Tuesday, July 6, 2010

From The Moon To The Earth

Lord Rama “He [Rama], who is capable of bringing the moon in the sky down to earth or destroying it, or drying up the ocean, can certainly also rescue Sita from this place.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 56.11)

Human beings have been enamored by the moon since the beginning of time. A huge circular object that remains high in the sky and provides us beautiful light during the nighttime, the moon is something we’ve all wondered about. When we drive at night, it often appears that the moon is following us. It controls our tides and is also linked to our astrological fortunes, so why wouldn’t we want to study it further? Many have believed that if they could just figure out the secret behind the workings of the moon, this knowledge might then open the door to solving the rest of life’s problems.

From the Earth to the Moon - Jules Verne Long before man ever set foot on the moon, the great French science-fiction writer Jules Verne pondered the thought of man’s going to the moon in his book, From the Earth to the Moon, written in 1865. Since then, technological advancements drew man closer and closer to space travel. After World War II, the Cold War started between the United States and the Soviet Union. There was essentially a race to see who could put a man into outer space first. Going to space wasn’t enough though, as there was also a competition to see which country could first land on the moon. The U.S. would win the battle, with Neil Armstrong being the first man to set foot on the moon in 1969.

It was important for America to reach the moon because it showed a sign of technological advancement. The Cold War was a battle of ideologies: capitalism versus communism. The idea was that by landing on the moon first, Americans proved that their brand of government was better than the Soviets. Many people dispute that the moon landing ever occurred, for there are several anomalies related to the event, but to this day it is the widely held belief that man did indeed land on the moon. It is generally viewed as a great triumph.

Moon Landing The moon landing took great effort. Space exploration is not cheap, and the effort cost the government hundreds of millions of dollars. Outer space is not an environment that the human body can survive in, so space exploration requires expensive rocket ships, space suits, and oxygen tanks. Though the moon landing and space exploration in general are lauded as great achievements, what did mankind really gain from such ventures? Were they able to figure out how the moon works? Can they control the moon? We may understand a little bit more about the moon’s physical features, including its climate and atmosphere, but we don’t really understand how it got to be where it is and why it functions the way that it does. In fact, the U.S. government recently bombed the moon in hopes of finding out if there is any water there.

One person who does know about the moon and the rest of the universe is God. This may seem overly simplistic, but it’s a fact that gets lost in the day-to-day goings on of the world. Especially amongst followers of the Vedas, the moon represents a beautiful part of God’s creation that plays an important role in everyday life. The lunar cycle is even used as the calendar system in the Vedic tradition. God created the moon, and through His energies, He manages its functions. This was a point made by Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama.

Sita Devi Many thousands of years ago, God incarnated on earth as a kshatriya prince named Rama. Why would God appear on earth? At the time, there was a Rakshasa demon by the name of Ravana who was harassing the saintly people on earth. Most of the time the Lord remains neutral when it comes to the ups and downs of material life. On the level of karma, or personal fruitive activity, there really is no good or bad. But devotees of God, the true saints of the world, don’t play by the rules of karma. They are engaged in addressing the plight of their own spirit soul and also the souls of every other living entity. For this reason, God pays special attention to His devotees and makes sure that their execution of devotional service continues without interruption.

Ravana didn’t believe in God. He was very powerful, so he thought that he represented the upper limit of strength, wealth, and fame in the world. Lord Rama roamed the forests of India for fourteen years with Lakshmana, His younger brother, and Sita Devi, the Lord’s wife. Ravana one day kidnapped Sita while Rama and Lakshmana were away from the group’s cottage. Taking her back to his island kingdom of Lanka, Ravana tried his best to win Sita over, but she was having none of it. In response to his advances, she reminded the demon of Rama’s greatness. In the above referenced statement, Sita is telling Ravana that Rama could easily bring down the moon to the earth or even destroy it. Rama could easily dry up the ocean, so for Him, rescuing Sita from the clutches of Ravana would be a piece of cake.

Lord Rama How could a single man control the moon and the oceans in this way? This all seems like part of some mythology or something out of Lord of the Rings. The events of the Ramayana actually occurred in real life many thousands of years ago. It is hard for us to fathom a single man controlling major parts of nature in this way, but Rama was no ordinary man. The scriptures tell us that He was an avatara of Lord Vishnu, who is God Himself. Ravana, too, was no ordinary demon. He was extremely powerful, and the great demigods of the world could not defeat him.

Sita’s words would hold true as Rama would eventually come to Lanka, kill Ravana, and rescue her. Rama didn’t have to struggle at all in His battles with Ravana. When the two first met on the battlefield, Rama defeated Ravana so soundly that the demon was forced to retreat home and take a breather. He didn’t even return to the battlefield right away, for he sent in reinforcements, hoping that they could defeat Rama for him. Unfortunately for Ravana, Rama and His army defeated all the Rakshasas. Finally, the demon was forced to encounter Rama again, and the Lord soundly defeated and killed him.

The lesson here is that it is fine to be intrigued by the wonders of God’s creation, but we should not let this wonder sidetrack us from the real mission of life. The Vedas tell us that the sun, moon, and all the planets are certainly very wonderful, but that they will ultimately be destroyed. Since they were created at some point, they must also be dissolved at some time in the future. That is the nature of the material world. The same principle holds true with our gross material bodies, i.e. our lives. We take birth at some time, perform some activity, and then eventually we die. Knowing this, we should realize that the body is not as important as the controller of the body. That controller is the spirit soul, or atma. Unlike our material bodies, the soul never takes birth, nor does it ever die.

“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)

Lord Krishna The soul is eternal, but it can transmigrate between various species. This is due to the effects of guna [material qualities] and karma [fruitive activity]. Intense study of the moon from the material point of view can result in a person thinking that they can control nature. For devotees of the Lord like Sita, the creation [prakriti] is understood to be a minute representation of God’s energy. More important than prakriti is purusha, or the controller of matter. The supreme controller is God. Human life is meant for understanding the supreme purusha, Krishna, and not prakriti. What could we ever understand about nature anyway? We didn’t create it. Even if we could understand it, it wouldn’t give us everlasting bliss and peace.

Perfection in life can only come through association with the Supreme Lord. Lakshmana, Sita, and the great devotee Hanuman were all liberated souls due to their intense love for and devotion to Lord Rama. We too can develop the same level of love and respect by regularly chanting God’s names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.