Sunday, June 6, 2010

A Lion Among Men

Lord Rama “I am faithfully engaged in the service of Rama, who is a lion among men [nrisimham], has a broad chest and powerful arms, who treads the earth like a lion and who is like a lion in prowess.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.35)

Lord Rama is God Himself, and one of His most distinguishing characteristics is His kindness. Rama means one who gives pleasure to others, and by taking one glance at His beautiful face, one can see that He is worthy of this name. But there are two sides to the Supreme Lord. He gives bliss and happiness to the devotees, but to the demons He brings pain and suffering. Actually, the demons bring it upon themselves through their actions committed against the suras, or devotees. The Lord is merely the instrument of their punishment. Sita Devi, Lord Rama’s wife, correctly described Rama as being a lion among men; someone who the demons can never escape from. Rama is all-powerful, and He uses His dexterity and fighting abilities to mercilessly attack the demons. For the miscreants of the world, there is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide from the attacks of the Supreme Lord.

Lord Rama Sometimes we commit sins while other people aren’t looking. We may be walking through a shopping mall and see that someone drops some money on the floor. No one else sees the money, so the choice is ours as to what we should do. Some of us will keep walking, while others will let the person know that their money has fallen. And there are still others who will quickly grab the money and walk out of the mall as fast as they can. They think to themselves, “No one saw me take the money; therefore I will not suffer any negative consequences. You snooze, you lose.” This mindset seems justified on the surface, but the Vedas tell us that the laws of karma will eventually take hold. Karma is fruitive activity, or those actions performed which have both intended and unintended consequences. For example, we may work hard during the day at our jobs so that we can have enough money to support our families. The intended consequence of such work is that our bank balances will increase. The unintended consequences may be that our family life will suffer since we are at the office all the time. Our stress levels may also increase.

This is a crude example, but the principles can be applied to almost any action we take. There is a God, and He most certainly witnesses all of our actions. This very point was pondered by the great warrior, Arjuna, on the battlefield of Kurukshetra some five thousand years ago. Taking part in a conversation with Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Arjuna was baffled when He heard Krishna tell him that both of them had lived before. Not only had they endured many previous lives, but Krishna could remember all of them, while Arjuna could not. The reason for this is that God expands Himself as the Supersoul, or Paramatma, and resides within the heart of every living entity, acting as a neutral witness. He is neutral because the jivatma, or soul of the living entity, causes the body to act through the gross and subtle senses. God plays no direct role in our activities, but He certainly keeps track of what we do, both good and bad.

“Just as a tree starts to blossom during the proper season, so the doer of sinful deeds inevitably reaps the horrible fruit of their actions at the appropriate time.” (Lord Rama speaking to Khara, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 29.8)

Rama and Lakshmana slaying a demon Aside from the Supersoul witnessing everything, the god of justice, Yamaraja, also takes note of all our actions. For every karmic activity we perform, we accumulate merits and demerits. The reactions to our work are known as karma-phalam. This karma-phalam can manifest itself in the afterlife, through ascension to heaven or demotion to hell, or it can manifest immediately through negative and positive consequences. Some people bemoan this fact. “Why does God wait to punish those who commit sins such as rape and murder?” The answer again is that God has no interest in a person’s karmic activities. The laws of nature, as administered by the demigods, including Yamaraja, dole out punishments and rewards. A person, who steals money while no one else is looking might have more sinful desires they need to act out. The Lord doesn’t want to get in the way of our free will. At the same time, there are others who are slated to have bad things happen to them due to past misdeeds. These bad events don’t necessarily occur in the afterlife, for another person’s sinful actions can be the instrument of punishment. For example, a person that gets murdered in this life may have committed the same activity in a previous life. Instead of God punishing the person directly, He allows the laws of nature to take control and dole out the punishment through the activities of new murderers, and so forth.

If God is neutral towards those acting on the platform of karma, who does He take an interest in? The Vedas tell us that God’s ultimate feature is that of Bhagavan, or one who possesses all opulences. Bhagavan is the richest, wisest, smartest, etc. Lord Krishna is the original Bhagavan, and His direct expansions, of which Lord Rama is one, are also considered to be Bhagavan. Those who are in direct association with Bhagavan are known as bhagavata. There are two kinds of bhagavata; the book, Shrimad Bhagavatam, and the devotees. Simply put, God protects the bhagavatas. The difference between a devotee and a karmi is that a devotee abandons all fruitive activity. This doesn’t mean that they don’t perform activities, but rather all their actions are meant as a sacrifice to God. What does this mean? It means that everything is done for the Lord’s benefit. This includes eating, sleeping, working, talking, walking, etc. Every activity can be spiritualized if it is done in accordance with the will of the Supreme Lord, or one of His authorized representatives such as the spiritual master.

Lord Krishna with His disc Since the devotees engage in devotional service, they become immune to karma-phalam, or the reactions of karma. They are immune to karma because they associate with the spiritual energy, which is superior. Spirit is superior to matter because matter is useless without a driving force. A car is just a hunk of metal without a driver. It is not until a living entity, or spiritual spark, gets behind the wheel of a car that the vehicle takes shape and become useful. In a similar manner, material activities, or karma, are considered useless because they simply aim to please the body, which is nothing more than matter. Thus material nature is considered inferior, and those who associate with it are considered less intelligent. The spiritual energy is superior because it is God’s direct energy. Those who associate with the spiritual, or divine, energy enjoy the protections offered by God. In a sense, it can be thought of as God protecting His own.

“O son of Pritha, those who are not deluded, the great souls, are under the protection of the divine nature. They are fully engaged in devotional service because they know Me as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, original and inexhaustible.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.13)

Devotees can’t always carry out their activities without opposition. Aside from the karmis, there are others who openly detest God and His devotees. These people are known as asuras, and they take any opportunity they can to thwart devotional activities. It is these people that God goes after. For devotees, death is not feared because theirs souls are in the process of returning to Krishna’s spiritual abode. For the demons, death is a painful experience which is dreaded. For the best of demons, God personally makes an appearance as all-devouring death. When God comes to attack an enemy of the devotees, there is nowhere to hide and nowhere to run.

“O Sudarshana, you have a very auspicious hub, and therefore you are the upholder of all religion. You are just like an inauspicious comet for the irreligious demons. Indeed, you are the maintainer of the three worlds, you are full of transcendental effulgence, you are as quick as the mind, and you are able to work wonders. I can simply utter the word namah, offering all obeisances unto you.” (Maharaja Ambarisha offering prayers to the Sudarshana chakra, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 9.5.6)

Lord Krishna about to hurl His disc at Bhisma A famous example of this occurred with Durvasa Muni. Durvasa was by no means an asura, but he once made the mistake of insulting the great Maharaja Ambarisha. To punish Durvasa, Lord Krishna unleashed His Sudarshana chakra, a disc and weapon of choice of the Lord. The disc followed Durvasa all through the three worlds, and the muni was unable to escape it, even after seeking Lord Shiva’s shelter. Finally Durvasa begged forgiveness from Ambarisha himself and was eventually saved.

A famous demon who wasn’t saved was Ravana, the ten-headed Rakshasa king of Lanka. During the Treta Yuga, Lord Krishna appeared on earth as Lord Rama, a handsome and pious prince. The Lord travelled through the forests of India for fourteen years along with Sita Devi, who was His wife, and Lakshmana, His younger brother. On one occasion while Rama and Lakshmana were off chasing a deer for Sita, Ravana approached the group’s hermitage while in the guise of a mendicant. He propositioned Sita, who was all alone, but she sternly rebuked him. Finally revealing his true Rakshasa form, Ravana directly insisted that Sita become his wife. In reply, Sita Devi gave a series of descriptions of Lord Rama, of which the above referenced statement was one. She boldly declared herself to be a dependent of Rama, and also described some of His virtues.

Narasimhadeva with Prahlada Sita told Ravana that Rama was a lion among men and that He was very powerful. In fact, she used the word nrisimham, meaning a lion-like man. This is also a subtle hint at Rama’s divinity. Lord Rama was an incarnation of Vishnu, or Krishna. One of Vishnu’s other primary incarnations was that of Narasimhadeva [also spelled Nrisimhadeva], the half-man/half-lion form who protected Prahlada Maharaja. Sita was not only speaking the truth, but also trying to get Ravana to desist from his sinful desires. Sadly, the demon would not listen. He couldn’t understand how Rama could be so powerful, for He was roaming the forests like a homeless man. Ravana forcibly kidnapped Sita and took her to his island kingdom of Lanka. Lanka was very far away from any mainland, so it was no accident that Ravana set up shop there. He wanted to be insulated from any attacks. He knew he lived a sinful life, for he used to regularly kill sages living in the forests and then eat their flesh. Ravana thought that if he lived far enough away, nobody would be able to mount any serious attack against him.

He thought wrong. God can do anything. As Lord Rama, God appeared in the dress of a human being, but His powers were still unlimited. When God comes to earth, He performs extraordinary feats but He also empowers His devotees to perform great activities in His service. To rescue Sita, Rama enlisted the help of Vanaras, a race of monkeys residing in the forest of Kishkindha. Their greatest warrior was Hanuman, who was so powerful that he leapt his way to Lanka, where he found Sita and then set fire to the whole town. Upon returning to Rama, Hanuman helped the Vanara army construct a bridge to Lanka. In this way, Rama and His group were able to storm Ravana’s city, kill the demon, and rescue Sita.

Sita, Rama, Lakshmana, and Hanuman Lord Rama hunted down Ravana like a lion hunting down its prey, and He showed him no mercy. Ravana’s entire kingdom was destroyed and, to add insult to injury, Rama installed Ravana’s younger brother, Vibhishana, as the new king. Vibhishana had given up Ravana’s company and surrendered himself to Lord Rama. Lord Rama was a lion among men, but He still remained magnanimous to the end. He didn’t take any of Ravana’s wealth or opulence, for His only purpose in killing the demon was to rescue His wife and grant protection to the devotees. The lesson here is that we should follow Sita’s example. If we associate with the spiritual energy and commit ourselves to performing devotional service, we can hopefully one day confidently assert that we too are faithfully engaged in the service of that lion among men, Shri Ramachandra Bhagavan.