Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Best Around

Krishna playing on Putana's body “When the gopis saw little Krishna fearlessly playing on Putana's lap, they very quickly came and picked Him up. Mother Yashoda, Rohini, and other elderly gopis immediately performed the auspicious rituals by taking the tail of a cow and circumambulating His body.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 6)

An interesting behavior characteristic of the most exalted associates of the Supreme Being, the true saints of the world, is that they don’t seek any honor for themselves. Rather, they take the greatest pleasure in seeing and hearing about the triumphs and victories of their loveable objects, be it fellow devotees or the Supreme Source of Pleasure in the spiritual sky, Shri Krishna. The undying divine lovers never try to usurp the position of the superior entity; instead they derive the greatest pleasure simply by knowing that He is great. If they make any effort at all towards the attainment of a specific goal, it is to further increase the glory of the One who has already achieved every success, won every battle, and owned everything that can be acquired. From the sterling behavior of the saintly class, the secret to achieving a peaceful and blissful state of mind is revealed.

Lord KrishnaUpon assuming a dress composed of the various elements of nature, the resulting living being, known as a jiva in Sanskrit, takes to activities which have commensurate positive and negative results. Activities falling under this scope are known as karma, and usually just the possible favorable outcomes are pondered over. Surely there are negative side effects, or pollution, to any fruitive activity, but the unpalatable conditions are discarded or at least minimized in the hopes of achieving that wished-for end. For example, driving an automobile involves a desired goal, that of reaching the intended destination. At the same time, there are negative aspects to operating a motor vehicle, such as air pollution, having to purchase gasoline, owning automobile insurance, and having to maintain the car so that it functions properly. To the objective observer, the negative aspects may even outweigh the positives, but to the pleasure-seeker, the unfavorable elements of driving are discarded, or at least not considered. The desired aim is deemed favorable enough to tolerate whatever unfavorable aspects come along.

Driving is just one small example, but depending on the individual and what stage of life they are in, the goals and objectives can be much larger. For instance, a startup business owner is looking to make it by expanding their production capabilities and hopefully attracting investors who will pour money into the operation. The goal is to one day have a company that produces profits at such a high rate that working is no longer required. Let’s say that such an ambitious individual succeeds in their venture. After years and years of hard work, the company expands to the point that the owner can retire and live happily at home. Now let’s say we have another person who didn’t start their own business, but worked at a simple job for just as long a period of time. Towards the end of the road, the retirement years, the quality of life for the common laborer may not be all that different. The retired successful business owner may reside in a palatial mansion, while the ordinary worker remains in a small apartment, but the absence of the requirement to work is present in both situations.

One can argue that the biggest difference would be in terms of the satisfaction of the mind. The successful business owner can look back on his working years fondly and take great pleasure in his triumphs. He started out with a dream, and through hard work, he achieved everything he wanted. The ordinary worker may not have had such obstacles to overcome, or even goals to shoot for, so he will have less triumphs to ponder over in the latter stages of life. Based on this comparison, we see that the only difference between the two retired workers is consciousness, the thought processes of the mind. As human beings inhabiting a vast land mass known as the earth, there is ample supply of food, clothing and shelter available. One certainly doesn’t need to successfully start and run a large business in order to meet the demands of the body. After all, even the animal species have all of their needs provided by nature. The tiger doesn’t even eat every day, yet it still gets enough food in the form of other animals periodically.

So the real effects of fruitive activity are seen in the formation of one’s thought processes. Yet even with a one hundred percent success rate in karmic engagements, we know that no one can be the most successful or the richest person in any venture. For example, one basketball star may hold many all-time records, but there will surely be other players who surpass them in specific categories of achievement. One man may have billions of dollars in the bank, but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t other wealthy men in the world. Fruitive activity, even when executed to completion of the desired goal, doesn’t necessarily do anything for one’s stature. Based on the impossibility of achieving pure supremacy in any meaningful venture, the bliss that is derived from personal accomplishments can be considered limited.

Lord Krishna The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, accurately assert that there exists one entity who is the richest, most knowledgeable, strongest, most renounced, most beautiful and most famous. Not surprisingly, that person is God, whose original form is that of Lord Krishna. Though Krishna is generally associated with Hindus, He is God for everyone. One who is fortunate enough to realize that Krishna is indeed their God will slowly but surely reach a level of mental satisfaction far greater than that of any karmi, or one who takes to fruitive activity.

The key to ascending to the highest state of mental felicity is realizing and believing in the supremacy of God, something which is easier said than done. Cynicism towards the importance of statements describing the Supreme Lord’s superlative attributes is only natural. “Of course God is the greatest. That doesn’t surprise me. But how does that information help me? How does it improve my current circumstance?” As mentioned before, the most tangible effect of success in fruitive activity is a change in consciousness. Though so many polluting elements must be encountered during one’s rise to the top, the bounty received seems to make it all worth it. But what if we just pretended that we were successful without ever having taken any effort? After all, we see that the most important effect of success is the changing of one’s mindset, so why can’t we just pretend in our minds that we succeeded in whatever fruitive activity interests us?

Football fansLiving vicariously through someone else involves fixing one’s thoughts and desires on another person’s struggles and plight through specific activities in life. Usually those who live vicariously attach themselves to someone who is pursuing grand success, an individual who has a chance at achieving big things. Sports fanaticism is built around this practice. When a particular sports figure or team wins the championship, fans rejoice, even though they don’t know the players personally. Yet through a link in consciousness, by focusing the mind on the plight of the players involved, the fans feel as if they are going through the trials and tribulations themselves. Thus when there is success for the players, the fans feel that they have succeeded as well.

It’s interesting to see that the bliss felt by the fans after a team’s victory often far exceeds the elation felt by the players themselves. This certainly makes sense, as our parents derive greater joy from our successes than we do. If we graduate high school or college, we may not think of it as a big deal, but our parents surely will. The commencement ceremonies are really for the benefit of the parents more than anyone else. Through the bond of love, which is tightly held by a link in consciousness, the loving party, the one that provides support to the worker in their task, feels tremendous satisfaction and bliss upon seeing the success of their loved one.

Krishna pastimesA similar practice is followed by devotees, those who have turned over their consciousness to the Supreme Lord and His exploits. Though God resides in the spiritual sky, He never remains alone. Indeed, He is a person, full of form and figure, but one who is far superior to anyone else. Since He is the owner of everything, all perceptible successes can be attributed to Him. Moreover, due to His causeless mercy, He kindly appears on this earth from time to time in various forms to enact pastimes. The names and features of these forms are described in sacred texts like the Ramayana and Shrimad Bhagavatam.

When the Lord takes part in pastimes, His most trusted aides, those devotees who consider God to be their closest family member, lend a helping hand. Yet these sublime servants never try to surpass the master. They derive the greatest pleasure from seeing God emerge victorious in whatever battle He is taking part in; hence there is no desire to imitate the Supreme Lord. Due to their dedicated service, the servants actually surpass the master in stature, as was the case with Shri Hanuman, the faithful servant of Lord Rama, an incarnation of Krishna who appeared on this earth many thousands of years ago. Rama was a famous bow warrior, and His greatest battle took place on the island of Lanka against a demon named Ravana. Rama, in the form of a human being, walked across a bridge made of stones to Lanka, while Hanuman had previously leapt his way across the same giant ocean. Goswami Tulsidas, a celebrated Vaishnava poet, accurately notes that Hanuman was given this perk because he served Rama so perfectly.

Building the bridge to LankaHanuman, however, never derived pleasure from his own triumphs; his only business was to serve Rama. Indeed, after Rama successfully defeated Ravana and rescued His kidnapped wife, Sita Devi, Hanuman was granted the boon of remaining on the earth for as long as Rama’s story continued to be told and celebrated. Hanuman is much more powerful than any ordinary entity. Though assuming the form of a Vanara, or human-like monkey, he possesses every yogic siddhi, or mystic perfection. He can do whatever he pleases, be it defeat an enemy in battle or perform some heroic feat of strength. Yet his greatest pleasure comes from hearing about God’s glories found in the Ramayana. Hanuman essentially takes Rama’s triumphs to be his own. He views Rama as his God.

“O Lakshmana, do you rule this earth with Me. You are like My second self, so this glorious opportunity has been presented to you as well. O Saumitra, do you enjoy all the pleasures you desire and the fruits of the regal life. My life and this kingdom I covet for your sake alone.” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kanda, 4.43-44)

Sita and Lakshmana, Rama’s younger brother, also take great pleasure in Rama’s victories. Rama on several occasions mentioned that all His activities were dedicated to Lakshmana, yet Lakshmana never tried to usurp Rama’s power or take away from any of His victories. Lakshmana had no need to strive for personal benefit or fame because his brother was already the most famous person in the world. If God is the most successful person, what need is there for us to tirelessly seek fame? By attaching ourselves to His lotus feet through a tight bond of love, we can bask in all His glory and fame. Since every living entity is His child, we can all look to the Lord as our God.

Sita and RamaSita Devi, as the devoted wife of Rama, shares in all His pious credits. For the Supreme Lord, there is no such thing as piety or sin, for He is the object of all religious practice. But in the material sense, a religiously wedded wife, one following dharma, is allowed to share in her husband’s spiritual merits. Transcending the influences of the visible world, Sita is always with Rama, for even in the spiritual sky the two are always together as Lakshmi-Narayana and Radha-Krishna. Sita can also be considered Rama’s finance manager, the person in charge of keeping stock of the Lord’s limitless wealth and fortunes. In her role as the goddess of fortune, Sita provides benedictions to those sincere souls who aim to please God. In fact, Hanuman’s needs on earth are taken care of directly by Sita. As such, Hanuman has no need to endeavor for material acquisitions, as he is given all he needs to perform his regular devotional duties, activities which include reading from the Ramayana and singing the most beautiful devotional songs in praise of Sita, Rama and Lakshmana.

Krishna pastimes Not only is Lord Rama ever triumphant, but so are all the other expansions of Godhead, including the original form of Krishna. If we are ever feeling down in the dumps or saddened over personal failures, we can always remember the victorious efforts of Krishna, such as the time He sucked the life out of the female demon Putana who had hopelessly come to kill the infant Krishna living in the peaceful and beautiful land of Vrindavana. Krishna’s victories are our triumphs after all, for the Lord resides within each of us as the Paramatma, the Supersoul. Unlike with ordinary individuals who can have their behavior altered for the worse by too much success, Krishna knows exactly how to handle His supreme stature. He is more than capable of dealing with the millions of adoring eyes and ears that remain focused on Him. Success in life can be found very quickly by always remaining with God in the same way that Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman do. They never try to surpass Rama in anything, but rather they take His successes and glories to be their greatest source of pleasure. Assuming a fixed position at the Lord’s side, we too can always bask in the glory of victory, the transcendental pleasure of knowing that the most sublime, kind, sweet and compassionate person in all the universes serves as its creator, maintainer, destroyer and pleasure-giver. Thankfully that person is Shri Krishna, and His love is available for everyone to keep and hold on to as their most valued possession.