Sunday, August 15, 2010

As Forgiving As The Earth

Lord Rama and Lakshmana “O Lord of Koshala, even the Earth, who is the mother of the world and respected by everyone, suffers distress in the form of earthquakes.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.10)

The earth is so kind and sweet to us, even though we may not realize it. Withstanding all the punishment given to her, Mother Earth continues to supply the necessities of life which allow us to have a peaceful and happy existence. Mother Earth never breaks, and following her example, we living entities should be equally as resilient in our pursuit of spiritual perfection. The aim of human life is to become purely God conscious, and reaching that end requires a steady mind, one that is willing to survive through adversity. For those of us who take to spiritual life, there will be many hurdles thrown in our way and many people who will offend us, but we must be as forgiving as the earth. Obstacles will come and people will try to impede our progress, but we must always remain on the virtuous path. This was the example set by Lord Rama, an incarnation of God, many thousands of years ago.

Lord Rama Among followers of the Vedic tradition, the earth is very important. More than just one of the five gross material elements, earth, in the form of a planet, provides for all of our necessities. We may not realize this in the beginning stages of our lives, for we take birth and immediately begin to associate with matter. It is not until we become a little wiser that we start to question why matter exists and where it comes from. Who is controlling all of this matter that is moving around in such a complicated way that our very lives depend on it? The Vedas give us the answers to these questions. They tell us that God is the original creator of everything, meaning that He is the source of earth. More specifically, He has deputed a presiding deity for the earth whose name is Bhumi Devi.

Bhumi Devi with Sita Devi This may strike some as pantheism or a kind of mentally concocted personification, but it is actually not so. God is so powerful that He can create millions of heavenly bodies known as planets which remain in the same orbit at all times. These gigantic land masses all float in outer space on their own, without any man-made intervention. If God is capable of creating on this magnitude, why shouldn’t He be able to put the earth in the charge of a living entity? “But where is this Mother Earth? How come we can’t see her?” She is there right in front of us, but we don’t have the proper vision to see her. This is because, by default, we think of earthly elements as belonging to us. “This is my land, this is my property, these are my possessions, etc.”

We certainly have a rightful claim to the property that we peaceably and voluntarily acquire, but who owned the land before us? “Well, the person who I bought the land from.” But who was the owner before them? After all, we know that man doesn’t live for very long in this age; at most maybe one hundred years. If we ascend the chain of land owners, we’ll see that the original proprietor of everything is God. This makes sense because only He is capable of creating on such a grand scale.

Mother Earth is a presiding deity who is kind enough to provide for all of our necessities. The food that grows from the ground, the wonderful rivers, parks, mountains, plains, etc., are all blessings from her. She bestows these gifts so that we can live peacefully and happily. These benedictions are not meant to increase our sense gratification, but rather, to provide for our necessities. The motto of life given to us by the Vedas is “simple living, high thinking”. If we analyze these two terms, we’ll see that they are not mutually exclusive. Simple living by itself is certainly nice, but what do we do with all the free time we get as a result of our simple lifestyle? We must start to think on a higher level. Thinking requires effort, and most importantly, time. Time is precious, for once a moment is lost, it can never be recovered. For businesses, there are all sorts of disaster recovery plans in place which insure everything from computer records to heavy machinery. But there is no insurance plan that can recover our lost time. Time cannot be backed up or archived. Once it leaves us, it never comes back.

evolution of iPod To this end, the Vedas advise us to make the best use of our precious time. For this to occur, we must live a simple life. This means that we should perform just enough work so that the demands of food, clothing, and shelter can be met to our satisfaction. If we look around today, however, we see that most everyone is going past the bare necessities and searching for increased sense gratification. This doesn’t seem bad on the surface, for who wouldn’t want to live more comfortably by having a nice car, a big house, and all the latest tech gadgets? Yet we see that the senses are never satisfied in this pursuit. It is the nature of the human mind to hanker and lament. We hanker after something new or expensive, and after we get it, we start to lament the fact that it fails to provide us the happiness that we were expecting. Instead of stopping our pursuit for sense gratification, we begin to hanker again for an even bigger and more expensive new toy.

Offshore oil rig Through these pursuits, our mental clarity suffers and our time is wasted. We are not the only victims of this busy lifestyle. Mother Earth must bear the burden of our chase for illusory happiness. With every new invention comes new demands put on the earth. For example, the advent of the automobile brought great potential for happiness for society at large. People could now travel long distances in a short amount of time. No longer was geography a constraint on business, travel, or leisure. Yet in order to fuel these automobiles, gasoline is required. This gasoline comes from refining petroleum which is dug out of the earth.

Again, on the surface this doesn’t seem bad. After all, we have to chop down trees to get paper and also to build our houses. We have to till fields in order to grow crops. What’s so harmful about a little oil drilling? As we can see from the world’s economic climate today, oil has become a huge commodity. People are looking for more and more places to drill for oil. There doesn’t appear to be any end in sight to the oil supply, but this hasn’t stopped people from finding new places to drill. With the demands of the modern economy, oil has become a necessity, just like water and food. If we were to run out of oil today, virtually every person in the world would be negatively affected.

The Earth So we see that one small invention turned out to give us many new headaches, attachments, and dependencies. To make matters worse, Mother Earth has had to suffer greatly. In addition to dealing with the chopping of trees and the tilling of fields, she must now put up with regular drilling and mining. Yet through it all, she remains firm and stout. She even bears the burden of natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes. Though many people today believe that mankind is destroying the earth, she remains firm and strong and continues to provide for our needs. Her oceans recently swallowed up the large portion of an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico which was initially deemed to be a catastrophe. She is a lot more forgiving and strong than we give her credit for. Mother Earth always remains true to her mission of supporting mankind. She always remains on the virtuous path.

Lord Rama We living entities, in the course of carrying out our prescribed duties, can take a great lesson from Mother Earth. This was the point stressed by Lakshmana, the younger brother of Lord Rama. God is so kind that He not only deputes elevated living entities such as the demigods to manage the material affairs, but He also personally makes appearances in the world from time to time to give pleasure to His devotees and to teach future generations about dharma. The word “religion” connotes a type of faith or belief system. The Vedas have no equivalent word for this because our relationship with God is not something that changes. The best match for religion in Vedic terminology is dharma, which means something that defines the essence of a living entity. The essence of our existence is our relationship with God as His eternal, loving servant. This essence, or dharma, has always existed in the past, continues to exist today, and will remain unchanged in the future. Therefore this dharma is sanatana, or eternal.

By coming into contact with the material world, the living entities become enveloped in a cloud of nescience which causes them to forget about dharma. To reawaken the dormant God consciousness of the living entity, God sends His personal representative, the spiritual master. On special occasions, He personally comes to earth in the form of a living entity and teaches everyone by His example. One of God’s most famous appearances on earth took place many thousands of years ago in Ayodhya, India. The King of Ayodhya at the time, Maharaja Dasharatha, desperately wanted a son to pass his kingdom down to. God obliged and took birth as his eldest son named Rama. Each incarnation, or avatara, of God has specific characteristics and personality traits. Lord Rama’s signature characteristic was His devotion to religiosity. Rama means one who gives pleasure to others, and this was certainly the case with the Lord. There existed no sin in Him, nor did He ever waver from the virtuous path.

Lord Rama also suffered great hardships during His time on earth. God actually can never suffer, but by assuming the guise of a fallible human being, Lord Rama pretended to suffer and lament on many occasions. One time, His beautiful and chaste wife, Sita Devi, was kidnapped in the forest while Rama was away chasing a deer. Upon returning to His hermitage, He saw that Sita was gone and He immediately gave way to lamentation. Being the greatest kshatriya warrior of His time, Rama was ready to destroy the whole world with His bow and arrow. He couldn’t stand to be without Sita.

Lakshmana with Rama Luckily for Rama, His younger brother Lakshmana was by His side. One would be hard pressed to find any brother in history that compares to Lakshmana in kindness, intelligence, courage, chivalry, and dedication. Completely pious in his own right, Lakshmana abandoned all the mundane rules of morality in favor of serving Rama. This is the highest level of devotion to God, for it is spontaneous and bereft of any personal motive. Lakshmana saw that his brother was distraught, so he decided to impart some helpful words of wisdom.

In the above referenced quote, Lakshmana is reminding Rama that even the earth has to deal with so many hardships in life, and that she never swerves from the virtuous path. Good and bad things will happen to us along the way, but we should never divert ourselves from the path of dharma. We should learn to tolerate all hardships and be as forgiving as the earth. Lord Rama very much appreciated these words from Lakshmana. He would heed his advice and subsequently resume His search for His wife. Rama would eventually rescue Sita from the clutches of the Rakshasa demon, Ravana.

Lord Rama’s mission in life was to always abide by dharma, regardless of what effect it had on His personal situation. We living entities must also always remain on the virtuous path. The highest dharma of all is bhagavata-dharma, or devotional service. This is the discipline whereby we dovetail all of our activities with service to God. Just as attending church provides peace and comfort to many, devotional service aims to provide the same level of comfort at all times. If religion is so nice, why not be religious all the time?

Rama and Lakshmana with Sugriva For those who sincerely take up bhagavata-dharma, there are sure to be many hurdles along the way. Religious life is not easy by any means, especially considering how accustomed we are to material life. The virtuous path is filled with thorns, and the worst part is that the more we take to religious life, the more we enjoy it. This is certainly a good thing, but at the same time, we begin to loathe all other kinds of activities. This makes it difficult to cope with day-to-day affairs, for material activity causes us to feel separation pains from God. To help us get through the hard times, we should always remember Lord Rama’s example and also the teachings of Lakshmana. The earth is God’s faithful servant, well-respected by all, and yet she even meets with misery from time to time. If we keep our minds fixed on the most important task at hand, that of returning back to God’s spiritual realm after this life, then we’ll be able to withstand all of the storms and shakeups that life throws our way.