Monday, February 7, 2011

Divide and Conquer

Hanuman “O son of Tara, in fighting you are more capable than your uncle, and you are certainly able to control the monkey kingdom as firmly as your father.” (Hanuman speaking to Angada, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 54.8)

tvam samartha taraḥ pitrā yuddhe tāreya vai dhruvam ।

dṛḍham dhārayitum śaktaḥ kapi rājyam yathā pitā

Life is about overcoming obstacles and persevering through struggles. Our personal battles are difficult enough to handle on our own, but when the struggles affect a large group of individuals, people with whom we are meant to cooperate, they become almost impossible to overcome. In this regard, no one has a tougher task than a king or a government leader since he must marshal many forces together and keep them committed to the protection of justice and the adherence to the rules of propriety. When faced with a difficult situation in his kingdom, a king can employ several tactics to effectively maintain order, with one of them being dissension.

When encountering opposing forces, there are different ways to still get what we want, but each method has consequences. For example, if we want someone to perform a particular task, we can use brute force to physically compel them to take action. The downside to such a tactic is that the induced worker may not be very motivated, nor will they have much desire. In addition, the person inflicting the force must have superior strength. If the enforcer is weaker than the enforced, there will be no chance for success in the endeavor. For there to be law, order and peace in society, a strong government is required, one that is able to successfully use force, or at least the threat of it, to stop deviant behavior.

CIA and FBI There are other tactics that don’t require force, but which can be equally as effective. In America, the CIA and FBI employ psychological tricks to get their prisoners and detainees to spill the beans on future attacks. The idea is to gain the trust of the person being detained, enticing them with rewards and promises of leniency in future judicial action. Dangling carrots will hopefully coax them into giving up vital information about their cohorts and co-conspirators.

The manipulative psychological tactics are certainly effective in the material affairs of running a government, but they can also be employed in spiritual life. In fact, the great saintly kings of the past were all taught these different tactics as part of their studies pertaining to their occupational duties in the varnashrama-dharma system. The Vedas are the ancient scriptures of India, and as they represent complete knowledge, they don’t fail to cover the critical components of a good government. Bhakta Prahlada, the great devotee of Lord Vishnu, was taught lessons on government and politics when he was in school as a young child. His father was a very powerful king, so it was hoped that Prahlada would one day be equally as powerful and capable a ruler, succeeding his father on the throne.

“After some time, the teachers Shanda and Amarka thought that Prahlada Maharaja was sufficiently educated in the diplomatic affairs of pacifying public leaders, appeasing them by giving them lucrative posts, dividing and ruling over them [bheda], and punishing them in cases of disobedience. Then, one day, after Prahlada's mother had personally washed the boy and dressed him nicely with sufficient ornaments, they presented him before his father.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.19)

Prahlada Though Prahlada was not interested in anything pertaining to diplomacy or ruling over a kingdom, he certainly took in the information taught to him and retained it. The highest theoretical and practical discipline in life, spiritual or otherwise, is bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Sometimes those who are unaware of the inner workings of divine love scoff at the bhakti cult for being tailored for the less intelligent. The elitist class of transcendentalists known as Vedantists also often charge the bhakti movement with being responsible for the dumbing down of spirituality. In the absence of pure love for God, an elevated transcendentalist is left to take knowledge, renunciation and the practice of austerities to be the ultimate activities in life, those practices which will bring about emancipation of the soul. The Vedas certainly subscribe to the idea of reincarnation, or the transmigration of the soul. The changing of bodies for the soul can only cease once the embodied living entity [dehinam] no longer desires to possess a material body. In order to be rid of the desire to enjoy a particular outward dress, one must be free of desires for material enjoyment, i.e. sense gratification. Renunciation and detachment, two wholly recommended practices of the Vedic tradition, surely can help a sincere soul achieve the aim of being materially desireless at the time of death. Transcendental knowledge also helps one remain committed to their renunciation and austerity practices.

But the bhakti cult, the system that champions divine attachment, is not deficient in any way. Rather, it is the only discipline which addresses the constitutional position of the soul. At its core, individual spirit is a lover of Supreme Spirit, or God. The practice of bhakti takes directly to serving the Supreme Spirit in lieu of the gradual progression through dry renunciation and the acquisition of knowledge. In fact, bhakti really can’t be tied down to any particular activity, though it is generally associated with the chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Bhakti means pure love, so it involves any activity that aims to please the Supreme Lord. Depending on the desired aim, the acquisition of knowledge, the performance of penance and austerity, and detachment from material affairs can certainly constitute devotional acts, but pure love for God is not dependent on anything except the individual’s sentiments.

“Actually, the cultivation of knowledge or renunciation, which are favorable for achieving a footing in Krishna consciousness, may be accepted in the beginning, but ultimately they may also come to be rejected, for devotional service is dependent on nothing other than the sentiment or desire for such service.” (Shrila Prabhupada, The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 14)

Shrila Prabhupada A devotee will adopt any practice that can help them serve the Supreme Lord. By taking to dry renunciation and the study of Vedanta in the absence of attachment to the original compiler of all Vedic wisdom, Shri Krishna, the focus of the transcendentalist remains on the personal self, with the Superself being neglected. The dry renunciate, who is known as a jnani, is desperately seeking liberation from the mire of material existence. There is certainly nothing faulty with this pursuit or the intended goal, but devotees perform devotional service in an uninterrupted and unmotivated manner. Pure love doesn’t seek anything in return. As Goswami Tulsidas so eloquently reminds us, the Chatak bird simply stares at its beloved raincloud without any desire for water. If the cloud remains in the sky for days and days without pouring any rain, the Chatak’s devotion doesn’t wane a bit. Even if there is a downpour of rain and thus a sufficient supply of food for the hungry onlooker, the Chatak will still remain firmly fixed on the dark blue raincloud. The devotional practices of pure bhaktas operate in a similar manner, thus making the Chatak the ideal emblem for devotion, as the bodily hue of the Personality of Godhead is the same as the color of the dark raincloud. Pure love means not expecting or desiring any reciprocation.

While the dry renunciates and the impersonalist philosophers will shun material life and embrace any knowledge that helps them achieve liberation, the devotee will accept anything, even a practice that is usually associated with material life, that further advances the interests of the Supreme Lord. A particular incident from the famous Ramayana poem compiled by Maharishi Valmiki very nicely illustrates both the intention and the use of such a practice. The Supreme Personality of Godhead is one, but due to His kind mercy He appears on earth every now and then to give the bhaktas a taste of His transcendental sweetness. One such appearance took place many thousands of years ago when Bhagavan came as Prince Rama, the eldest son of the King of Ayodhya. Due to a seemingly unfortunate sequence of events, Rama’s beautiful wife Sita Devi was kidnapped from the forest of Dandaka. Enlisting the help of a band of Vanaras [human-like monkeys], the wheels were set in motion for Sita’s rescue.

Rama Darbar The Vanaras who allied with Rama lived in the forest of Kishkindha and were ruled by their king Sugriva. He divided up his monkey forces and sent them to the corners of the world to search for Sita. The princess had been taken to an island kingdom of Lanka by a demon named Ravana. No one knew where she was, but it was understood she must have been taken to a remote location. Therefore Sugriva especially entrusted his chief warrior, Shri Hanuman, with the task of finding Sita. Hanuman embarked on the journey with a group of other powerful monkeys which included Angada, Sugriva’s nephew.

As a powerful king, Sugriva gave explicit orders that none of the monkeys should come back without news of Sita’s whereabouts. If they were unable to find her, they would be punished severely. Hanuman’s party eventually made their way into a cave full of material beauty that was created by the demon Maya. Escaping from the cave, the travels of the monkeys finally halted when they reached the shores of a massive ocean. The time allotted for their task had expired, so the monkeys were fearful of returning to the kingdom where they would surely meet chastisement at the hands of Sugriva. At this time, one of the monkey commanders was able to convince Angada that the group should give up and simply enjoy life in the cave they had previously escaped from. Since they couldn’t find Sita, Sugriva and Rama would not be happy with them, so there was no point in returning. It would be better to remain shielded in the cave area which was very difficult to penetrate. The appeal of this option was that no one would be able to find the monkeys in the cave and thus no one would be able to punish them for not carrying out Sugriva’s orders.

Hanuman thinking of Sita and Rama Hearing this, Shri Hanuman, the faithful and dear servant of Lord Rama, became quite upset. Hanuman possesses every beneficial quality imaginable, but he is best known for his love and devotion to Rama. The total number of qualities we possess and the degree to which we hold certain attributes is not as important as how we make use of our abilities and the causes we employ them in. Devotion to God is not dependent on physical strength, dexterity, or any other human effort. After all, in the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna states that as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, He is the ability of man, or paurusham. None of us can be considered superior to anyone else since all of our abilities are on loan from the Supreme Lord.

Not only does Hanuman possess great abilities, but he uses them for the right purpose. At the critical moment of deciding what to do next, fight or flight, Hanuman had a tough decision to make. Obviously he didn’t want to abandon the search for Sita. Sugriva and Rama had entrusted this most important task to the monkeys. Giving up was not an option. It would be better to forge ahead and fail then it would be to sit back and give up. There would be no loss in failing nobly, but there would be everything to lose by giving way to Maya’s allurements. But Hanuman had a problem. He was accompanied by a band of monkeys, many of whom were powerful. Angada, being the son of Sugriva’s late brother Vali, was especially capable in fight. Hanuman couldn’t just convince one person of fighting on and then hope the others would listen; nor could he use brute force to impel the others to get up and give an effort.

Hanuman Hanuman chose the divide-and-conquer method, the option where one sows dissension amongst the ranks. Ever the wise diplomat, Hanuman took direct aim at Angada, the monkey deemed the most powerful of the group. In the above referenced statement, Hanuman is beginning his psychological warfare by praising Angada’s abilities. Vali, Angada’s father, was well known for his fighting ability, for even Ravana, the king of demons, couldn’t defeat him in battle. Sugriva was driven out of his kingdom by Vali after the two got into a disagreement. It wasn’t until Lord Rama killed Vali with an arrow that the great monkey was tamed. Hanuman very keenly reminds Angada that he is just as capable as Vali of maintaining a monkey host. Hanuman also starts out by saying that Angada is even a better fighter than his uncle Sugriva, whose wrath the monkeys were all afraid of. The Sanskrit word “pitra” can also mean “father”, but in this context, it likely means “uncle” because Hanuman uses the word “pita” later on to make the comparison to Angada’s father Vali and his ability to control a monkey kingdom.

Yet Hanuman was just setting the table. After praising Angada’s strength, Hanuman would go on to remind him of the fickle nature of monkeys and how the other members of the party would not be so dedicated to serving him. Lakshmana would also easily destroy whatever hiding place they would seek out. Lakshmana was Rama’s brother and an extremely powerful bow warrior. Rama and Lakshmana had together roamed the forests and formed an alliance with Sugriva. Thus after acknowledging Angada’s great strength, Hanuman immediately diminished it by saying that Lakshmana was much more powerful.

Hanuman’s carefully crafted words were uttered in the presence of the other monkeys, so as to let them know that Angada would not be able to protect them, as powerful as he was. Hanuman perfectly illustrated how the tactic of divide-and-conquer can be employed to sow dissension amongst the ranks. This was all done to further the interest of Shri Rama, who wanted to see the eventual rescue of Sita. Indeed, it would be Hanuman who would go on to leap his way to Lanka, find Sita and return the information of her whereabouts to Sugriva and Rama.

Hanuman Maya, or the illusory energy governing the material world, is certainly a formidable force, but we should fight off her advances to the best of our abilities. Quitting is always the easiest option, but rarely does it do any good. In the pursuit of spiritual perfection, quitting is not an option. We should continue with our devotional efforts, regardless the impediments. Life is full of ups and downs and events that will dishearten us, such is the power of maya. She wants to test us to see how committed we are to returning to the spiritual sky in the afterlife. Shri Hanuman is glorious for his dedication, intellect and ability to use whatever he has at his disposal to serve the Lord. We can follow his example by always remaining dedicated to bhakti and using whatever knowledge or powers we have to further the primary interest of the Supreme Person, that of reclaiming the lost souls wandering the material world.