Happy Diwali to all of you! I wish all of you lots of peace, joy and happiness, and most of all, love of God.
Let’s spend today focusing on the meaning behind our prayers and rituals, which are the means to an end, and not the end itself. Today is a good day, and it comes with a good opportunity to practice this. We must always understand the reasons and intentions underlying all our religious acts and not become mechanic and ritualistic. There is no use of performing any rituals if the reason behind it is not understood. Actually, the reason should always be love. When we pray, it should be out of love. It should be because we “want” to, not because we are “forced to, otherwise something bad will befall us.” I have noticed that Hindus, or maybe even Indians in general, and especially those from small towns and villages, tend to be very ritualistic. We need to break out of that. I see the ads on television, about lucky charms, evil spirits, and astrologers trying to make money out of innocent people. It is all VERY idiotic. It’s all superstition. While I believe that spirits do exist, and some can cause great harm to us, I believe that if we put our faith and trust in Krishna, if we keep the Holy Name close always, these spirits are no match for us. Remember the govardhan-lila? If we worship Krishna, all the other devas will also be pleased, for they are great Vaishnavas as well. The inhabitants of Vrindavan were afraid of Indra’s wrath. They wanted to perform the ritual out of fear that Indra would be angry with them and he would send terrible storms. Which he did, but they kept Krishna close. And what did Krishna do? He lifted Govardhan Hill above them, to protect them from the downpour. So we just need to surrender to Krishna. When we perform any of these rituals, or poojas, or any other kind of religious act, we must keep in mind the reason we are doing it. Either we are worshipping God, showing our love to God, or performing our duties which is to offer respect to God. However, most people blindly follow rituals without understanding the significance behind them. Also, there are many silly rituals which have no base in religion, and cannot be found in scripture, or even some that are forbidden in the kali yuga, but people still keep practicing them, which is just absurd! We need to open our eyes and see for ourselves whether the ritual we are performing makes any sense or not. Like this strange ritual I heard of, about people throwing their babies from a height. Would God ever want that? Since it’s Diwali, a lot of these priests are performing owl poojas. This is just blasphemy. In Kali Yuga, animal sacrifice is not allowed. So how can these priests perform it? Moreover, they charge a lot of money for performing these poojas, and they scare people saying evil will befall them if they don’t perform this pooja. People end up wasting money, and live in constant fear and superstition. Now this is just my opinion, but it doesn’t make sense to me that the owl is Laxmi’s vehicle, and she would want owls to be sacrificed. This is just my opinion, but something doesn’t seem right with that logic.
The number 1 issue is fear. We must not perform these rituals simply because we are afraid God will punish us if we don’t, or something very bad is going to happen. Now there is too much focus on this aspect of fear. People perform rituals because they are afraid, not because they want to worship God, which is the ultimate purpose. Krishna is atma-rama. He is self-sufficient. He doesn’t need us to worship Him all day long, just praying and praising Him. He doesn’t need that. But He wants us to love Him, and He wants us to come back Home. In a way, if we perform rituals even out of fear, it is good. It is good if we have a sense of duty towards these religious practices. For even these earn us some credit and bring us one step closer to Krishna, as He explains in the Bhagavad Gita. We must fear God in the way that it increases our sense of responsibility towards our actions, but not to the extent that it drives out love from our hearts. The simplest analogy I can think of is our parents. We love them and we can be afraid of them, but we cannot be so afraid that we live in constant fear. It will drive out any love that we may have for them, and cause us to feel suffocated. All we would want to do is run away from them and live on our own. Bhakti Tirtha Swami explains that love and fear cannot co-exist. One drives out the other. And I completely agree. This is why I cannot deal with the concept of an eternal hell. I feel like it pushes people into believing in God and worshipping and praying out of immense fear that they will burn in an eternal hell. If that fear is dominating, then that prayer and worship becomes ritualistic. Even so, in Krishna Consciousness, ritualistic behavior does not incur any losses. Anything done with the intention of serving God, be it for material purposes or spiritual, He never forgets. It ultimately will bring us closer to God. But let’s just evaluate the reasons behind performing certain rituals, and not simply perform rituals blindly. Check to see if these rituals are proper by looking at guru, sadhu and shastra. The main reason behind all these rituals is to get closer to God. Let’s try our best to keep that in mind, and to understand why we do certain things. There are reasons behind wearing a bindi, reasons for folding the hands when greeting someone ‘namaste’, and reasons for breaking coconuts, etc. We need to know these reasons to understand better, so that the actions become meaningful instead of just empty rituals.
I’m certain animal sacrifice is not allowed in this age of Kali Yuga. Animal sacrifice could be performed before because the brahmans who performed it had great spiritual powers and they could release the animal of its suffering and give it a new body. Before, many yajnas or sacrifices were performed. There is one yajna I am sure we need to perform in this age. Just one. It may be difficult for some and it may be easy for others, depending on one’s consciousness and determination. Krishna is so merciful and so loving, that if we just surrender to Him, and fall in love with His beautiful names, it will be the greatest yajna. Just imagine. That’s the only yajna we have to perform. That’s all we have to do – fall in love with His name. We just have to sing and dance and fall in love with His Holy Name and that will be the greatest sacrifice we could ever perform. Much harder and tedious that the yajnas of the old ages, don’t you think? Yes. Much much harder. So hard that anyone can do it anywhere, under any circumstances, and it is guaranteed to reap devotion and bring us closer to God.
So on this day of Diwali, let’s start another year, promising to understand the real reasons behind our spiritual practices, and eliminating our fear of the unknown. Krishna wants us to be practical in all that we do. So let’s open our eyes and Krishna, with the shining lamp of knowledge, will destroy the darkness born of ignorance (BG 10:11). Abandon all varieties of religion and surrender unto Him. He will deliver us from sinful reactions. We should not fear (BG 18:66). Krishna is real protection. Krishna’s protection begins at the start of devotional service. So take shelter of Krishna and get rid of any fear that you may have. For those of you who don’t chant, please try to chant one round today, listening carefully to the mantra. If your thoughts wander, then let it wander to the prayer of the mantra: “Lord, engage me in Your devotional service!” If your eyes wander, let it wander to an image of Krishna. I pray that all of you may always have peace in your minds, compassion in your hearts and love on your tongues. Go around the world and freely spread the love that God has given you, starting now. Let that love shine through so that others may see God living in your hearts. May the lamps we light today on this day of Diwali be the shining lamps of knowledge with which Krishna promises to burn the darkness of ignorance. May these burning lamps burn away our sins and material desires and false ego. May these burning lamps kindle the fire of love for God, and may these burning lamps burn forever more.