Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Do as I Say

Rama and Lakshmana serving sage Vishvamitra“If one is expert in hearing and hears from the right source, his knowledge is immediately perfect. This process is called shrauta-pantha, or the acquisition of knowledge by hearing from authorities. All Vedic knowledge is based on the principle that one must approach a bona fide spiritual master and hear from the authoritative statements of the Vedas.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 16.52 Purport)

Knowledge is acquired through various mediums, such as observing and reading. In the modern age of advanced technology, many new forms of media are gaining in popularity. In addition to the traditional methods of acquiring knowledge of events through the reading of books and newspapers, many people now get their information from alternative sources. Television has become a very popular medium for learning and observing. Nightly newscasts and twenty-four hour cable news networks are watched by millions on a daily basis. The rise in popularity of the internet has brought about the phenomenon of blogs and message boards.

Though all these forms of media may be very effective in disseminating information, the most effective method of acquiring knowledge is through hearing. The evolution of talk radio has made millions of people more informed and educated on a variety of material subjects, ranging from politics and government to sports and entertainment. A recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, showed that regular listeners to talk radio tended to be more educated than regular viewers of television news and cable networks. When watching someone speak in person or on television, one tends to be distracted by visual images, thus they may not pay attention to everything that’s being said. Acquiring knowledge through listening requires a person to keep pace with the speaker, similar to how one must focus when having a conversation with someone else. Words are taken in, processed, and then the mind thinks of a reaction. A person is much more likely to be provoked into deeper thought through the listening process than through other methods.

The Vedic system validates this premise. In the Vedic tradition, knowledge was originally passed down through auditory reception. In terms of the timetable relating to the start of creation, the written word didn’t exist until very recently, thus scholars and sages of the past were required to memorize all the knowledge they had acquired. The Vedas, the original knowledge emanating from Lord Krishna Himself, are also referred to as the shrutis. Shruti means “that which is heard”, and it was through this mechanism that Vedic wisdom was passed down from generation to generation. In previous times, the brains of men were so advanced that they could recite thousands and thousands of complex Sanskrit verses perfectly straight from memory. The classic Vedic texts, such as the Mahabharata, Puranas, Ramayana, and Upanishads, were all recited regularly in public by the brahmanas, the priestly class of society. A spiritual master, or guru, would initiate his disciples in this knowledge, and they would in turn pass it down to their disciples. This is known as the parampara system. As time would go on, man’s faculty for memorization dwindled, thus it became necessary for these great texts be written down.

Sita Rama When Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, appeared in human form as Lord Rama many thousands of years ago, He played the part of a most pious prince in the town of Ayodhya. Being the eldest and most favored son of Maharaja Dashratha, Rama was scheduled to be installed as the new king. However, on the day of his installation, Dashratha was compelled to change his plans and he instead ordered Rama to be exiled to the forest for fourteen years. Rama was to live there in the garb of a hermit, subsisting only on fruits and roots, and would not be privy to any of the luxuries of the kingdom. In essence, He would be homeless. Lord Rama, being God Himself and the ultimate renunciate, gladly accepted the decree of His father.

“‘A woman, without her husband, cannot live’, this truth has been pointed out by you, O Rama, to me.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)

At the time, the Lord was married to Sita Devi, the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi. Lakshmi is the husband of Lord Narayana, who is Krishna’s personal expansion that controls the universe. Sita was thus a perfect devotee of the Lord, and when she heard the news of the exile, she insisted on accompanying her husband to the forest. Lord Rama was very adamant in His belief that Sita should remain in the kingdom. Sita, for her part, put forth a serious of arguments designed to persuade the Lord to allow her to come. One of the arguments she was made was that Lord Rama had once told her that a woman cannot live without her husband. Sita and Rama had been married for about twelve years at the time of this incident, so they had spent much time together. By putting forth this argument, Sita proved that she was the greatest listener. Husbands and wives spend much time talking to each other, and it is generally the complaint of the wife that the husband never listens to her. This complaint has formed the basis of stereotypical male-female humor, and has served as fodder for comedy writers for years. By nature, women tend to be more talkative and emotional, while men tend to keep their emotions bottled up inside.

In Sita and Rama’s marriage, both parties tended to be very quiet. Being God Himself, Lord Rama never spoke nonsense and neither did His wife. When He did speak, Sita would listen, as we can see from her statement. A devotee of Krishna hangs on every one of His words, cherishing them and committing them to memory. Sita Devi, being the perfect devotee, remembered everything that Rama would tell her.

Marriage of Sita and Rama According to Vedic philosophy, a woman is to be given protection throughout her lifetime. As a youth, she is to be protected by the father, as an adult by her husband, and in old age by her eldest son. This is sometimes misconstrued by people to mean that the women are treated as slaves. In fact, it’s just the opposite. They are given preferential treatment and protected at all times. The Vedas teach men to view all women, except their own wife, as their own mother. The annual Mother’s Day holiday in America proves just how much people care for their mothers. The Vedas teach us to take this one step further and expand this treatment to all women. Also in the Vedic system, it is stated that a woman’s spiritual fate is tied to that of her husband’s. In the old system, it was considered beneficial if the wife died before the husband, for then she would not be left alone. If the husband did pass on first, usually the wife would voluntarily ascend her husband’s funeral pyre, in what was known as the sati rite. As with many other religious rituals, this practice degraded over time to the point where women were being forced to burn themselves against their will, thus the practice has been outlawed. Nevertheless, the rite originated from the principle that a woman should always live with her husband, which was reiterated by Sita.

One lesson to take away from her statement is that God is the original spiritual master. The parampara system, or disciplic succession, passes down knowledge of the Absolute from generation to generation, but God is the origin of such a system. He explained it this way to Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita:

“The Blessed Lord said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and Vivasvan instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Ikshvaku. This supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way…” (Lord Krishna, Bg 4.1-2)

Vivasvan - the sun god In this day and age, we tend to put great stock in the words of people we see on television, be they famous celebrities or world leaders. While these people may have good intentions, it is more beneficial for us to take the instructions of God Himself, or those of His bona fide representative, the spiritual master.

Sita Devi’s exchange with Lord Rama teaches us how we should all act in relation to God. From a material standpoint, Sita appears to be trapping her husband with such a statement. “You tell me to live alone in the kingdom and serve the elderly members of the royal family while you go to the forest, yet you yourself have told me many times that a woman cannot live without her husband. You seem to be contradicting yourself. Were you lying then or are you lying now?” In healthy marriages, a strong sense of love and attachment exists between the husband and wife. Because a wife invests all her emotions in her husband, she naturally feels very comfortable speaking her mind to him. She views the husband as being helpless without her, and thus feels obligated to point out all his faults. Men usually misinterpret this as unnecessary nagging, but it is actually sign of true love. No one can criticize a man better than his wife. A wife will not hold anything back when she feels her husband needs to be corrected. Sita Devi, being the perfect wife and devotee, was no different, except she criticized the Lord by using His own words against Him. Lord Rama was especially known for being completely committed to the laws of dharma, or religiosity. Sita knew this and was quick to point out a flaw in His execution of dharma. Being God Himself, Rama was naturally above any mundane rules of the material world, but playing the part of a pious prince, He strictly abided by such rules.

Sita Devi’s arguments were perfect, and the Lord would eventually relent and allow her to accompany Him to the forest. Lord Rama became beholden to His wife, not because of her beauty or fame, but because of her pure devotion. God is the original spiritual master, and if we attentively listen to Him and His instructions, we become smarter than the greatest of scholars. At the conclusion of the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna states,

“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Bg. 18.66)

Lord Krishna By surrendering everything unto the Lord, Sita became the most knowledgeable person, and the Lord was forced to concede defeat in His debate with her. This current age is known as Kali; the dark age known for unnecessary quarrel and argument. People argue over mundane topics such as politics and sports which are all part of the temporary material world. We should all learn from Sita’s example and only take to arguing when it will advance our devotion to the Lord. God will be pleased with our devotion and He will give us the necessary knowledge and understanding in order that we may increase our love for Him. Doing so will make our lives perfect, and guarantee that we go back home after this life, back to godhead.