Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Beautiful Warrior

Lakshmana “These arms of mine, which are fit for wearing sandalwood pulp and armlets, distributing wealth in charity, and protecting friends and family, shall today, O Rama, be used to do whatever is necessary to stop those who wish to obstruct Your installation as king.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 23.38-39)

God can be equally merciful through the use of violence or nonviolence. The dualities of the material world do not apply to Him, for He is the very definition of virtue and purity. We cannot apply our mundane morals to Him.

“Intelligence, knowledge, freedom from doubt and delusion, forgiveness, truthfulness, self-control and calmness, pleasure and pain, birth, death, fear, fearlessness, nonviolence, equanimity, satisfaction, austerity, charity, fame and infamy are created by Me alone.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.4-5)

Lord Krishna The quality of ahimsa, or non-violence, is described in the Vedas as virtuous. As living entities, we are all in the same boat as far as our experiences go in this material world. We are all spirit souls at our core, but somehow or other we have accepted a material body subject to the repeated cycle of birth and death. Disease and old age afflict everyone. The only way to break out of this cycle is to come to the platform of real knowledge. What is that knowledge that we have to acquire? It is not knowledge of how to invent the latest high-tech gizmo. It’s not knowledge of how to increase our bodily comforts or even how to increase our duration of life. The purpose of human life is to use our God-given intelligence to come to the platform of understanding and loving God. This can only be achieved through rendering pure loving service to Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and His devotees.

By understanding that we are all part and parcel of Krishna, we see that there is no need for us to be unkind to our fellow man. To go one step further, there is no reason for us to be violent towards others. The mode of passion can sometimes get the better of us. Lust leads to anger, and anger leads to violence. This type of violence is in the mode of ignorance, so one who can control his anger by acting in a non-violent manner is considered virtuous. Unnecessary violence is certainly deplorable, but this doesn’t mean that non-violence is the only path to take under all circumstances. This is where the concept of ahimsa has been misinterpreted. Every one of us possesses the three qualities of material nature (goodness, passion, and ignorance) to varying degrees. For this reason, we see that people have different demeanors, temperaments, and ethical standards. Not every person is nice, with some people being downright dangerous. In order to give protection to the innocent, a class of people is required who can fight off enemies.

Arjuna - a great kshatriya warrior This class of people is known as the kshatriya, and they make up one of the four varnas, or natural societal divisions based on quality and work. Metaphorically speaking, human society can be thought of as a person. For a person to function properly, they must have a brain, arms, a stomach, and legs. The kshatriyas represent the arms of society. The violence they use is sanctioned by the Vedas since it is only invoked when necessary. Lord Krishna Himself advised His disciple and cousin, Arjuna, to perform his prescribed duties as a kshatriya by fighting in the Kurukshetra war:

“Therefore, Arjuna, you should always think of Me, and at the same time you should continue your prescribed duty and fight. With your mind and activities always fixed on Me, and everything engaged in Me, you will attain to Me without any doubt.” (Bg. 8.7)

According to the Vedas, a warrior who dies while fighting on the battlefield immediately ascends to heaven. This is because fighting on religious principles is not an easy thing to do, so such acts of bravery are duly rewarded. If a society lacks a strong kshatriya presence, then anarchy will ensue since the innocent will have no one to protect them. The miscreants will run hog wild and atheism will run rampant.

God comes to earth from time to time in human form to personally provide us protection from such miscreants. Many thousands of years ago, appearing as the eldest son of King Dasharatha of Ayodhya, God assumed the guise of a pious prince named Rama. Lord Rama had three younger brothers who were all virtuous and dedicated to His welfare, but Lakshmana was especially close to Him. On one occasion, Rama was banished from the kingdom for fourteen years by Dasharatha. This was not due to any fault of Rama’s, but rather to promises that Dasharatha had made to one of his queens. This made Lakshmana very angry. He couldn’t stand to see Rama treated this way. In the above referenced statement, he is trying to persuade Rama to ignore Dasharatha’s order and ascend the throne by force.

Rama and Lakshmana In Vedic times, governments were religious monarchies run by kshatriyas. Born in a family of great kings, Rama and Lakshmana were trained in the military arts by great sages. They were actually the greatest warriors on the planet. Lakshmana easily could have installed Rama as the new king by force, and this is exactly what he was suggesting. Lakshmana is making the point that the same hands that he used for executing the nonviolent duties of a kshatriya, could also be used for thwarting the actions of the miscreants. Both acts are equally as pious. The main business of a kshatriya is to provide protection. In the day-to-day affairs, kings would also smear sandalwood pulp on themselves, distribute charity to brahmanas (the priestly class of men), and maintain family relations by making trips to various cities. Here, Lakshmana is stressing the point that his hands are certainly fit for performing those tasks, but that one shouldn’t forget that his hands can also be used for protecting Rama.

By nature, God is very nice and equally disposed towards all living entities. The name Rama actually means one who gives pleasure to others. That was Lord Rama’s nature. He was loved and adored by all the citizens of Ayodhya. Even Dasharatha loved Him very much. Violence wasn’t required in this situation, but Lakshmana suggested it anyway out of love for his brother. Though God is neutral towards everyone, He makes an exception for His devotees. If they are put into trouble, He takes special care to give them protection. Sometimes He sends His authorized representative, or He even personally appears to offer that protection.

“In order to deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I advent Myself millennium after millennium.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.8)

Lord Vishnu God can be both peaceful and hostile, and still be equally as pleasing to His devotees. Lord Vishnu is a good example of this principle. As Lord Krishna’s four-handed form seated in the hearts of all living entities, Lord Vishnu (Narayana) carries four items in his hands: the conchshell, the lotus flower, the disc, and the club. The first two items, the conchshell and flower, are peaceful. The conchshell is blown during pujas and other ceremonies relating to deity worship as a way of welcoming God. Lord Krishna Himself blew a conchshell at the beginning of the Kurukshetra War. The lotus flower is significant for many reasons. Its beauty and shape is used to describe the Lord’s features, including His eyes and navel. Its wonderful scent is also very pleasing to the living entities. It is also regularly offered to the Lord with love and devotion during religious ceremonies.

“When Shishupala was abusing the kings who were about to attack him, Lord Krishna took up His disc, which was as sharp as the blade of a razor, and immediately separated the head of Shishupala from his body.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 19)

Krishna killing ShishupalaThe disc and club represent God’s weapons of choice when defending His devotees. Lord Krishna’s weapon is the sudarshana-chakra, which He has used on many occasions. One time, the rascal Shishupala insulted Krishna in front of a gathered assembly, and in response the Lord very nonchalantly hurled His sudarshana-chakra, which immediately cut off Shishupala’s head. The disc then kindly made its way back into Krishna’s possession.

Rama and Lakshmana used their bow and arrows for their weapons. More than just wielders of ordinary weapons, the pair were expert in chanting mantras which augmented the power of their arrows. Rama’s arrows would also return to His quiver after going through His enemies.

Ordinarily, this sort of violence can be very off-putting, but since it is a display of God’s causeless mercy to His devotees, such activities are quite beautiful. That is the secret behind God and His actions. The four items of Lord Vishnu are equally beautiful to the devotees. It may be a difficult concept to grasp at the beginning, but one who follows the path of devotional service will gradually come to understand this.

By the same token, if a devotee uses sanctioned violence to protect God and His interests, it is equally as beautiful. This was displayed by Lakshmana as well as the Vanara army, headed by Hanuman. In this age of Kali, the best weapon we can use to defeat the miscreants is the sword of knowledge. That sword can be easily acquired by one who constantly chants the Lord’s names, reads His books, and humbly serves His devotees.

Sita, Rama, Lakshmana, and Hanuman Lakshmana is one such devotee. He is God’s protector. One who is devoted to Krishna has nothing to fear from Lakshmana, since he is also their protector. He protects God’s interests, so if we follow the path of devotional service, he will also protect us.