganesha’s puja is an essential part of Diwali Lakshmi Puja. Ganesha is considered as the Lord who overcomes all obstacles. Worshipping Ganapati endows man with the confidence and courage needed to carry out any undertakings in the world. So it is only appropriate that any ceremony should be started with his worship. According to the Puranas (epics), this was a boon conferred upon Him by Lord Shiva. Thus, it is obvious that on Diwali night, Lord Ganesha shares the altar with the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity, Lakshmi. It is believed that nothing is more auspicious than worshipping both of them at the same time. Worshipping Lord Ganesha and Goddess Lakshmi heralds a year of prosperity without any obstacles whatsoever. Also, this is the day when the Sun enters his second course and passes Libra constellation (Nakshatra) which is represented by the balance or scale. Hence, this design of Libra is believed to have suggested the balancing of account books and their closing. Despite the fact that this day falls on an Amavasya (dark night) it is regarded as the most auspicious.

            The day following Diwali is the day of Govardhana puja. According to the Vishnu Purana, years ago the people of Gokul used to celebrate a festival in honor of Lord Indra and worship him after the end of every monsoon season. However, one year the young Lord Krishna prevented them from offering prayers to Indra and convinced the people to offer thepuja to Govardhan Hill, since it was an incarnation of the Supreme. This made Lord Indra enraged, who in turn sent a huge flood to submerge Gokul. But Lord Krishna saved Gokul and all the residents by holding aloft Govardhan Hill like an umbrella.

            The day is also observed as annakoot in temples of Mathura and Nathdwara. This is when the Deities are worshiped with innumerable varieties of delicious sweets, which are ceremoniously raised into the form of a mountain of bhog (food), which is offered to the Lord and is worshiped as a form of the Govardhan Hill. Afterwards the devotees approach the mountain of food, do puja or worship to it and circumambulate it as was originally instructed by Lord Krishna. Later everyone takes portions of it as prasada, food that has been offered to the Lord and received as His mercy.

            The fifth and final day of the Diwali festival is known as Bhayya-Duj or Bhav-Bij. According to the legend, Lord Yama, the God of Death, visited his sister Yami on this day. She is said to have applied the auspicious tilok on his forehead, garlanded him and served him delicious sweets. In return, Yama gave her a special gift as a token of his love and pronounced that anyone who receive tilok from his sister would never be defeated. And so to this day, brothers never fail to visit their sisters on the final day of Diwali.

            With lights everywhere, Diwali symbolizes the dispelling of darkness, ignorance and evil, and a new hope for the future and irrespective of the region, unites the nation in the festivity of prosperity and joy.

            Diwali is also known for making delicious sweets and giving them as presents. For a look at some of the sweets that are made and their recipes, see our recipe page calledDiwali Sweets.

            Furthermore, the Sikhs celebrate Diwali for a different reason; on this day, the Sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind Ji, was freed from imprisonment along with 52 other Kings (political prisoners) whom he had arranged to be released as well. After his release he went to Darbar Sahib (golden temple) in the holy city of Amritsar. There, he was greeted by Sikhs and many other people. In happiness they lit candles and diyas to greet the Guru. 
            In Jainism it marks the nirvana (salvation) of Lord Mahavir. 
            Diwali is celebrated in various parts of the world, in countries such as the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Canada, Guyana, Mauritius, Fiji, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Trinidad, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Australia, much of Africa, and the United States. With more and more Indians and Sri Lankans now migrating to various parts of the world, the number of countries where Diwali is celebrated has been gradually increasing. While in some countries it is celebrated mainly by Indian expatriates, in others it has become part of the general local culture. In most of these countries Diwali is celebrated on the same lines as India.

    Gita Jayanthi: This is the celebration of when Lord Krishna spoke the illustrious Bhagavad-Gita to His friend Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, north of New Delhi. This usually takes place in the early part of the month of December.

    Diwali Sweets
  • Volunteer

    Hindu Festivals

    In the Vedic/Hindu tradition, there are many festivals that are observed throughout the year. There are major festivals and numerous minor ones, as well as those that are celebrated on a local or regional basis, which are celebrated differently according to the location, or even named differently. There are different festivals to celebrate the various incarnations of God, as well as those that honor the seasons, harvests, relationships, and certain principles of the Vedic culture. Some of the major festivals are listed and described as follows:

     Makara Sankranti: Hindus consider the sun king of the planets. Makara Sankranti is the celebration of the sun's journey to the Northern Hemisphere. Makar means Capricorn andSankranti means transition. So you could say there is one sankranti every month when the sun moves from one sign of the zodiac to the next. However, the most important ones are the Mesh (Aries) Sankranti and the Makar (Capricorn) Sankranti. So the transition of the sun from Sagittarius to Capricorn during the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere is known as Makar Sankranti. This is when the sun moves from the Da-kshinayana (southern) route to the Uttarayana (northern) route. The Uttarayana route begins on January 14 and lasts till July 14.

    This time is accepted as a special or auspicious time. It is believed that those who die in this period attain moksha or liberation from samsara, the cycle of birth and death. It is also a time when taking a dip in a holy sangam (confluence of holy rivers, such as at Allahabad) is especially appropriate. In line with astrological calculations, the Kumbha Mela is conducted once in 12 years at Allahabad beginning on Makara Sankranti. It is that day when the sun and moon enter Capricorn and Jupiter enters Aries. The astrological configuration on Makara Sankranti is called “Maha-snana-yoga”,  the day for taking a special holy bath, and a highly auspicious time when the gates to the heavenly region are considered to be open, thus allowing the soul easy access to the celestial worlds.

    Makar Sankranti falls on January 14 and in leap-years on January 15. It is the only Hindu festival that is based on the solar calendar instead of the lunar.

    Makar Sankranti is celebrated as a harvest festival. It is a way of expressing thanks to Mother Earth or nature. This is the time when winter starts to recede, which gradually develops into spring and summer. The festival is especially for the spreading of good will, peace and prosperity. People also give each other presents, especially til, the traditional sweets made with sesame. It is also celebrated with a feast that includes a dish made of green gram, rice and jaggery.

    The day is known by various names according to region. In Uttar Pradesh it is called Khichri. In Punjab and Haryana it is called Lohri, when people light bonfires and celebrate. The next day is Maghi when the people dance to the Bhangra beats. In Madhya Pradesh the holiday is called Sukarat or Sakarat. In West Bengal and Assam it is called Bhogali Bihu. In Gujarat and Rajasthan it is Uttarayan or the kite flying festival, when you can often see many children flying colorful kites. In Tamil Nadu it is known as Pongal. And in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh it is Sankranti.


    Vasant Panchami: Vasant Panchami is known as the festival of kites. It is celebrated towards the end of winter in the month of January-February. Vasant Panchami is celebrated in the northern parts of India. The weather changes from harsh winter to soft spring or "Vasant". Vasant is the time when the mustard fields are abound with their yellow flowers that seem to usher in spring. So Punjabis welcome the change and celebrate the day by wearing yellow clothes, holding feasts and by organizing kite flying. Vasant Panchami day puja (worship) is devoted to Sarasvati, the Goddess of Learning. She bestows the greatest wealth to humanity--the wealth of knowledge.

    Maha Shivaratri: Shivaratri is celebrated sometime during February-March. It is believed that Parvati, the wife of Shiva, prayed, meditated and fasted on this day for the well being of Shiva and hoped to ward off any evils that may fall upon him. Though, both men and women celebrate Shivaratri, it is an especially auspicious day for women. Married women pray for the well being of their husbands and sons, while unmarried women pray for a husband like Shiva, who is considered to be the ideal husband.

            On Shivaratri, devotees awake at sunrise and bathe in holy water (like the Ganges River) and wear new clothes. On the day of the festival, people will fast and spend the day focused on Shiva, meditating and chanting "Om Namaha Shivaya." Thus, offering their obeisances to Lord Shiva, the mind is held in such single-pointed concentration throughout the day. Then they flock to the temples carrying holy water to bathe and worship the Shivalingam. This bathing of the Shivalingam symbolizes the cleansing of one's soul. Next, the Shivalingam is decorated with flowers and garlands. It is customary to spend the entire night awake singing the praises of Lord Shiva.

            Shivaratri is a festival that is held in the typical pattern of preparation, purification, realization, and then celebration. Then at the stroke of midnight Shiva is said to manifest as the inner light of purified consciousness. Thus, this climax at night represents our overcoming the dark ignorance and reaching the state of purified spiritual knowledge. Therein we conquer the influence of the mind and senses, exhibited by staying awake all night, and enter the state of steady awareness wherein there is spiritual awakening. If one can follow this process, then he or she can experience the real meaning of Shivaratri.

    Holi: Holi is a major festival and celebrates the onset of spring, along with good harvests and the fertility of the land. It is celebrated on the day after the full moon in early March. This festival is known best for the way people throw brightly colored powder and water over each other to celebrate the advent of spring. Then they bathe and cleanse themselves after which they distribute sweets amongst friends and relatives. Vibrant processions accompanied by folk songs and dances are also a characteristic of Holi celebrations. Holi is a very popular festival amongst the youth. Holi also commemorates the burning to death of Holika, the aunt of Prahlada. Huge bonfires are lit on the eve of Holi for this reason. Holi is celebrated with great vigor in the north, but is hardly celebrated in southern India.

    Gaura Purnima: This is the festival that is celebrated by the increasing numbers of the Guadiya Vaishnava tradition. It is the celebration of the birth of Lord Chaitanya, who was considered an incarnation of God, Lord Krishna. Lord Chaitanya showed by example the highest emotion and sentiment of worship and love for Lord Krishna. He also was the first to start peaceful civil disobedience demonstrations for worshiping the Lord, and the sankirtana movement, which is the congregational chanting of the Lord's holy names in the form of the Hare Krishna mantra.

    Shri Rama Navami: This festival celebrates the birth of Lord Rama who is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. This festival is celebrated during the time of March-April. Lord Rama, who became king of Ayodhya, was known for His exemplary qualities. He was popular, brave, kind, just, intelligent, patient, loving, obedient and dutiful. Lord Rama is always worshiped with his consort Sita, brother Lakshmana and devotee Hanuman. The worship of Lord Rama is accompanied by the worship of the Sun god since Rama was considered to have descended from the sun, or is in the Solar dynasty. Rama Navami celebrations include reading the great epic Ramayana and staging plays of the Rama Lila, or the pastimes of the life of Lord Rama.

    Ugadi and Vishu: These are two festivals that celebrate the New Year in different communities of south India. Ugadi is celebrated in March-April. Vishu is celebrated in mid-April. The word Yugadi means the day of the inauguration of the Yuga or Age. Vishu is celebrated in a big way in Kerala. Families wake up in the morning and make sure they feast their eyes on good things like a picture of God, grains, flowers, fruit and gold. It is believed seeing these first thing in the morning of the New Year will bring them prosperity and wealth throughout the year.

    Hanuman Jayanthi: This celebrates the birth of Hanuman, the most famous devotee of Lord Rama. His birthday falls on Chaitra Shukla Purnima—the March-April full moon day. On this holy day worship Sri Hanuman. Fast on this day. Read the Sri Hanuman Chalisa. Spend the whole day in the Japa of Ram-Nam. Hanuman will be highly pleased and will bless you with success in all your undertakings. Celebrations are marked by special pujas (rituals of worship) for Hanuman.

            SRI HANUMAN is worshipped all over India—either alone or together with Sri Rama. Every temple of Sri Rama has the murti or idol of Sri Hanuman. Hanuman was the Avatara of Lord Siva. He was born of the Wind-God and Anjani Devi. He is also called by the names Pavanasuta, Marutsuta, Mahavira, Bajrangabali and Pavankumar.

            Hanuman was the living embodiment of the power of Ram-Nam. He was an ideal selfless worker, a true devotee who worked without personal desires, and an exceptional Brahmachari or celibate. He served Sri Rama with pure love and devotion. He lived only to serve Sri Rama. He was humble, brave and wise. He possessed all the divine virtues. He did what others could not do—crossing the ocean simply by uttering Ram-Nam, burning the demon-king's city of Lanka, and bringing the sanjeevini herb to restore the life of Lakshmana. He brought Sri Rama and Lakshmana from the nether world after killing Ahiravana.

            Hanuman possessed devotion, knowledge, spirit of selfless service, power of celibacy, and desirelessness. He never boasted of his bravery and intelligence. He said to Ravana, "I am a humble messenger of Sri Rama. I have come here to serve Sri Rama, to do His work. By the command of Sri Rama, I have come here. I am fearless by the Grace of Sri Rama. I am not afraid of death. I welcome it if it comes while serving Sri Rama."

            Sri Rama Himself said to Hanuman, "I am greatly indebted to you, O mighty hero. You did marvelous, superhuman deeds. You do not want anything in return. Sugriva has his kingdom restored to him. Angada has been made the crown prince. Vibhishana has become king of Lanka. But you have not asked for anything at any time. You threw away the precious garland of pearls given to you by Sita. How can I repay My debt of gratitude to you? I will always remain deeply indebted to you. I give you the boon of everlasting life. All will honor and worship you like Myself. Your image will be placed at the door of My temple and you will be worshipped and honored first. Whenever My  stories are recited or glories sung, your glory will be sung before Mine. You will be able to do anything, even that which I will not be able to!"

            Thus did Sri Rama praise Hanuman when the latter returned to Him after finding Sita in Lanka. Hanuman was not a bit elated. He fell in prostration at the holy feet of Sri Rama.

            Sri Rama asked him, "O mighty hero, how did you cross the ocean?" Hanuman humbly replied, "By the power and glory of Thy Name, my Lord." Again Sri Rama asked, "How did you burn Lanka? How did you save yourself?" And Hanuman replied, "By Thy Grace, my Lord." Everyone should try his best to follow the noble example of Hanuman. Glory to Hanuman! Glory to his Lord, Sri Rama!


    Guru Purnima: This is a festival with a truly spiritual meaning and relevance. Guru Purnima celebrates the might of one's teacher or guru through respect and reverence. Also known as Vyasa Purnima, the festival is celebrated in July-August on the full moon. It is believed that the great scholar and composer of the Vedic literature, Vyasadeva, who lived in the Dvapara Yuga, was born on this day. Legend also has it that this is when he completed the codification of the four Vedas.

    Onam: This festival marks the day on which the great devotee of Lord Vishnu Emperor Maha Bali, the grandson of Prahlada (the great devotee of Lord Narasimha), received benediction and liberation with the blessings of the Lord, who had assumed the form of Vamanadeva, the dwarf incarnation. Onam is celebrated in August-September, and especially in Kerala. Onam is a ten-day festival marked by women creating beautiful floral patterns in front of their houses, pujas for Lord Vishnu, feasting and boat races.

    Raksha Bandan: This celebrates the love of a sister for her brother. On this day, sisters tie a rakhi, a colorful bracelet made of silk thread, on the wrist of their brothers to protect them against evil influences. It is celebrated in July-August. Raksha Bandan is celebrated in some parts of India as a festival to honor the sea god Varuna, where coconuts are offered to the sea. Because of its three eyes, the coconut represents the three eyes of Shiva. As a mark of auspiciousness, coconuts are also broken at shrines and temples. This is also the day set apart for Brahmins to change the sacred thread they wear.

    Krishna Janmashtami: This is the celebration of the birth of Lord Krishna. It is celebrated on the eighth day of the dark fortnight in August-September. Temples and homes are beautifully decorated and lit. Notable are the cribs and other decorations depicting stories of Lord Krishna's childhood. In the evening bhajans (devotional songs) are sung which end at midnight, the auspicious moment when Lord Krishna was born. Krishna Janmastami is a festival that is held in the typical pattern of preparation, purification, realization, and then celebration. On the day of the festival, people will fast and spend the day focused on Krishna, meditating and chanting the Hare Krishna mantra and other prayers or songs devoted to Lord Krishna. Often times, there will also be plays and enactments of the birth and pastimes of the Lord. Thus, offering their obeisances, focusing their minds on Lord Krishna, the devotees hold themselves in such single-pointed concentration throughout the day. Then at the stroke of midnight Lord Krishna takes birth, which is celebrated by a midnight araticeremony. Flowers are showered on the Deity of Lord Krishna, or the Deities are dressed in new outfits or decorated with numerous flowers on this day.

            In this way, after a full day of purification, we realize our own connection with the Lord, who then manifests as the Supreme worshipable object of our purified consciousness. Thus, this climax at night represents our overcoming the darkness of ignorance and reaching the state of purified spiritual knowledge and perception. Therein we overcome the influence of the mind and senses and enter the state of steady awareness wherein there is full spiritual awakening. If one can follow this process, then he or she can experience the real meaning of Krishna Janmastami. Then prasad (sacred offered food) is distributed to everyone.

    Ganesh Chaturthi: This celebrates the birth of Lord Ganesh, also called Vinayaka, his child form, as he is popularly known in southern India. He is the god of wisdom, prosperity and good luck. He also removes obstacles. Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated on the fourth day of the lunar month that falls in August-September. Clay figures of the elephant-headed Ganesh are made and after being worshiped for two days, or in some cases ten days, are immersed in water. Ganesh Chaturthi is very popular in the Indian state of Maharasthra.

            Ganesha Chaturthi is the most important of all Mumbai and Pune festivals and is celebrated with great aplomb amongst Marathi community worldwide. On the occasion of the Ganpati festival, a large number of deities are made of all possible sizes and people buy them to keep in their houses as a divine guest for one and a half, five, seven or ten days or twenty one days in exceptional cases after which the image is taken out ceremoniously and disposed of into the river, sea, or well for immersion (Visarjan).  
            The pooja can be a simple one performed by the head of the family and witnessed by family members, close friends, involving a priest who would come home and perform the pooja. The people gather around chanting Sanskrit shlokas when the deity is installed. Aarti (with prayers and hymns in worship of Lord Ganesha) is done several times every day after that. After the aarti, flowers, haldi and kumkum are offered to the women and prasaad is distributed to all those present. Modak is the most famous and most typical food preparation of Ganesha chaturthi celebrations.
            Lokmanya Tilak was the founder of public celebrations of Ganapati festival. He began to celebrate it in 1893 at Pune, India. He revived it in the form of a public festival. During the British Rule, people were prohibited of gathering in large numbers. In order to make this possible, one of the greatest freedom fighters of India, Lokmanya Tilak started to celebrate the Ganapati festival publicly. This facilitated to restore unity between the public in order to fight against the British rulers. During the festival days, beautifully sculpted Ganesha images are installed in the mandaps (large pandals) that are colorfully decorated, depicting religious themes or current events. There are huge public displays of Ganesha images with aarti and loud music and dancing by devotees. . 
            The Public Ganpati festival held at Lalbaug, Mumbai is the most famous Ganpati in Maharashtra and is lovingly called “ LALBAUG CHA RAJA” (King of Lalbaug). It is famously believed that whatever one wishes for from the Lalbaug Ganapati is sure to be fulfilled. There is always a long queue for the darshan of this Ganapati and people don’t mind waiting for hours just for glimpse of their favorite God. 

  • Volunteer

    Giving Vedic Culture to the Next Generation

    By Stephen Knapp

                When I was growing up as a teenager and became interested in the Vedic teachings, I had to research it on my own. I was not like the Indian youth who naturally grow up with it in their own families, and who may also take it for granted as if it is nothing special. I had to struggle and almost fight to acquire access to the books and information I needed. There was so little around where I grew up. In other words, there was no way I was going to take this Vedic knowledge cheaply once I got it.

                The fact of the matter was that I was raised in a Christian family, which was nice, but gradually I was not totally satisfied with the spiritual teachings within the faith. I had more questions about life than it had answers. I found it rather shallow and wanted something deeper. So I looked at all kinds of religions and spiritual teachings, but with the question that is typical of most Westerners when growing up, “What’s in it for me?” Plus, “How is it going to help me, and which spiritual path is going to do the most for me? How can it make a difference to my growth and understanding.” This is a basic attitude of most Westerners and is spreading to most of the youth around the world.

                With that premise as the basis of my exploration, when I finally arrived at the Vedic tradition, I was convinced of the depth of its spiritual knowledge and its comprehensiveness, but from the view of “What’s in it for me?” Because of having this background, typical of Americans, I can also understand the position of other young people today, especially those of Indian descent, who may be asking the same questions regarding their own culture. Therefore, if they do not get the right answers to their questions, or the proper guidance to understand the purpose and meaning of its philosophy and practices, it will not make enough sense to them to seriously take up the path or fully accept it. Therefore, I realize how important it is to teach them correctly, and in a way in which they will find interest in it.

                Indian youngsters of today have adopted the American or western approach to accepting their parent’s tradition, which is called “What’s in it for me?” In other words, if they do not understand something, or if they cannot relate to it, or if it makes no sense or seems to have little relevancy to their lives, they will not take it. Gone are the days when sons and daughters accept something mainly because their parents or grandparents did. Now they have to be able to see the purpose of it. They need to understand the meaning and usefulness behind the tradition.

                This is not only the way the next generation of Indians and Hindus are viewing things in America, but I’ve seen this same attitude in the youth in India as well. This is also happening in other cultures too. So this is a challenge to the parents everywhere. But in some ways this is good because if the children really understand the customs and traditions, if they are truly educated in the meaning of them, then if they embrace them they will sincerely follow them for life.

                So it is up to the parents, teachers and gurus to find the ways in which the Indian youth of today can understand and learn about the customs and history of the Vedic tradition in a way that makes sense to them. They cannot be bored with it. It has to have meaning and be relevant to their lives. They can’t see it merely as myths, but as legends and history. They should not see it as mere rituals, but as ceremonies and practices that uplift and purify the consciousness. They need to recognize the benefits of it. They should not see the images in the temple as mere idols, but as Deities that can reciprocate with the devotee to the degree of sincerity and surrender in which the devotee approaches the Deity. They need to see that Vedic culture is a dynamic and living tradition that holds eternal spiritual truths that are as relevant today as they were thousands of years ago. They need to see that many of the technological advancements that we take for granted today are made possible by many of the developments that had been given by the ancient Vedic tradition.

                The youth of today cannot be pushed or forced into something. But they need to be introduced to the Vedic tradition through methods that involve their own interests, whether it is technology and computers, or whether it is through ways of self-expression like music, dance, art, or even martial arts. All of these avenues have strong roots in the Vedic tradition and were used in ways of discipline that would also lead one to higher awareness and refined realizations.

                We need to make the youth aware of the possibilities that can be attained or learned from the ancient Vedic tradition as it is applied to the modern age. I recently got a letter from South Africa in which they explained how they were using an approach from an article I wrote on how various frequencies can allow a person to kill, heal or transcend. In it I explained that the numerous frequencies which exist around us can affect us in various ways, both beneficially or destructively. It also showed how Russians had been broadcasting radio frequencies that could control behavioral patterns in people or even kill them, as well as how the ancients of Vedic culture used the sound vibrations in mantras to perceive and reach the spiritual strata and change social cooperation for the better.

                When this was presented to the youth in a class, no one was bored, but they could see how ancient knowledge could be applied for purposes that could be used today. In this way, children that displayed no interest in spirituality suddenly had their curiosity piqued. So we need to know how to develop these kinds of methods.

                Furthermore, Hindu temples, being the center of cultural preservation, also need to find the ways for the youth to get involved in all age levels. Even if it is only through association with other youngsters for fun, games, and youthful activities like camping, boating, swimming, musical sing-alongs, etc., that can be incorporated to bring them together. Then stories of the ancient histories can be told wherein they learn moral values and also the characters and traits of the Vedic personalities, both old and contemporary. This can be done in a way that can also explain the history of India and its development. Or they can learn songs and bhajans as played with modern instruments like guitars and electric keyboards. The point is to use any avenue in which their interest can be aroused. It also has to be fun.

                Thereafter, classes that teach the more orthodox ways of the culture can also be introduced, such as the traditional forms of dance, art, yoga, and philosophy with a modern bent to it. By this I mean how it has influenced great thinkers of the West, such as Emerson, Thoreau, and others. Or how in America yoga has become a three billion dollar business that now has over 16 million people who practice it. Plus, we can show them how Westerners and people all over the world are adopting such views as reincarnation and karma, which are thoroughly rooted in the Vedic tradition. In essence, the youth should feel proud of their culture, its global acceptance, and how it is providing upliftment for increasing numbers of people.

                 So how best can we relate to our children? Using the approach of emotion or entertainment is one way. Whenever children become bored with something, such as too much philosophy or intellectualism, what do they usually do? They go relate with their friends, or put on some music in their Ipod, play competitive sports, or something like that. Thus, they go and engage in one of the most basic activities that there are, which are things on the emotional level. So we need to perceive that. Find out what activities they would like to do in the temple. Or what areas of interest in their tradition do they have. Do they have interest in the heroes or freedom fighters of India? Chances are the children do not even know of them. But many of the boys would certainly have their interest piqued if they began to hear the stories and adventures about the heroes in the Puranic epics, or the more modern heroes during India’s efforts for independence. These would include the struggles, fights, challenges, sacrifices, all for the improvement of society and the people of India. There are also many strong women in Indian history who have worked and even fought in such a way, which could then also be of interest and provide inspiration to the girls. So, we have to open ourselves up and find out how else to reach our children.

                Many of these ways of teaching and numerous other techniques are already being done quite successfully, but they need to be set up and documented in a way in which they can be duplicated by others who are also in need of them. When a solution is found, when there is something that works, it should be made available through the proper channels to others who could also use it. There are some networks for this purpose already functioning, but they need to increase their exposure and cooperation with other Hindu organizations. This lack of cooperation between various organizations and sects is indeed a prime issue in the global Hindu community.

                Another point is that if parents are going to convey Vedic culture and Dharma to their children, then the parents also must know what to say and how to explain things properly to them. And if they don’t know how, then they need to learn. It is not enough to merely send the children off to someone else to get the necessary information and guidance. The parents, being our first teachers, must also be exemplary, enthusiastic, and provide the proper instructions. They must be educated in their own culture so they can explain it to their children, and also use it as the basis of their actions. Otherwise, how will the children understand the purpose of the ceremonies, or the holidays and customs that are observed? And if this is the case, why would it make sense to the children to adopt the Vedic standards and traditions when the answers to the primary question, “What is in it for me?” has not been answered. And how inspiring would it be when it seems that their own parents do not know the purpose behind the traditions, or do not take them seriously?

                On the other hand, when the parents regularly bring their young children to the temple and they join together with other families and youngsters to joyously observe the eventful holidays, or the colorful worship or special classes, it can create fond memories in the minds of the children that will last their whole lives. They remember their family taking special care and lovingly doing such things together, and devotedly going to the temple for special observances, and the uplifting feeling they would get from that. These are like samskaras or impressions which create memories that can motivate the children to continue partaking in such aspects of the Vedic Hindu traditions long after they reach adulthood. And then they partake of the same traditions and observances with their own children.

                In essence, the youth of today have to know that the practice of the Vedic tradition is going to improve and enhance their life. They have to know how it is going to help them reach their higher potential in today’s world, both materially and spiritually. And how it is going to give them the fulfillment that everyone is looking for. And we have to provide those answers and insights to them in some way or other.

                Even if the children engage in less activity at school, such as in sports or various social clubs, there can be an increase in the time they have for learning about their Indian heritage and culture. After all, Sanatana-dharma is not only the root of the identity of children of Indian descent, but it is the foundation for the balance and guidance and character that everyone can use throughout life. Children may learn all about and play baseball, basketball, or other social and sports activities, but how much will they really use such things later on? So what is the loss in learning about the traditions and heritage of India, except in not learning it at all? That would be the greatest loss.

                By training our children in the principles of Santana-dharma, they also learn about the greatness of the Indian identity. Thus, if they have a difficult time in figuring out whether they are American or Indian, especially if they are Indian-born but now being raised in America, this would help them understand their great and distinguishing ethnic identity. They may still relate to things in the West, but understanding their heritage, especially the universal, spiritual standards of Sanatana-dharma, will help them have a balanced view of life and their real uniqueness than anything else. It would become the foundation of who they are, and also provide the wisdom for the decisions that they make long after they have left school.  

                It has been said that if you ever want to destroy a generation, or create the demise of a culture, then cause a distancing between the youth and their previous generations. Then in time, the previous traditions will be forgotten and will cease to exist. Therefore, it is imperative that temples need Balavihars, or a school or special programs to train all children in the ways and meaning of the Vedic tradition.

    They can also engage in fun mock debates on various points of the Vedic culture in group discussions on why certain things are done in the temple, or on certain aspects of the philosophy and knowledge about the Vedic epics. This way they can understand, remember, and even defend their culture and be proud of following Sanatana-dharma. This can help remove any misconception that they have. There may be a time when they know more than their parents.

    As the youth become more enthusiastic and develop with age, they can also become united through networks that join with other youth groups from various mandirs and temples from across the country. Then they can also plan great festivals and get-togethers with a large number of other youth for engagement in all kinds of fun activities, culturally oriented traditions, discussions on life and challenges, resolutions to develop for the future of their culture, and so on. The youth can also share the experiences with each other that they have on the spiritual path. Everyone wants to be on a winning team, and when other youth from the same background see how they are assisting, encouraging, and relating to each other in a positive and exciting way, more of the youth will want to join. When they have the enthusiasm and independence to progress in this way on their own, there will be no stopping them. They will also become the inspiration for future generations. 

                For me, I write books and articles like this one. Admittedly this is only one of many ways that have to be utilized. But I view books as tools, not only for educating Westerners, but also for Indian youth and adults alike. For example, not long ago I put together a book called “Vedic Culture: The Difference It Can Make In Your Life.” By working with some of the top writers in different fields of Vedic study today and letting them write on their main topics of interest, I was able to produce a book that covers the important ways that Vedic knowledge can be utilized for assisting a person to reach their highest potential. The book covers not only the spiritual paths of the Vedic tradition, as in yoga, but it also covers Vedic science, Ayurveda, Vastu Shastra, Jyotish, Vedic gemology, Vedic environmentalism, etc. The purpose of this is to clearly show the different ways the Vedic tradition can help a person sort out various problems or enhance one’s life for reaching one’s highest potential and state of fulfillment. So it is an educational tool for anyone to understand the wide scope of applications available in the Vedic tradition that can be used to make a difference in one’s life. This certainly is to help answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” Such a book is meant to assist all Hindus to utilize and to know how to present the validity of the Vedic tradition to others, even to one’s own children, and shows the value in learning how important the Vedic knowledge can be. This is just one aspect of preserving and presenting the great tradition known as Vedic culture for the benefit of all others.

  • Volunteer

    Environmentalism According to the Vedic View

    By Stephen Knapp


                The environment means nature, and whose nature is it? It is God’s nature. Did anyone else create it? Did anyone else put it all together so that it operates the way it does? In fact, mankind is still trying to figure out all the intricacies of its functionality.

                In all the inventions or devices we produce, all the ingredients and resources that we use are all given by God. The elements we need to make big buildings, bridges, ships, cars, or the fuel to operate them, are all being given by God, and we need to show the proper respect. To think we are the proprietors of everything is the illusion. It is our pride that makes us think we are so intelligent when actually the very brain with which we think is not created by us but has again been given by God.

                As everything is created from the Supreme Creator, then we should certainly have a high regard for everything as the expansion of God’s energies. This not only includes all of our fellow men, but all creatures, as well as all aspects of the planet. Violence toward the planet in the form of not caring for the environment, misusing and polluting our natural resources, not managing the land and forests properly, are all forms of disrespect toward God and the blessings that have been given us. Why should we expect God to continue giving us the necessities of life, or the means to acquire them, if we are going to ruin them, or do not know how to care for them properly? So we must never pollute our resources or waste the food we have.

                We should also see that even the Earth is a living being, full of life. The globe is a mother to us since she supplies all that we need. All of our food, water, and resources for sustaining our own lives, as well as supplies for shelter and clothing, all come from her. How she reciprocates with us in regard to what she provides depends on how we treat, honor and care for her. The imbalance in nature, such as the green house effect, the changing climate and weather patterns, are reflections of the imbalance in the consciousness of humanity. Once there is balance and harmony in society’s consciousness and the way we regard and treat the ecosystem, this will then be reflected in the balance in nature. Then many of the storms, natural upheavals and disasters will begin to cease.

                The environment and the material creation are supplied with all the potencies to produce all the necessities that we require, not only for humans but also for all species. Human society should not consider itself as the only enjoyer of all of God’s creation, and that no other creatures have a claim to it. Humanity is actually a minority species when we consider the many types of creatures that are sustained by the environment. If we manage the ecosystem properly, it will continue to produce everything we need. However, if people who have no genuine spiritual understanding start exploiting the Earth to take whatever they want in any way they want, then the supply of resources starts decreasing and the Earth, being a living organism, stops producing or responding to the needs of society as abundantly as it used to do. Then there will be shortages, droughts, and forest fires; subsequently the prices on commodities will increase. Gradually more people will become poor, and poverty and starvation will spread in parts of the world. Then we see fierce competition for whatever resources can be attained. When many people die while fighting over land and commodities, or temporary and ever-changing political stances, then all the bloodshed from the dead, dying or wounded is like offering Mother Earth blood sacrifices to drink. She is pained by this, as are so many other higher beings that watch the activities of humanity. Rather than respecting the Earth and cooperating to share her resources, when we fight over them it is most heartrending for Mother Earth. Thus, when the Earth and the Lord’s environment are not properly appreciated and maintained, or are exploited by ungodly people, then scarcities and excess pollution is the result. However, nature itself can go on nicely except for the interference of ungodly men.

                As a society controlled by godless men gathers all the resources from the land as fast as possible for power and quick profits, it may appear to be a mighty economic gain at first, but in time it is never enough. As demand grows, scarcity raises its angry head. When the environment is not respected and cared for properly, there are also changes in the various species that have existed for thousands of years, even extinctions. These are all signs of further unknown changes in the future that will be revealing themselves to us when it will be too late.

                There may be times when the Earth needs to cleanse herself of unwanted activities or from the pain she suffers from society’s wrong aims of life. She may move in various ways to adjust things so that humanity is not so out of balance and will be forced to reconfigure the value systems that are displayed by humanity and make them geared more toward the real goal of life. When Earth reacts in particular ways to relieve her from the weight of unwanted activities or segments of society, we should not miss the message. A society that is too spoiled often easily forgets the real reason why it is here.

                The proper vision is that everything is the property of the Supreme Being. If we have any possessions or wealth, we should see that we are only borrowing them for a short time. We certainly cannot take them with us when we leave this body, thus someone else will take it all when we are gone. The ultimate owner of everything is the Supreme Creator. Thus, the proper way to use anything is in the service or consciousness of God. The same goes for taking care of the environment. Everything belongs to God so, ultimately, we should take care of it as if we were being watched by God and only taking care of His property while, by God’s good graces, it produces the resources we need to live. After all, as the Lord in our heart and as the Supersoul of every living being, He is observing everything we do.

                All of one’s land, home, wealth, and possessions belong to the Supreme Being though we wrongly think, AI am this body and all that belongs to it is mine@. Thus, a person of wisdom should not see anything as separate from the Supreme Lord. In spiritual consciousness, such a person will see everything, whether it be fire, air, water, the earth, the sun and stars, all living beings, the trees and plants, the rivers and oceans, and in fact everything that exists as an expansion of the energies of the Supreme Lord. Even while actively engaged with so many objects and undertakings in this creation, a person who sees the whole world as the energy of the Supreme Being is indeed a great sage of wisdom.

                Therefore, we should care for the environment as if it is not ours but God’s property, and in this way assure ourselves that it will continue to provide all of our necessities for many years to come, and into many future generations. This is the Vedic view.


  • Volunteer

    Reincarnation: A Simple Explanation

    By Stephen Knapp


                Reincarnation is called samsara in the classic Vedic texts of India. The word samsara is Sanskrit and means being bound to the cycle of repeated birth and death through numerous lifetimes. How this works is that those who are materially conditioned transmigrate through different bodies according to one’s desires and past activities (or karma) and familiarities. Their desires, if materially motivated, requires a physical body to enable them to continue to work out their material longings in various conditions of life.

                Generally, in the Eastern traditions it is considered that all forms of life or species have souls, which is the entity who reincarnates. Previous to when an entity is ready to incarnate as a human being on Earth, the soul may have gone through a whole series of lives in order to experience various levels of existence and consciousness. The principle is that an entity may actually progress through the different species of life, gradually working their way up until they reach the human form. Of course, the body is only the covering of the soul in which it appears. The living being will continually move upward in its cycles of reincarnation until it has experienced all the main varieties of existences that the material realm has to offer. This way the living being is fully experienced in working out material desires or longings in all kinds of forms by the time it reaches the human stage. Of course, not every being may have to go through all of this.

                How reincarnation works is most elaborately described in the Vedic texts of India. The Bhagavad-gita (8.6) explains that whatever state of consciousness one attains when he or she quits this body, a similar state will be attained in the next life. This means that after the person has lived his or her life, the numerous variegated activities of the person forms an aggregated consciousness. All of our thoughts and actions throughout our life will collectively influence the state of being we are in at the time of death. This consciousness will determine what that person is thinking of at the end of one’s life. This last thought and consciousness will then direct where that person will most likely go in the next life because this state of being carries over from this life into the next.

                As it is further explained, the living entity in the material world carries the different levels of consciousness from one body to another in the same way the air carries aromas. In other words, we cannot see the aromas that the air carries, yet it can be perceived by the sense of smell. In a similar way, we cannot see the types of consciousness that the living being has developed, but it is carried from this body at the time of death and proceeds to another body in the next life to take up where it left off from the preceding existence. Of course, the next life may be in another physical body or in a subtle body in between births, or even in heavenly or hellish states of being. 

                After death, one continues the consciousness that was cultivated during life. It is our thought patterns that build the consciousness, which then directs us toward the required experience after death. One’s state of consciousness or conception of life exists in the subtle body, which consists of mind, intelligence and false ego. The soul is covered by this subtle body, which exists within the gross material form. When the physical vehicle can no longer function, the subtle body and soul are forced out of it. Then, when the time is right, they are placed in another physical frame which properly accommodates the state of mind of the living entity. This is how the mental state which attracts the dying man determines how he begins his next life. If the dying man is absorbed in thoughts of material gain or sensual pleasures of wife, family, relatives, home, etc., then he must, at some point, get another material body to continue pursuing his worldly interests. After all, how can one satisfy his material desires without a material body?

                For this reason, it is best that a person always cultivate pious activities and spiritual thoughts to help him or her enter a better life after death. If a person has tried to cut the knots of attachment to materialistic life, and engaged in spiritual activities, to the degree of advancement the person has made, he or she can go to a heavenly realm after death, or even reach the kingdom of God.

           In any case, we can begin to understand that dying in the right consciousness in order to become free from the cycle of birth and death is an art that takes practice. We have to prepare for the moment of death so that we are not caught off guard or in an unsuitable state of mind. This is one of the purposes of yoga.

                After what can be millions of births and deaths through many forms of life, trying to satisfy all of one’s material desires, the soul may begin to get tired of these continuous attempts for happiness that often turn out to be so temporary. Then the person may turn toward finding spiritual meaning in life. In one’s search for higher meaning, depending on the level of consciousness that a person develops, he or she can gradually enter higher and higher levels of development. Finally, if a person detects that he is actually not this body but a spiritual being within it, and reaches a spiritual level of consciousness, he can perfect his life so that he will enter the spiritual strata and no longer have to incarnate in the physical world. Thus, liberation is attained through Self-realization and the development of devotional service to God, which is the perfection of the spiritual path. Through human existence on Earth, the doorway to many other planes of existence is possible, including entrance into the spiritual world. It only depends on how we use this life.

                The idea that a person has only one life to either become qualified to enter heaven or enter eternal damnation offers the soul no means of rehabilitation and only endless misery. This is not reasonable. The doctrine of reincarnation gives anyone   ample scope to correct and re-educate himself in future births. An eternity in hell means that an infinite effect is produced by a finite cause, which is illogical. God has not created men to become nothing more than ever-lasting fuel to feed the fires of hell. Such a purpose in His creation would not come from an ever-loving God, but comes from the faulty ideas of man and his imperfect conceptions of God. After all, how many spotless men could there be in this world?  Who  has  such  a  pure  character to receive an immediate pass to heaven? The Bhagavad-gita explains that even the worst sinner can cross the ocean of birth and death by ascending the boat of transcendental knowledge. We simply have to be sincere in reaching that boat.

                Furthermore, a person reaps the results of his sinful deeds for a limited amount of time. After being purged of one’s sins, meaning suffering the painful reactions from one’s bad activities, a person, knowing right from wrong, can have a fresh chance to freely work for his emancipation from further entanglement in material life. When he deserves and attains such freedom, the soul can enjoy perfect and eternal bliss in its devotional union with the Supreme Being. This is why it is always encouraged for one to strive for spiritual knowledge and the practice of enlightenment. By developing sincere and purified devotion for the Lord, one does not have to worry about one’s future birth. Once a person has started this path of devotion, each life will take one closer to spiritual perfection, in whatever situation one finds him or herself. 

                So a person is encouraged to repent for one’s sins or ill choices that were made while under the influence of lust, anger or greed, and cultivate forgiveness, purity and generosity. A person should also engage in charity, penance, meditation, japa (personal chanting of the Lord’s holy names), kirtan (congregational singing of the Lord’s holy names), and other spiritual practices, which destroy all sins and removes all doubts about spiritual knowledge. Then through steady practice one can gradually reach the spiritual world and be free from any further entanglement in reincarnation. 

  • Volunteer

    Sanatana-Dharma: Its Real Meaning

    By Stephen Knapp

                When it comes to understanding the meaning of Sanatana-dharma, we have to be aware of its Sanskrit definition. The root of the word dharma comes from dhri, which means to uphold or maintain. The Sanskrit says dharayati iti dharmaha, which translates as dharma is that which upholds. However, not only what is supported is dharma, but that which does the supporting is also dharma, dhriyate iti dharmaha. So dharma consists of both the force that sustains as well as what is sustained. It can also be said that there is the path of dharma as well as its conclusion, the object of dharma, or what we are seeking, the goal of life. So dharma is the means as well as the goal.

                Dharma is also said to be the force which maintains the universe. Where there is dharma there is harmony and balance individually, socially, and inter-galactically. So the path of dharma brings about the harmony and contentment that is also another aspect of what we are seeking. In this way, we want harmony inwardly, in our own consciousness, but we also cannot have individual peace unless there is harmony or cooperation socially, amongst the masses. So where there is no dharma, there is disharmony and a state of being that is out of balance. And socially it means that without dharma, there is a lack of cooperation, along with escalating quarrel and fighting. This often manifests as a lack of distribution of resources, whereas some parts of the world may experience abundance of water, food or fuel, yet other parts are starving. Or by dishonest manipulation of supply and demand some necessities become priced so high that they are out of reach for the poor. When we act against the law of dharma, we disrupt the very harmony and cooperation that we want. In other words, we create a life for ourselves in which there is stress, confusion, discontent, and frustration. And when we feel that way, that becomes our contribution to the general social condition. It is the exact opposite of what we wish to attain. Thus, to live a life outside of dharma means to work against ourselves.

                Furthermore, if we live on the basis of lust and greed, to accumulate possessions, money, and sensual pleasure by the demands of the mind and senses, it will become most difficult to follow the path of dharma. Of course, when this is the case, we often see that such people become increasingly discontent and out of balance, enamored by the illusory happiness in material existence. Doing what should not be done is called vidharma, which is a type of adharma or nondharmic activity. The conclusion, therefore, is that if we want happiness and peace we must learn how to live according to the path of dharma.

                The practice of dharma should be done not out of compulsion but out of love due to the perception of the Supreme in all living beings. With this motivation, dharma can assist in preventing injury to others and treating each other respectfully. Dharma also means righteous conduct. This includes following social laws and proper moral activity and behavior. It encourages truthfulness of thought, word and deed. The point of which is to reach the goal of dharma.

                Dharma also means truth. So we follow the path of dharma to free ourselves from illusion and reach the ultimate Truth, which is the topmost reality, the spiritual strata. The Absolute Truth means the final philosophical goal and end of all knowledge, or Vedanta, which is God, the Supreme Being. So when we want to attain liberation from material existence, after realizing the futility of its temporary nature, and wish to reach God, then it becomes much easier to follow the path of dharma and overcome the temptations of the temporary material world. Then we can let go of the illusory objects that are, in fact, hurdles on the path to Truth and God, and happiness in general.

                The more we are attracted to the material existence and in accumulating the illusory objects to satisfy our mind and senses, in essence, the more hurdles we are bringing into our life. And we must overcome these obstructions at some point to reach the Absolute Truth. Therefore, life lived according to the law of dharma means the freer we become from false obstacles, from stress, from false hangups and mood swings, and inner conflicts. Thus, the freer we are to experience our real selves as spiritual beings. And the more society chooses to follow the path of dharma, the more easily we can attain an existence of cooperation and harmony instead of one of wars, conflict, terror and killing. So whatever we do, even if it is doing business, making money, politics, etc., it should be done on the basis of dharma. Then things will progress in the proper way. Following dharma will bring both material well-being as well as final liberation from material existence. Thus, one can attain all that this world can offer through the path of dharma.

                On a national, ethnic, or racial level, dharma is an instrument of unity, not divisiveness. That which helps unite everyone and develop love and universal brotherhood is dharma. That which causes discord or disharmony or provokes hatred is adharma. That which works against or tries to destroy dharma is adharma. With this understanding we can perceive that certain religions that exist on this planet that encourage divisiveness between those that are “saved” and those that are supposedly going to hell, or which primarily focus on differences between their sect and others, are actually adharmic. Those religions that do not teach that we are all spiritual beings, all children of the same God, all equal in the eyes of God, are adharmic. They may merely be limited in their depth of knowledge and awareness, but until they adopt the dharmic principles they will continue to produce disagreements, restlessness, harsh attitudes and even hatred amongst people in the name of religion. The reason is that they are absent of real transcendental knowledge and deep spiritual insights. Since such religions lack dharma, they will not be able to deliver one to dharma, or to the Absolute Truth. Thus, lack of peace and harmony amongst various religions will be commonplace until this is remedied. In this way, the path of dharma is more than a religion or belief system. It is the means to directly perceive and live according to that higher reality and spiritual unity between us all.

                So we can see that the path of dharma is more of a way of life. Some people may say that Vedic dharma, or Hinduism, is another religion. Yet, if we understand this principle of dharma, we can see that it is not merely another religion or “ism”. It is a way of life that is lived with every moment and every breath. It is a matter of raising our consciousness to the highest level possible. It is a matter of understanding and living according to the Universal Spiritual principles that apply to everyone. Thus, we reach our fullest potential, which in the end is on the spiritual platform.

                For example, when one comes to the level of dharma, then all of his or her actions are in accordance with the dharma, the path of harmony and balance, in tune with the Divine. For example, in Vedic culture we can find the artful expression of dance. This is just one of many art forms in the Vedic tradition. But on the path of dharma it is an expression of one’s emotional outlet toward God, Ishwara or Krishna. An emotional outlet in this manner means you express yourself to God, you release your love for God, and your thoughts and consciousness become more absorbed in God. So this is also like yoga, a form of dedicated meditation. In this way, the attitude within the dance is unique. It is not merely an emotional release for satisfying one’s own mind, but it is an expression of longing toward becoming united with God. That is yoga. It is dharma. So in this sense, dharma means the freedom to naturally express our inner proclivity, which is to get closer to the Absolute Truth, and worship this Truth, this Ishvara or God.

                Therefore, on the path of dharma the dances, the movements, the costumes and jewelry, are all used to either relate the pastimes of God or to enhance our attachment to God. So these are all expressions of dharma, our eternal nature to love God and be loved by God. Thus, dharma is also protected by continuing the tradition. For this reason there needs to be a class of men who are dedicated to protect the dharma. It is only one who has the dharma that can protect it.

                Now when we add the word Sanatana to dharma, it expands the meaning and purpose. Sanatana means eternal. So Sanatana-dharma can mean the ancient path that has existed from time immemorial. It is the eternal path which has been given to humanity and comes from beyond the material dimension. Thus, Sanatana-dharma is the inter-dimensional path of progress for all living beings.

                It can also be said to be the unceasing and imperishable path of the soul. Sanatana-dharma also means the eternal path and our eternal nature. Dharma means the ultimate nature of the living being, the spirit soul. And the nature or dharma of the soul is to love and be loved, to serve its most lovable object and to receive love. Just like the dharma or nature of sugar is to be sweet, we know that if it is not sweet or if it is salty, then it is not sugar. The dharma of fire is to give light and heat. If it does not do that, then it cannot be fire. So the Sanatana-dharma or eternal nature of the soul is that it is a spiritual being that is naturally connected to God and feels the greatest joy in its constitutional position as a servant of God. The soul needs to love. It cannot do without it. And our nature as human beings reflects the nature of the soul because we are always looking for love. Although when such love is interpreted through the mind and senses, it is often accepted as the satisfaction of the mind and body. This only brings temporary happiness because it is merely a reflection of what we really want and need. So for the soul, the most lovable object is the Lord and the most pleasing things are spiritual relations and exchanges. This is what will give the epitome of bliss that we long for in loving relationships.

                 So, Sanatana-dharma means both the ultimate spiritual truth and the means to attain it. And that truth is the divine knowledge of the soul. Thus, if there is to be any eternality in our relationships, or any spiritual connection with anything we do, it has to be based on that divine knowledge of the soul, the ultimate reality. That is the path of Sanatana-dharma, to realize our spiritual identity and then know how to act accordingly.

                Therefore, the purpose of life is to follow the path of dharma which will bring us to the conclusion of recognizing that everything is the energy of God, Brahman. Following this further, the path of dharma will bring us into union with God. And the highest union is through love and devotion, or bhakti. Thus, bhakti-yoga, the process of loving devotion to the Lord, is the epitome of following Sanatana-dharma. Making this the goal of our life means that we are living a life of dharma. And the ultimate goal of dharma is to reach God.

                Sanatana-dharma is also a matter of understanding. It is an awareness that every particle of this universe is an expansion of God’s energies. That it is all an exhibition of the potencies of the Para-Brahman, the Absolute Existence. Dharma is the path to seeing how God is everywhere. Thus, dharma is not only the path to God but is also in God. A truly liberated person does not worry about liberation, or in going home back to God in the spiritual world. He is already aware that he is in God’s energy, whether it is the material or spiritual energy. It is all an exhibition of God’s potencies wherever he goes. Thus, the dharmin, or Dharmist, the follower of dharma who sees God everywhere, is already home. Liberation from material existence will follow such a person like a servant.

                If we understand this properly, we can see that Sanatana-dharma is the basis of universal truth. It can be applied to anyone at anytime and anywhere in the universe. Thus, many religions can and should include Sanatana-dharma within their approach and outlook. It does not matter in which religion you may be affiliated, you can still benefit and grow within the fold of Sanatana-dharma to reach a higher awareness and perception of your true potential and genuine spiritual identity. In this way, the whole world could reach a new stage in its social and spiritual development, as well as in harmony and cooperation.

  • Volunteer

    Nonviolence According to Dharma

    By Stephen Knapp


                When understanding Vedic Dharma and the need for us to raise our consciousness, which includes perceiving the Divine in all beings, it should also be clear that we need to observe respect, kindness, non-injury, and nonviolence toward all. Nonviolence and the path to Truth and God are inseparable. Nonviolence means non-hate. We must never hate anyone. Hatred itself is a great enemy or deterrent on the path of Dharma and spiritual progress in general.

                In our personal dealings with others, there should be no violence whatsoever that would cause physical or mental pain. This means that even our talk should be pleasing, respectful, and never insulting or belittling toward others. Nonviolence means that one should not do anything that will put others into misery, confusion, or distress. Nor should we leave someone in such conditions when something can be done to alleviate one’s suffering. If we can provide assistance but do not, then that is also a form of violence. Without having compassion for others and without having an understanding of their feelings, you retard your own development and stifle your own journey to heaven or beyond.

                That which furthers the future happiness of people is nonviolence, which also means that which jeopardizes the well-being of people now and into the future is violence. Violence also means to stop or interrupt a person’s progress in spiritual life.

                In our respect toward other people and other cultures and forms of worshiping the one Supreme Being, violence should never be used in the attempt to establish the superiority of one religion or culture over another, or to forcibly make converts. We must be aware of the value of each spiritual path and what they have to offer before dismissing them. Each genuine spiritual process has the potential to raise the consciousness of its participants to various levels, if they use it properly. A dislike of other spiritual traditions often comes from a mere lack of understanding. Good religions strengthen the positive human qualities and minimize the less desirable ones. They must focus on the good qualities while helping to overcome the bad. If it cannot at least do that, then it is hardly to be regarded as a beneficial religion.

                If a religion cannot show its attractiveness by the force of its spiritual purity, but must resort to trickery, bribery, torture, terrorism, or violence and war to make converts or conquer over other religions, then it is not a true representative of God. Nor will it spread the genuine love that God has toward all of us. The participants of such a process never really know God through such methods. If they cannot recognize the Lord in all beings and work cooperatively in such a way, then they certainly will not know the many aspects of God, nor will they be allowed into heaven after death. Death alone does not change a violent and divisive person or enlighten their consciousness to the degree in which they can be qualified to enter heaven or the spiritual realm. Death alone is not enough atonement. They will still be forced to adjust their consciousness by some other means before they will be allowed entrance into heaven or the higher realms, not to mention attaining the perception of the spiritual domain, which is still farther beyond the realm of the heavenly world. Thus, a violent religion, or a path in which its participants are cruel or hateful toward others, is not a representative of God’s hope for humanity. It is not a means to perceive the spiritual similarities between us all that exist deep within whatever bodily differences we may have.

                Religion can never be used as the basis or justification for violence against others. Otherwise, it makes that religion an abomination before the eyes of an ever-loving God. How can it be otherwise? To spend our time criticizing or demeaning other religions is to criticize another way of worshiping and petitioning the same God, though the Lord may be called by a different name. Do you think you can enter heaven by showing hatred toward those who love God but show it in a different way, or through a different process? To base one’s opinion of another because of a difference in culture or religion is an indication of possessing a lower consciousness. Generally, you cannot rise to heaven while holding the boulders of a low consciousness. However, if a religion spreads fear because of advocating disdain or hatred toward those on other spiritual paths, then it’s less than beneficial affects on humanity should be acknowledged.

                Saintly people will see the divinity in a person and their desire to reach God as best as they know how. If they are sincere, they are worth holding dear as God also holds them dear. God will hear the prayers of all who offer them to Him with love. You must make sure that same love is also in your heart, otherwise how can God hear you if you hold hatred or contempt toward others? Such feelings will misdirect the prayers you submit to God. How can you see God in others if your vision is clouded by differences, criticism, or hatred? No true religion will ever propagate such an attitude or vision. If it does, then how can it benefit its followers or the world? It will only be a cause of quarrel and disunity. This creates a separation from God, not a unity or link with God. So how would God appreciate such a thing? One should run away from such a philosophy and find one that honors the Divinity within everyone, as God is to be recognized within all.

                However, in order to maintain a nonviolent and peaceful society, there may be times when violence is justified and necessary. The Vedic Dharma does not permit murder, slaughter, or war for mundane purposes. However, at the same time, justified violence and war are inevitable factors in society for keeping law and order. So to maintain a nonviolent society, violence may be necessary in the protection of oneself and for the good of the general mass of people who wish to live in peace. There may also be a need for warranted violence to maintain moral standards, and to defend such principles, including the Dharma itself, against those who wish to bring them down or establish their own violent agenda for power and control at the expense of peace in the world.

                To use violence or a weapon in defending ourselves from a criminal who means to do us grave bodily harm is justified. A criminal or terrorist who has no respect for the life of others will continue to be a disturbance to society. He will go on harming people to gain his own selfish goals. Therefore, he must be apprehended to confine him from acting out his criminal tendencies and violence on others. If he is in the process of torturing or killing someone, or if that is his intent, then there may be the need to exhibit lethal force toward such a person to prevent him from committing further harm. If you allow harm to happen to others by not acting to prevent it, then that is also a form of violence which accrues karma or obstacles to one’s growth.

                No matter how much we can recognize the soul within every living being, there will be some who are evil. This is not in regard to those who are merely mislead or mistaken and who can be rehabilitated, but those who have every intent to harm others in society and who are beyond correcting. These include rapists, murderers, child molesters, kidnappers, terrorists, etc. Their consciousness can be as low as animals in not being able to control themselves or discriminate between right and wrong. These people must be dealt with in an immediate manner and with severity for the protection of the rest of society. The appropriate punishment must be given to curb evil-minded people. How can you expect society to peacefully progress otherwise?

                Similarly, there may be nations whose rulers are focused on the design to press forward with their non-spiritual agenda to dominate others, or suppress particular religions or cultures, regardless of how people are harmed. Those who are unable to follow the spiritual truths to benefit all, or allow others to follow them, must be restrained by force if necessary. At that time justified violence and authority may have to be used to overcome political and heartless cruelty, especially that which is done due to the wicked desires for worldly gain or power for the few at the expense of the many.

                This sort of violent but defensive action should be done sparingly, but with the intention that it will correct the situation and help establish an era of true peace and respect for all. It should not be exhibited merely for economic or political gain, or for conquering others. But on the other hand, we must know when to take a strong stand to defend what is morally and spiritually correct, and to preserve those standards. This need of defense against those who are wicked and immoral, as well as impious principles, has gone on in the world for thousands of years and will continue for many more. However, other than in such extreme situations, which seem to be on the rise in this world today, nonviolence should be our normal temperament toward other peaceful people, both socially and individually. But we must act like a lion with swift justice against those who are a legitimate threat to morality, peace, and spiritual growth. We must be prepared to act with Dharma to defend Dharma. If we protect Dharma, Dharma will protect us. Otherwise, if we remain silent, dogmatically pacifistic, it will be nothing more than a prescription for the slow extinction of the Dharma and those who follow it. If such an attitude was meant to be the standard amongst us, then the Bhagavad-gita never would have been spoken. 

  • Volunteer


    The Power of Sacred Food

     By Stephen Knapp


          On the spiritual path those that are most inclined to lead a peaceful existence that respects the value of all life often adopts the vegetarian lifestyle. It is in accordance with the yogic principle of ahimsa, which is to observe nonviolence and abstain from injuring any being in any way. However, in the process of bhakti-yoga, devotion goes beyond simple vegetarianism, and food becomes a method of spiritual progress. In the Krishna temples, food is offered to the Deities in a special sacrament, after which it becomes prasada orprasadam. This means the mercy of the Lord. Thus, the food we eat after it is offered to the Lord becomes a means for our purification and spiritual development. 

          Devotional service or Krishna consciousness is often described as a process of singing, dancing and feasting. But the feasting is done with spiritual food, Krishna prasadam. 

          In the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna says, “All that you do, all that you eat, all that you offer and give away, as well as all austerities that you may perform, should be done as an offering unto Me.” So offering what we eat to the Lord is an integral part of bhakti-yoga and makes the food blessed with spiritual potencies. Then such food is called prasadam, or the mercy of the Lord.

          The Lord also describes what He accepts as offerings: “If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it.” Thus, we can see that the Lord does not need anything, but if one offers fruits, grains, and vegetarian foods, He will accept it. The Lord does not accept foods like meat, fish or eggs, but only those that are pure and naturally available without harming others. So we offer what Krishna likes, not those items which are distasteful to Him. We also do not use garlic, onions, or mushrooms when we prepare food for Krishna.

          The Lord is fully satisfied in Himself. He is the creator of all so everything is already His. He supplies us with food through nature, but we give thanks to Him by offering it back in a mood of loving devotion. So if His devotee offers something with love, out of His causeless mercy Krishna accepts it. The Lord is never hungry for our food, but for the love and devotion we offer. And then He reciprocates with that love. 

          So on the spiritual path eating food that is first offered to God is the ultimate perfection of a vegetarian diet. The Vedic literature explains that the purpose of human life is reawakening the soul’s original relationship with God, and accepting prasadam is the way to help us reach that goal.

          The food is meant to be cooked with the consciousness of love, knowing that it will be offered to Lord Krishna. In the spiritual world, Radharani cooks for Krishna and She never cooks the same preparation twice. The temple kitchen is understood to belong to Radharani.

          The ingredients are selected with great care and must be fresh, clean and pure vegetarian. Also, in cooking for Krishna we do not taste the preparations while cooking. We leave the first taste for Krishna when it is offered.

          After all the preparations are ready, we take a portion of each one and place it in bowls on a special plate and take it to the altar to offer it to the Deities or pictures of Krishna.

          Then the preparations are presented with special prayers as we ask that God accept our humble offering. The Lord accepts it with the most important part being the love with which it is offered. God does not need to eat, but it is our love for God which attracts Him to us and to accept our offering. Even if the most sumptuous banquet is offered to God but without devotion and love, Krishna will not be hungry to accept it. It is our love which catches the attention of Lord Krishna who is then inclined to accept our service.

          After He glances over and tastes that loving offering of vegetarian preparations, He leaves the remnants for us to honor and relish. Krishna’s potency is absorbed in that food. In this way material substance becomes spiritualized, which then affects our body and mind in a similar way. This is His special mercy for us. Thus, the devotional process becomes an exchange of love between us and God, which includes food. And that food not only nourishes our body, but also purifies our consciousness.             

          By relishing the sacred food of Krishna prasadam, it purifies our heart and protects us from falling into illusion. In this way, the devotee imbibes the spiritual potency of Lord Krishna and becomes cleansed of sinful reactions by eating food that is first offered in sacrifice to God. We thus also become free from reincarnation, the continued cycle of life and death. This process prepares us for entering the spiritual world since the devotees there also relish eating in the company of Krishna.

          Not only do we make advancement, but also all of the plants that are used in the preparations as an offering to God are also purified and reap spiritual benefit. However, we become implicated in karma if we cause the harm of any living being, even plants, if we use them for food without offering them to God. Thus prasadam also becomes the perfect yoga diet.

          Therefore, the cooking, the offering and then the respectful eating or honoring of this spiritualized food all become a part of the joyful process of devotional service to the Lord. Anyone can learn to do this and enjoy the happiness of experiencing prasadam. The Sunday love feast in the Hare Krishna temples is the opportunity in which everyone can participate in this opulence of Lord Krishna. So we invite you to attend as often as you like and make spiritual advancement simply by relishing Krishna prasadam.  

  • Volunteer

    Karma: What Is It?

     By Stephen Knapp


                 Karma is one of those topics that many people know a little about, but few understand the intricacies of it. To start with, Newton's third law of motion states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. On the universal scale, this is the law of karma. The law of karma basically states that every action has a reaction and whatever you do to others will later return to you. Furthermore, ignorance of the law is no excuse. We are still accountable for everything we do, regardless of whether we understand it or not. Therefore, the best thing is to learn how it works.

                If everyone understood the law of karma, we would all be living a happier life in a brighter world. Why? Because we could know how to adjust our lives so we would not be suffering the constant reactions of what we have done due to the false aims of life.

                According to Vedic literature, karma is the law of cause and effect. For every action there is a cause as well as a reaction. Karma is produced by performing fruitive activities for bodily or mental development. One may perform pious activities that will produce good reactions or good karma for future enjoyment. Or one may perform selfish or what some call sinful activities that produce bad karma and future suffering. This follows a person wherever he or she goes in this life or future lives. Such karma, as well as the type of consciousness a person develops, establishes reactions that one must experience.

                The Svetashvatara Upanishad (5.12) explains that the living being, the jiva soul, acquires many gross physical and subtle bodies due to the actions he performs, as is motivated by the material qualities to which he obtains. These bodies that are acquired continue to be a source of illusion as long as he is ignorant of his real identity.

                The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (4.45) further clarifies that as the atma or soul in the gross and subtle bodies acts, so thereby he obtains different conditions. By acting saintly he becomes a saint, and by acting immorally he becomes subject to the karmic consequences. In this way, he accrues piety or the burden of impiety accordingly.

                Similarly, it is stated that as a man sows, so shall he reap. Therefore, as people live their present life, they cultivate a particular type of consciousness by their thoughts and activities, which may be good or bad. This creates a person’s karma.

                This karma will direct us into a body that is most appropriate for the reactions that we need to endure, or the lessons we need to learn. Thus, the cause of our existence comes from the activities of our previous lives. Since everything is based on a cause, it is one’s karma that will determine one’s situation, such as race, color, sex, or area of the world in which one will appear, or whether one is born in a rich or poor family, or be healthy or unhealthy, etc., etc.

                So when the living beings take birth again, they get a certain kind of body that is most suitable for the type of consciousness they have developed. Therefore, according to thePadma Purana, there are 8,400,000 species of life, each offering a particular class of body for whatever kind of desires and consciousness the living being may have in this world. In this way, the living entity is the son of his past and the father of his future. Thus, he is presently affected by his previous life’s activities and creates his future existence by the actions he performs in this life. A person will reincarnate into various forms of bodies that are most suitable for the living entity’s consciousness, desires, and for what he deserves. So the living being inevitably continues in this cycle of birth and death and the consequences for his various good or bad activities as long as he is materially motivated.

                What creates good or bad karma is also the nature of the intent behind the action. If one uses things selfishly or out of anger, greed, hate, revenge, etc., then the nature of the act is of darkness. One will incur bad karma from it that will later manifest as reversals in life, painful events, disease or accidents. While things that are done for the benefit of others, out of kindness and love, with no thought of return, or for worshiping God, are all acts of goodness and piety, which will bring upliftment or good fortune to you. However, if you do something bad that happens because of an accident or a mistake, without the intent to do any harm to others, the karma is not so heavy. Maybe you were meant to be an instrument in someone else’s karma, which is also yours. It will take into consideration your motivation. Yet the greater the intent or awareness of doing something wrong, the greater the degree of negative reaction there will be. So it is all based on the intent behind the action. 

                However, we should understand that, essentially, karma is for correcting a person, not for mere retribution of past deeds. The universe is based on compassion. Everyone has certain lessons and ways in which he must develop, and the law of karma actually directs one in a manner to do that. Nonetheless, one is not condemned to stay in this cycle of repeated birth and death forever. There is a way out. In the human form one can acquire the knowledge of spiritual realization and attain release from karma and further rounds of birth and death. This is considered to be the most important achievement one can accomplish in life. This is why every religious process in the world encourages people who want freedom from earthly existence not to hanker for material attachments or sensual enjoyments which bind them to this world, but to work towards what can free them from further cycles of birth and death.

                All karma can be negated when one truly aspires to understand or realize the higher purpose in life and spiritual truth. When one reaches that point, his life can be truly spiritual which gives eternal freedom from change. By striving for the Absolute Truth, or for serving God in devotional service, especially in bhakti-yoga, a person can reach the stage in which he is completely relieved of all karmic obstacles or responsibilities. Lord Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita (18.66): “Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.”

                Without being trained in this spiritual science, it is very difficult to understand how the living being leaves his body or what kind of body he will get in the future, or why there are various species of life which accommodate all the living entities’ innumerable levels of consciousness. As related in the Bhagavad-gita, those who are spiritually ignorant cannot understand how a living entity can depart the body at the time of death, nor can they understand what kind of body he or she will enjoy while under the influence of the modes of nature. However, one who has been trained in knowledge can perceive this.

  • Volunteer
    Karma of the Nation

    By Stephen Knapp

    In studying the science of karma as outlined in the Vedic texts, we must remember that it is actually a basic law of physics, or as Newton's third law of motion states, that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. On the universal scale it is also a natural law, only it is called the law of karma. Individuals acquire karma as a result of their good or bad activities. Pious actions will result in positive or uplifting reactions in the future. Impious or nefarious actions will bring about negative, unwanted or troublesome reactions to endure in the future. This is to provide the necessary lessons to learn what we should or should not do, which can then balance our karma and our consciousness. However, not only do individuals have or acquire specific karma, but also a collective karma can be acquired by whole societies, or nations, depending on the overall activities of the citizens. [I've already explained this science much more elaborately in my book, "The Secret Teachings of the Vedas." However, I will give an overview of national karma here in this article.]

    In understanding national karma, we can consider how the Manu-samhita (8.304-309) describes how a king or ruler of a country receives one sixth of the total karma of the subjects he rules. This, of course, depends on the general activities of the citizens. If the majority of people are pious and spiritually oriented, and the ruler protects those citizens to maintain a peaceful society in which such people can flourish, then the king will also share in the good activities and good karma of the citizens. Otherwise, if the ruler does not properly protect and maintain the citizens but allows criminals to run loose and create havoc, while still collecting taxes from the people, the overall karma will be extremely dark. Such a ruler will take upon himself the foulness of his countrymen and sink into hell.

    From this description, we can see that if the ruler is so much affected by the total karma of the citizens of the country, then the nation itself fosters its future according to the good or bad activities of the citizens. So whatever reactions this country will endure in its future, whether it be harvests of plenty, good economy, or starvation from famine and drought, or victory over our enemies or destruction from war, depends on the way we live today.

    History has noted many countries and civilizations in the past who, although seeming to be so powerful while living a frivolous, decadent, and spoiled lifestyle, finally met their doom. Such a downfall was usually quite unexpected at the time. However, by understanding the law of karma, such a collapse can be fairly predictable. We can see this in the analysis of the Roman Empire.

    The last great civilization in the West was the Roman Empire, of which historians have noted five characteristics that helped cause that great society to fall apart. First, there was a love of show and luxury. Everyone was eager to acquire material things as a sign of affluence. This also helped cause the second factor, which was a widening gap between the very rich and the very poor.

    The third factor was a complete obsession with sex. In the latter days of the Roman Empire, sex became the sole interest, whether in ordinary conversations, or in art, culture--everything. Pompeii was a big resort for this kind of licentious living and sex. (And we all know of the earthquake in A.D. 69 that damaged Pompeii, and then the volcanic eruption in A.D. 79 that finally buried it.)

    A fourth factor in the downfall of the Roman Empire was a freakishness and abandonment in the arts which masqueraded and pretended to be originality. This can easily be found now in this country in modern art, music, sculpture, etc.

    The fifth factor was the creation of the welfare state and the increasing desire amongst the people to live off the government. Even today, there are places where anyone can get welfare and not have to work. Plus, with more sex, the more children that are born, which entitles the welfare recipient to more money.

    We should carefully regard these points and take note of where our modern American Empire stands because history repeats itself. We presently find an increase in these same things here in the United States. For example, almost all advertising nowadays evolves around the idea of having or getting sex appeal, no matter whether it is in buying a car, or buying anything that people are told they need, or attaining a successful career. And it does not take much to figure out why everyone wants sex appeal. So the present times merely reflect attitudes and changes that have taken place before, as in the Roman Empire.

    For example, modern philosophy, whether in sociology, psychology, art, politics, the sciences, etc., usually presents the idea that there is no absolute law or standard. In other words, whatever turns you on, do it; whatever you believe in, it's O.K. There is no absolute, and anyone who thinks there is becomes regarded as a fanatic. Similarly, in the Roman Empire, there was no emphasis on God or faith in moral standards. There were many denominations, but the attitude was anyone could believe anything he wanted. But those who were serious about their religion were severely persecuted.

    In the case of the Christians, they were thrown to the lions in the amphitheaters as a spectator sport. The people would watch in the stands and applaud the utter brutality of it all. One reason for this was that the Christians refused to accept the Roman gods. They believed in only one God as a pure, infinite being who set down the law, which if not followed would cause one to go to hell. Romans accepted gods who drank wine, ate meat, had sex, and so on. Therefore, Romans looked on Christians as if they were fanatics. This is the same way modern philosophers, politicians, and liberals today look at people who seem to be overly dedicated to a law of God, such as the law of karma. Rather than understanding the law ofkarma, such people would rather criticize it and simply carry on with their frivolous and whimsical habits, while remaining ignorant of the consequences.

    We should point out, however, that karma is not a belief system but is a science. One may believe that he can do whatever he wants and that there is no jail house, but if he acts like a criminal and gets caught and thrown into confinement, then he will be forced to adjust his thinking and face the results of his activities. Similarly, people may think they can escape the universal laws and do whatever they like, but when they are forced by the law of karma to face their destined punishments either in this life, or after death or in a future life, it will be too late.

    When we see, therefore, that people in certain areas of the country are suffering from drought, that farmers cannot grow their crops, that fires are consuming vast forests and destroying homes, that storms are causing destruction and devastation to cities and towns, or incurable diseases are affecting more and more people all the time, or when other countries threaten us with war, we should not miss the message. It is easy to ask ourselves, "Why has God done this to me?" or "Why has He allowed this to happen?" and then try to put the blame on someone else. But why should such reversals in life not happen to us? What have we done to avoid it? Usually nothing. Therefore, we must understand how the law ofkarma affects everyone.

    When we stop to consider that as many as 134 million animals and 3 billion birds are slaughtered every year, and hundreds of thousands more are tortured and killed for useless scientific experiments, is it any wonder why there should not be a heavy reaction to the cries of pain from so many innocent living beings as they are butchered in order to satisfy mankind's thoughtless cravings? Everyone wants to be happy and live in peace, but how can this be peace when so many other entities suffer from the most painful experiments in so-called scientific laboratories? Or are methodically killed each day at slaughterhouses so that their corpses can be sold in supermarkets? But it is not just commercial enterprises that do this, but it is also the government. In 1986, the Office of Technology Assessment reported that 84% of all painful animal experimentation is carried out by the military. The "In Defense of Animals" group also stated that of 22 military bases, 83,389 animals were used in 1987, and 142,735 in 1988, of which pain was used in 99% of the experiments on dogs, 81% on cats, and 43% on primates. And there is no public outcry about this?

    This does not include the widespread torture of people by people. Political prisoners are often tortured by rulers or their military to keep people in line with the particular agenda of the regime. Some leaders have such a mentality that they enjoy keeping their subjects in a miserable condition. Or there is torture and fighting of people for being of a different religion. This type of thing goes on much more than we think, and has been going on for hundreds of years.

    Therefore, when society in general has such a cruel and callous attitude towards other living entities, or are too wasteful in regards to the planet's natural resources, or live an unnecessarily decadent or frivolous lifestyle, nature arranges reactions in various ways to humble us, or teach us a lesson. One of which is in the form of wars. From time to time we all have to watch as we ship our young men and women off to be killed or maimed in the slaughterhouse of war. As long as there are large numbers of innocent animals being unnecessarily killed and tortured day after day throughout the year, there will never be peace for long, for war will always exist somewhere, in which we will be forced to become involved. But war also means war in the family, such as discontent, arguments, separation, and divorce; war in the community, such as gang wars, crime, robberies, murders, and rape; and industrial and economic wars as well as international wars and terrorism. These reactions affect many millions of people every day around the world, and it is nothing more than the workings of nature as it reflects the consciousness of the people who inhabit this world.

    When the majority of people in a country are influenced by commercialism and addicted to the four most karmically implicating activities--meat-eating, intoxication, illicit sex, and gambling--there will definitely be reactions to endure in the future. This is the universal law. There is no amount of economic planning, defense buildup, agricultural arrangement, or even weather forecasting that will help us to avoid unexpected karmic reactions. If the ruler of a country receives one-sixth of the aggregate good or bad karma of the citizens, then the citizens themselves will also experience the reactions that the country is destined to receive, as arranged by nature.

    By understanding the law of karma and abiding by the four principles which are especially recommended for this age--namely, truthfulness, cleanliness, austerity, and mercy--the people (ad the leaders) of this country will surely become strong, develop good moral character, be concerned for the welfare of all others, acquire a sound state of mind, and will attain a great destiny like no other country in the world. We all want to make this country and this world a better place, and there is a method which will enable us to do that, which we are revealing. But we must understand that there is more to it than the obvious plan-making that goes on amongst our politicians, economic advisors, judiciaries, etc. There is the subtle aspect that goes on and is determined by the decisions and activities of each and every individual. Therefore, those who take the time to understand the law of karma and try to abide by it can certainly be understood to be people who are working for a better future, not only for themselves, but for a better America and, indeed, for a better world.

This reply was deleted.