Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Hero At Any Age

Hanuman holding Lakshmana and Rama "You are the gate-keeper of Shri Rama's kingdom, where none may enter without your permission." (Goswami Tulsidas praising Hanuman, Hanuman Chalisa)

One of the great things about Vedic literature is that it is not targeted to any particular age group or demographic. Emanating from Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the eternal wisdom of the Vedas applies to all people, from all walks of life. Religion is intended to be an active, intellectual pursuit. Religion, in its purified form, means dharma, or occupational duty. It is very easy to act according to adharma, irreligion, but adhering to a set of standard guidelines is much harder. Going further and trying to understand why those guidelines even exist represents another level of intellectual pursuit. Nevertheless, God is for everyone, and this means that even young children can take to His service.

Toy Story The most financially successful children’s television cartoons and animated films are the ones that can appeal to people of all ages. Disney and Pixar produce many blockbuster hits that aim to entertain young children. Most of these movies are rated G, meaning they are suitable for all audiences. Children love going to the movies and seeing their heroes in action. Yet the movie producers are smart enough to understand the importance of also entertaining the adults during these movies. For this reason, movies like Shrek, Finding Nemo, and Toy Story have dialogues and plot lines that appeal to people of all ages. Not only are these films popular when they are first released, but they turn into timeless classics. As people grow older, they find new meanings to the stories.

The Jetsons television cartoon show illustrates this principle. Originally airing in the early 1960s, with new episodes produced in the mid 1980s, the show depicted a dream, or hope, of a future space age. Instead of driving cars, everyone drove a spaceship, with robots and advanced machinery taking care of many day-to-day tasks. In one particular episode, George Jetson, the main character of the show, is invited to a football game by his boss, Mr. Spacely. A problem arises however, in that both George and Mr. Spacely had prior engagements scheduled with their wives that night. Spacely and George both agree to lie to their wives so that they can go to the game. During the game, George is chosen as the winner of a free mink coat. While the prize is handed out, the television cameras pan to the box where George and Spacely are sitting. The wives happened to see their husbands on television and immediately became irate over being lied to. After the game, Mr. Spacely and George went to George’s apartment, where they were greeted by the angry wives. George had an idea to split the mink coat into two separate garments. The husbands then gave their wives the mink garments as a gift and said that they knew they were going to win the coat, so that’s why they went to the game and lied about it.

The Jetsons This one episode of a fictional cartoon show has an appeal for people of all ages. Young children enjoy it because it is an animation that is light on the adult content. The characters fly around in fancy spaceships and attend football games, so there’s no reason a child wouldn’t find that appealing. Yet this same episode evokes laughter amongst adults, for all husbands have dealt with wives who came in the way of their watching sports. Many wives have also dealt with husbands who lie to them. The episode also played on the stereotype that women love to receive expensive gifts. All in all, we see that a person who first watched this episode as a child, can watch it twenty years later and derive completely new meanings from it.

The Vedas are similar in this regard, except that they convey the highest possible knowledge. The scriptures tell us that this human form of life is meant for knowing, understanding, and loving God. This knowledge will allow us to break free of the cycle of birth and death. Liberation means we will get to spend eternity with God in the spiritual world after our current life is over. This subject matter seems very serious, so one may wonder how the Vedas can appeal to children. Well, aside from the original Veda which contained multitudes of hymns praising the Lord, Vedic wisdom was also passed down in the form of stories. These stories, which are actually historical accounts, are found in the Puranas and the Ramayana. Maharishi Valmiki authored the Ramayana many thousands of years ago, and in it the life and pastimes of Lord Rama, an incarnation of God, are described in great detail.

Events of the Ramayana For children, the plot line of the Ramayana is very appealing. Lord Rama is a handsome prince with a beautiful wife named Sita. She eventually gets kidnapped by a demon named Ravana, and thus the rest of the story focuses on Sita’s rescue. Rama and His younger brother, Lakshmana, are expert archers, and they enlist the help of monkeys who have supernatural powers. Together, Rama and the monkeys storm the island of Lanka, where an epic battle between Rama and Ravana ensues. It is obvious to see why such a story would appeal to children. There is a hero and a villain along with an all-star supporting cast. In India, the epics of the Vedas are talked about quite often and even depicted in cinema. The spiritual tradition is so strong that even the poorest person living in the most remote village in the country knows about Rama, Lakshmana, Sita, and Hanuman. Children grow up hearing about Rama’s exploits and how He was able to defeat Ravana. Sometimes, young children get so caught up in the Ramayana that they spend their playtime pretending to be Rama. Kids will make their own makeshift bow and arrow set and run around the yard pretending to be just like Rama and Lakshmana.

“Thus both Balarama and Krishna enjoyed Their childhood pastimes, imitating the monkeys of Lord Ramachandra who constructed the bridge over the ocean and Hanuman, who jumped over the water to Ceylon. And They used to imitate such pastimes among Their friends and so happily passed Their childhood life.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 11)

Monkeys building bridge to Lanka The difference between the Ramayana and ordinary movies and television shows is that the Ramayana depicts actual historical events. Though it may appear to be mythology, the advent of Rama and the killing of Ravana actually occurred in real life. In fact, Rama’s story is not exclusive to Valmiki’s Ramayana. There are eighteen major Puranas, and in many of them are found descriptions of Lord Rama’s pastimes in varying levels of detail. Sita, Rama, Hanuman, and Lakshmana were so famous throughout India that they were regularly discussed even during Lord Krishna’s time some five thousand years ago. Krishna personally advented on earth in His original form, and during His childhood He spent much time playing with His cowherd friends in Vrindavana. Shrimati Radharani and other cowherd girls would often invoke Lord Rama’s name and remember His pastime of building a bridge to Ravana’s city of Lanka. In one funny incident, Lord Krishna tried to convince the gopis that He in fact was the same Lord Rama, but they wouldn’t believe Him. So to prove them wrong, He built a bridge across a pond along with the help of monkeys. Even after that, the gopis still playfully chided Him.

Since Lord Rama is God Himself, He remains a hero at any age. The same person who was attached to the Ramayana as a child, gains an even greater understanding of Valmiki’s epic as an adult. It is a comprehensive text, with verses that are full of meaning and import. Matters of life and death, the eternity of the soul, and the temporary nature of the material world are all covered in the Ramayana. As we grow older, new challenges confront us and new doubts arise in our mind. The teachings of God and His representatives serve as a sword which cuts off all these doubts.

The most important lesson of the Ramayana and other major Vedic texts is that devotional service to God is the highest form of dharma. Besides Lord Rama, the other hero of the Ramayana is Rama’s eternal servant Hanuman. Just as God is glorious, so are His devotees. To this day, Hanuman is revered by millions around the world, for his name is synonymous with love and devotion to God. As long as Lord Rama’s story continues to be told, Hanuman remains on earth where he infuses love for God to all who worship him.

Sita, Rama, Lakshmana, and Hanuman God and His devotees remain heroes throughout our lifetime. It doesn’t matter where we live, how old we are, or what religious sect we belong to, God is for everyone. Lord Krishna gave us the great Vedic texts so that we could always remain connected with Him. This causeless mercy of the Lord should not go to waste. Whether we have five minutes or five hours, we can all be benefitted by spending a little time reading these great books. Lord Rama is the greatest hero and He is waiting to rescue us from this world of nescience.