Saturday, May 29, 2010

Destroyer of Foes

Lakshmana “Lakshmana, who is His [Rama’s] brother from a different mother, is very powerful. That tiger among men is Rama's assistant and the destroyer of enemies in battle. His brother named Lakshmana follows the Vedic principles with firm determination. Carrying a bow in his hand, he has renounced his home in order to follow Rama along with myself.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.18-19)

These statements were uttered by Sita Devi under very trying circumstances, but we see that she never missed an opportunity to praise Rama, or His younger brother Lakshmana. In the Vedic tradition, the wife of an elder brother is treated with reverence. She is known as bhabhi in Hindi, and the younger siblings touch her feet and honor her since she is considered to be equal to the elder brother. The Vedas teach us to view all women in society, except our own wives, as our mothers. This is a nice system that ensures that women are protected, which in turn leads to a successful family life.

Sita Devi Sita Devi was the wife of Lord Rama, one of God’s incarnations on earth who appeared many thousands of years ago in Ayodhya. Sita Devi was a person of worship for Lakshmana, but we see from Sita’s example that she viewed Lakshmana to be equal in strength and valor to her husband. Rama and Lakshmana were like one, for Lakshmana was an incarnation of Ananta Shesha Naga, the serpent carrier of Lord Vishnu in the spiritual world. Lakshmana was more than just a great brother, he was Lord Rama’s support system. In her description of Lakshmana, Sita Devi informs us about the qualities that exist in a perfect devotee of God. The Vedas tell us that the aim of human life is to forge a bond of pure love with the Supreme Lord. This relationship with God will enable us to return to His spiritual world after death.

The relationships we form over the course of our lifetime are all checked to some degree. Amorous love requires the other party to reciprocate our feelings; otherwise there is no question of a relationship. Real love means wanting more for the other person than you want for yourself. The closest thing to a pure loving relationship is the one that exists between parents and their children. Mothers especially form a tight bond with their children since they are the ones who carry them in the womb for nine months and then nurse them through the early years. It is somewhat of a thankless task, however. All the nurturing and love shown to the child during the early years gets quickly forgotten once the child grows older. A good parent wants their children to grow up to be self-sufficient and independent. Yet this independence means that the services of the parents will eventually no longer be needed. This is a tough pill to swallow. Children don’t truly appreciate the love shown to them by their parents until they have children of their own.

“My dear Sati, persons who are devoted to Narayana [Krishna] are not afraid of anything. If they are elevated to the higher planetary systems, or if they get liberation from material contamination, or if they are pushed down to the hellish condition of life-or, in fact, in any situation whatever-they are not afraid of anything. Simply because they have taken shelter of the lotus feet of Narayana, for them any position in the material world is as good as another.” (Lord Shiva, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 6.17.52)

Krishna and Balarama as children The pure relationship with God is similar to the parent-child paradigm in that there is no expectation of reciprocation. A loving parent will always stand by their children, irrespective of whether the children stray from the path of righteousness or remain pious. Pure devotees of God are similar in this regard. They execute bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, without any expectation of reciprocation. In reality, God can never leave His devotees hanging, but the bhaktas nevertheless don’t expect or demand anything from the Lord. Sometimes life can seem to be unfair and in these instances, we may have a tendency to blame God. “I’ve always worshiped You, and I’ve always stayed true to the path of dharma, yet nothing seems to go right for me. If You really loved me, You wouldn’t let this happen.” Neophyte devotees sometimes adopt this line of thinking.

“He who attributes his virtues to You and holds himself responsible for his sinfulness; who fixes all his hopes on You and loves Your devotees-in his heart dwell, You and Sita.” (Maharishi Valmiki speaking to Lord Rama, Ramacharitamanasa, Ayodhya Kand, 130.1-4)

Advanced devotees don’t ask for ascension to the heavenly planets or even material opulence. They only wish to always think of the Supreme Lord, wherever they may be. Dhruva Maharaja is a great example in this regard. As a young boy, he went to the forest to perform austerities so that his father’s kingdom would be bequeathed to him. After a long time, Lord Vishnu finally appeared in front of the boy. Dhruva was so overwhelmed that he completely forgot why he had gone to the forest in the first place. Vishnu asked him what he wanted, and Dhruva replied that he only wanted to think of the Lord and serve Him for the rest of His life.

Lakshmana Lakshmana was exactly the same way. Lord Rama took birth as the eldest son of the King of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dasharatha, and his wife Queen Kausalya. The Lord had three younger brothers born to Dasharatha’s two other wives, Sumitra and Kaikeyi. Lakshmana was born to Sumitra and thus was often referred to as Saumitra. Lakshmana was attached to Rama right from their childhood. He loved Rama without any motive or desire. He didn’t think of Rama as an order supplier or protector. On the contrary, Lakshmana viewed himself as Rama’s protector. When the Lord was ordered to spend fourteen years living in the forest as an exile, Lakshmana insisted on coming along.

“By my truth, by my bow, by my acts of sacrifice, and by my acts of charity do I swear this to you, O queen. If Rama should enter a blazing fire or a forest, you should know for certain that I would enter it before Him.” (Lakshmana speaking to Kausalya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 21.16-17)

Sita, being a perfect devotee herself, also insisted on accompanying Rama during His exile. While the group was staying in the forest of Janasthana, the Rakshasa demon Ravana set up a diversion whereby Rama and Lakshmana were lured away from the cottage, leaving Sita all by herself. Ravana used this opportunity to approach the princess while he was in the guise of a mendicant. In the above referenced statement, Sita is replying to advances made by Ravana, whom Sita had taken to be a brahmana.

Sita started off by identifying herself and giving a brief description of Rama. Next she went on to extol the virtues of Lakshmana. She not only loved praising Rama and Lakshmana, but she also wanted to let the brahmana know that she was well protected. Not only were Rama and Lakshmana great protectors, but they were the epitomes of virtue as well. This was important because Sita wanted to let the brahmana know that there was no reason for him to have any enmity with the two brothers.

Sita describes Lakshmana as the destroyer of foes. Lakshmana was extremely powerful, but he only used that power for good. Ravana was also very powerful, but he used his strength to attack the innocent. Lakshmana was God’s protector, so he only used his powers as part of his service to God. There is no higher form of dharma than this. Dharma means an occupational duty, or religion. There are different types of dharmas based on time, circumstance, and a person’s social status or qualities. The highest dharma is known as bhagavata-dharma, or devotional service. This is the religion that Lakshmana practiced.

Lakshmana Sita also makes mention of the fact that Lakshmana was dedicated to following religious principles with determination. This means that he wasn’t attached to his power. Rather, he viewed service to Rama as his only business in life. Thus he automatically possessed the qualities of renunciation and simplicity. Lakshmana understood that religion was the true aim of life, so he didn’t shy away from performing religious austerities. While living in the woods, Lakshmana would stay awake at night and stand guard while Sita and Rama were sleeping. There are many kinds of prescribed austerities and religious sacrifices which aim to provide various material rewards. Lakshmana’s performance of tapasya and yajna was perfect because he did it only to please Rama. By always being in direct contact with the Supreme Lord, Lakshmana was a maha-bhagavata, which meant he automatically acquired all good qualities.

The qualities possessed by Lakshmana are the characteristics that we should strive to acquire. We too can be the destroyer of foes. In this age, almost all of society is either godless or they view the Lord as an order supplier. The greatest foe is irreligion, which we can easily destroy with logic and reason. By regularly chanting the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, we can not only get closer to God, but we can arouse God consciousness in others. The key is to chant this mantra regularly and loudly, for the atheists and impersonalist philosophers get quite irritated hearing the holy name of the Lord. In this age, God incarnates through His holy name, thus the process of sankirtana, or congregational chanting, is equally as potent in defeating demons as mundane weapons are.

Rama Darbar We can also take up religion with firm determination by abstaining from the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, illicit sex, and intoxication. If we follow these guidelines, we can work our way towards becoming maha-bhagavatas. We’ll also be setting a good example for others to follow.