Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Hand of Fate

Krishna threatening to attack Bhishma “The Blessed Lord said: Time I am, destroyer of the worlds, and I have come to engage all people. With the exception of you [the Pandavas], all the soldiers here on both sides will be slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 11.32)

Horoscopes have fascinated people since time immemorial. A horoscope is a forecast of events yet to happen, conclusions based on the positioning of planets and stars at any given moment. Horoscopes are provided by those claiming to be well versed in astrology. Astrologers give different readings based on when a person was born. The popularity of horoscopes makes astrology a very lucrative business, thus nowadays newspapers, blogs, and even psychic specialists also provide these readings.

Regardless of one’s intelligence or knowledge of spiritual matters, everyone innately has an understanding that we living entities are not the controllers of our destiny. We spend every day trying to forget this fact, thinking that we are the doers and are responsible for our actions. We thus feel entitled to enjoy the fruits of our labor. However, from time to time many of us become enchanted with the concept of fate; the idea that there is a higher power controlling our events and determining what happens to us. Most everyone has some desire to look into the future and horoscopes are one way of satisfying these desires.

Objectively speaking, we should all be happy just living our lives and letting the events play out. Nevertheless, pure material sense enjoyment always leaves us wanting more, so we become bewildered as to what our purpose in life is. What we are really lacking is spiritual enjoyment, and psychic readings and personalized horoscopes give us hope that maybe there is a higher power that has the answers to all of our questions.

The Vedas are the ancient scriptures of India that were originally passed down through oral tradition and later put into written form. Veda means “knowledge” and the Vedas contain perfect knowledge about God and the soul. Though generally associated as a religious doctrine, the Vedas also contain knowledge on all relevant material subjects, ranging from music to astrology. The science of astrology originated from the Vedas. All the planets and stars are created by God and their positioning and alignment portend different events in the future. When reading Vedic literature, one will often find references to good and bad omens which are based on the positioning of the stars at any given time.

Palmistry Along with astronomy and astrology, the Vedas also gave us the ancient art of palmistry. Palmistry is another discipline practiced for millions of years that aims to tell the future of a person based on the lines and bumps contained on the palms of the hands. Palm readings are considered perfect when done by those well acquainted with the art.

Lord Krishna, considered the Supreme Personality of Godhead by the Vedas, expanded Himself into a human form as Lord Rama many thousands of years ago in the town of Ayodhya in India. Playing the role of the perfect prince who strictly abided by the laws of dharma, Lord Rama was loved and adored by all in the kingdom. Maharaja Dashratha, Rama’s father and king of Ayodhya, decided he would install his son as his heir. However, due to unforeseen circumstances, Rama was instead ordered to live in the forest for fourteen years, allowing His younger brother Bharata to ascend the throne. Lord Rama, being the ultimate renunciate, had no problem with this order, but He was worried what His wife would think.

“I have heard this (that I shall live in the forest) from the brahmanas versed in palmistry, and I have all along been anxious.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)

Sita Devi, the Goddess of Fortune incarnated in human form, was married to Rama at the time, and she was completely devoted to Him. Upon hearing the news, Sita desperately wanted to accompany her husband to the forest. Subsisting on fruits and roots and living amongst the wild animals, forest life was considered suitable for only the best of yogis. Sita had been accustomed to the life of a princess from her very birth and thus Rama wanted to shield her from the dangers of forest life. Sita was very resilient though, and she put forth a series of arguments to Rama in favor of her going. One point she made was that while she was growing up in her father’s kingdom, palm readers had foretold that she would and should one day live in the forest.

Sita Devi Sita was raised in the kingdom of Maharaja Janaka, a very famous and pious king, well respected throughout the world, who ruled over Mithila. According to Vedic culture, a king’s primary duty is to provide protection to all of society, but especially to the brahmanas, the priestly class of society. Brahmanas aren’t typically involved in fruitive activity, thus they live off the charity of others. In exchange for that charity, they teach the other members of society about the Vedas and they perform sacrifices and other penances in order to help society at large. In the Vedic times, it was customary for a king to maintain many brahmanas in his court, serving as a group he could rely on for counsel. Also in the Vedic culture, it is typical for brahmanas to perform astrological and palm readings for children when they are young. It is a sign of etiquette and a way of giving the parents a peek into the child’s future. When Lord Krishna took birth on earth five thousand years ago, He spent His infant years in the town of Vrindavana, living with His foster parents, Nanda Maharaja and Yashoda. In Vedic culture, newborns aren’t named until a brahmana has come to see the child to study its past and future. For Lord Krishna, the famous sage Garga Muni performed these tasks. By reading the child, He was immediately able to tell about Lord Krishna’s previous lives, which were in fact His different incarnations, and he was able to foretell the events of Lord Krishna’s adult life.

Based on Sita Devi’s statements, we can understand that life in Janaka’s kingdom was no different, and that brahmanas performed such readings for his most precious daughter. Sita, being God’s original wife, didn’t take birth in the usual way from a mother and father. She instead was born from Bhumi Devi, Goddess Earth, and was found by Janaka one day while he was ploughing a field. Immediately enchanted by the young child, Janaka raised her as his very own and she was his prized possession. So it is not surprising that he would have an expert palm reader attempt to tell her future. Unlike today’s watered down version of astrology filled with charlatans and cheaters, the palmistry readings of the brahmanas during Vedic times were perfect. Since the Vedas represent perfect knowledge and the highest authority, any conclusions based off its teachings are by nature perfect.

Sita Devi made sure to mention this fact to Lord Rama. The Lord, being the origin of the Vedas, knew very well just how accurate Sita’s palm reading must have been, thus confirming the fact that her fate was already set. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna took on the role of a spiritual master to His cousin Arjuna, who was hesitant to fight for fear of killing cousins and other relatives. The Lord explained to Arjuna that fate had already decided that all those family members would die in battle, and that Arjuna shouldn’t be affected by things that have already happened.

Lord Rama In a similar fashion, Sita was trying to convey to Rama that fate had already decided that she would live in the forest, and that it would not be be proper for the Lord to go against such fate. This represents one of the central teachings of Vedic philosophy. Because we have a minute amount of independence in this material world, we falsely think that we are the doers. This however, is not the fact.

“The bewildered spirit soul, under the influence of the three modes of material nature, thinks himself to be the doer of activities, which are in actuality carried out by nature.” (Lord Krishna, Bg 3.27)

Knowing this fact is one thing, but practically applying it is another. Being armed with such knowledge, we should refrain from being overjoyed at our good fortune. At the same time, we shouldn’t overly lament at our bad fortune. Our future may be bright or bleak, but our mind should always be steady and focused on serving God. This can be achieved by taking up the process of bhakti yoga, or devotional service. Sita Devi, by pretending to remind Lord Rama of these principles through her conversation with Him, was reminding us that she is God’s perfect devotee, and a role model for us all.