“By means of a shower of arrows released in battle, He [Rama] will take away your prowess, pride, strength, and impudence from every inch of your body.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 56.15)
Life is full of many experiences and events which take their toll on our bodies. The aging process wears down the different parts of our body, making our skin look wrinkled and old. The mind also takes a beating from having to repeatedly go through the daily grind. So it is not surprising that many of us look for ways to cleanse our bodies, both internally and externally. There are many popular methods aimed at removing impurities from the body, but none of these target the inner self, the soul. The best way to cleanse the heart, the area where the soul resides, is to constantly associate with God. Though the actual nature of this association can vary, one is still guaranteed to be detoxified of all impurities through the establishment of a relationship with the Supreme Lord.
The spa is a nice retreat for those needing some relaxation time, some time to unwind and recharge the batteries. Spas are health resorts usually located near the seaside. Attendees are treated to various cleansing procedures such as mud masks, massages, skin treatments, and exercise routines like yoga and tai chi. These treatments are nice because a person can just relax and let trained professionals take care of their every need. This is in stark contrast to the way we normally operate, where we are required to be responsible in meeting the demands of our employers, family, and friends.
During the course of a day, our bodies accumulate various impurities through the activities we engage in and the places we go. This is why we are required to take a shower every morning, for the body accumulates dust, sweat, and other impurities over a twenty-four hour period. To combat the attack of these impurities, products such as facial cleansers, shampoos, and fancy soaps are used, thus ensuring an always clean body. The body is not the only thing that accumulates impurities, for the mind also attracts all sorts of bad things from the events that are witnessed and the people that are encountered. For mental health, one may try to relax, watch television, talk to close friends, etc. If we are really down in the dumps, we may visit a trained professional such as a psychiatrist or a psychologist.
While these methods are certainly capable of removing impurities, they fail to tackle the primary issue, the root cause of our uncleanliness. Our bodies, including our minds, are products of material nature which is referred to as prakriti in Sanskrit. Prakriti can mean matter, or it can refer to something being female or feminine. This points to the fact that matter is subordinate and not in control of anything. It is dominated; it is controlled by spirit, also known as purusha. We are all purusha in a sense because we are all spirit souls at the core. The soul is the driving force behind our activities, the basis of our identity. The gross material body is incapable of performing activity in the absence of the soul. We know this from studying the event of death. When a person dies, the soul exits the body. As soon as the soul leaves, the body becomes useless and starts to decay. Using deductive reasoning, we can conclude that it is the soul, or purusha, that is important and not the body, or prakriti.
“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.20)
The aforementioned detoxification methods all aim to cleanse gross matter in the form of our outward bodies, and subtle matter in the form of our minds. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that the soul is eternal, while the body is not. This means that our current life is not the first one we’ve had. Rather, our soul transmigrates from one body to another through a series of lifetimes. Through the course of events that occur in each lifetime, the soul accumulates dust, which then carries over to the next life.
“The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another as the air carries aromas.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 15.8)
The soul itself is always pure, but due to its subordinate nature, it has the propensity to become attached to gross matter in the form of a body. When we take birth, our past activities and consciousness come with us, thus forming a material body with a specific nature. The individual spirit soul, or jivatma, is purusha in a small sense, but it is still inferior to the maha-purusha. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is the maha-purusha, or great predominator or person. Unlike us, God can never associate with material nature, or prakriti. On a higher level of understanding, we living entities are prakriti since we are meant for the Lord’s enjoyment. He is the male, or predominator, and we are female, or the predominated. This is not meant to be taken in a negative light. It means that we spirit souls are happiest when we are in loving association with God.
Through the course of our many lives, dust accumulates around the heart due to all the sinful activities we commit. There are different definitions for what actually constitutes a sin, but at the basic level, any activity which causes us to remain bound to the repeated cycle of birth and death can be classified as sin. God is extremely fair, and He lets us live wherever we want. If we want to stay in this temporary material world, He more than happily obliges. The great sages have declared that desiring to remain in the material world constitutes a sin because we are actually meant for God’s enjoyment. We can think of it in terms of a marriage. In a good marriage, both husband and wife are completely devoted to each other; they have no desire to intimately associate with anyone else. Our relationship with God can be thought of in the same light. We are meant to be loving servants of the Supreme Lord, but by living in the material world, our attention, along with our devotion, goes elsewhere. This certainly isn’t a nice thing, for we have no reason to neglect God. Since material desires represent willful neglect, they are considered sinful.
“Let there be all victory for the chanting of the holy name of Lord Krishna, which can cleanse the mirror of the heart and stop the miseries of the blazing fire of material existence.” (Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Antya 20.12)
How do we cleanse ourselves of the effects of our sinful activities? The only way is to constantly associate with God through the process known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Yoga means linking the soul with the Supreme Soul, or God. Bhakti means love or devotion. If we combine the two terms, we see that the only way to achieve perfection in life is to try to link with God in a loving way. How can we associate with God if we can’t see Him? Due to Krishna’s causeless mercy, the Lord can be realized in many ways. In this age especially, Krishna incarnates in the form of His holy name, which can be invoked by regularly chanting the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Devotional service also has other processes such as hearing, remembering, and offering prayers. There are so many avenues available to the conditioned soul as it relates to cleansing the heart.
The great thing about associating with God is that He is the supreme pure. This means that He will automatically cleanse whoever He associates with, regardless of the nature of the interaction. A prime example of this was seen in the interaction between Lord Rama, an incarnation of Krishna, and Ravana, a Rakshasa demon. During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, Krishna appeared on earth in the guise of a handsome, kind, and compassionate warrior prince named Rama. Lord Rama was the greatest fighter, but He was still loved and adored by all. This is the beauty of God’s nature. Whether He is pleasing the devotees or punishing miscreants, He is always full of splendor and beauty.
“In order to deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I advent Myself millennium after millennium.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.8)
When the Supreme Divine Being descends to the material world, He remains completely spiritual. Unlike with the living entities, there is no difference between God’s body and His soul. When the Lord comes to earth to fight the demons, He brings devotees from the spiritual world to be His sparring partners. In this regard, Ravana can be considered a great devotee in spirit, who was playing the role of an enemy. One may ask why God would need to fight with anyone. The answer is that Krishna possesses all qualities and propensities. Just as we have a propensity to wrestle and fight with others from time to time, God too has the same tendency. His fighting is a little different in that all His activities are spiritual. When He fights with demons, it is not only to please His desires, but also to teach everyone a valuable lesson.
Ravana’s trademark characteristic was that he was a devout atheist. He certainly believed in the existence of demigods, or elevated celestial beings, but he thought that by gaining their favor, he could eventually vanquish them. Why would someone want to usurp the power of suras, or saintly people? Ravana wanted to be worshiped as God, and for that to happen, he had to become the most powerful man in the world. He thought he was well on his way towards invincibility by having a great kingdom, tremendous fighting powers, great wealth, and hundreds of beautiful wives. The demigods knew Ravana’s Achilles’ heel however. As with any devout materialist, sex desire is always strong. Many a great man has fallen down due to insatiable lusty desires, and Ravana was no different. Though he had hundreds of beautiful princesses for wives, he had his heart set on the one woman he couldn’t have: Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama.
Along with His younger brother Lakshmana, Rama and Sita roamed the forests of India for fourteen years as part of their pastimes. Ravana heard of Sita’s presence in the forest and became insistent on having her for his wife. All of Ravana’s associates warned him not to raise Rama’s ire and not to take Him on directly in battle. Partially heeding their advice, Ravana decided to steal Sita away by setting up a diversion whereby Rama and Lakshmana would not be around to fight him. Successfully kidnapping Sita and taking her back to his kingdom, Ravana tried his hardest to win her love, but he was unsuccessful.
In the above referenced statement, Sita Devi is chastising Ravana for his sinful act of stealing another man’s wife. She is also warning him of what will happen when Rama will come to rescue her. Being a pure devotee, Sita was very smart, so she knew how to pick just the right words to irritate Ravana. She knew that Ravana was very proud of his strength and prowess, so she made sure to mention that Rama would take those attributes away by shooting His arrows. It appears that Sita is warning Ravana of bad things to come, but in reality, she is blessing the demon. She is telling him that Rama will come to cleanse him of all his sins. “O Ravana, all of your bad traits will be eliminated once you meet my husband face to face. Since Rama is God Himself, everything associated with Him is purifying, including His arrows. Once those arrows enter your body, you will be absolved of all your sins and become liberated.”
This is precisely what happened. As a reward for their participation in battles with Him, God grants the demons the liberation of merging into His body. This reinforces the fact that anyone who thinks of God at the time of death certainly never has to take birth again in the material world. They ultimately achieve moksha, or liberation. The demons such as Ravana are special cases, so it is not advised that we take to sinful life in the same way. We don’t need to fight with God to get His mercy. In fact, those who serve Krishna in a loving way are awarded an even greater type of liberation, that of being allowed to continue their service eternally in the spiritual world. This is a much easier and less complicated way of cleansing our sins. We simply need to perform devotional service at all times, and we will never have to worry about the impurities of material life contaminating us.