Sunday, July 4, 2010

Ash to Ash

Lord Shiva “Should Rama look at you with His angry blazing eyes, you, O Rakshasa, would be burned to death in an instant, just as Manmadha [Cupid] was by Rudra [Shiva].” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 56.10)

This statement is in reference to a famous historical incident where Kamadeva, the god of love [Cupid], was burned to ashes by a single glance of Lord Shiva, the greatest of all the demigods. This one incident serves as a great metaphor to explain what happens to the enemies of devotees of God.

Lord Shiva Lord Shiva is worshiped as the one and original God by many people around the world, but the Vedas tell us that he is somewhere in between a demigod and the original form of Godhead. The supreme ishvara, or controller, is Lord Shri Krishna. He then directly expands Himself into Lord Vishnu, who then further expands Himself into other forms. All direct personal expansions of Krishna are referred to as vishnu-tattva. To carry out various functions in the material world, the Lord personally descends from the spiritual world from time to time. The forms of the Lord that descend to the material world are referred to as avataras. The avataras can then be further broken down into various categories.

The three presiding deities of the universe, Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesha [Shiva] are technically classified as guna-avataras. Guna means a material quality or rope. In actuality these definitions both mean the same thing since possessing material qualities causes one to get bound up in the repeated cycle of birth and death. For something to be considered material, it must possess the three gunas of goodness, passion, and ignorance to varying degrees. Lord Krishna, or God, can never directly associate with any guna, so He takes the form of three avataras to manage material affairs. Lord Brahma is in charge of creation, so he is the presiding deity of the mode of passion. Lord Shiva is in charge of destruction, so he is the presiding deity of the mode of ignorance. Lord Vishnu is the maintainer and thus in charge of the mode of goodness. Lord Vishnu is a personal expansion of another form of Vishnu who resides in the spiritual world. In this way, Lord Vishnu is superior and not considered part of the material world.

Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesha Lord Brahma is a living entity just like all of us, except that his duration of life is much longer. Nevertheless, he takes birth at a certain time and then dies many millions of years later. Since he is an elevated living entity, he is known as a demigod, or deva. There are thousands of demigods, but Lord Brahma is a chief deva due to the fact that all living entities can trace their lineage back to him. Lord Shiva is considered to be in between a demigod and the Supreme Lord. The best analogy used to explain this is the comparison between milk and yogurt. Yogurt and milk can be considered the same since yogurt could not exist without milk. Yet at the same time, yogurt is different from milk, for the two products cannot be used interchangeably. In this respect, Lord Shiva is compared to yogurt and Lord Vishnu to milk.

Even though Lord Shiva is in charge of the mode of ignorance, he does not live in this mode. On the contrary, he is a great devotee of God. He loves Vishnu very much, and he is especially attached to Lord Vishnu’s avatara of Lord Rama. As mentioned before, God personally descends to earth from time to time to enact various pastimes, including the killing of miscreants and the protecting of the saintly class of men. During the Treta Yuga, Vishnu’s appearance on earth was as a kshatriya prince named Rama. Born as the eldest son of King Dasharatha of Ayodhya, Rama was loved and adored by all. He was an excellent warrior who wielded the bow and arrow. His wife was the most beautiful princess of Mithila, Sita Devi.

Sita and Rama The two were happily married and enjoying life in Ayodhya when Rama was suddenly banished from the kingdom by His father. Taking His younger brother, Lakshmana, and Sita with Him, Rama roamed the forests of India for fourteen years. While staying in the forest of Dandaka, Sita was kidnapped by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. The demon had heard about a beautiful princess staying in the forest, and he was determined to have her as his wife. He also heard about Rama being exiled, so he thought that the Lord must be a pauper and incapable of defending Himself. Still, many of Ravana’s associates warned him against agitating Rama, for they had seen His fighting ability. They told Ravana that he would be easily defeated in battle against the Lord. Resolved to have Sita, Ravana devised a plan whereby Rama and Lakshmana would be lured away from their cottage, leaving Sita all by herself.

The plan worked, and Sita was brought back to Ravana’s island kingdom of Lanka. Though he tried his hardest to win her over, she wanted no part of him. In the above referenced statement, Sita is sternly rebuking Ravana and warning him of his impending fate. She emphatically declares that Rama will come and burn him to ashes in the same way that Lord Shiva killed the god of love, Kamadeva.

Karitkeya Sita’s statement refers to a very famous incident documented in many Vedic texts. A long time ago there was a demon that rose to power in the world. This demon was somehow granted the boon that no one could kill him in battle except for a son of Lord Shiva. The demon was smart in this matter because he knew that Shiva lived a very austere lifestyle. Mahadeva [Shiva] prefers to spend all his time meditating on the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, so the chances of him having a son were very small. Thinking he had outsmarted the demigods, the demon then took to wreaking havoc throughout the world.

The demigods were at a loss. They didn’t know what to do, so they petitioned Kamadeva to fire up lusty desires in Lord Shiva. Cupid then one day approached a meditating Mahadeva and shot him with arrows of love. Lord Shiva became so enraged by this that he immediately turned around and shot a fiery glance at Kamadeva using his third eye. Immediately the god of love was burned to ashes. The arrows shot from Cupid eventually resulted in Kartikeya, a great general, being born to Lord Shiva. Kartikeya ended up killing the demon and alleviating the fears of the demigods.

Sita’s referencing of this story is important for two reasons. The first is that Ravana was a devotee of Lord Shiva. Ravana wasn’t a pure devotee, but he certainly viewed Shiva with awe and reverence. In fact, he only became a devotee of Shiva after trying to pick a fight with him. In retaliation, Mahadeva started crushing Ravana’s fingers until he cried uncle. Lord Shiva is very powerful, and generally the demoniac envy this power and want to imitate it. For this reason, they take to worshiping Mahadeva in hopes that he’ll grant them some power-augmenting boons. This was precisely the case with Ravana. Sita knew that Ravana was a worshiper of Shiva, so she wanted to remind him that just as Shiva had burned an enemy to ashes, so Rama would do the same to him. Her prediction would hold true as Rama would eventually march to Lanka, take on Ravana in battle, and destroy him.

Lord Rama Sita’s comparison to the burning of Kamadeva is also important because it teaches us how we can deal with obstacles that come along in life. For devotees of God, the path to salvation is riddled with thorns. This is true for many reasons, the primary of which is the attachment to material life. Since mankind is accustomed to meeting the demands of the gross senses, taking to religious life can be very difficult at first. Along with regularly chantingHare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, devotees of Krishna abstain from meat eating, gambling, illicit sex, and intoxication. These things aren’t easy to give up, so it requires strong determination. Not only are there self-imposed obstacles, but other living entities also throw up roadblocks to the path to self-realization.

This was the case with Ravana. Sita was a pure devotee, an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi who appeared on earth to play her natural role as consort to the Supreme Lord. Ravana wanted to have her all for himself, so he put her through so much difficulty by holding her captive in his kingdom. Nevertheless, Sita simply kept her mind fixed on the lotus feet of Rama, and eventually the Lord came and slew the demon. In this way, we can see that all unwanted things in life can be easily removed by simply keeping our minds fixed on the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord.