Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sticks and Stones

Lakshmana “Even the mighty sun and moon, who are the eyes of the world, the epitomes of virtue and duty, and in whom the whole world is situated, have to suffer through eclipses.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.11)

It is the natural assumption that if we seriously take up spiritual life, other people will be kinder to us. We will get respect and praise from others since we are adhering to a pious way of life. In reality, however, just the opposite situation is seen. Those who are sincerely devoted to Krishna, or God, often have to deal with many hardships not seen before. Family and friends turn into enemies, and others take to ridiculing and tormenting. Just because we are virtuous, it doesn’t mean that we are immune to bad fortune in the material sense. Spiritual life is meant for advancing the plight of the spirit soul inside of us, therefore our relationship with matter will naturally suffer as a result. The key is to remain steadfast in our devotion; otherwise we can easily fall off the virtuous path.

We take to spiritual life because we feel that it will make us happy, that it will provide us some reward that we are currently lacking. It is said that one can never become a serious devotee of God unless and until they become disgusted with material life. This seems a little extreme on the surface, for why should we be disgusted with going about our daily lives? The disgust comes through the repetitious cycle of hankering and lamenting. We work hard for something, we get the rewards of our work, and then we enjoy. Yet since this enjoyment is short-lived, we are left to repeat the cycle all over again. As the rewards keep coming to us, we derive less and less enjoyment from them.

Faced with this situation, we have one of two options. We can either realize that this sort of material pursuit represents an endless pit of misery, a situation where we are chewing the chewed, or we can start to work even harder in hopes of gaining even greater rewards. Sadly, many of us choose the latter option. Drug addicts are a great example of this. A person may start out just having a few beers every now and then to relax. Pretty soon, they take to drinking every day since one or two beers is not enough. Still not satisfied, a person can take to hard liquor, or even other types of drugs. In the end we see that this search leads to more and more misery.

Lord Krishna Those bewildered spirit souls who realize that material sense gratification has its limits have a real opportunity at achieving the true aim of life, that of becoming purely God conscious. The Vedas tell us that the spirit soul inside of us is meant to be in constant association with Lord Krishna, or God. Matter is the opposite of spirit, an inferior energy. If we associate with an inferior energy, we can never derive true happiness. Simply engaging in eating, sleeping, mating, and defending is not enough, for these activities give pleasure to the animal species. Human life is meant for higher thinking, the performance of activities based on intelligence guided by experience.

Though there are many forms of religion, the highest religious discipline is known as bhagavata-dharma, or devotional service. Those who are disenchanted with material pursuits have several avenues they can go down. They can try meditating and performing yoga exercises. They can also try reading about the differences between matter and spirit, thereby slowly reaching the angle of vision where they see everything as being part of one complete energy. The best option, however, is to take to serving the creator of everything, both living and nonliving. That creator is God, who can be more accurately described as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. God is a person in the sense that He is a controlling spirit, or purusha. When we think of a person, we think of a fallible living entity with arms, legs, and a face. God is similar to a person in that He has an eternally existing transcendental form, but unlike the living entities, He has no defects. God does not possess any limiting features, so He is capable of doing everything with any part of His transcendental body. This points to God’s absolute nature.

Radha Krishna God’s original form is that of Lord Shri Krishna. This is the information that we get from the Vedas, which include volumes upon volumes of Sanskrit verses which have no date of origin. Religion in the Vedic tradition is known as sanatana-dharma, or the eternal occupation of man. So naturally when someone takes up bhagavata-dharma, or dharma aimed at serving Bhagavan [God], they expect to see some benefits. For those who regularly chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and abstain from the most egregious sinful activities, immediate benefits are most certainly seen. Peace of mind, tranquility, honesty, thoughtfulness, etc., are some of the virtuous qualities that a person acquires through the practice of devotional service. But does dedicating our lives to God mean that we will never suffer hardships again?

In reality, our most difficult times lay ahead of us once we take up devotional service. Life becomes more difficult in a material sense due to the fact that material nature itself does not go away. Even though we are engaged in spiritual activities, we must still associate with matter while we are on this earth. Matter is an inferior energy, so it is incapable of providing happiness, for it is temporary and a cause of misery. The Vedas tell us that material nature is governed by an energy known as maya. Maya is Krishna’s faithful servant; she tries to bewilder the living entities into believing they will be happy doing anything except connecting with Krishna. This may seem like Krishna is punishing us, but this is all part of His mercy. We living entities wanted to pretend to be just like God, thus the material world was created. For those spirit souls who want to forget Krishna, the Lord provides every opportunity to do so.

Taking up spiritual life means abandoning our association with maya. This is easier said than done, however. Maya will severely test us in our spiritual pursuits, for Krishna wants to see just how sincere we are in our devotion. Moreover, spiritual life is not meant to bring any type of material happiness. This includes fame, fortune, and adoration from others. In fact, the more pious we become, the more liable we are to receive ridicule and scorn from others. We see evidence of this fact everywhere. People who thank God in public or even make reference to religion are often scolded and criticized. “How dare he mention God like that all the time? Who does he think he is? How dare God be on his side and not mine?”

Newspaper cover Since we spirit souls are put on earth due to our affinity for material life, we end up being worshipers of matter by default. Therefore it stands to reason that the people who are successful in a material sense will get all the praise and adoration. We see that this is indeed the case, for the newspapers and television newscasts are all focused on the lives of celebrities and great politicians. It is a type of idol worship, with the fawning press wishing that they too could possess great wealth and fame. As a result of this desire, they end up elevating people of shady character to hero status. When these celebrities fall down from the virtuous path, the same media takes to condemnation. The situation with the famous golfer, Tiger Woods, was a great example of this. Woods was loved and adored by millions for his tremendous golf achievements and philanthropic activities. Yet as soon as his marriage infidelity was revealed, the same media took to depicting him as the greatest of villains, someone who fooled them.

For those treading the righteous path of devotional service, there will certainly be many obstacles placed in their way, but they must remain perseverant at all times. If a material discomfort causes us to give up on spiritual life, then how dedicated were we really? If we truly love somebody, wouldn’t we want to move heaven and earth to make them happy? Religious life is not meant for acquiring praise and adoration from others. The greatest devotees in history have been those who were extremely humble and remained steadfast in their devotion, regardless of praise or ridicule. The more pious we become, the more the demons will attack us. This was precisely the case with Lord Rama, an incarnation of Krishna, many thousands of years ago.

Lord Rama The sweet Lord appeared on earth during the Treta Yuga, a time when piety was still quite high in society. Appearing in the family of a famous royal dynasty, Rama was wholly dedicated to dharma throughout His life. He wanted to set the perfect example for everyone to follow. To illustrate the perseverance and dedication required in adhering to dharma, the Lord voluntarily suffered through many personal hardships. His kingdom was taken away from Him, as was His home and way of life. Forced to roam the forests of Bharatavarsha as a recluse, Rama never deviated from the righteous path, even though He had many opportunities to do so.

Since He was playing the role of a human being, Rama gave way to lamentation and sorrow on a select few occasions. One time, His lovely wife, Sita Devi, was kidnapped while residing in the forest. Rama and His younger brother, Lakshmana, were not with Sita when she was forcibly taken by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. Upon returning to the cottage, Rama could not find Sita. After searching for a while and not finding her, Rama gave way to anger and lamentation. Strongly attached to His chaste wife, Rama was ready to destroy the whole world with His bow and arrow as retaliation.

Lakshmana To calm his brother down, Lakshmana interjected with some sound words of advice. He told Rama that it is the nature of this world for men to suffer through calamity every now and then. Even the most virtuous and highly respected people have to suffer loss every now and then. In the above referenced statement, Lakshmana is giving the example of the sun and the moon. In the Vedic tradition, the sun and the moon are extremely important and highly respected. All the daily religious functions revolve around the position of the sun. The monthly religious traditions are all based on the lunar cycle as well, as is the Vedic calendar. Certain phases of the moon are considered auspicious, while others are not.

Satyanarayana Puja - typically performed on Purnima, or the full moon day As wonderful as the sun and the moon are, we see that their splendor is diminished during an eclipse. Another celestial body comes in the way and takes away the sun or the moon from everyone’s vision. This metaphor given by Lakshmana is a beautiful one, for it shows the temporary nature of both good and bad fortune. Pure devotees are always splendorous on the inside, for they are always connecting with God. In a material sense, that splendor will sometimes be covered up by bad fortune or ridicule from others. The intelligent realize that bad fortune comes and goes and that these things should not cause them to deviate from the path of righteousness.

Lord Rama greatly appreciated Lakshmana’s advice. He would regain His senses and continue His quest to find Sita. Eventually the Lord would rescue her after killing Ravana in a great battle. The demons always hated Rama, but that didn’t bother Him one bit. His duty in life was to impress His friends, family, and well-wishers, for they were all great devotees of God.

Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati By the same token, our goal in life should be to impress God and His representatives. Let others ridicule and mock us, for that will never deter us in our mission of spreading Krishna’s glories to everyone. Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, a great Vaishnava saint, peacefully spread God consciousness throughout India in the early 20th century. Yet many people hated him, and on one occasion, they threw rocks and large stones at his sankirtana party. These attacks never deterred Bhaktisiddhanta; therefore he acquired the nickname of the simha-guru, or the lion-like spiritual master.

The lesson here is that we should follow Lakshmana’s advice and Lord Rama’s example by staying committed to the path of devotional service. We should regularly hear, chant, and talk about Krishna. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but the words and actions of others will never deter us from loving God.