Sunday, April 11, 2010

My Brother’s Keeper

Lakshmana “Please tell me which of Your enemies shall today be deprived of their life, fame, and friends by me. I am Your faithful servant, so please do instruct me as to how I shall go about bringing this whole earth under Your control.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 23.40)

The most highly acclaimed and heralded lawyers are those who know best how to use argument and rhetoric to persuade others into agreeing with their position. Winning an argument requires confidence, conviction, and sometimes even trickery of word. The “leading question” is one of the most commonly used tricks of the legal trade.

A leading question is a quested posed to a witness wherein a specific premise is automatically built into the question. The result is that this premise becomes automatically accepted regardless of the answer to the question. The most common example given of a leading question is, “Are you still beating your wife?” If the witness answers “yes”, then it is confirmed that they are continuing the practice of wife-beating. If the answer is “no”, then it doesn’t necessarily mean that they never beat their wife; it just means that such a practice has stopped. If lawyers for the opposing party are quick enough to recognize these questions, they can raise an objection with the judge, which usually results in the original question being stricken from the record. Nevertheless, the art of crafty legal debate revolves around this concept of word jugglery. It is similar to the discipline of logic taught to math students. If one fact is true, and another fact is based off the original fact, then the second fact must also evaluate to true. There are many such laws in the discipline of logic. In fact, having good logical skills is one of the requirements for being a good lawyer. For trial lawyers, their aim is to do whatever they can to get the jury to believe their side of the story. To that end, a good lawyer is one who can best use his logical skills to interpret the law and the words of others to his advantage.

Lord Krishna The Vedanta-sutras declare that everything in this material world is but a reflection of what already exists in the spiritual world, janmady asya yatah.

“O my Lord, Shri Krishna, son of Vasudeva, O all-pervading Personality of Godhead, I offer my respectful obeisances unto You. I meditate upon Lord Shri Krishna because He is the Absolute Truth and the primeval cause of all causes of the creation, sustenance and destruction of the manifested universes…” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.1.1)

Therefore the systems of logic and reasoning are things that emanates from God. For this reason, devotees of the Lord are well acquainted with the discipline. Just as lawyers defend their clients, the pure devotees act as God’s representatives on earth, serving and defending Him to the best of their abilities. A learned person is referred to as a pandita, and the devotees are the greatest panditas since they have perfect knowledge of the Absolute Truth, Lord Shri Krishna. They are no strangers to the logical tricks used by lawyers, but there is a key difference. The devotees use logic and word jugglery to defend God’s interests.

Lakshmana was an example of one such devotee. An incarnation of Lord Ananta Shesha Naga, Lakshmana was a pandita from his birth. Born as a son to Maharaja Dasharatha of Ayodhya, Lakshmana served as the close confidante and ever well-wisher to his elder brother, Lord Rama, an incarnation of Krishna, or God. Due to unfortunate circumstances, Dasharatha had to banish Rama from the kingdom for fourteen years. Rama was the rightful heir to the throne, but Dasharatha was forced to choose his other son, Bharata, to succeed him. Rama had no problem with such a request. One of God’s features is that He is atmarama, meaning self-satisfied. He is need of nothing, so renunciation is a quality that He automatically possesses to the highest degree.

Lakshmana was Rama’s closest brother. Rama’s other two brothers, Bharata and Shatrughna, both loved Him very much as well, but Lakshmana was the one who spent the most time with Rama. Growing up in Dasharatha’s kingdom, Rama and Lakshmana learned the military arts together from their spiritual master Vashishta. In fact, the two did everything together, for Lakshmana wouldn’t even eat unless Rama was with Him and ate first. This is the etiquette followed by pure devotees. They know that God is the proprietor of everything, so they recognize His supremacy at all times throughout the day. Eating, though a necessity, is one of the highest forms of sense gratification. Devotees do everything for the satisfaction of God, however, so even when they eat, they first recognize God.

Lakshmana and Rama eating Lakshmana was extremely angry at his father for the order he laid down on Rama. Rama was ready to start serving His exile sentence when Lakshmana did his best to persuade Him otherwise. The above referenced statement was part of his plea. Lakshmana’s idea was that Rama should be installed as the new king anyway. Lakshmana would personally see to it that no one would interfere. Always his brother’s keeper, Lakshmana had abandoned any family ties or affection he held for anyone else in favor of serving Rama. This is the behavior of a true sannyasi, or one in the renounced order of life. One can put on a saffron robe, carry a stick, and go begging from door-to-door, but if they don’t have pure love and devotion for God, then they cannot be classified as a true sannyasi.

So Lakshmana was ready to fight anyone, including other family members if he had to, in order to secure Rama’s installation as king. His final statement to Rama was, “Who do You want me to kill first?” By using a leading question, Lakshmana tried his best to persuade Rama to listen to him. In actuality, such a coup wasn’t required. Everyone in the kingdom loved Rama very much, so there would be no need to fight anyone. Also, Rama had more important things to accomplish by going to the forest, and He wanted to maintain Dasharatha’s good name. In the end, Rama would leave for the forest, taking His wife, Sita Devi, and Lakshmana with Him.

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana leaving for the forest Lakshmana’s actions are still noteworthy. A devotee will do whatever they can to protect God from miscreants. Being a kshatriya, Lakshmana was ready to use all his fighting skills to help Rama, but he was also ready to use his logical skills to persuade Rama to do what he thought was right. Fellow devotees today can follow Lakshmana’s lead by using their brains to defend God.

So who does God need to be defended from? From the beginning of time, there has been an ongoing war between the daivas, the devotees, and the asuras, the atheists or demons. In the age of Kali which we currently live in, the influence of the asuras is greater than it has ever been. Aside from the ascendency of the avowed atheists, there are others who use the statements of the Vedas to further their bogus ideas of impersonalism and voidism, which are really no different than atheism. In this age, bona fide kshatriyas are hard to find, so it is up to the devotees to do the fighting, using words as their weapons.

Just as Lakshmana fired arrows to defend Rama from Rakshasas, devotees can fire arrows in the form of words and logic. Bhaktas simply have to push forward the authorized statements of past great personalities. Vyasadeva, the author of all major Vedic texts, takes Krishna to be the Supreme Personality of Godhead, as do great devotees like Prahlada and Hanuman. Devotees simply need to broadcast the message of these great saints, and at the same time, use logic, analogy, and deductive reasoning to defeat the bogus arguments of the atheists.

Lord Chaitanya and associates God doesn’t require this action from people, but He most certainly appreciates it. Lakshmana openly declared himself to be a humble servant of Rama and nothing else. Even though He was a powerful kshatriya warrior, he had no attachment to his great strength. His only business was to serve his brother. In this way, he is our role model. Lord Chaitanya, Krishna’s incarnation appearing in India some five hundred years ago, was a great logician and learned scholar, known as Nimai Pandita in his youth. He could explain one verse from the scriptures in eighty different ways, but in the end, He would explain everything as Krishna, or God. That is the lesson for us. Logic and deductive reasoning exist for only one purpose, to further the legitimacy of the discipline of devotional service, or bhagavata-dharma, the only occupational duty of mankind. We simply have to chant “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, follow the regulative principles, and most importantly, explain everything in terms of Krishna, and the Lord will be pleased with us.