Everyone wonders what happens after death at some point in their life.
Throughout history, some of the most thoughtful minds
have advocated that life does not end with the death
of our body but continues on via a process known as reincarnation.
In the Western world, followers of the Orphic religion in ancient Greece were the first
known exponents of reincarnation. They were succeeded by Pythagoras,
Socrates, Plato and a host of other philosophers.
The Vedic literature of India advocates that the soul, or atma, gives life to the body.
Life does not arise from a combination of material elements
as some modern scientists theorize. At the time of death, we leave one body and
enter a new one. That is called reincarnation.
The concept is not as alien as it might seem. We can observe that we change
from one body to another throughout our lifetime.
Our body at birth is completely different from our adult body. Yet throughout these changes,
the conscious self remains the same. Similarly, the conscious
self remains the same at death and transfers from one body to the next in the cycle of reincarnation.
Our present body is the result of a long series
of actions and reactions in previous lives. The law that governs this is known as karma:
every action has a reaction. Our previous actions have
produced our present body, and our current actions will determine our next body.
Only in the human form can we free ourselves from the otherwise
endless cycle of reincarnation, of birth and death, by re-establishing
our eternal, loving relationship with Lord Krishna. As Krishna states in
Bhagavad Gita 8.16, "From the highest planet in the material
world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein
repeated birth and death take place. But one attains to My abode never takes birth again."
Ever wondered why bad things happen to good people? Why we suffer? Why some days are
awesome and others morose? If God exists, why does He keep quiet about it?
The answer to all the above questions is karma.
Karma is one of those topics that many people know
about, but few understand the intricacies of. In literal terms,
"karma" means “activity” and the law of karma regulates the reactions
to our activities. If we act in good or pious ways, we reap good reactions.
If we act in impious, sinful, or destructive ways,
we reap bad reactions in the future. Christian theology explains, "As ye sow so shall ye reap" while in physics karma is
expressed by Newton’s Law, "For every action there is an equal and
Karmic reactions include not only things that happen to us, but determine
our health, wealth, intelligence, physical appearance,
and social status, as well as our personalities and inclinations.
While we have some degree of freedom to choose our current actions,
our choices are influenced by our natures, or personalities, which have
developed from our previous actions.
Karma thus locks us up in a cycle of action and subsequent reaction.
As long as we are in this cycle, we will experience both happiness
and distress. Even if we act in a pious way, we destine ourselves to accept another
material body at death to enjoy the reactions to our materially good actions.
As long as we accept one material body after another, we cannot avoid the
miseries of disease, old age, and death.
Fortunately, karma is temporary. We can break free from its bonds by
performing spiritual acts in service to Krishna. Such acts of devotion, or bhakti-yoga,
purify the soul and gradually awaken our spiritual knowledge and innate
love for Krishna. Thus, both our karma and our long-standing desire to
enjoy life within the illusory material world—the root cause of our bondage—are destroyed.
Meditation is a spiritual practice found in practically all religious and spiritual traditions, although the methods differ.
Traditional yogic systems employ complex meditation techniques, often working with different bodily postures to align
our external and subtle selves and focus our minds towards self-realization.
To quiet the mind and provide a point of focus, yogis are advised to concentrate on
upon mantras including Sanskrit syllables and the names of God.
The Vaishnava tradition recommends that chanting the names of
God to be is a particularly effective method of spiritual awakening,
simultaneously opening us to an incredibly empowering experience.
In this system, meditation has three distinct forms: japa, kirtan and sankirtan.
In japa, the meditator individually and softly recites God’s name with the use of beads, similar to the Christian rosary.
Kirtan is a public meditation, in which one loudly sings the names of God accompanied by
musical instruments. When performed in a group this is called sankirtan.
This entire process is centered around the recitation of the names of God. The prayer or mantra that I
SKCON devotees repeat is called the Maha Mantra, or the "great mantra for deliverance." It is made
up of three words Hare, Krishna and Rama. Hare refers to God’s energy.
Krishna and Rama refer to God as the all-attractive and all-powerful one who is the
source of all pleasure. Repetition of this mantra awakens the soul and brings strength,
peace and happiness. It ultimately connects us with Lord Krishna and reveals our
original spiritual life of eternal bliss and knowledge.
Even though God is widely recognized as the greatest person,
His form and personality are not widely known about.
Even many theists think that, in the ultimate issue, God is formless.
Pictures of Lord Krishna playing a flute are commonly dismissed as quaint,
mythological representations of the ineffable, faceless "Divine."
However, there is overwhelming evidence suggesting that the
Supreme Person is not abstract at all.
In the Vedas—the oldest and most comprehensive of all the world’s scriptures—one can discover
that the Absolute Truth has both impersonal and personal aspects.
His eternal, blissful, all-knowing, and all-attractive personality tends
to remain hidden behind His all-pervasive majesty and overwhelming greatness.
Since everything in our experience has form and qualities,
it makes sense that the source of all sources
should also have form and qualities, and to an infinite degree.
As drops of ocean water have the ocean’s qualities
in minute degree, our forms and
personalities are infinitesimal samples of the infinite Supreme Person.
Vedic writings describe in detail the unlimited names, activities,
opulence, and associates of the Supreme Person. Krishna ("all-attractive")
is how He’s referred to by those who
are interested more in His supreme, transcendental personality than in His greatness.
Books such as the Srimad-Bhagavatam and Brahma-samhita
contain elaborate accounts of Krishna’s many attractive
forms and activities, both in this temporary universe and in the world beyond.
Yoga is more than just a physical exercise. The word "yoga" comes
from the Sanskrit root yuj which means to link up with,
or combine. Bhakti is derived from the Sanskrit word bhaj, which means loving service. Bhakti-yoga means to connect to
the Supreme by means of loving devotional service.
The Bhagavad Gita, the core spiritual text for ISKCON, describes a variety
of yoga practices. Among them are karma-yoga (the practice of
conscious action), jnana-yoga (philosophical study and contemplation),
and hatha-yoga (the practice of yoga-asanas and breathing exercises).
Today, some yoga practitioners consider the physical benefits
of yoga to be the ends in themselves. But according to the traditional
yoga systems, physical exercises are just one step on the path of
God realization. The Gita ultimately prescribes bhakti-yoga
(the path of dedication and love) as the culmination of the other yoga practices.
Bhakti-yoga focuses on developing our dedication, service
and love for the Divinity, Lord Krishna.
The path of bhakti-yoga is developed through a variety
of activities. These include mantra meditation,
or the chanting of the names of God. The chanting is done either individually on beads
(japa) or in community by chanting mantras accompanied by music (kirtan).
The study of sacred texts such as the Bhagavad-gita
and Srimad Bhagavatam, associating with like-minded spiritual aspirants, eating sanctified
vegetarian food, and living in a way that upholds the principles of
ruthfulness, mercy, austerity, and cleanliness, are all core practices in the life of a follower of bhakti.
No sacred treatise, has a setting as intriguing as the
Bhagavad Gita. The dialogue between the princely warrior Arjuna
and Lord Krishna, the Supreme Godhead before the onset outset of the Mahabharata
war is universally renowned as the jewel of India’s spiritual wisdom.
Paralyzed by the fear of killing his kinsmen, friends and
teachers in the opposite army, Arjuna decided not to fight, putting aside
his social duty as kshatriya (warrior). Krishna, who
agreed to become the driver of Arjuna’s chariot, eloquently explains him to Arjuna
on in the midst of the battlefield about his duties of being a warrior. The conversation
moves to a series of questions and answers about metaphysical concepts
such as the soul, one’s relationship with God, liberation, karma yoga
(the principle of non-attached action), jnana yoga (knowledge) and bhakti yoga (devotion).
In translating the Gita, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
has unlocked all the secrets of the ancient knowledge of
the Gita and placed them before us as an exciting opportunity for
self-improvement and spiritual fulfillment. The Bhagavad Gita As It Is the largest
selling edition of Gita in the Western world and translated in over 76 languages.
"When doubts haunt me, when disappointments stare me in the face,
and I see not one ray of hope on the horizon,
I turn to Bhagavad-Gita and find a verse to comfort me; and
I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming sorrow.
Those who meditate on the Gita will derive fresh joy and new
meanings from it every day." Mahatma Gandhi
The word Veda can be traced to the Sanskrit word vid which means
"to know" or "knowledge." The Vedic
texts contain information on varied various topics: from medicine
to cosmology, from techniques of yoga and meditation to the explanation
of lessons in political and military science.
Written by Lord Vyasadeva, the Vedas are divided into four
books; Rig Veda (the Veda of the earliest sacred hymns), Sama Veda
(the Veda of melodies), Yajur Veda (the Veda of rituals) and Atharva Veda (the Veda of incantations.)
The Vedas also included the Upanishads, numerous Sutras
(books of concise truth) and the Vedangas (auxiliary sciences
related to Vedic study, such as astronomy, astrology and phonetics.)
In addition, there are Upavedas (sciences not directly related to
Vedic study), such as Ayurveda (study of holistic medicine) and
Gandharva-Veda (study of music). It also included Puranas
such as Srimad Bhagavatam and epics like as Mahabharata and Ramayana.
According to the Vaishnava tradition, this knowledge was passed down, from
master to disciple in disciplic succession or parampara.