Wednesday, February 9, 2011

From Weakness to Strength

Hanuman “Certainly the monkeys are always restless in mind, O best of the monkeys. Being without their sons and wives, they will not abide by your orders.” (Hanuman speaking to Angada, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 54.9)

nityam asthira cittā hi kapayo hari puṅgava |

na ājñāpyam viṣahiṣyanti putra dārān vinā tvayā

Shri Hanuman is here continuing his psychological game with Angada, the de facto leader of the band of monkeys who had to choose between fighting on and giving up. Hanuman never employs any diplomatic tactic or elaborate scheme to get some personal benefit. The group in question was tasked with a most daunting mission of searching for a princess who was nowhere to be found. After explicit instructions were given regarding the time frame for success, those responsible for carrying out the mission became fearful of the repercussions awaiting them on account of failure. Thinking that success was impossible and that returning back to the commander without any good news was also out of the question, a suicide pact or enjoyment in illusory surroundings seemed more appealing. Hanuman, the faithful servant of the Supreme Lord and the most pious individual, didn’t entertain the thought of quitting for even a moment. Knowing the difficulty of getting others to come over to his point of view, the great devotee employed psychological tactics aimed at creating dissension amongst the individual members of the group. Though the tactic wouldn’t work out as planned immediately, the glorious nature of Hanuman shone through nonetheless.

HanumanSince the events in question took place during the Treta Yuga, which occurred many thousands of years ago, many of the races on earth were more advanced than they are today. The monkeys looking for Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama, were known as Vanaras, which is a Sanskrit word meaning “of the forest”. Though they can walk, talk, and speak, Vanaras are usually described as monkeys because of their predominant outward features. Monkeys are certainly a strange choice to lead a reconnaissance mission, but the circumstances were anything but ordinary.

During the specific time period, the Treta Yuga, the Supreme Absolute Truth, the person we all know as God, descended to earth in a spiritual form which appeared to the ordinary person to be a human being. The Absolute Truth in the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, is often described as being both nirguna and saguna. Guna refers to material qualities which bind one to the cycle of birth and death. We all possess gunas, for that is part of the makeup of the living entity residing in the material world. Our identity comes from the atma, or spirit soul, residing within the heart, but the spiritual spark is not visible. Rather, it is covered up by material qualities, or gunas. Since these qualities are temporary and eventually destined for destruction, they have no bearing or influence on the identifiable aspect, the soul.

Lord Rama The Supreme Lord, being the creator of matter and gunas, can never assume a material body. The nirguna description serves as a reminder that His hands, legs, face, etc. aren’t limited in the way that an ordinary living entity’s are. The Supreme Truth possesses a spiritual body, something which is not conceivable to the conditioned living entities. Nirguna can also refer to the expansion of the Lord that resides within the heart of every living entity. Just as the atma forms the basis of our identity, the Paramatma, or Supersoul, represents God’s expansion resting within everyone’s heart. As such, every living entity has God inside. Since the nirguna form is neither visible nor perceptible to the conditioned eye, the Supreme Lord periodically descends to earth in the form of an avatara. The avatara, and their complementary deity representations, are known as saguna, or with attributes. This doesn’t mean that the avatara possesses a material body. It has qualities and attributes which are visible to the eyes of the individuals residing in the material world. There is no difference between the nirguna and saguna forms since they both represent the original Supreme Personality of Godhead, who has an ever-existing spiritual form. The difference lies completely with the angle of vision of the conditionally situated subordinate entities.

Shri Rama enacted wonderful pastimes and set the standard for dharma, or religiosity. Through His behavior He allowed others to get an idea of what God looks like, what His nature is, and what makes Him happy. The Lord also allowed a select few individuals, who now hold an exalted status, to serve Him personally. The Vedas enumerate the inherent qualities of the spirit soul, the foremost of which is an affinity to the Supreme Soul. The Supreme Lord is meant to be served, and the individual soul is meant to perform that service. Working for the pleasure of Supreme Spirit is not the kind of service we are accustomed to. Transcendental service, in its most pure form, is performed voluntarily and without motivation or interruption. When an individual living in the material world becomes aware of the need for this service and subsequently takes to performing it properly, they become liberated from the cycle of birth and death, never having to associate with gunas again.

Lord RamaTo allow others the chance to serve Him, Lord Rama had to create situations where it appeared that He required help. What does this mean exactly? As the original Supreme Lord who is nirguna, Rama can never be baffled, distracted, or put into any distress. All the defects of the phenomenal world only affect those who are enamored by its most powerful governing agent, the master of illusion, maya. Shri Rama is the creator of maya, as the illusory energy works at His pleasure. The individual souls at some time in the past wanted to be deluded into thinking that they could imitate Divine power, similar to how the alcoholic wants to enjoy the temporary and illusory happiness of being drunk. Since the desire to compete with God cannot be facilitated in the flawless spiritual realm, Bhagavan created a world where gunas reign supreme. To keep the effects of gunas at full strength, an illusory agent was required; a position maya fit into very nicely.

Since maya is God’s servant, the Lord can never be deluded by her. Nevertheless, Rama created various situations where it appeared that He needed help. One such predicament involved the rescue of His beautiful and chaste wife, Sita Devi, from the forest of Dandaka. As a faithful and pious individual, Shri Rama always abided by the orders of His father, King Dasharatha of Ayodhya. On a previous occasion, Dasharatha had ordered Rama to exit the kingdom and not return for fourteen years. More than just an exercise in austerity, Rama had to relinquish all ties to the kingdom. He was set on travelling alone, but His wife and His younger brother Lakshmana refused to allow Him to suffer in solitude. They insisted on accompanying Him, demanding to offer service to their beloved Lord.

Hanuman While in the forest of Dandaka, Sita would be kidnapped by a Rakshasa demon named Ravana. Not knowing where she was, Rama made His way to the Kishkindha forest along with Lakshmana. The two brothers forged an alliance with the Vanara king Sugriva, who agreed to help Rama find Sita. When the time came to make good on his promise, Sugriva dispatched his giant monkey army to comb the entire earth. The most powerful soldier in the army, and Sugriva’s trusted aide, was Shri Hanuman. Hanuman is no ordinary figure. He is a divine incarnation of the wind-god Vayu and Lord Shiva, the most exalted Vaishnava and eternal servant of Shri Rama. As such, from birth Hanuman was endowed with godly qualities and inclined towards service to the Supreme Lord.

Prior to the egress of the monkey search parties, Sugriva especially took confidence in Hanuman. The most powerful monkeys, including Angada, who was Sugriva’s nephew, were sent with Hanuman’s group. After a month had passed, the monkeys were still unsuccessful in finding Sita. Sugriva had explicitly told his monkeys that they should not bother returning without successfully finding Sita. Indeed, they would be punished severely if they came back with no information. Since the time allotted for their mission had elapsed, two options were presented before the monkeys.  Angada recommended fasting until death, while one of the leading commanders advised that the monkeys stay in a guarded cave by the sea shore and simply enjoy the nice surroundings previously created there by a demon named Maya.

HanumanHanuman, not happy with the sudden divergence in plans, then stepped in to change the course of action. Angada had essentially become the leader of the pack, so Hanuman focused his psychological efforts directly at him. Since the word Veda means “knowledge”, the Vedic scriptures contain information on all different facets of life, including how to properly govern a kingdom. In the sections describing good governance and diplomacy, one of the areas of interest relates to how to get what you want from a hostile party. There are different methods that can be employed, with one of them being dissension, which was the route Hanuman chose. First he praised Angada for being very powerful and capable of fighting off anyone. Then he stated that the monkeys were very fickle in nature and that since they were without their family members and wives, they wouldn’t listen to Angada’s words for very long. Though Angada thought the monkeys would be better off starving to death or hiding in the beautiful cave, Hanuman essentially said just the opposite, that Angada wouldn’t be safe hiding out from Sugriva because the monkeys would eventually turn on him.

Aside from being cleverly crafted and aimed at fomenting dissent, Hanuman’s words were full of fact and completely based in reality. A monkey behaves similar to a human being, for even many scientists have erroneously mentally speculated that man evolved from the ape. Yet the monkey is considered inferior to the human being because of the intelligence factor. A monkey is more inclined towards animalistic activities, which focus primarily on eating, sleeping, mating and defending. The influence of these activities causes their minds to be very fickle, and when their cherished activities are interrupted, they lose all sense of rationality and good judgment. Thus Hanuman invoked a common stereotype about monkeys to reach his desired outcome of continuing the search for Sita.

Hanuman Since as human beings we are similar to the animal species, we too are, by default, fickle-minded. Sex life serves as the strongest attachment, to which spouses and children are closely related. Therefore the greatest cause of distress and loss of rationality comes from the disturbance in family life, the breaking of the bonds formed with our loved ones. Yet as mentioned before, the only way to become nirguna, or free of material qualities, is to take to service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. If we take to devotional service, which can involve one or a variety of distinct processes, the primary of which is the chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, we can hopefully achieve liberation by the end of life.

The problem we may encounter, however, is that devotional efforts, when undertaken alone, can cause disruptions in family life. Since human beings are also fickle-minded like the monkeys, distresses caused by tension in family life will likely take one off the straightened path of devotional service. Refraining from intoxication, eating meat, gambling, and illicit sex is not easy to do when one is constantly under duress and pressure. To remedy the situation, we should use whatever attachments we have and whatever deficiencies in terms of weaknesses we possess to our advantage. What does this mean exactly? If we are attached to family, we should perform our devotional service with them. Obviously this isn’t always possible, but if it is, we should most certainly take advantage. Through adding God to the activities we are accustomed to engaging in, we can turn our weaknesses into strengths.

Success in spiritual life results in the purification of consciousness. The pure mindset is not dependent on any factor except the sincere desire of the aspiring transcendentalist. Unlike other spiritual disciplines which may require strict rules and regulations, the only abiding principle in devotional service is that one should employ whatever practical means are available to them that can effectively change their consciousness. This was the method employed by Hanuman, even though his consciousness never needs purifying. Though he is well-versed in the military arts and the ins and outs of diplomacy, Hanuman has no attachment to any mundane knowledge. Nevertheless, when the time came to serve Rama, he tapped into his storehouse of material wisdom to help further the cause. Hanuman’s only desire was to serve Rama and to find Sita. His psychological tricks would prove to be most wonderful, for even though Angada would initially settle on starving to death, the monkeys would eventually end up trusting Hanuman fully with the most difficult task of crossing over the ocean that stood in between them and the shores of Lanka, where Sita had been taken. Not surprisingly, due to Hanuman’s heroic efforts and his ability to rally the monkey forces, Sita would eventually be found and all would end well.

“Prescribed duties should never be renounced. If, by illusion, one gives up his prescribed duties, such renunciation is said to be in the mode of ignorance.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.7)

Hanuman For those already married and with children, the ideal option is to remain in family life and continue performing prescribed duties. There is no need to renounce anything artificially. We carefully should weigh every option against its effect on the final outcome. We should reject anything which is unfavorable towards the execution of devotional service and accept anything which is favorable. If we turn our attachments into favorable conditions, we can turn our material qualities into spiritual ones. The liberated souls such as Shri Hanuman always possess spiritual bodies. By kindly invoking their names and remembering their wonderful and heroic feats, we can one day hope to have the association of the original Personality of Godhead, the Lord who always possesses a sweet, blissful, and transcendental form.