Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Supreme Shelter

Rama and Lakshmana protecting Vishvamitra “Please allow Rama to protect me during those times when I am observing religious functions and trying to keep my concentration. O chief of mankind, a terrible fear has befallen me on account of this Rakshasa Maricha.” (Vishvamitra speaking to Maharaja Dasharatha, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 38.4)

For protection in this world and the next, we don’t need to seek out the help of anyone except God. Demigods, government leaders, and even family members cannot come close to offering the perfect and complete protection that God offers His devotees. God is one, even though He has many expansions. Some people mistakenly take shelter of the demigods, believing them to be equal to the Lord Himself. This has proved to be disastrous on many of occasion.

Narasimha Deva with Goddess Lakshmi The Vedas tell us that God is one. His original form is that of Lord Shri Krishna, also known as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He is the supreme and original person, adi purusham. He is the origin of Godhead, because God can take many forms. Krishna’s direct expansions are known as vishnu-tattva, meaning they are equal to Him in potency. Whether one worships Lord Krishna, Rama, Narasimha, or Vishnu, they are still worshiping the same original God. This doesn’t hold true with demigods though. A demigod, or devata, is an expansion of the Lord who interacts with material nature. We living entities are also expansions of the Lord, known as jiva-tattva. Jivas are spiritual in nature, but they also can interact with matter if they choose to. Material nature represents God’s inferior energy. It is subordinate to His spiritual energy because God doesn’t directly provide any protection to those who interact solely with matter. Jivas are technically described as belonging to God’s marginal energy because they have a choice as to which energy they associate with.

Demigods are also living entities, but they are elevated in power and strength. To ere is human means that human beings are fallible. We have a tendency to cheat, to have imperfect senses, to be illusioned, and to commit mistakes. Demigods are also living entities who suffer through birth and death, but their duration of life is usually much longer. They also have extraordinary powers because they have been deputed by Krishna to manage various departments of the material creation. Because of their extraordinary powers, many people mistakenly take them to be equal to God. Demigods offer material boons, or rewards. If one wants a beautiful wife, a good grade on an exam, or plenty of food to eat, they worship various demigods through elaborate sacrifices and penances. Demigods, by rule, are required to bestow these boons to anyone who properly worships them, regardless of the underlying motives.

Ravana Wealth, fame, and power are very seductive to those who take material advancement to be the aim of life. Not really believing in God, gross materialists become enamored with procuring as much material opulence as they can. For this reason, many of them take to demigod worship. The demon Ravana was a great example of this. A Rakshasa by birth, he performed many great penances to please the demigods Brahma and Shiva. He took complete shelter of them. In return, the great demigods bestowed wonderful boons on Ravana. The demon was given ten heads and a tremendous fighting prowess. Ravana, not surprisingly, used these powers for evil. He immediately went on attack against other demigods, including his own brother. He quickly became feared around the world. Yet as powerful as he was, he was still subject to the laws of material nature, meaning he eventually had to die. He would meet death at the hands of Lord Rama, an incarnation of God. At the time of his death, no demigod was there to protect Ravana. In fact, the same demigods whom he had once pleased were now rooting for Rama. They had purposefully coordinated events in such a way that God Himself would come to earth in the form of human. Of course God can never associate with the material energy. For the living entity, there is a difference between matter and spirit, but for God, He is all spirit. Nevertheless, Rama appeared to have the body of a human being for the purpose of killing Ravana. When death came, all of Ravana’s possessions, powers, and relationships went away. The kingdom he worked so hard to protect, was now turned over to his younger brother Vibhishana, who also was on Lord Rama’s side.

Maricha The above referenced quote is from a conversation between the demon Maricha and Ravana, just prior to Ravana’s kidnapping of Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama. At the time, Lord Rama had just defeated and killed 14,000 of Ravana’s associates in the forest of Janasthana. Akampana, one of Ravana’s fighters, informed him that there would be no way to defeat Rama in battle, but that he should rather devise a plan to steal Rama’s wife. Heeding this advice, Ravana quickly went to his advisor Maricha for help coming up with a scheme. Maricha was no fool, for he knew that messing with Rama was not a great idea. To deter Ravana from going through with his plan, Maricha told him a story of events from a previous time.

Maricha and other Rakshasas had a favorite pastime; they used to haunt the sages living in the forest and disrupt their sacrifices. These events all took place during the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation. Many great brahmanas had taken to forest life since it was more conducive to spiritual activity. The forests and countryside are considered to be in the mode of goodness. There isn’t any hustle and bustle, and people are content to live a simple life, subsisting on whatever food is available. This means that the rest of the time is spent meditating on God and performing various sacrifices. These Rakshasas were atheists by nature, so they had a deep hatred for the suras, or devotees. One great brahmana of that time, Vishvamitra, was especially perturbed by these attacks of the Rakshasas. He approached the king of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dasharatha, and asked him to send his eldest son, Rama, to protect him.

Vishvamitra with Rama and Lakshmana Vishvamitra is considered one of the greatest sages in history, primarily due to his association with Rama. Vishvamitra didn’t seek shelter of any demigod or any government leader. He knew that only God Himself was capable of providing Him complete protection. At the time, Rama was a young boy, who no one thought was ready to fight demons. Vishvamitra knew the truth about Rama, so he had no qualms about asking Dasharatha allow Rama to come with him.

For one who completely surrenders unto the Lord, deliverance from all calamities is guaranteed. The greatest calamity in life is the repeated cycle of birth and death, where one is constantly thrown into the ocean of nescience which is the material world. There can be no punishment greater than having to take birth again. Since only God can grant liberation, He is known as Mukunda.

Vishvamitra was a qualified brahmana, and more importantly, a pure devotee of God. For this reason, Dashratha acquiesced and allowed both Rama and His younger brother, Lakshmana, to accompany Vishvamitra. The lesson here is that we too should strive to be pure devotees. A pure devotee is one who only seeks the shelter of the Supreme Lord, without any personal motive for material power or fame. A person who has reached such a level of devotion becomes qualified to receive the Lord’s mercy. For such devotees, the Lord guarantees His unflinching protection. Rama and Lakshmana would come through for Vishvamitra, protecting him from Maricha and countless other demons. If we constantly chant the Lord’s names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and stay connected with the spiritual energy, we too can live without fearing the attacks of demons.