Fasting on Other Days

I want to know the effects of fasting on days like Sivaratri, Hartalike, etc. Will this help us in our Krishna consciousness, in getting out of the cycle of birth and death? By fasting on these days, are we not getting trapped in material desire? How can aKrishna conscious devotee get benefit of elevation by fasting on these days?
 —Radhika Potdar

Our reply: Many ceremonies that are part of the Vedic tradition may not be directly Krishna conscious, but they create an atmosphere favorable to Krishna consciousness. Vedic culture is not just the sole property of the Vaisnavas but rather provides a broad framework for everyone’s spiritual evolution considering their present positions of spiritual advancement. Lord Krishna mentions in the Gita how the most desirable position for a human being is to be a devotee of the Supreme Lord, being situated beyond the three modes of material nature. But understanding the nature of this world, He also mentions that rajo-guna is better than tamoguna, and sattva-guna is even better than rajo-guna. Thus although the aim of spiritual life is to transcend the modes, the Vedic culture simultaneously provides facility for gradual elevation of one’s modes.

Ceremonies like Siva-ratri may not be direct glorification of Krishna , but they do generate and enhance faith in Vedic concepts viz. reincarnation by promising rewards for observances of such ceremonies in one’s next life. We learn to depend on higher authority of Vedic scriptures rather than on our own intelligence or experience. Someone who celebrates these festivals will cultivate values that are more favorable for being situated in Krishna consciousness. These festivals may increase material desires but they also give good engagement of worshiping bona fide demigods (rather than some modern, foolish selfprofessed God who intends to rob people of the most valuable commodity of faith) to those who have not yet graduated to the highest platform of Krishna consciousness. Lord Caitanya compared the likelihood of developing unwanted and disastrous material attachments and desires while performing devotional service to the growing of unwanted weeds while a gardener intends to water a certain plant only.

It is not necessary for a Krishna conscious devotee to perform fasting on days other than those connected to Lord Krishna or His pure devotees. However if someone who is not yet Krishna conscious fasts on these days he makes his life more favorable for receiving Krishna consciousness in the future.

Bali Treated Unfairly?

King Bali, though born in a family of demons, had all godly qualities. Why did Lord Vamanadeva kill him though he was a great king and a devotee of Lord Visnu and also a grandson of Prahlada Maharaja?
 —Radhika Potdar, by email

Our reply: Lord Vamana did not kill Bali, but He definitely punished him.

There are two considerations — a leader and his system. A true follower not only follows the leader but also respects and abides by the system created by this leader. Bali loved the person Visnu but did not respect Lord Visnu’s system for universal management. The Supreme Lord Visnu has entrusted demigods like Indra and Soma with different departments of universal affairs. By fighting with the demigods and seizing their kingdom, Bali acted against Lord Visnu. Consequently, Lord Visnu appeared as Lord Vamana, tricked Bali Maharaja and snatched away everything from him. He then restored to Indra what rightfully belonged to him.

However, in the process of receiving punishment from Lord Vamana, Bali also displayed his pure devotion to Lord Visnu with an unparalleled level of selfless surrender. In moments, from the undisputed position of the ruler of the entire universe, Bali became a penniless pauper with nothing to call his own. Bali, however, retained his stoic commitment to serving Lord Visnu even amid such an unprecedented trial where he not only lost everything of material value but also incurred the wrath of his spiritual master, Sukracarya. To reciprocate with this unique surrender of Bali, Lord Vamana gave him residence in Sütalaloka, a subterranean planet complete with riches more than Indra’s. There Lord Vamana serves Bali even to the present day by personally guarding it. Thus, the seemingly unfair treatment of Bali Maharaja by Lord Vamana was to reveal to the world for all time to come, the gold standard of his complete surrender (atmanivedanam).

Criticism versus Correction

I have noticed that whenever I criticize someone, I end up doing the same thing I just criticized about. Should I just stop criticizing? How do you inform someone about something that is wrong with them without being a hypocrite?

Our reply: There is a difference between criticism and correction. Criticism is focused on pointing out the faults and is done with a “holier-than-thou” attitude. Very less positive corrective action emerges out of such talk because many times the person at the receiving end is devastated by the harsh talk. Correction focuses more on the remedial measures that need to be taken to resolve the faults. It is done with a mood of compassion, not of dominance. A devotee naturally desires to help others when he sees some faults and so any attempt to suppress this will result in suffocation. However, if not done sensitively correction can easily degenerate to criticism or condemnation, which hurts people and can also corrupt the devotee who is at the giving end with a sense of superiority and pride. Thus, it is important to speak the right words with the right attitude.

Most of the times, we intend to correct but end up criticizing. The resultant pride affects us and, being unable to maintain our purity, we end up surfacing as hypocrites. When we desire to help others with a genuine concern for their improvement then not only do we benefit others constructively but we also receive help from the Supreme Lord who always favors those who are humble. In giving, we receive. We should honestly try to increase our own level of purity so that the feeling of hypocrisy that creeps in when we correct others is slowly eliminated from our lives. Armed with a sincere desire to help others and the omnipotent grace of the Lord, this is possible.