Monday, April 12, 2010

The Newly Risen Moon

n24525368223_1401566_9117 “Beautifying the entire forest of Dandaka with His own radiating effulgence, Rama appeared like the newly risen moon." (Maricha speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 38.15)

The darkness and light metaphor is used quite often when comparing and contrasting opposing elements. The material world is full of dualities such as heat and cold, and pain and pleasure. Night and day are the most obvious symbols of duality. When concepts are addressed in terms of night and day, they are easier to understand because we all have a basic understanding of the difference between nighttime and daytime. In this regard, God and His glories can also be described in terms of light and darkness. Lord Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is the embodiment of light and knowledge, for He shows us the path out of this world of nescience.

Sunrise Most people prefer the daytime to the nighttime. The day is nice because it represents life. Most of us wake up in the morning hours, so we’re greeted with sunshine and an incredible amount of light. In a popular video game of the 1980s, the phrase, “The morning sun has vanquished the horrible night”, would appear on the screen indicating that the character was safer in the daylight hours than he was in the nighttime. When we fall asleep at night, it is dark, and when we wake up, there is light out again, thus signaling the beginning of a new day. Since material life is all about performing work, it is much easier to carry out our prescribed duties during the daytime. The natural light we see during the daytime is much more powerful than any artificial lighting system we may use at night. This is due to the sun. A monstrous fiery solar body, the sun provides heat and light to billions of living entities on earth.

Vivasvan - the sun-god The sun is essential for our sustenance. If the sun were to go out or be destroyed, life on earth would not last very long. However powerful we think ourselves to be, we would not even be able to eat were it not for sunlight. The Vedas recognize this fact, and thus recommend that we worship the sun on a regular basis. Though we may find it hard to understand, the sun and other planets and stars are all governed by various demigods. All living entities are spirit souls at their core, but they are placed into material bodies based on their past work and material qualities. Spirit souls aren’t exclusively found in the bodies of human beings, for even animals and plants have souls. There are actually 8,400,000 different species, with the demigods being one of them. A demigod, or devata, is a living entity who is god-like, meaning they possess extraordinary powers. Human beings can live upwards of one hundred years of age, but demigods like Lord Brahma can live for millions and millions of years. Since even the demigods have a date of birth and date of death, they remain subordinate to the Supreme Lord Krishna.

“The time early in the morning, one and a half hours before sunrise, is called brahma-muhurta. During this brahma-muhurta, spiritual activities are recommended. Spiritual activities performed early in the morning have a greater effect than in any other part of the day.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.20.46 Purport)

There are thousands upon thousands of demigods, each of whom is responsible for a specific department of material creation. Surya, the sun-god, is one of the primary demigods since He is the sustainer of life. In the Vedic tradition, when celibate students are initiated into spiritual life by a guru, they are given the sacred Gayatri mantra and told to recite it daily. This mantra not only addresses God, but the sun as well. In fact, the daily rituals of offering arati to the Lord revolve around the positioning of the sun. Followers of the Vedic tradition perform managala arati, the offering of light to the Lord in the morning. This arati is best performed right before the sun has risen, during the brahma-muhurta period.

Rama and Lakshmana serving Vishvamitra The last religious function of the day is the sandhya arati, which is performed just as the evening time starts, about an hour after the sun sets. In previous ages, brahmanas were such strict adherents to these rules that they considered it a great offense if they were to somehow skip performance of one of these aratis. When Lord Rama, and incarnation of Krishna, and His brother Lakshmana were travelling with Vishvamitra Muni in the forest, they would both make sure to perform these aratis on time every day. When Lord Krishna personally appeared on earth some five thousand years ago, He would also chant the Gayatri mantra regularly in the morning. Thus God Himself shows us the importance of honoring the sun and all that it offers us.

The nighttime is just the opposite of the daytime, for darkness pervades everywhere. The sun has moved away from us, so we are left to use artificial means of lighting. In the modern age, electricity and technological advancements have greatly enhanced our ability to see at night. Yet when compared to the power of the sun, this artificially produced light is paltry. Driving an automobile illustrates this principle. It is much harder to drive at night, for even if we put on our headlights, the glare from the lights of other drivers impedes our vision. Many places in America don’t have streetlights, so driving in the night means relying solely on the light produced from the headlights of the car. In these instances, the regular headlight beams are insufficient, thus requiring the use of high beam or bright lights. High beam lights certainly help us in seeing, but there is a drawback. If another driver approaches on the opposite side of the road, our high beam makes it almost impossible for them to see. It is the standard etiquette of driving that one should lower their high beam when there are other cars approaching. Artificial lighting in automobiles is so fragile that if one of the headlights goes out, it presents a real hazard on the road. It is actually against the law to drive around with a malfunctioning headlight. Police officers issue citations for such offenses.

“Among the Daitya demons I am the devoted Prahlada; among subduers I am time; among the beasts I am the lion, and among birds I am Garuda, the feathered carrier of Vishnu.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.30)

Lord Krishna Day is certainly better than night, but there are a few beautifying elements to the nighttime. The moon and the stars only come out at night, and people derive great pleasure from gazing at them. Just as darkness can be dispelled by light, the rays of moonlight offer soothing comfort to those wandering about in the nighttime. The Vedas tell us that God is the representation of everything good in this world. Since the sun is the embodiment of light and knowledge, it is a direct representation of God. In a similar manner, the newly risen moon can also be equated with God.

In the above referenced quote, the demon Maricha is describing to Ravana how he saw Lord Rama in the forest of Dandaka. Rama, God Himself, appeared on earth during the Treta Yuga specifically to protect His devotees. As part of His pastimes, He roamed the forests of India. At the time, many sages had taken to forest life since it was conducive to spiritual activities. They were having some trouble however, as the Rakshasas were regularly attacking them. Rakshasas are a race of demons with human-like characteristics. Their fatal flaw is that they are atheists by nature, meaning they take to sinful activity as a way of life. They spend all their time eating meat, drinking wine, and enjoying illicit sex. It would be one thing if they acted this way and kept to themselves. However, they also have a deep hatred for devotees of God. Rakshasas are often referred to as rangers of the night. They live life in the mode of darkness, thus they prefer the nighttime. For the pious, the nighttime is a time for rest. The Rakshasas used this fact to their advantage. They would regularly attack the sages in the forest when they were most vulnerable. This is similar to how modern day terrorists strike the innocent by blowing up bombs in public places.

The sages humbly approached Lord Rama and asked Him to protect them. In His incarnation as Lord Rama, God appeared in the body of a kshatriya warrior. Rama not only gave pleasure to all the devotees He encountered, but He also doled out punishment to the miscreants. There are no higher offenders in this world than Vaishnava-aparadhis, or enemies of devotees of God.

Rama and Lakshmana in the forest As a typical demon, Maricha used to enjoy going on the attack during the nighttime when it was harder to see. On one particular occasion, he went to go attack the venerable sage Vishvamitra. Upon approaching Vishvamitra, Maricha was surprised to see Lord Rama, at that time merely a boy, standing there protecting him. God is the source of light and knowledge to the pious. Vishvamitra had previously approached King Dasharatha of Ayodhya and asked him to borrow Lord Rama for protection. Because of this, even in the dead of night, Maricha and other Rakshasa demons could not successfully attack the sages in Rama’s presence. Maricha saw Rama in the forest and accurately described that He appeared like the newly risen moon. This moon, in the form of Rama, shed light on the sages and offered them protection from the demons.

Lord Rama We currently live in the Dark Age known as Kali. Religiosity is almost non-existent, so there is essentially an all-pervading darkness in terms of lack of revealed knowledge. Ignorance and mental speculation gets lauded, while real religion is shunned. However, just as in days past, God can act as the newly risen moon and remove this darkness. If we simply chant His name regularly, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the evil elements will never touch us, day or night.