Monday, June 14, 2010

Death Wish

Rama and Lakshmana fighting Ravana “Do you wish to uproot the teeth from the mouth of a hungry lion, who is the enemy of the swift deer, or from the mouth of a venomous serpent? Do you wish to take away the best of mountains, Mandara, using just your hands? Do you wish to drink deadly poison and come away alive? Since you wish to take away the beloved wife of Raghava [Rama], you must want to rub your eyes with pins and lick a razorblade with your tongue.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.39-41)

Religious leaders warn us of the punishment of eternal damnation for those who don’t accept the supremacy of God. In actuality, just taking birth in this material world is itself a form of misery, for we are constantly struggling with the dualities of happiness and sadness, heat and cold, success and defeat. There is a more severe form of punishment, however, reserved for the enemies of God and His devotees. There are many ways to describe what exactly happens to those who cross the Supreme Lord, but sometimes we require the use of analogy and alliteration to help convey the message. God is not always visible before us, especially if our eyes are materially conditioned, thus it is difficult to comprehend what will happen should we make Him angry or offend His devotees. In this regard, Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama, provides a few comparisons and analogies to help us better understand.

Lord Krishna “How can we offend someone that we can’t see?” This is an understandable question, for how do we even know that God exists? The Vedas tell us that the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Shri Krishna, can be realized in three distinct features: Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan. Brahman is the all-encompassing energy; the sum and substance of everything; all matter and spirit. In the varnashrama-dharma system, the brahmanas are considered the highest societal division because they know Brahman. One who knows Brahman understands that everything, including every person and every living entity, makes up the complete whole, or Brahman. Hence there is really no difference between any of us. Our material bodies may be different due to the influences of karma [fruitive activity] and guna [material qualities], but at the core, every living entity is equal.

A higher realization than Brahman is Paramatma, or the Supersoul that resides within the heart of every living entity. Our identity comes from the atma, or the individual soul that resides within the heart. Technically this soul is referred to as the jivatma, since it belongs to the living entity. There is another soul that resides side-by-side with the jivatma. This is known as the Paramatma, or Supersoul, and it is a direct expansion of God. The jivatma forms the basis of our ordinary consciousness while the Paramatma represents the Supreme Consciousness. It is referred to as supreme because the Paramatma acts as a sort of neutral witness. Since it is a personal expansion of God, it has knowledge of all the events of our current life, and it also remembers everything from our previous lives. The same can’t be said for the jivatma. The Paramatma is also conscious of the experiences and thoughts of every living entity, whereas we are only conscious of the events of our own life. Since the Supersoul is superior to jivatma, the “param” prefix is added to the word “atma”, forming Paramatma. Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita, “ishvarah sarva-bhutanam hrideshe’rjuna tishthati”, which means the supreme controller, Ishvara, resides within the heart of every living entity.

“The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone's heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material energy.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.61)

Hanuman keeping Sita and Rama in his heart Paramatma is an expansion of God; a fact which implies that it has a source. That source is Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In common parlance, the term “God” essentially refers to Bhagavan. God is a person just like us, except that He is much greater in power. There is no difference in quality between Paramatma and jivatma, but the quantitative powers cannot be compared. Since Bhagavan is the source of both atmas, He always remains supreme.

So how can we see God? Since He is both Brahman and Paramatma, the Lord can actually be seen everywhere. The spirit spark, represented by the activities of the living entities, shows us that God exists everywhere. Moreover, Bhagavan takes other forms such as shastra and guru. Shastras are law codes, or religious scriptures. The Vedas, the scriptures emanating from the dawn of time, were passed down by Lord Krishna. Veda means knowledge, thus the Vedas are a collection of the highest truths of life. Krishna also incarnated as Vyasadeva, who authored a tremendous amount of Vedic literature, all of which essentially describes the same teachings of the original Vedas through different mediums such as historical accounts, hymns, and carefully thought out aphorisms.

The guru, or spiritual master, is the pure devotee of Krishna, so his words are directly coming from God. If we studied the teachings of all the great Vaishnava saints of the past, we will find that none of them take credit for their philosophies, ideas, or teachings. They all give credit to their own guru, and to God. The guru is the most knowledgeable person because He knows that Lord Krishna is the Supreme Absolute Truth, and that anything that praises Him or accurately describes His glories is also perfect. Thus when we hear the instructions of the guru, we are directly connecting with God.

Lord Krishna Lord Krishna also appears in two other important forms: the deity and the holy name. The deity appears to be made of wood or stone, but since it is crafted by a devotee, it is a direct incarnation of God. In the impersonalist community, the terms “nirguna” [without attributes] and “saguna” [with attributes] are thrown around quite often as descriptions for the Absolute Truth, or Krishna. The deity is referred to as the saguna form since it represents a form of the Lord which has hands, legs, eyes, etc. God certainly has unlimited forms [ananta-rupam], for He can transform and expand Himself into anything. Yet He always remains a person, even through His incarnation as the deity. The Lord understands that we don’t have the eyes to see Him, so He kindly appears in a form that allows us to get around this defect.

In this age especially, God incarnates in the form of His holy name. Those who regularly chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, can be in direct contact with God. Hearing is actually more important than seeing because knowledge is best acquired through the hearing process.

Now that we have information about how to see God, what should we do with this knowledge? The Vedas tell us that our most important occupation is bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Most of our time is spent satisfying our own needs or those of our friends, family, co-workers, nation, etc. Meeting these needs is a requirement for having a calm and peaceful material life, but the real mission in life is to please the soul and not just the body. The soul can only be satisfied by connecting it with God. This process is known as yoga. There are different types of yoga, but the highest is the one that allows us to connect with God through love. This is precisely what devotional service aims to do. Hearing, chanting, remembering, worshiping the Lotus feet, and surrendering everything unto the Lord are some of the primary processes of devotional service. Those who take up this discipline are known as bhaktas, or devotees, and they become very dear to the Supreme Lord.

“I envy no one, nor am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all. But whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.29)

Lord Rama By default, God is neutral towards every living entity. Since He wants us to spend our time performing yoga, the Lord makes no distinctions between people who take to karmic activity. With fruitive activity, sometimes we may succeed, while at other times we fail . This success or failure is all of the material variety, meaning that God has no direct association with it. The Lord makes an exception to His rule of neutrality for the bhaktas. The devotees have decided that the purpose of human life is to perform yoga, thus the Lord helps them along in their practice. The flip side of this equation is that the Lord directly intercedes when the devotional service of the bhaktas is disturbed. This is precisely what happened many thousands of years ago during the Treta Yuga.

A Rakshasa demon by the name of Ravana was wreaking havoc throughout the world. Not just an ordinary karmi, Ravana was an asura, an enemy of the devotees. Asuras want the entire world to worship them, thus they view God as their chief competitor. Though God never forces anyone to worship Him, the asuras don’t play by the same rules. They take to aggressive measures to thwart the devotional activities of others. To help protect the devotees, the Lord personally comes to protect them when the situation gets out of hand. To help protect the sages from the attacks of Ravana and his Rakshasa associates, Krishna incarnated on earth as a kshatriya prince named Rama.

Sita and Rama Lord Rama roamed the forests of India for fourteen years with His wife, Sita Devi, and His younger brother, Lakshmana. On one occasion, Ravana approached the group’s cottage in the forest of Dandaka while Rama and Lakshmana were momentarily away. Wanting to kidnap Sita, Ravana first approached her in the guise of a mendicant. Sita kindly welcomed him, and Ravana replied with subtle advances. Sita kindly rebuked him, informing him of who she was, where she came from, and who her husband was. Ravana heard enough and finally revealed his true nature. In response, Sita Devi strongly chastised him. In the above referenced statement, Sita is comparing Ravana’s desire to have her to that of several stupid and dangerous activities.

By stating that Ravana wished to remove the teeth of a lion, Sita is informing him that Rama was the lion and that Ravana would be eaten up should he try something so stupid. Sita was Rama’s beloved wife, so anyone who would cross her would have to deal with the wrath and punishment inflicted by Lord Rama, who was God Himself. Trying to steal God’s wife was also akin to trying to walk away alive after drinking poison, trying to rub one’s eye with pins, or trying to lick a razor with one’s tongue. These are all ridiculous acts that no one with any intelligence would ever think of trying. Sadly, Ravana didn’t comprehend. He would forcibly kidnap Sita after hearing these words.

Sita and Rama being worshiped The result was much worse than what Sita described. Ravana was a great king who had amassed a great fortune. His island kingdom of Lanka was a sinner’s paradise. He had hundreds of beautiful palaces bedecked with gold, filled with the most beautiful queens in the world. Yet by crossing Lord Rama, he would go on to lose everything. Rama’s faithful servant, Hanuman, would lay waste to the city of Lanka, and then Rama would finish the job by defeating and killing Ravana in battle. Ravana worked so hard to acquire material powers, and they disappeared in an instant after he crossed God.

When one crosses the Supreme Lord or one of His devotees, they must suffer the consequences. Regardless of whether we believe in God or not, the negative reactions that come through offending His devotees will still come to us. Knowing this, we are better off becoming devotees ourselves. Actually, there is no reason to fear Lord Krishna or His devotees. The Lord kindly requests us to become His devotees, but He never forces us, for there is no love in coercion. Those who associated with Sita and Rama in a loving way – such as Hanuman, Vibhishana, and countless others – achieved eternal bliss and happiness. The same can happen for us.