Monday, April 19, 2010

Highway to Hell

Lord Krishna on the attack “Bewildered by false ego, strength, pride, lust and anger, the demon becomes envious of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is situated in his own body and in the bodies of others, and blasphemes against the real religion.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 16.18)

Once we witness God’s power and gain a firm understanding of His dominion over all that is, it is a good idea to use that knowledge for our benefit. If after learning about God and His various energies, we remain dedicated to the path of irreligion, we will certainly be doomed. This was the dubious path taken by the Rakshasa demon Ravana many thousands of years ago. Due to his offenses, he had to suffer greatly.

Ravana During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, Rakshasas roamed the earth along with humans and many other species. We see today that archaeologists and other scientists theorize about various species that existed many thousands of years ago but that are now extinct. With the aid of Vedic science, we don’t have to theorize about what roamed the earth during notable periods in history. The Vedas come from God, and they are the original system of religion. Their central tenet is that we living entities take our identity from the spirit soul residing within us. Our arms, hands, legs, brain, etc. are all a temporary covering for the soul. This body is temporary because it manifests at some point, performs activities, generates byproducts, and eventually withers away. The soul inside the body remains intact throughout this time.

From the authorized statements of the Vedas, we also understand that the soul has never taken birth, nor will it ever die. It is sanatana, or eternal. Since the soul is described as sanatana, its natural occupational duty is also eternal. In this way, the real religion for all of mankind is known as sanatana-dharma. Since we are pure spirit souls, our makeup is identical to that of God. However, we are not equal to God because our spirit soul has no power to create, nor does it have complete control over its wanderings. God is the great soul, or Paramatma, and we are minute souls, jivatma. As jivatmas, we sometimes have an inkling to imitate God. To facilitate this desire, the Lord allows the spirit soul to associate with material nature; a nature which is considered to be part of God’s inferior energy. Matter is inferior to spirit because matter can’t do anything on its own. We celebrate the life of a person provided that the spirit soul remains inside their body. At the time of death, the soul departs and the body remains, and yet we immediately realize that the person is dead. The body, which is nothing more than matter, is considered useless without a soul to drive its activities and functions.

When the soul comes in contact with the material energy, it assumes a body composed of the material qualities of goodness, passion, and ignorance. Through desire and work, the soul transmigrates from one body to another, life after life. Since the material qualities can be combined together into many different proportions, the Vedas tell us that the spirit soul can actually take birth in one of 8,400,000 different species. The Rakshasas are one of these species. They are human-like in most respects, but they have a fundamental flaw. Rakshasas are demons by nature, meaning they are dedicated to adhrama, or irreligion. They lack the fundamental knowledge of the difference between matter and spirit, and thus they falsely identify with their body.

Lord Krishna If a person doesn’t believe in God, the afterlife, or the existence of the soul, they will naturally take to sinful activity as a way of life. The root cause of all sinful activity is our forgetfulness of God. One can argue as to what specific activities constitute sin and which don’t, but in reality, not believing in God and then acting on that belief forms the basis for every sin. Aside from various punishments doled out in the afterlife, the most detrimental thing about sinful activity is that it causes one to be found to the cycle of birth and death.

“Those who are envious and mischievous, who are the lowest among men, are cast by Me into the ocean of material existence, into various demoniac species of life.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 16.19)

God is very fair. If we want to forget Him and think of ourselves as God, He will not stand in our way. The Rakshasas that roamed the earth during the Treta Yuga fell under this category of sinners. They wanted to forget God and act in an impious manner, and they were duly rewarded. Rakshasas were rangers of the night who were expert in the art of black magic. They could assume various shapes at will and could also produce illusions and spells at the drop of a hat.

“That knowledge by which one undivided spiritual nature is seen in all existences, undivided in the divided, is knowledge in the mode of goodness.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.20)

Aside from meat eating and intoxication, one of the favorite activities of the Rakshasas was harassing the saints living in the forest. Suras, or devotees, are the exact opposite of Rakshasas, or asuras. Brahmanas and advanced devotees are aware of the most confidential knowledge of the Vedas which states that there is an undivided nature that exists between living entities. Since every human being, animal, plant, etc. is really a spirit soul, there is technically no difference between any of us. Since our soul is an expansion of God, we are non-different from Him in a sense. It’s not that we are all God, but rather we are all originally part of His superior energy. Devotees, understanding these facts, take to bhakti yoga, or devotional service, as a way of life.

Hanuman performing devotional service Devotional service is the opposite of sinful life. By trying to imitate God, we slowly build up karma, both good and bad. As long as we have an associated karma, we are forced to transmigrate between the various species. Devotional service is above karma because it is a discipline aimed at pleasing the Supreme Lord Shri Krishna. God is the origin of spirit, so anything directly associated with Him is considered spiritual. Devoting our activities to Him means we are directly associating with the superior energy. This energy is untouched by karma.

Rakshasas don’t like devotees. In ancient times, the demons would range the night and terrorize the sages living in the forest. Maricha was one such demon. He had received great material benedictions from Lord Brahma, thus he thought himself to be invincible in battle. On one particular occasion, he attacked the sacrificial altar set up by Vishvamitra Muni in the forest. To his surprise, Maricha was thwarted in his attack by a young boy who was guarding Vishvamitra. This young child, who was less than twelve years of age, drew a string to His bow and shot an arrow at Maricha. The force of that arrow was so strong that it flung Maricha hundreds of miles away into an ocean.

Lord RamaWhat Maricha didn’t know was that this boy was Lord Rama, God Himself appearing in human form. God, at any age and in any form, can provide perfect protection to His devotees. Vishvamitra had humbly requested Rama to accompany him in the forest and give him protection from the attacks of the Rakshasas. Maricha’s life was spared on that occasion, but those of his fellow Rakshasas weren’t. Rama easily killed the other Rakshasas and put such a scare into Maricha that the demon wouldn’t dare attack Him again.

“Thus I was set free by Rama at the time. However, He killed all of your assistants without any trouble, even though He was only a child at the time and not very well versed in using His weapons. It is for this reason that I’m trying to prevent you from going through with your plan to kidnap Sita. If you create enmity with Rama, you will be overwhelmed with calamities and put into a miserable condition very quickly. You will ruin yourself and you will certainly bring about great distress and affliction to all the sportive Rakshasas of your kingdom, who currently engage their time in conjugal pleasures, performing religious functions, and attending festive social gatherings.” (Maricha speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 38.22-24)

Maricha kept this incident in his memory at all times. Many years later, the leader of the Rakshasas, the ten-headed Ravana, was planning an attack on Rama in the forest of Janasthana. In the above referenced quote, Maricha is trying his best to dissuade Ravana from angering Rama. Maricha stressed the point that when Rama had so badly beaten him, He was just a young child who hardly knew anything about the art of warfare. Many years had passed since that incident, so Rama surely had only become stronger.

Maricha actually didn’t need to tell Ravana all of this. What predicated this decision from Ravana was the fact that Rama had just killed 14,000 of his men in the forest of Janasthana. Rama, His wife, Sita Devi, and His younger brother, Lakshmana, were serving a fourteen year exile term in the forest when Ravana’s band of Rakshasas came to attack them. Rama easily killed all the demons and now Ravana wanted revenge. In trying to dissuade Ravana, Maricha also warned him that fighting with Rama would only lead to destruction. Maricha had already messed with God and paid the price for it. He had learned his lesson. Rather than see Ravana repeat the same mistake, Maricha tried his best to save his Rakshasa friend.

Lord Krishna deity The lesson here is that it is never too late to turn our life around. God’s presence is felt all around us. We don’t need to fight with Him in order to see that He exists. Every morning when we wake up, we get another chance to abandon our futile attempt to imitate God. A new day means a new chance to take up devotional service, the eternal occupation of the spirit soul.