Thursday, January 20, 2011

Letter of Recommendation

Hanuman “In all respects, the lord of monkeys [Sugriva] is certain about Hanuman's ability to meet the objective, and Hanuman is even more certain of his ability to carry out the work necessary for success.” (Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 44.9)

sarvathā niścita artho ayam hanūmati hari īśvara

niścita arthataraḥ ca api hanūmān kārya sādhane

When applying for a new job or entrance into a higher education establishment, letters of recommendation are often required. At the very least, these documents prove helpful towards the granting of admittance. The prospective employers and administrators certainly take into consideration a candidate’s own qualifications, but the recommendation serves as a way to support the claims of capability presented in a resume or personal interview. The recommendation is an indication that another credible entity is willing to support the candidate’s purported qualities to the point where they will write down their thoughts and descriptions of attributes on paper. Recommendations can also come from phone and face to face interviews, but the concept is still the same. In addition to the recommendation, the candidate also needs to show confidence and passion in the particular area of interest. If a candidate exudes confidence, it shows that they will settle for nothing less than the successful prosecution of the tasks handed to them. Similar principles apply in the spiritual realm, where the prospective position is that of servant in the transcendental army tasked with fighting the illusory forces of maya. In order to secure this most coveted occupation, a candidate needs to have both confidence in himself and the wholehearted recommendation from those who are already engaged in the struggle.

Hanuman What is the exact nature of the conflict? In short, the aim of life is to reconnect with the Supreme Spirit. Every person, regardless of their religious persuasion, is engaged in some sort of struggle, a fight towards achieving an objective. The plight entails resistance because the desired end-result is not easily attained. If it were, then there would be no question of unhappiness, distress or frustration. Part of the allure of the desired palatable condition is its elusive nature. Because it is difficult to attain, the desired condition becomes more attractive, for it promises to bring a thrill not currently available to the person seeking it. In this regard, the desired palatable condition can vary from person to person; hence the actions undertaken and the causes they represent also differ. The desired end-goal, the favorable condition, can be deemed an individual’s dharma, or essential characteristic. The desired predominating quality then leads to activities or duties, which can also be considered a dharma.

The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, not only give us the term dharma, but they also provide information into its nature, i.e. that dharma is something that doesn’t change. Surely everyone can adopt different dharmas based on the scope of activities they engage in, but the true essence of the individual doesn’t vary based on time or circumstance. Since dharma is ever unchanging, it is described as sanatana. Therefore religion in the Vedic tradition is defined by the term sanatana-dharma. The essential characteristic of the individual soul is that of pure love for the Supreme Soul. The outer covering of the soul, the body, causes a false identification at the time of birth. Since every life form’s outer covering is different, the false identifications also vary. The soul is what counts, so it is only from this entity that we can derive our true identity.

Unlike the material elements surrounding it, the soul is always knowledgeable, full of bliss and unchanging. Since the atma inherits its qualities from its Supreme Master, the Personality of Godhead. its essential characteristic is to always be in the presence of its complementary and superior spiritual entity. While residing in a temporary covering composed of varying material elements, knowledge of the essential characteristic gets clouded, or at least forgotten. Therefore the aim of life, the eternal occupation of man, sanatana-dharma, is to take the necessary steps to reawaken one’s dormant God consciousness, a rekindling of the essential characteristic.

For the conditioned soul whose knowledge of spirituality is covered up from the time of birth, adoption of the cause of sanatana-dharma is not easy. Simply put, man is incapable of properly understanding or even conceiving of the Personality of Godhead without help from a third party. Those with a puffed up false ego will surely scoff at such a notion. “Human life is all about perception. Why should we believe something someone else tells us? We shouldn’t blindly follow anyone.” While this line of thinking seems valid, it contradicts the very essence of how knowledge is acquired. For example, as young infants we had no ability to talk, walk or even feed ourselves. Through experience we certainly learned these things, but there was education involved as well. Knowledge pertaining to reading, writing and arithmetic isn’t just acquired in a single day. Extensive education is required, and the more willing a student is to accept such instruction the faster their progress in the acquisition of knowledge will be.

“The Blessed Lord said: Many, many births both you and I have passed. I can remember all of them, but you cannot, O subduer of the enemy!” (Bhagavad-gita, 4.5)

Krishna and Arjuna The greatest limiting factor towards the acquisition of knowledge through simple sense perception is time. In the grand scheme of things, the average lifespan of the individual in a specific body is quite short. Since the soul is eternal, it never takes birth or dies. As such, our current life is not the only one we’ve ever had. The soul can be thought of as the greatest acrobat that jumps from one rope to another, with each rope representing a new body type. Yet with each jump, knowledge and memory are erased. This is actually by design, for there would be less enjoyment if we knew exactly how old the soul was and where it had previously been. The individual spirit souls crave freedom outside of the Divine’s association, so the enjoyment that results, which is more or less an illusion, is augmented through forgetfulness, the clean slate we start with at the time of birth.

We can certainly acquire knowledge through experience. The elderly are given respect for this very reason. They have seen all that life has to offer and its various pitfalls and shortcomings. Yet no amount of experience can teach us about the Supreme Divine Entity, who is the oldest person, purana-purusham. Moreover, from texts like the Bhagavad-gita, we understand that His memory never diminishes. He remembers every single incident pertaining to every single living entity since the beginning of time. Just this concept alone, the beginning of time, can only be understood by the Supreme Lord and no one else. The conditioned soul is incapable of thinking beyond the bounds of time and space.

The living entity has an inherent penchant for spiritual activity because the soul, in its constitutional position, is fully knowledgeable. This is a property it shares with the Supreme Soul. Yet the forces of material nature are so strong that the natural light of knowledge is covered up. It can only be uncovered through the mercy of one who is already liberated, one who has already removed the cloud of ignorance brought on by material contact. No amount of mental speculation, mathematical problem solving, rhetorical debate or experimental knowledge can remove the nescience that envelops the pure soul. We can scour the earth, dig deep into the depths of the ocean and travel far into outer space and still never even come close to understanding the glorious nature of the Supreme Absolute Truth, whose original form is that of a blissful and extremely merciful personality named Krishna.

Lord Krishna So if we can’t discover our intrinsic knowledge on our own, it surely must be taught to us. But if someone else is teaching us this information, how can we be sure that their instructions are correct? After all, aren’t they a conditioned living entity as well? If it is impossible for the brain to conceive of God on its own, how were such teachers able to learn the Truth? The most complete available description of the spiritual realm was provided by its proprietor at the beginning of creation. The first entity who took in this information then passed it down to his disciple, who then passed it on to their disciples and so on. In this way, through the descending process, knowledge of the Supreme Absolute Truth was made available to subsequent generations. We simply have to approach a person belonging to the bona fide chain of disciplic succession and kindly pose our questions to them. Only through the descending process of knowledge gathering can the information necessary for rekindling one’s dormant God consciousness be acquired.

Knowing that the ultimate aim of life is to be eternally engaged in our true dharma, devotional service to God, is one thing, but actually successfully prosecuting this mission is another. Becoming a devotee can be compared to the process of landing a job that we must be qualified for and be accepted into. In order to secure the highly coveted transcendental post, we require both confidence in the worthiness of the mission and the recommendation of a person who is already engaged in the task. Not surprisingly, an example always helps to explain these concepts more clearly. Fortunately for us, Vedic literature is replete with instances of such principles put into action.

Lord Rama A long time ago, during the Treta Yuga, the Supreme Personality of Godhead decided to appear on earth in human form. Through the divine descent, the Lord kindly reinstitutes the original principles of spiritual life to the members of society at the time. Sometimes the chain of disciplic succession gets broken, so the Lord sends one of His eternally liberated associates from the spiritual world to come and reinstitute them. On special occasions, Krishna decides to appear Himself in an eternally existing, transcendental body. Such was the case with Lord Rama, who played the role of a pious prince and noble warrior.

When the Supreme Lord comes to earth, He doesn’t just go around beating His chest and forcing everyone to surrender unto Him. Since the natural constitutional position of the living entity is that of servant of the Supreme, the Lord creates opportunities for such service to be enacted. In order for the living entities to garner an interest in serving the Lord, there must be tasks that require dedication, hard work, and most importantly, love. We would be hard pressed to find a more difficult task than the finding of a kidnapped princess. Such was the mission presented before Shri Hanuman, the chief warrior to the Vanara king, Sugriva.

Lord Rama’s wife Sita Devi had gone missing while she was residing in the forest with her husband and His younger brother Lakshmana. Seemingly unaware of where Sita had gone, Rama roamed the forests looking for her with Lakshmana. Eventually the two brothers made their way to Kishkindha, which was inhabited by a race of human-like monkeys at the time. Their leader was Sugriva, who himself had been driven out of his kingdom and estranged from his wife. Agreeing to help Rama find Sita, Sugriva divided up his monkey army and ordered them to scour the corners of the earth. He gave special attention, however, to Hanuman. He praised Hanuman’s qualities and his perseverance. Sugriva entrusted the entire matter to Hanuman, because he knew that only the great warrior would be capable of actually finding Sita. Since the princess was so beautiful and chaste, her kidnapper would make sure to take her some place that would be almost impossible to find. This was indeed the case, as the Rakshasa demon Ravana had taken Sita to the island kingdom of Lanka. Sugriva knew that finding Sita would be difficult but that Hanuman was surely up to the challenge.

In the above referenced passage, Lord Rama is pondering over Hanuman’s attributes and the praises relating to his qualities put forth by Sugriva. From Rama’s thoughts, we see that Sugriva fully recommended Hanuman for the task at hand and that Hanuman himself was fully confident in his abilities. Lord Rama appreciated both of these sentiments very much. As a result, Rama agreed to allow Hanuman to engage in this most difficult task. Rama essentially gave the green light to Hanuman to take up devotional service to Him. The great warrior would indeed go on to find Sita, allay her fears, return information pertaining to her condition and location to Rama and then help Rama and the army of Vanaras take on Ravana and rescue Sita.

Hanuman Aside from being a valiant and courageous warrior, Hanuman is also highly learned. As a pure devotee of the Lord, he is not only versed on all the theoretical knowledge of the Vedas, but he also practically applies them on a daily basis. Hanuman knows no other God besides Rama, and he knows no other dharma besides bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. For those souls sincerely interested in returning back to the spiritual realm, approaching an exalted divine figure such as Hanuman can never prove fruitless. If Rama’s eternal representative, the glorious and beautiful Shri Hanuman, is pleased with our sincerity and sees that we are confident in our belief of devotional service being the highest engagement in life, he will surely recommend us to Shri Rama. With Hanuman vouching for us, the Lord will surely accept our humble service.