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|Srivaishnavam Parambaryam, Traditions & The Culture that stands Class apart from others|
Essence of Srivaishnavam Practices - Karma
we start to explain about karma, in the sense of reactions for our activities,
it is unavoidable to mention about its result - reincarnation.
The Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is the knower of everything - past
present and future - explained reincarnation to Arjuna in the following way:
"As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change".
a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, the soul similarly accepts
new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones". (Bhagavad-Gita
In Latin language the re means again, in means in and caro / carnis means flesh. Thus, reincarnation literarily means again in the flesh. Even the material science speaks about turnover times; the time that one specific set of atoms is replaced in a cell or organ by a new set of atoms. For example for a blood cell this is 150 days; for the average cell of the liver is a few months; for the protein cells in the nerves and brain cells it takes a few weeks; and for some enzymes in these cells less then an hour. Sometimes people think that brain don't change however, the quantity of the brain cells increase up till approximately the 19th year, and then reduces gradually.
The genetic structure remains the same but the substance changes. It was discovered that the proteins of the bowel canal are changing every 5-6 days; and the skin cells have a turn over in a few weeks. Even the structure of the boons are 99% changed after each 7 years. There are few atoms which remain in the body during the whole life. However it is the soul who is conscious of these atoms which are external to the soul and don't belong to the element of life - the consciousness in the body. The skeleton is mostly living tissue in which building and destruction takes place. For example, if the bone breaks it will be recovered in a couple of months. However, not even the hard bones are the essence of life. Another molecule which doesn't have a turn over is the DNA which eventually controls all the processes of life. But if a part of the DNA molecule is damaged then there will be enzymes which will produce these parts again. So, this is also temporary. The conclusion is that reincarnation, the disappearing or dying of the body and getting another body takes place even during this life. The 'atma' or the self is the observer of all this.
what is the cause of getting new body in the next life? The main cause for
this is one's activities that can be either pious or impious. Every action,
either physical, emotional or mental, every movement occurring either on the
plane of gross matter -sthulam- or on the astral planes -sukshma- produces a
seed of karma.
a seed, karma fructifies or does not fructify immediately after it is sown.
The innumerable seeds we produce by our actions -desire, aversion, lust,
greed, hatred, good or bad words, etc. will undoubtedly produce, sooner or
later, a positive or negative result according to the nature of the seed, if
not in this life, then in some future one. As a man sows, so shall he reap.
working of karma is obvious in our daily life. In some cases people develop
some kind of illnesses when they arrive at certain age or we can see others
born blind, deaf, in an extreme poverty, or with terrible illnesses, due to
their previous wrong actions. The good or bad actions can fructify immediately
or get accumulated, sprouting in the future, bringing up pain or a reward.
see now the different types of karma in the sense of action and reaction, how
they develop and how to become purified from them.
Ugrakarma and Vikarma
Ugrakarma refers to extremely bad activities that deteriorate the finer sentiments of the human being and society and make one lose the interest to spiritual inquiry and self-realization. In other words, development of factories and mills that are pungent activities is called ugra-karma. At the present moment everyone is engaged in technological advancement, which is described in Bhagavad-Gita as extremely severe endeavor. This ugra-karma is the cause of agitation for the human mind. Vikarma is similar to ugrakarma but it more specifically refers to illegal or immoral activities that are unlawful and prohibited according to the civilized system of varnasrama and the Vedic textbooks.
When the finer human sentiments and practice of spirituality are absent one can engage only in the activities of vikarma. Vikarma is an unwanted activity that cause fall-down from that path of spiritual practice and thus moves one away from Krishna. In the category of Vikaram (activities) are all illegal and immoral activities that are unlawful and prohibited according to the civilized system of varnasrama and the Vedic textbooks. When one is engaged in vikarma activities one gradually loses all good qualities and thus cannot anymore be considered an Aryan. This is explained by Krishna to Arjuna in the first chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita. Briefly, Aryan can be called only that person who is tracing the progressive path of spiritual life. In opposite case one will certainly be involved in vikarma activities that will be the cause of ones repeated birth and death. The Garuda Purana gives the following reactions for heavy sinful activities:
"The murderer of a Brahmin becomes consumptive, the killer of a cow becomes hump-backed and imbecile, the murderer of a virgin becomes leprous - all three born as outcastes. The slayer of a woman and the destroyer of embryos becomes a savage full of diseases; who commits illicit intercourse, a eunuch; who goes with his teacher's wife, disease-skinned. The eater of flesh becomes very red; the drinker of intoxicants, one with discolored teeth.... Who steals food becomes a rat; who steals grain becomes a locust... perfumes, a muskrat; honey, a gadfly; flesh, a vulture; and salt, an ant.... Who commits unnatural vice becomes a village pig; who consorts with a Sudra woman becomes a bull; who is passionate becomes a lustful horse....
and other signs and births are seen to be the karma of the embodied, made by
themselves in this world. Thus the makers of bad karma, having experienced the
tortures of hell, are reborn with the residues of their sins, in these stated
are much more sinful activities then here listed and the reactions for all of
them are given in the different Dharma sastras.
Reactions for karma
most obvious reaction for ugrakarma and vikarma is klesa. Klesa refers to
distress, and the causes of distress.
distress has tree causes: (1) papam - sin, (2) bijam - material desires,
and (3) avidya - ignorance, the root cause. Let's analyze them one by one.
- Sinful Activity
actions (papam) produce two reactions: (1) prarabdha - manifest, and (2)
For example, for some of our sinful activities we are awaiting distress in the future, and for others, which are mature, we are suffering at the present moment.
Manifest Sinful Reactions
disease caught early is curable, but is far more difficult to counteract if
allowed to become chronic. Similarly, sinful reactions are more difficult to
counteract once they become manifest. The scriptures describe bhakti to be so
potent that it can remove even manifest sinful reactions and the suffering
the Bhagavata Purana, Devahuti explains that by practicing bhakti-yoga even
someone born in the lowest family of dog-eaters becomes qualified to perform
the highest brahminical sacrifices. The behavior of those born into degraded
families disqualifies them from performing Vedic sacrifices. Devahuti points
out that even slight engagement in bhakti for the pleasure of Narayana, can
counteract the disqualifications incurred by a low birth.
birth is a tangible result of karma - a manifest reaction (prarabdha-papam).
Thus Devahuti's statement is sastric evidence that bhakti can counteract
Unmanifest Sinful Reactions (Aprarabdha-Papam)
is compared to blazing fire, able to consume limitless amounts of unmanifest
sinful reactions. This is because Lord Krishna or Vishnu, who is worshiped by
the devotee, is the purifier of all sinful reactions. Just like the sun
purifies many dirty places but doesn't become infected by dirt so the
Supreme Lord Bhagavan also purifies many people from karma without being
affected by that.
How Unmanifest Reactions Cause
we said that sinful activity causes two types of reaction: manifest and
unmanifest. We will further clarify this statement.
sinful action generates two types of unmanifest reactions. One type creates
direct physical or emotional suffering. The other type creates indirect
suffering by increasing one's sinful proclivities.
example, if one engages in illicit sex he receives two types of reactions. One
type creates some direct physical or emotional suffering. The other type
creates indirect suffering by intensifying his proclivity for sex; thereby
increasing sexual desires, impelling future illicit sex, and entangling him in
a karmic cycle of suffering.
sinful desires increase, sinful activities increase. When sinful activities
increase, sinful desires increase - it is a self-perpetuating cycle. The
more one tries to satisfy his desires, the stronger they become.
break this cycle of bondage one must tolerate sinful desires and not endeavor
to fulfill them. Not being reinforced by unmanifest reactions, they will
gradually dissipate and leave the heart forever.
Evolution of Unmanifest Sin
cycle of unmanifest reaction goes through four stages, as explained in Padma
Aprarabdha (unmanifest reaction) - In this stage the reaction is completely
unmanifest and has no perceptible effect.
Kutam (sinful proclivity) - In this stage the reaction evolves into a
psychological disposition towards sin.
Bijam (sinful desire) - In this stage the sinful proclivity evolves into a
specific desire to commit a particular sinful action.
Prarabdha (manifest sinful reaction) - In this stage the sinful desire
causes one to commit a sinful action and suffer the concomitant reaction.
following illustration may help clarify the subtle distinctions between these
a result of some sinful act, a man is destined to become a thief and suffer
punishment. However, this reaction is not immediately felt - it is stored
for a future birth (this is the stage of aprarabdha). In his next life, the
reaction begins to manifest as an almost unnoticed proclivity towards
dishonesty and cheating (this is the stage of kutam). This proclivity
gradually intensifies and eventually manifests an explicit desire to steal
(this is the stage of bijam). Finally, this desire causes the man to commit
theft and undergo the consequential suffering (this is the stage of prarabdha).
power of bhakti, for the satisfaction of Bhagavan, eradicates all four stages
of sinful reaction in chronological order - first aprarabdha, next kutam,
then bijam, and finally prarabdha.
Bijam - Desire
sinful activity is the cause of prarabdha and aprarabdha karma. Let's now
see what the cause of sinful activity is how to stop it that bad karma is not
produced. As the sinful activity is an action on the gross platform it is
obviously preceded by a subtle action - a sinful desire.
the Bhagavata Purana (SB 6.2.17) the Visnuduttas explain that many processes
can neutralize the reactions of sinful activities, but only bhakti for the
pleasure of Narayana can uproot sinful desire - which is the cause of sinful
This is nicely exemplified in the same chapter of the above mentioned Bhagavata Purana through the life of Ajamila. In spite of his strict performance of brahminical duties, sinful desires remained in Ajamila's heart and caused him to succumb to sinful life. Later, the simple performance of bhakti by chanting the name of "Narayana" uprooted all his calamities, although he was in the midst of sinful activities.
rituals like charity and austerity can neutralize sinful reactions, but they
cannot neutralize sinful desire. To illustrate this
there are two nice examples: (1) a
person may be cured of venereal disease by some painful medical treatment, but
because sex desire remains in his heart he again implicates himself in
suffering; (2) an elephant may carefully bathe in a lake, but upon returning
to the land immediately covers himself again with dirt.
the performance of bhakti can uproot even sinful desires, and is therefore the
best method for attaining relief from suffering.
previously mentioned sinful action is caused by sinful desire and the very
root cause of sinful action and sinful desire is avidya or ignorance - as
seen in the diagram. This avidya refers to - ignorance of one's true
identity as an eternal resident of one of the spiritual Vaikuntha planets in
the spiritual world. Not being aware of that and thus considering the material
world the only place of residence, one acts as an enjoyer of this material
world and thus have to suffer the concomitant reactions.
remedy for this is described in the Padma Purana: "Pure bhakti dedicated to
Narayana is the highest enlightenment, and when such enlightenment is there,
it is just like a blazing forest fire, killing all the inauspicious snakes of
as long as one does not perform bhakti and is ignorant about the supreme
destination and ultimate abode of the soul one is sure to act wrongly and
thereby become entangled in material bad karmas - activities, the main cause
of suffering in this material existence. The evidence for this is the words of
Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita who says that only by bhakti one can attain
His spiritual abode.
activities - bhakti - eradicate sinful reactions, nullifies sinful desires,
counteract material proclivities, and - most importantly - uproot
ignorance. Therefore, it is the only efficient and effective way to achieve
permanent relief from all suffering.
refers to pious activities in accordance with the higher laws of nature or the
Vedic scriptures. This type of action generally allows the living entity to
reach higher planets after leaving the present body or at least get another
human body on earth.
Some of these activities are: giving donations to brahmanas, building of hospitals or wells, feeding hungry people, or any other helpful and generally beneficial activities.
to the scriptures one can perform one of the three types of pois activities:
sukriti - pious activities that bestow material opulence. This type of
activity is also known as karmonmukhi or piety derived from subhakarma
sukriti - pious activities that enable the living entity to merge into the
existence of the Supreme - Bhagavan. This is attained through piety derived
from the cultivation of knowledge and therefore, it is also called jnanonmukhi
- is an auspicious activity that gradually awakens one's dormant devotion,
bhakti to Lord Vishnu. When somebody unknowingly does something to a devotee
of Lord Vishnu or just out of fun gives some kind of donation to a Vishnu or
Krishna temple; without knowing the result of his deed that is called
agyata-sukriti or unknown pious activity. This agyata sukriti is the first
step in bhakty-unmukhi sukriti or spiritual pious activity that awakens
Krishna-bhakti. As one becomes purified by agyata sukriti, at one point one
becomes inquisitive about God, the spiritual activities and their results. In
this way one comes to the higher level of pious activity from agyata to gyata
sukriti namely when ones spiritual activities are carried out with knowledge.
This is also mentioned by Krishna to Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita -'do your
activities with full knowledge'. This gyata sukrity or bhakti unmukhi sukrity
is the most important kind of sukriti, for it moves one to meet a pure,
saintly devotee. By associating with a devotee of Lord Vishnu or Krishna, one
gradually develops taste for bhakti, namely he dedicates more and more time
for the service of the Supreme Lord Narayana through chanting the holy name,
praying, doing puja etc. and thus one's faith becomes firm. Those who are
firmly engaged in glorifying Krishna with determination become very dear to
Krishna. This is explained by Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita 7.17:
tesham jnani nitya-yukta eka-bhaktir visishyate
hi jnanino 'tyartham aham sa
who is in full knowledge and who is always engaged in pure devotional service
is the best. For I am very dear to him, and he is dear to Me.
first two types of pious activities the karmonmukhi and mokshonmukhi sukritis
are not really beneficial because performing them one cannot attain the
highest goal - love of Krishna or bhakti. Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita say
bhaktiya mam abhijanaty: 'I can be understood and attained only by the
performance of bhakti or devotion'. Thus, naturally we can conclude that the
real beneficial activity is the bhakti unmukhi sukriti that we can also call
Krishna-karma or activity performed for the pleasure of Krishna. This Krishna
karma is easily and joyfully performed in the association of pure saintly
devotees of Vishnu, Rama or Krishna.
In the category of karma there are two types of activities to be mentioned of which both of them belong to karma mishra bhakti or bhakti mixed with material pious activities. One is called sakama karma yoga. The performer of this kind of activity performs activities that he likes to do and he gives very little from the fruits of his activities for the worship of Lord Narayana. Those things that he don't offer he likes to keep for his own enjoyment. The other type of karma misra bhakti is the nishkama karma yoga where one does activities that he likes. However, because he has greater devotion than the sakama-karma-yogi, he offers all the fruits of his work for the satisfaction of Lord Narayana. He considers his properties, family, relatives and everything else to be the possession of Lord Vishnu. All his activities within the married life like raising children, maintaining family, carrying out his duty in the job are all considered to be indirect devotional activities - bhakti. They are called gauna-dharma or subsidiary devotional activities. Still, they are conducive to the development of bhakti because all the results of the activities are offered to Lord Krishna.
Nishkama karma and Akarma
Nishkama-karma-yoga is very close to the Krishna karma activities where one
performs all activities directly only for the pleasure of Krishna and
considers everything to be the possession of Krishna as well. Such pure
activities are called mukhya-dharma or the primary religion of the soul that
are directly connecting him with the Supreme Lord Narayana. Because for these
activities one doesn't get material reactions (karma) and because they are
free from the influence of the gunas, they are also called akarma. For the
Mayavadi advaitin akarma means to stop all the activities but for the devotee
it means to perform spiritual activities that will free him from samsara.
prasannatma na socati na kankshati
samah sarveshu bhuteshu mad-bhaktim labhate param
One who is thus transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman and becomes fully joyful. He never laments or desires to have anything. He is equally disposed toward every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me. (Bg 18.54)
- Krishna karma and Samskaras
Offering direct service within the nine main processes of devotional service 1) hearing and 2) chanting about the transcendental holy name, form, qualities, paraphernalia, and pastimes of Lord Visnu, 3) remembering them, 4) serving the lotus feet of the Lord, 5) offering the Lord respectful worship with sixteen types of paraphernalia, 6) offering prayers to the Lord, 7) becoming His servant, 8) considering the Lord one's best friend, and 9) surrendering everything unto Him (in other words, serving Him with the body, mind and words) are all considered to be the components of pure bhakti.
By all, some or even one process of devotional service one can attain the highest perfection - love of Lord Vishnu or Krishna. Here are some interesting examples of devotees who attained perfection by performing one of the process of devotional service:
REMEMBERING ( visnu smaranam)
SERVING THE LORD'S LOTUS FEET (pada sevanam)
EXECUTING ORDERS (dasyam)
SERVING AS A FRIEND (sakhyam)
9. COMPLETE SURRENDER (atma nivedanam)
Is there any formula to attain the level of pure devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead? Yes. There are many scriptural statements describing how to perform pure devotional activities and here we would like to mention two of them because they summarize all other statements. Knowing them, the execution of our devotional service - bhakti can become purified and very pleasing to Lord Vishnu or Krishna.
anukulyena krishnanu-silanam bhaktir uttama
'When first-class devotional service develops, one must be devoid of all material desires, knowledge obtained by monistic philosophy, and fruitive action. The devotee must constantly serve Krishna favorably, as Krishna desires.'
This is definition is from the Bhakti rasamrita-sindhu 1.1.11. The other definition to be mentioned is from the Narada Pancaratra
sarvopadhi-vinirmuktam tat-paratvena nirmalam
hrishikena hrishikesa-sevanam bhaktir ucyate
'Bhakti, or devotional service, means engaging all our senses in the service of the Lord, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the master of all the senses. When the spirit soul renders service unto the Supreme, there are two side effects. One is freed from all material designations, and one's senses are purified simply by being employed in the service of the Lord.'
are more definitions about pure devotional service - bhakti like for example
in the Bhagavad-Gita 9.34, 18.65 and other bhakti literatures like the Narada
bhsti sutra etc.
One of the difference between nishkama karma yoga and bhakti lies in the degree of surrender. The nishkama karma yogi has no material desires but still performs activities he likes to do and the Krishna bhakta performs activities only what Krishna wants him to do. This is because he has attained such a purity that he likes to give everything to Krishna without expecting anything in return. Before one attains such degree of surrender ones performance of the nine processes of devotional service will be on the level of mixed bhakti.
Someone may ask here a question, 'if pure devotional service is free from fruitive desires and mental speculation what about our social and religious activities? It seems that to perform pure devotional service to God is possible only to one who has renounced all the activities in this mundane world'. The answer is given in the Srimad Bhagavatam: bhaktir pareshanubhavo viraktir anyatra ca (SB 11.2.42): 'One who is advanced in devotional service has no attachment for material things and sense gratification'. In all his activities, he takes shelter only of Krishna and surrenders everything to Him.
anukulyasya sankalpah pratikulyasya varjanam
rakshishyatiti visvaso goptritve varanam tatha
atma-nikshepa-karpanye shad-vidha sharanagatih
'The six divisions of surrender are the acceptance of those things favorable to devotional service, the rejection of unfavorable things, the conviction that Krishna will give protection, the acceptance of the Lord as one's guardian or master, full self-surrender, and humility. (Hari Bhakti Vilas 1.4.144)
One who is fully surrendered is qualified with the six following characteristics: (1) The devotee has to accept everything that is favorable for the rendering of transcendental loving service to the Lord. (2) He must reject everything unfavorable to the Lord's service. This is also called renunciation. (3) A devotee must be firmly convinced that Krishna will give him protection. No one else can actually give one protection, and being firmly convinced of this is called faith. This kind of faith is different from the faith of an impersonalist who wants to merge into the Brahman effulgence in order to benefit by cessation of repeated birth and death. A devotee wants to remain always in the Lord's service. In this way, Krishna is merciful to His devotee and gives him all protection from the dangers found on the path of devotional service. (4) The devotee should accept Krishna as his supreme maintainer and master. He should not think that he is being protected by a demigod. He should depend only on Krishna, considering Him the only protector. The devotee must be firmly convinced that within the three worlds he has no protector or maintainer other than Krishna. (5) Self-surrender means remembering that one's activities and desires are not independent. The devotee is completely dependent on Krishna, and he acts and thinks as Krishna desires. (6) The devotee is meek and humble.
Overcoming mixed devotional service
Now, if social and religious activities are more prominent in ones life these will certainly cover the activities of bhakti like hearing and chanting and thus disqualified one from pure devotional service. For example, if someone has more faith in the words of the astrologer than in the process of bhakti or considers material welfare work to people more important then preaching about the glories of Lord Vishnu and Krishna, his performance of bhakti will be covered and mixed with mundane ideas. Thus, one should never think that ones job in the company, the help of an astrologer or performance of different samskaras directly help the development of bhakti, nor one should think that the religious and social activities are more important then the performance of bhakti. The development of bhakti depends only on the performance of bhakti to the Supreme Lord and His mercy.
Here one may again say, 'yes, but we cannot give up social activities. So, what to do'? This is simple. The above mentioned hearing and chanting about the Supreme Personality of Godhead should be the part of our social life. The work we perform should be always considered to be for the pleasure of Lord Vishnu. Thus, our devotional mentality and love for Lord Krishna will certainly develop to the level of pure devotion.
The word samskara comes from 'sam(s)' - good; and 'kara' - making. Thus, 'samskara' means making something good, refining and purifying. Samskaras purify one from bad karma, increase piety and the auspicious influence of the material nature. In other words, in sattva guna one can more easily cultivate spiritual life then in the modes of rajas (passion) and tamas (ignorance). In this way samskaras (perfect deeds) enable one to progress peacefully towards the ultimate existence, to reach the spiritual world. But once more, the main cause of once spiritual success is because of bhakti. Samskaras without bhakti to Lord Vishnu are only material piety that prolong once material existence in this material world.
According to Vedic rites, activities in the mode of goodness are considered auspicious for the progress on the path of liberation, and such activities are known as daivi prakriti, transcendental by nature. Those who are situated in the transcendental nature make progress on the path of liberation. For those who are acting in the modes of passion and ignorance, on the other hand, there is no possibility of liberation. Therefore, samskaras - the purifying activities for human beings beginning with the garbodhana samskara help one to develop transcendental qualities or godly tendencies. Through samskaras people can sanctify relations between parents and children, between husband and wife, between master and disciple, between humans on earth, between man and the deceased, between man and demigods, the sages and God. Samskaras drive away the evil influences of the visible and invisible worlds and attract the blessings of the sages, demigods and God Himself. In the absence of samskaras life's activities become mundane.
Every action experience or perception leaves an imprint or impression on the mind. When impressions are repeatedly registered in the mind, a samskara is created. For example, if somebody meditates constantly on the form of a beloved one, this form will eventually impress itself on his mind. Because the transcendentalists are aware that all impressions are influencing the consciousness they are very cautious what kind of forms, thoughts, sounds and other objects they will contemplate. Even the most hidden impression may resurface one day. Thus, the transcendentalists choose the path that leads to the repression of all impressions (nivritti-marga). Some then decide to forgo all action.
The followers of karma-kanda who like to enjoy the facilities of the material world fill their minds with material impressions. The jnanis and the yogis try to destroy all forms of impressions by engaging in nivritti marga (the path of renouncing everything). For them yoga is the art of getting rid of all those impressions that can keep one in this material world. The Vaishnavas however, follow another path, which is the spiritual synthesis of action and inaction. They form spiritual samskaras by engaging in bhakti-marga, the path of bhakti, which consists in using everything in the service of the Supreme Lord Vishnu. They write new samskaras over the old. We can illustrate this point with the following analogy: samskaras are like files written on the computer disk. Even if we put in an order to delete them, they will not necessarily be destroyed. In fact, only their access path will be erased. They will no longer be listed in the computer directory though they will still remain on the disk where they may be recovered intact. On the other hand, if a new file is written over an old one, the later will disappear.
A person's likes and character are fashioned by the different samskaras and all activities he or she perform. Every time a Vaishnava bows down upon entering the temple to offer obeisance's to God, he reinforces the samskara of his natural respect to God. All the samskaras thus create pious and auspicious impressions in the beneficiary, so that gradually his character becomes godly.