Thursday, June 24, 2010

Weight of the World

Lord Rama “Born in the family descending from Maharaja Ikshvaku, He [Rama] is highly effulgent and possesses the shoulders of a lion. He, along with His brother Lakshmana, will come and take away your life. If you would have tried to forcibly take me away while in His [Rama’s] presence, He would have made you lie down, killing you in the same way that He killed Khara on the battlefield of Janasthana. (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 56.4-5)

Life is full of constant pressure. During all stages of life, from youth to old age, there are always responsibilities that demand our attention. The pressures of day-to-day life can get to be too much, so people will often look to outlets such as intoxication and gambling. Material life means always feeling like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. We living entities aren’t conditioned to handle such pressures, but Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, certainly can. He has the shoulders of a lion and can bear any burden.

Krishna's half-man/half-lion avatara Upon waking up each morning, we have certain obligations that must be met during that particular day. In our youth, those obligations related to school. Since they have more energy than adults, young children are required to wake up very early in order to get ready to go to school. Once in school, they remain there for the majority of the day. When children get home, the real work starts. Homework, projects, and studying for exams take up much of a student’s time at home during the weekdays. There are surely breaks every now and then, including the weekends, but the responsibilities never end.

In America, students go through twelve rigorous years of such schooling, after which time many go off to college, which brings a whole new set of pressures. Once they enter the real world, the pressures take on a whole new meaning. Holding a steady job is much harder than attending school since the breaks are fewer and farther between. Since vacation time is very limited, the only time off comes during the weekends. On top of that, one must support themselves, pay bills, manage household affairs, and keep a family happy. Family life is the essence of material life. Keeping a spouse and children happy is not an easy task. Adults look for ways to relax, but these escapes only provide short-term relief. Even if a person successfully meets all their obligations in a given day, the responsibilities essentially reset when the person wakes up the next morning.

All of this can get to be too much after a while. The retirement age in America is sixty-five, so a person has to go through almost six decades of dealing with constant pressure before they can finally relax. Even those who are inactive, be they unemployed, retired, or disabled, have to deal with constant hankering and lamenting. The Vedas tell us that the mind causes us to always want things that we don’t have, and lament over things that we didn’t achieve or things that went wrong. No one, regardless of their material prosperity or disposition, can escape these two predicaments caused by the human mind.

“Although the word hari has many different meanings, two of them are foremost. One meaning is that the Lord takes away all inauspicious things from His devotee, and the second meaning is that He attracts the mind by ecstatic love for God.” (Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 24.59)

Lord Varaha lifting the earth So how should we deal with such a pressure-filled life? Not surprisingly, the Vedas tell us to rely on God. Instead of keeping the pressure on ourselves, we simply have to put the burden on God’s shoulders. This is okay because the Supreme Lord can certainly handle it. In fact, in one very famous incident, the Lord, taking the form of a boar [Varaha], held up the entire earth and saved it from being deluged by water. So the Lord is designed to take away our pains. One of His names is Hari, meaning one who takes away distresses.

This seems easy enough right? Just shift the pressure to God? The problem is that material life only exists due to the living entity’s desire to imitate God. Long story short, we thought we could imitate God’s ability to create, maintain, and destroy, so the Lord let us take birth in this temporary place we call earth. Here we get to interact with material nature, or maya, and pretend to be the cause of the results of our activities. We think ourselves the doers, a mindset which results in a false sense of proprietorship. The downside is that we also assume all of the pressures that go with preserving our existence.

The plight of modern day governments serves as a great example in this regard. Government only exists to provide protection to the innocent. Each individual has a right to their life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In addition, we have a right to defend ourselves from those who try to infringe upon our property and life. Government therefore represents the collective right of self-defense for a large group of people. We see that today’s governments are mostly struggling, especially in the financial department. In America, the federal government is running massive annual budget deficits of upwards of a trillion dollars. The leaders have promised all sorts of handouts through programs known as entitlements, and they have found themselves strapped for cash as a result. Fearing a revolt from the people, the government is hesitant to cut spending or raise tax rates which are already high. The government is thus forced to sink further and further into debt by issuing treasury notes, most of which are bought up by foreign countries.

Government is the representative of the people, so its problems only reflect the realities that many of us face. Material life is not meant to be easy. This struggle that we endure is by design, for it helps us understand that there is a higher power. The sooner we realize this fact, the better. The real aim of human life is to understand that God is the original proprietor of everything, our best friend, and the supreme object of pleasure. Those who surrender to God can have all their burdens taken away, while those who challenge Him will suffer greatly. This was the lesson taught by Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama, many thousands of years ago.

Sita, Rama, Lakshmana, and Hanuman During the Treta Yuga, God appeared on earth as a warrior prince named Rama. Taking His wife Sita and younger brother Lakshmana with Him, the Lord roamed the forests of India for fourteen years. On one particular occasion, Rama and Lakshmana were lured away from their cottage in the forest, which left Sita vulnerable to an attack by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. He forcibly took Sita away and brought her back to his island kingdom of Lanka. Ravana desperately wanted Sita for his wife, but she detested him. In the above referenced quote, Sita is extolling the virtues of Rama and Lakshmana and explaining how they would have utterly destroyed Ravana if he would have tried taking her while in their presence. On a previous occasion, Ravana had sent an army of Rakshasas to attack Rama in the forest of Janasthana. Rama easily destroyed all 14,000 Rakshasas, including Ravana’s half-brother, the powerful Khara. Sita makes reference to this incident by stating that Rama would have killed Ravana in the same way that He had previously killed Khara.

Rama, being God Himself, had the shoulders of a lion. He and Lakshmana were the greatest warriors in the world, and they used their fighting prowess to defend the innocent. Ravana, on the other hand, acquired his powers unnaturally through boons from the demigods. In a sense, his prowess was on loan from divine elements, but sadly he didn’t realize this. He thought that he was stronger than God. Ravana thought he could handle ruling the entire world. This flawed mentality led him to committing the fatal mistake of kidnapping Sita. Rama and Lakshmana would eventually come through for Sita by marching to Lanka and killing Ravana in battle.

“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.66)

the final battle with Ravana The lesson here is that we should transfer the burden of our problems to God. The Lord doesn’t want us to constantly hanker and lament. He wants us to simply execute our prescribed duties without attachment for the result. At the same time, we should dedicate all our activities to Him. Following these two principles, which represent real surrender, we can be protected from all sinful reactions and enjoy a peaceful life. If we try to fight through our day-to-day problems without God’s help, we will always fail in the same way that Ravana did. As validated by Sita, Lord Rama has an effulgence that sheds light upon darkness. We can slowly bring our consciousness out of the darkness and into the light of knowledge by regularly chanting the Lord’s names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.