“I am eagerly waiting to see that boy of Vrindavana whose bodily beauty is captivating the whole universe, whose eyes are always bounded by black eyebrows and expanded like lotus petals, who is always eagerly glancing over His devotees and therefore moving slightly here and there.” (Bilvamangala Thakur, Krishna-karnamrita)
Hope is defined as the wish for something and the general expectation that it will come true in full. We all have hopes and dreams as children. Some of us want to grow up and be famous, while others long for a safe and secure family life. Hope provides feelings of comfort, for it is something we can hold on to. Hoping for something means that maybe one day we will be out of our miserable condition and finally achieve eternal peace and happiness.
Hope is required because eventually all of us realize that there are many things out of our control. As hard as we may try for something, the desired result isn’t always attainable. There are many examples of this in our own lives, but the world of professional sports gives us a few notable instances. In the National Football League in the early 1990s, the Buffalo Bills were the perennial powerhouse in the AFC. The NFL is made up of two conferences, the NFC and the AFC, the champions of which meet in the final game of the season, known as the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl is the most widely viewed televised sporting event since it is the biggest football game of each season. Players dream of playing in the Super Bowl since greatness is often measured by how many championship teams a player is a part of. The Buffalo Bills amazingly made it to four consecutive Super Bowls, losing each time. Some of the games were close, while others were not. Buffalo fans hoped that each year would bring a change in their luck, but sadly, it didn’t.
In the world of professional tennis, Roger Federer is considered one of the all-time greats. Federer utterly dominated the game for four consecutive years, 2004-2007. The one thing he had left to accomplish, however, was winning the French Open. There are four major tournaments in each tennis season: the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open. Going into the 2006 French Open, Federer had already won the three other majors on multiple occasions. The French Open title was now his dream. Standing in his way was Rafael Nadal, considered one of the greatest clay court tennis players in history. Since the French Open is the only major played on a clay court, Nadal dominated the tournament for four straight years, beating Federer each time. The last three victories over Federer came in the French Open final. Each time, Federer fans thought that events might change and that he might finally win the one title that had eluded him. Fans kept hoping and in 2009, things broke Federer’s way, as Nadal lost in the early rounds. Federer hung tough, fighting his way to the final, and eventually the title. The good fortune he had hoped for came true.
In both these instances, we can see that hope really played no part in the end result. The Bills couldn’t win the Super Bowl because they kept facing better teams. Federer couldn’t beat Nadal, but luckily he finally made it to a final in a year where Nadal didn’t. It is thus easy to conclude that there are many things in life that we just can’t control. This is also the conclusion of the Vedas, the authoritative scriptures of India. The entire material creation is actually governed by karma, which is fruitive activity. I perform some activity in hopes of achieving a material result, while another person performs their own activities, also desiring their own result. These activities and desires collide to create a huge jumbled mess. We may desperately hope for something, but it doesn’t mean we’ll get it, since karma might have other things in store for us. Hope comes from kama, or desires for material sense gratification. The Vedas teach one to become detached from such hopes, since everything happens of its own nature. One can work very hard for something or just sit idly by, yet the results still occur. The key is to act according to one’s duty, with detachment.
“I shall burn down that hope of our father and of Kaikeyi, who is trying to put her son on the throne by obstructing Your installation as king. The power of destiny will not bring as much happiness to my opponents as the distress that I will cause them by my own terrific prowess.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 23.23-24)
Many thousands of years ago, Lord Rama, an incarnation of Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, was all set to spend fourteen years in the forest at the behest of His father, Maharaja Dashratha. Rama’s younger brother, Lakshmana, was greatly angered by Rama’s decision to live in the forest. Dashratha was actually set to install Rama as the new king, but through the manipulation of Kaikeyi, Rama’s step-mother, Bharata was instead chosen to be the new king. Bharata was Kaikeyi’s son, and Rama’s younger half-brother. Lakshmana was quite offended at this treatment shown to Rama. In the above referenced statement, he is ready to dash the hopes of both Kaikeyi and Dashratha by usurping control of the kingdom by force. A loyal and devoted brother, Lakshmana was ready to install Rama as the new king, in defiance to the wishes of Kaikeyi.
Now in reality, such a drastic step wasn’t necessary. Dashratha had been cursed a long time back that he would have to die due to separation from his most beloved son. This curse was destined to come true, and it manifested through the exile of Rama. Rama also had other more important duties to perform which required His travelling through the forest with both Lakshmana and Sita.
Nevertheless, Lakshmana’s statement gives us insight into how we should view hope. Hopes for material rewards should be abandoned immediately. Not only is such hope not required, the longed-for fruits can only cause us to be bound to this material world. The soul is eternal, but our bodies are not. At the time of death, we are given a new body based on our desires, or the karma we’ve accumulated in this and previous lives.
This cycle continues indefinitely until we come to the point where our desire is to go back home, back to Godhead. This desire comes about when one has acquired a pure love for Krishna, or God. Ironically, Kaikeyi’s hopes would be dashed since as soon as he was informed of the new plans, Bharata decided he wanted no part in ruling the kingdom. He immediately sought out Rama in the forest and begged Him to come back and rule the kingdom. A compromise was eventually reached whereby Rama would rule the kingdom symbolically for fourteen years. Bharata decided He would sit in meditation the entire time, concentrating his mind on Rama.
“I have no love for Krishna, nor for the causes of developing love of Krishna-namely, hearing and chanting. And the process of bhakti-yoga, by which one is always thinking of Krishna and fixing His lotus feet in the heart, is also lacking in me. As far as philosophical knowledge or pious works are concerned, I don't see any opportunity for me to execute such activities. But above all, I am not even born of a nice family. Therefore I must simply pray to You, Gopi-jana-vallabha [Krishna, maintainer and beloved of the gopis]. I simply wish and hope that some way or other I may be able to approach Your lotus feet, and this hope is giving me pain, because I think myself quite incompetent to approach that transcendental goal of life." (Shrila Rupa Goswami, The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 18, Great Hope)
Lakshmana’s devotion was so pure that Rama decided to allow both he and Sita Devi, Rama’s wife, to accompany Him in the forest. We may or may not get the material things that we hope for, but if we hope for association with God, we are guaranteed to get it. Things related to the Lord are all spiritual; they are above karma. In this age, God incarnates in the form of His holy name, so if we constantly chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, we are guaranteed to have His association. Who could hope for anything better?