KARTIK-VRATA

Kartik is the best and most glorious month, purest of pure. It is particularly dear to Lord Krishna, because it is the month of Srimati Radharani. This month is full of love of the Lord towards His devotees. Any vow followed in this month, even a small one, brings tremendous results. The essence of Kartik-vrata is to satisfy Sri Sri Radha-Damodara with our more and better devotional service to them.

Kirttika is the name of the third daughter of Prajapati Daksa. It was a custom in Vraja to name girls after Daksa’s daughters. So the name of Radharani’s mother was Kirttika (or Kirtida) and Radharani became known as Kartiki, which means “born of Kirttika”. Sri Sanatana Goswami gave us the key to understanding the significance of the Holy month of Kartik. Krishna says: masanam marga-sirso ‘ham – “Of months I am Margasirsa (November-December)”. Kartik precedes Margasirsa. Therefore, Kartik represents Srimati Radharani.

Kartik is a month of a special vow, Kartik-vrata (Damodar-vrata, Urjja-vrata, niyama-seva-vrata). One of the names of the vow is Urjja-vrata. Urjjesvari is one of the names of Srimati Radharani, meaning “Mistress of Urjja-vrata”. The word urjjah means “wealth”, “power”. All the wealth and strength manifest in Her for serving Sri Krishna. She manages all the wealth and power that are meant for serving the Master of Her heart. So Urjja-vrata followed in the month of Kartik ascends to Urjjesvari, Sri Radhika, and therefore Vaisnavas attach very great importance to Kartik, especially in trying to satisfy Srimati Radharani to gain Her service and thus service to Her beloved Sri Krishna.

In addition, this month gopis worshiped Katyayani*, with the innermost intention to please the highest goddess Srimati Radharani. Nanda-gopa-sutam devi patim me kuru te namah. Such was their inner prayer to Katyayani * (SB10.22.4):”O goddess Katyayani, O great potency of the Lord, O possessor of great mystic power and mighty controller of all, please let us serve the son of Nanda Maharaja the way our heart desires. We offer our obeisances unto you.” With this prayer they perform the Kartik-vrata. (* Katyayani is one of the manifestations of Yoga-Maya in Sri Vraja Dhama. Katyayani-vrata continues in the month following the Kartik).

Therefore there is a particular importance for this last part of the caturmasya – Kartik-vrata. This month is exclusively connected with serving Krishna’s beloveds – Radharani and Her gopis – and Krishna. Srimad-Bhagavatam also inspires to imbibe the mentality of the gopis worshipping Katyayani.

Kartik is also known as the month of niyama-seva. Niyama means “rules” –additional prayers, pujas, reading, preaching, extra service to Lord Hari, Spiritual Master and the Vaisnavas. And thus this vow of niyama-seva inspires the sadhaka to dedicate this time to a special service regime, when he uses every minute for his highest good. Our aspiration should be such, most especially in this month, and Krishna likes it very much. If we do this to please Radharani, Krishna will be pleased even more so, because it gives pleasure to His most exalted devotee. And Her happiness attracts Krishna to us. When Radha is pleased with us, She will compassionately cleanse us and make us worthy to gain our eternal service in the groves of Vrindavan in the mood of Her friends.Satyavrata Muni says: namo radhikayai tvadiya priyayai – “I bow down to Your dearest beloved, Sri Radhika.” With this, he points out that the only engagement during the Damodara-vrata should be worship of Sri Radha-Damodara. The caturmasya-vrata is considered complete only if it’s last month of Urjja-vrata is observed. Last five days of Kartik are called Bhishma-Pancaka. And some vows are followed in those days.

Some of the observances for Kartik-vrata prescribed by Hari bhakti Vilas and Skanda Purana:

  • Rise at brahma-muhurta and attend mangala-aratika – attain spiritual world.
    Offer incense, ghee lamp, flowers (malati, lotus, rose, jasmine, lily) and camphor lamp three times a day.
  • Daily ghee lamp to Radha-Damodara (any Radha-Krishna Deity or picture) and sing Damodarastakam.
  • Maintain akhanda ghee/sesame lamp before Deity, base of Tulasi, hang in the sky – attain the spiritual world. Just by offering a ghee lamp to Sri Krishna, one attains perfection and goes back to Godhead.
  • Offer sweet rice mixed with ghee, tasty food and varieties of fruits.
  • Mandira-parikrama four times daily while reciting prayers – get the merit of a horse sacrifice with every step.
  • Offer water and prasada to ancestors.
  • Offer camphor lamp with aguru oil esp. on Ekadasi – no rebirth.
  • Offer fresh flower garlands (rose or lotus) and sanadalwood paste.
  • Offer new clothes.
  • Offer one lakh of Tulasi leaves to Krishna
  • Daily offer incense, ghee lamp and flowers to Tulasi and circumambulate her.
  • Relight another person’s ghee lamp – attain unlimited merit and not see Yamaraja.
  • Offer water to the moon.
  • Offer floating ghee lamp.
  • Enthusiastically dance, sing and play musical instruments, and recite prayers before the Deity – attain spiritual world with your ancestors.

THE STRENGTH TO BE OPEN AND HONEST

According to the cosmic cycle described in the Vedas, we are living in the most corrupted epoch. Four fundamental principles underpin any functional society, organization, family or group; self-control, cleanliness, compassion, and truthfulness. When individuals wholeheartedly embrace these virtues, success is guaranteed on every level – physically, emotionally, socially, and most importantly, spiritually. The analysis of the sages, however, reveals that three of the four are practically obliterated, and society now delicately hinges on the single principle of truthfulness. The irony – to conceal our frail character and avoid exposing those predictable deficiencies, we end up fabricating lies, lies, and more lies. The tendency towards deceit and dishonesty then, is the proverbial nail in the coffin.
One of the biggest criteria for deepening our spirituality is the strength to be open and honest. Instead, however, we are often closed and pretentious. In the name of saving our face, we kill our soul. Sometimes we invent, sometimes we withhold, sometimes we exaggerate, sometimes we stay quiet and let the lies roll – a variety of ingenious ways in which we compromise our integrity. When asked, “What is a lie?” Augustine responded: “Any statement meant to deceive another.” It’s scary to think how much of our day could be spent lying – rehearsing future conversations, rehashing events of the past and reconstructing inaccurate projections of the present self.
We all know the value of meditation, yoga and wisdom study in our spiritual growth. Let us, however, not underestimate some of the more ordinary disciplines and human qualities that can prove equally valuable in this profound journey. Truthfulness is undoubtedly one of them. Every time we are untruthful we create an alternative reality. We force ourselves to live in two worlds – the real and the apparent. When we choose honesty in all aspects of life, including our family, our work, our spirituality, and all our relationships, we live the same life wherever we are. Simple, stress-free and sublime. By living with honesty, we create opportunities to become all the good things lying helps us pretend we already are. Confronting our imperfections, instead of dodging them, unmasks defects which we then have the opportunity to change.
I’ll never forget a saintly mentor who once said: “if I spent as much energy in truly becoming humble, as I do in portraying an image of humility, I may well have developed some humility by now.” His honesty, in great humility, rang true as my reality.

Work not to run away from yourself – work to realize yourself

Work can be a responsible-seeming way to stay irresponsible. When we become workaholics, we use work to neglect our life’s other important aspects such as our relationships.
We may have dysfunctional relationships at home, but instead of investing the effort necessary to improve those relationships, we may use work as a respectable excuse for running away from those issues. Little do we realize that we are running away from ourselves, from our spiritual potential to find lasting fulfillment. Instead of striving to become better human beings, we slave to become better performers at our workplace and pat ourselves on the back.
But such self-congratulation can’t help us when our loved ones, being repeatedly neglected, leave us – or when our body, long battered by excessive work, refuses to work anymore. Lonely and sickly, we are left with nothing to live for. The Bhagavad-gita (18.24) cautions that excessive work signifies infection by the dark mode of ignorance.
Of course, work itself is not bad. It is an essential means for sustenance (03.08), and it can be a tool to transcendence (18.46) – we can worship the Absolute with our work, thereby attaining perfection.
To help us find work-life balance, Gita wisdom offers a holistic understanding of ourselves. It explains that we are more than our work, because we are more than our bodies and minds that do the work – we are souls who long to love and be loved. We can fulfill that longing by directing it towards the all-attractive, all-loving Supreme, Krishna.
Through such spiritual redirection, the Gita helps us re-envision work as a means to use our God-given gifts, be they talents, interests or positions, in a mood of service to him. By work done as devotional contribution, we come closer to Krishna, realizing ourselves as his eternal blissful parts.

Cow Protection

“Holy Cow!” We’ve all heard that expletive enough times, but what on earth is holy about a cow? To find that out, we need to go to India.

In the Indian villager’s agrarian lifestyle, conserving natural resources is an integral part of daily existence. He uses nature’s gifts directly to manufacture all his necessities, from his mud hut dwelling to his home-spun clothes. But the most important feature of village conservation is protecting cows. Each homestead keeps at least one cow, and the animal is considered the most useful of all domestic beasts. In fact both cow and bull are seen as indispensable in rural India, in other words to 90% of the country’s population. Eating only grass, which costs nothing to produce, the cow in turn produces milk that provides nearly all the nutrients we need. One cow produces more milk than a whole family can drink in one day. What is not drunk is turned into yoghurt, cheese, butter and ghee (butterfat) – the latter being the basis for so many exquisite Indian sweetmeats and savouries.

Because cows supply milk, in Indian culture they are accepted as our mother, and therefore worthy of reverence. How many babies are raised on cows ‘milk?

In India it is well known that even the stool of the cow has antiseptic properties. Furthermore, in any Indian village you will see cow pats drying in the sun, ready to be used as fuel for cooking. Cow urine is prescribed in Ayurveda as a medicine, and when the cow finally dies she gives her skin for shoes and bags, and her horns for other implements.

The majestic bull can be seen in Indian fields, pulling the plough. Slower than tractors, but he does not compact the soil and reduce its productivity like other mechanical methods. Nor does such ploughing kill so many earth dwelling creatures. And of course, the more we use machinery in the place of working animals like the ox, then the more we become encumbered with the need for so many subsidiary industries to make and maintain those machines.

The bull is still used throughout rural India, and he is therefore seen as a father, working hard to produce man’s food. And as a father he too is considered worthy of reverence.

There is a symbiotic relationship between men and cows. If we take good care of them, ensuring they are sheltered, fed and protected, they happily produce more than enough milk for their calves, and we can take the excess without harming them in any way.

Principles

Hare Krishna devotees often say that religion without philosophy is sentimental and philosophy without religion is dry speculation. Religion expresses itself through culture: different codes of behavior that help us to become aware that we are not this temporary material body but an eternal spirit soul, servant of God.

Although our state of mind is seen through the nature of our activities (how we dress, eat, talk etc.), the type of activites we perform also affects our state of mind. This means we can elevate our consciousness by elevating the nature of our activities. All spiritual activities help us to purify our consciousness and direct it towards God.

Because of this, a vaishnava (devotee of Krishna) does not take the regulations of spiritual life as restrictions, but rather as ‘regulative principles of freedom’ – a tool for advancing personal character development & spiritual consciousness.

The four basic principles are as follows:

1. Cleanliness: Of body, mind and soul.
This means the daily washing of the body, but also refraining from illicit sex (only sex for procreation within marriage). Celibacy, recitation of God´s (Krishna´s) holy names and studying the holy Scriptures help us to keep the mind and soul clean and balanced.

2. Mercy: To help living entities (materially as well as spiritually).
True followers of the Vedic (or any other) Scriptures are strictly vegetarians. It is perfectly possible to live healthily and happily without needlessly killing innocent animals. To kill our fellow living entities instead of protecting them, is against the laws of God.

3. Austerity: To take only what we really need, without greed or violence.
Intoxications like alcohol, hard and soft drugs, tobacco, caffeine etc. make someones mercy and friendliness disappear. Addictions are not only unnecessary, but also very harmful (to body, mind and to others). The best alternative for addictions is an awakening of our eternal relationship with God (Krishna) by living in accordance with His laws.

4. Truthfulness: Means that we should not lie or gamble.
Gambling destroys truthfulness because it is an attempt to bypass the laws of nature and obtain material profit without honestly working for them.
An honest deed is the best gamble in the world and a sure winner.
There are many rules and regulations to follow in human life which help us to be healthy, happy and successful. The most important of all is:
Always remember Krishna (God) and never forget Him.

Yoga

Yoga means to link oneself with God (Krishna) by concentrating the mind on Him and controlling the ever-disturbing senses. By the practice of yoga one gradually becomes free from materialistic attachments. This is the primary characteristic of the yoga process. When one is free of materialistic attachments one loses interest in the body and becomes interested in spiritual perfection.

By the perfect practice of yoga one becomes completely happy in this life and, after death, one reaches the state of eternal happiness called liberation. In the perfect stage of yoga one is liberated from the cycle of material suffering (see Karma and Reincarnation) and goes to the spiritual world to serve God in perfect purity.

Yoga includes different practices depending on ones level of spiritual advancement, and can be compared to a ladder for attaining the topmost spiritual realisation. The complete ladder is called yoga and may be divided into 3 main parts. 1) Karma, 2) Jnana, and 3) Bhakti.

1) Karma-yoga When a person knows the goal of life is Krishna (God), but is attached to working to get material comforts, then he is acting in karma-yoga.

2) Jnana-yoga When he knows the goal is Krishna, but takes pleasure in mental speculation, he is acting in jnana-yoga.

3) Bhakti-yoga When he knows the goal is Krishna and is not attached to any material thing, either gross or subtle, but simply desires to work for the pleasure of Krishna, then he is acting in bhakti-yoga. This is the highest perfection of the yoga system.

To make yoga practice really successful it requires self restraint (see Principles). The yoga process that the devotees of Krishna practice and endeavour to perfect is in the line of bhakti-yoga.

In the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna describes the process of yoga in Krishna consciousness:

“Always chanting my glories, endeavouring with great determination, bowing down before Me, these great souls perpetually worship Me with devotion.” (Bhagavad-gita 9.14)

Here it is said that in the practice of bhakti-yoga (Krishna consciousness) one should chant the glories of God.

Karma

“Karma” means “activity”, and the law of karma is the law that regulates the reactions to our activities. The law of karma is the natural law of action and reaction. In physics this is expressed by Newton’s law, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. Or, in Christian theology, “As ye sow so ye shall ye reap”.
From a practical point of view this means that good actions give good results and bad or destructive actions give bad or less fortunate results.

It should be noted here that all souls are essentially good. This means that just because someone gets a bad reaction it does not mean that they are a bad person. Another important point is that karma is temporary. This means that although we may be experiencing a particular set of circumstances right now those circumstances will change in the future. This could happen in this life or even future lives. Not only is karma temporary it is also possible to change one’s karma, or even get rid of it altogether by acting spiritually in the service of God.

Good reactions include things like wealth, beauty, intelligence and happiness. Bad reactions include things like poverty and disease. In order to fully understand how karma works the concept of reincarnation must also be looked into. See the page on Reincarnation for more information.

Karma (good or bad) creates a continuous cycle by which one is entangled in repeated actions and subsequent reactions. As long as one is in this cycle one will naturally experience both happiness and distress. The philosophy of the devotees of Krishna teaches how to break this cycle and achieve a state of eternal happiness known as liberation in a pure relationship with Krishna (God).

From the spiritual point of view, that of eternity, it doesn’t really matter if one has “good” or “bad” karma. This is because past material karma does not impede one from making spiritual advancement.