Found in Sanga, Sanga 2002.

Q. With the spate of corporate fraud in America, what are some Hindu beliefs that address widespread corruption?

A. In Hinduism, real economic development (artha) is wedded to religion (dharma). Only adherence to dharma insures enduring economic well-being. In other words, anyone who is irreligious in his or her efforts for material advancement will lose out in the long run. You can’t beat the system. No one escapes the long arm of the law of karma.

Editor’s note: Corporate CEOs and the Long Arm of Karma is the latest edition of “Ask The Swami,” a regular column featured on the Hinduism pages of Beliefnet.com.

Q. I am 14 years of age and very interested in Sanatana Dharma. However, I was not born into the Hindu faith. At the age of 11 I first discovered India and her magnificent culture and spirituality. I studied Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism but predominantly Hinduism or Sanatana Dharma. I can hardly pry myself away from her spiritual texts, societies, ethics, mysticism, etc., and I chant mostly AUM. I feel as though I have made a self inner-“conversion” to Sanatana Dharma. My question is, can I call myself a Hindu, and will I be accepted by other Hindus and at Hindu functions even though I am a Western-born Euro-American?

A. Sanatana Dharma is for everyone, not only for those born in India. In as much as Hinduism is synonymous with Sanatana Dharma, you are a Hindu. Still, some so-called orthodox Hindu sects may not accept your conversion. Some of these sects believe that only ethnic Hindus can practice the eternal (sanatana) dharma and will not allow Western born converts to enter the temples they are in charge of. Don’t be discouraged by this. It is they who have a provincial understanding of a universal teaching.

Q. What is the Gaudiya Vaisnavite position on astrology?

A. Astrology is the ancient science of reading one’s karma. Its efficacy is very much dependent upon a qualified astrologer. As other modern sciences have their place in our lives, so too can astrology in terms of helping us to better understand the karmic influences that impact our lives.

As for making a solution to your karmic predicament itself, you should put more if not all of your stock in chanting the names of God. The chanting of Krishna nama is said to descend from Goloka, the highest spiritual planet, golokera prema dhama hari nama sankirtana. Spiritually speaking, the shortcoming of astrology is that it does not include the influence of this planet on one’s life.

Q. What can you tell me about the ajna-cakra?

A. In my Bhagavad-gita commentary on verse 8.10 I stated:

“Vedanta-sutra (4.2.17) discusses the yoga technique of raising the vital force, or life air, from the heart after having controlled it along the susumna nerve and fixing it on the point between the eyebrows, or the ajna-cakra. Yoga practitioners will be familiar with this terminology. However, it is important to note that yogic power (yoga-balena) must be accompanied by the integrating force of love and devotion (bhaktya yukto) for it to produce the desired result.”

Without devotion one cannot attain love of God. The sutra’s discussion of raising the vital force is not independent of devotion. The “yoga technique of raising the vital force” is merely a description of some of the mechanics of how liberation takes place once the engine of bhakti is turned on. Without bhakti, liberation is not possible, and even if it were, what would be the value of liberation from material existence that is devoid of love of Krishna? Krishna represents the heartbeat of divinity, its affection. If this is understood, how can anyone settle for less than fully reciprocating with him transcendental love?

Q. I believe that A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada wrote in his version of Bhagavad-gita As It Is that the Gita is the only scripture needed for this age. But other information on practicing Vaisnavism, like how to follow Ekadasi, is not found in the Gita. So what did Srila Prabhupada mean when he said that everything is in Bhagavad-gita As It Is?

A. When preachers such as Srila Prabhupada say that everything is in the Gita, they mean that it is there in seed form. For example, in the Gita Sri Krishna describes his devotees as drdha vrata, strict in following vows. These vows include such important practices as following Ekadasi, a Vaisnava vow that is mentioned in the Puranas. The Puranas speak of details about principles mentioned in the sruti. Gitopanisad (the Gita) is considered sruti, and we should look to the Puranas, especially the Bhagavata Purana (Srimad Bhagavatam), to fully understand its implications.

Q. I was just curious to know if chanting in a humble and attentive way could bring about feelings that are indescribable. I know my question is not of a philosophical nature, but I do enjoy chanting and sometimes feel blissful yet extremely disconnected from others to the point of making mundane conversation impossible. There is much more I could say, but I don’t want to be invasive of your time or space.

A. Chanting attentively with faith and humility is the only way to chant. This will attract the attention of Krishna and bring about wonderful results even in neophyte devotees.

Q. I have the impression that when we are living and serving in the temple, service in the sense of maintaining the temple is the most important kind of sadhana (spiritual practice) with the exception of chanting our prescribed sixteen rounds of japa. This is because in a temple the Deities are the center of everything and their service comes first.

However, reasoning tells me that service is actually an unavoidable aspect of life therefore it could be said that engaging almost exclusively in temple service may be less effective in elevating our spiritual consciousness than other spiritual practices such as rising early for mangala arotika, distributing books, or studying scripture?

It seems to me that the latter types of spiritual practice are more of a direct method for spiritual advancement because it is much more difficult to perform them. Sometimes in performing temple service it feels like we are just trying to keep ourselves busy. How are we to reconcile these views and find a balance?

A. While hearing and chanting are primary, these limbs of bhakti are energized by a serving ego. So it is important that we develop a serving ego, and practical services should be rendered with this in mind. Devotional service should be rendered happily, not begrudgingly, and with no expectation of reward or recognition.

To live at the beck and call of Sri Guru is not so easy, but we must come to this standard if we want to attain the goal. As one’s genuine selfless service ego develops, chanting and hearing will be more meaningful and eventually, perhaps in some distant lifetime, it will develop into lila seva in conjunction with smaranam (remembering Krishna). This is something worth waiting for.

Q. What are the symptoms of devotion or, more precisely, is it possible that when we see Vaisnavas not really practicing sadhana or enthusiastic to preach or hear krishna-katha but apparently performing some devotional service, that they can still be proper devotees internally? Or is it that real devotion must burst forth in external manifestations?

A. It is doubtful that those engaging themselves in the name of devotion, who show little or no interest in Hari katha or sadhana, are doing much more than keeping themselves busy. While it may be important to do many things for Guru and Krishna within the context of a preaching mission, we should look to see that such service manifests in bringing at least its performer a taste for Krishna nama, etc.

However well-concealed (and there is a place for that), internal life cannot be hidden altogether. The face is the index of the mind, the body the chariot of the heart. Without external symptoms, how is it possible to know anything about one’s inner life?

Q. Sometimes I find myself interested in Krishna consciousness and at other times I am making plans for my material future. Can you give me some words of encouragement to help me pursue spiritual life wholeheartedly?

A. Pujapada Sridhara Maharaja was fond of quoting the English poet Grey’s “Elegy in a Churchyard”:

“The boast of heraldry,
the pomp of power,
all that beauty,
all that wealth ‘er gave
await alike the inevitable hour;
the path of glory
leads but to the grave.”

Outside of spiritual culture all people in this world are but digging their own graves, nothing more, and most material plans lead but to an unknown grave at that. Such is the nature of karma. The ghosts of your past surround you, and your present life is haunted. Break free, take the hand of a sadhu and run from the graveyard of material existence.

There is no time like the present, for in it both the future and the past can be found. The present determines the future and enables us to retire the past. Yet the present is lost to those who remain controlled by their past and do not heed the clarion call of a spiritual reality that speaks to us untiringly at every moment. The call is heard not only in scripture and in the words of the wise, but in every movement of nature as well—with every rising and setting of the sun.

All of reality is but different notes harmonizing together in one song: the song of life beyond the graveyard of material existence. Those who ignore this, the tone deaf, will never dance in the land of eternal life.

Saints and scripture tell us to reside amongst the living, those who are spiritually alive. Hegel said, “Die to live.” Let the bondage of attachment to our past die and let us awaken to new life in the realm of the soul. In that realm there is no death and rebirth. Life there is one of unending love. Die to live!

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