“Those mighty Rakshasas which you spoke of, who have a ghastly form, will all be rendered impotent by Raghava [Rama], just as Suparna [Garuda] removes the venom from serpents.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 56.6)
In this passage, Sita Devi is comparing Ravana’s Rakshasa demon associates to snakes. There are many varieties of species in existence due to the limitless combinations of material qualities that a living entity can possess. Rakshasas are not a fictional or mythological species, but rather a real-life ghoulish type of living entity. They are human-like, but atheistic in nature. Unlike the suras, or devotees of God, the Rakshasas spend all of their time associating with the mode of ignorance, essentially doing those things which lack intelligence and passion. Snakes are cold-blooded reptiles that attack other species with their deadly venom. For this reason, they are one of the most feared species. The Supreme Lord, however, being the master of all mysticism, can control anyone, regardless of how venomous they are. Therefore one of His names is Yogeshvara.
God is one, meaning there isn’t a separate God for each religious faith. One sect may have certain beliefs and dogmas that they adhere to, while another group believes in other things, but God doesn’t divide Himself. No one can become God; He has always been and will always continue to be the Supreme Lord. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, try to give us an understanding of some of the Lord’s features, attributes, and pastimes. This is done so as to help the living entities foster an attachment to God, since that is the only way one can break free of the repeated cycle of birth and death.
God’s qualities and potencies are unlimited, but nevertheless, the Vedas describe some of His most celebrated attributes. Since God has performed so many activities in the past, He has been addressed by many different names, each of which acknowledges a specific incident or characteristic. For example, the original form of God is Lord Krishna, whose name means one who is all-attractive. Krishna Himself has thousands of other names. Govinda means one who gives pleasure to the senses and the cows; Keshava means the slayer of the Keshi demon, Achyuta means infallible, and so forth. These names are important to know because they serve as a way of reminding the living entity of God’s greatness. In our day-to-day lives, we have the tendency to extol the virtues of those who are successful in a material sense. Be they a famous golfer, movie star, or politician, we like to praise others who are capable of doing things that most of us aren’t. This inherent desire to praise others comes from our natural propensity to love God. In this world, however, all of our natural tendencies get misdirected towards imperfect things.
By definition, anything material, meaning something which possesses qualities of goodness, passion, or ignorance, is considered imperfect, and for two reasons. The first reason is that material qualities are temporary and the source of much grief and distress. Material qualities are known as gunas in Sanskrit, and another translation for guna is rope. Material qualities are considered to be like ropes because they bind the living entity to the cycle of birth and death. In the spiritual world, gunas do not exist. Every spirit soul there is free to associate with God while remaining in a spiritual body. The material world is a sort of flawed replica of the spiritual world. Christians believe that man was made after God, and this is indeed true, for God also has two hands, two legs, and a body that looks similar to ours. The only difference is that Krishna’s body is completely spiritual, whereas our bodies are not. For the living entity, there is a difference between spirit and matter, purusha and prakriti, but God is all purusha.
One of Krishna’s names which we should take note of is Yogeshvara, meaning the master of yoga or mysticism. Most of us are familiar with the vernacular term of yoga, which is generally associated with an exercise discipline consisting of difficult stretching poses and intense breathing exercises. This is actually just a type of yoga known as hatha or ashtanga. The word yoga itself means to achieve union of the soul with the Supersoul. Every living entity’s identity comes from the soul residing within the body, atma. The term atma can refer to body, mind, or soul, so a more accurate name for our soul is jivatma, the soul of the living entity [jiva]. God also has a soul since He is the supreme spirit. Aside from His original form of Bhagavan, the Supreme Lord expands Himself into the Paramatma, or Supersoul. The Paramatma resides within the heart of every living entity, so we all have God inside of us.
“The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone's heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material energy.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.61)
We are all born into ignorance; a condition which causes us to perform all types of activities except yoga. This really isn’t our fault since we’re not aware of the presence of the Paramatma. Through the grace of the bona fide representative of Krishna, the spiritual master, we can learn about the difference between matter and spirit and the presence of God’s expansion residing within us. Knowing about the Supersoul is one thing, but that itself doesn’t really do anything for us. We can graduate from a great university, but until we actually apply our knowledge in the real world, our degree is meaningless. In a similar manner, simply knowing that God is great and that God exists doesn’t help us any. We actually have to realize God’s presence, which can only be achieved through the practice of yoga.
God reveals Himself in three primary ways: Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan. Bhagavan is His original form, thus it is superior to the other two. Nevertheless, since the Lord can be realized in different ways, there exist different types of yoga. There is jnana-yoga, which involves studying the difference between matter and spirit and gradually negating all activities in hopes of merging with the Lord’s impersonal effulgence known as Brahman. Hatha or ashtanga-yoga involves intense meditation and bodily adjustments aimed at mitigating the effects of the gross senses. This in turn leads to realization of Paramatma. When people speak of yogis, they are usually referring to this class of transcendentalists who perform meditation.
Since hatha-yoga helps block out the senses, there are naturally some nice side effects that come along. These side-effects are known as siddhis, or perfections. These perfections allow a person to perform miraculous feats, similar to those of the famous Houdini. For example, one can escape out of their body and fly around to different planets. A person can become extremely small and escape out of locked rooms. A person can also become extremely large. In India there are many such yogis who perform this magic in front of others. The Vedic literatures even tell us of a few famous devotees who were once expert yogis. The son of Vyasadeva, Shukadeva Gosvami, was an expert mystic who achieved transcendental bliss. The famous King of Mithila, Maharaja Janaka, was a great yogi. He also happened to be the father of Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama.
Both Janaka and Shukadeva eventually found a higher engagement. Since they were great devotees, they achieved real perfection in life by taking up bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Bhakti means love or devotion, so bhakti-yoga involves dovetailing all of one’s activities for the service of God, in His original form of Bhagavan. In one sense bhakti is easy to practice because it simply involves surrendering unto God and dedicating all of one’s activities to Him. On the other hand, the one thing that keeps material life going is the living entity’s flawed belief that it can imitate God.
So why is it important to know that Krishna is Yogeshvara? Meditational yogis have a hard time ascending to the platform of bhakti. They are attracted by the hope of attaining mystical perfections, or siddhis. They think that if they spend enough time in meditation, they will achieve perfection in life. They will either be able to live forever, achieve mukti [liberation], or possess some great mystical power. The Vedas tell us, however, that no matter how great a yogi one becomes, God always remains superior. He is the master of all mystic power.
Some devotees might get offended hearing that God is compared to a mystic or a magician, for magicians are really ventriloquists, i.e. people who perform fake tricks. God is not that type of magician. He is described as a mystic because that is the language understood by the followers of meditational yoga. Simply by exhaling, Lord Narayana [Krishna’s four-armed expansion] created this and innumerable other universes. Simply by inhaling, these same universes will be ultimately destroyed. A great yogi may be able to move a spoon with their mind, but Krishna creates millions of planets that all float in the air by their own power. We don’t have the power to create anything that can float on its own for even a day, let alone billions of years.
All these facts may seem obvious to many of us. “Sure God is great, I understand that. What’s so important about knowing His mystical powers?” These facts are important because many people either choose to ignore them or don’t believe in them. They believe that the world was created through some random explosion of chemicals, while some even take themselves to be God. The famous demon Ravana was one such atheist, belonging to the latter group. He was no expert in yoga, but he managed to acquire great material wealth and strength by pleasing the demigods, Krishna’s chief deputies in charge of the material creation.
Ravana could defeat anyone in battle, and he was given immunity from defeat against all celestials, animals and other great beings. There was a loophole, however, in that he wasn’t immune against the attacks of human beings. Taking advantage of this, Lord Krishna appeared on earth in the guise of a human being named Rama. Being the eldest son of the king of Ayodhya, Lord Rama was an expert kshatriya warrior, capable of defeating anyone in battle. He was married to the beautiful daughter of King Janaka, Sita Devi, and the two roamed the forests of India for fourteen years along with Rama’s younger brother, Lakshmana.
The above referenced statement was made by Sita Devi to Ravana. While the group was residing in the forest of Dandaka, Rama and Lakshmana got diverted away from their cottage, which left Sita all by herself. Ravana used this opportunity to come and kidnap her. Taking her back to his island kingdom of Lanka, Ravana tried every which way possible to win over Sita. He described to her the great prowess of all the Rakshasas of his kingdom. Ravana essentially thought that Rama was a pauper. “Her husband is a lonely man cast into the forest by His father. Surely she will be attracted by my opulence.” Sita, however, was a perfect devotee, so she was well aware of Rama’s power. She told Ravana that he and his Rakshasas were nothing more than snakes, and that her husband would easily defang them, in the same way that Suparna does.
Suparna is another name for Garuda, the bird-carrier of Lord Vishnu. He is the king of birds, and all snakes are afraid of him because he regularly terrorizes them. Garuda is the faithful servant of God, and snakes are viewed as venomous demons. Sita Devi, ever the poet, used this great metaphor to drive home the point that Lord Rama would easily defeat Ravana. Her words would prove true as Rama would eventually come to her aid and defeat and kill all the Rakshasas of Lanka, including Ravana.
God is the master of all mysticism. He can charm all the snakes in the world, no matter how poisonous their venom may be. Ravana was a snake-like person in that he went behind Lord Rama’s back and kidnapped His wife. He didn’t have the guts to take on Rama in battle and try to win Sita that way, for he knew he would have been defeated. There are many snake-like people around today who take the forms of atheists and enemies of devotees. The lesson we can take away from Sita’s statement is that we have no need to fear any of these demons. God comes to the rescue of the devotees in the same way that He came to Sita’s aid. The Lord can easily remove the venom from the demons of the world, so we simply have to worry about our own activities. We simply have to stick to the path of devotional service and let Yogeshvara work His magic.