Saturday, February 19, 2011

Iron Arrows

Lakshmana “Lakshmana has many naracha arrows [made of iron] that are just like the thunderbolt hurled by Indra and lightning in the potency of their impact, as they can even split mountains.” (Hanuman speaking to Angada, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 54.15)

lakṣmaṇasya ca nārācā bahavaḥ santi tat vidhāḥ |

vajra aśani sama sparśā girīṇām api dārakāḥ

Shri Lakshmana, the kind, compassionate, devoted and sweet younger brother of Lord Rama, is composed entirely of pure goodness. He possesses every desirable trait imaginable, and he uses all of his potencies to protect the interests of the Supreme Lord. God, as the all-powerful and omnipresent Lord, certainly doesn’t need a protector, but He derives tremendous pleasure from pure association. We too enjoy spending time with our close relatives, friends and children, so why shouldn’t the Lord have a penchant for the same activity? He is everyone’s father after all, so He is inherently tied at the hip to every single individual spanning every type of body. Yet since God is the Supreme Pure, He has a higher standard for enjoyment. As such, divine satisfaction only comes from association with those who want to be with God. Lakshmana cannot survive in Rama’s absence, a feature which makes him worthy of worship from all of mankind. Yet Lakshmana’s desire for association is not of the selfish variety. He is ready, willing and able to do whatever Rama asks of him, and even sometimes things the Lord doesn’t openly request.

LakshmanaWhat does this mean exactly? When love is very strong, the lover will take to action they deem to be beneficial for the object of their affection. Sometimes the loved will not ask for such dedication or maybe they will outwardly voice their displeasure at a particular behavior, but the lover nonetheless continues on their decided course. This is the case with Lakshmana, who as a great bow warrior, was ready to attack anyone who wronged his brother during the duo’s time spent on earth many thousands of years ago. This isn’t to say that Lakshmana was impious in any way, but since Rama, as a prince devoted to the rules of propriety and religion, was completely pure and free of sin from the perspective of ordinary piety, anyone who would wrong Him would surely be worthy of punishment. Keenly aware of this, Lakshmana always stayed by his brother’s side and was ready to attack any enemy with his arrows. This behavior was noted, appreciated and remembered by Shri Hanuman, another faithful servant of Rama’s, who kindly reminded a dear friend of Lakshmana’s nature during a particularly difficult time.

During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, the Supreme Absolute Truth, the one person beyond duality and illusion, appeared in this temporary and miserable world out of His own free will. The perceptible world is considered miserable because there is no single permanent condition. Therefore even a turn in fortune deemed positive and beneficial will eventually have to fizzle out. This world is not a permanent home for any person, but rather a prison house aimed at reforming those spirit souls whose desires became polluted to the point that they wanted to imitate the Supreme Absolute Truth. God is known as the only truth because there is no denying any of His potencies or attributes. Even the atheists worship God in His separated feature of matter. One may deny the Lord’s existence and refuse to say His name, but they will meet Him anyway at the time of death, for even the greatest skeptic of religion must succumb to the forces of time. We may be very wealthy, beautiful and wise, but since death is imminent, these attributes eventually disintegrate. Since God never dies, the truths which describe Him can be considered absolute. There is no logical proof or series of statements that can be taken together that will nullify the Supreme Lord’s authority.

Krishna speaking to Arjuna When the wayward spirit souls become envious of God’s position or when they too would like to enjoy the benefits of being supremely powerful, a temporary realm is created for them to act out their desires. The flawed desire to imitate God cannot be acted upon in the spiritual world; therefore a temporary realm is needed. Since no one can actually become God, the temporary playing field automatically becomes a place full of miseries. Competition for supremacy in small and large scales results in cheating, lying, stealing, war, famine, pestilence, etc. When the individual residing within a specific body type runs out of ammunition, their present body is destroyed and a new one is immediately given. Hence the process of reincarnation continues until the desires of the conditioned soul completely change. When desire is purified, the soul returns to the spiritual world, where it once again enjoys God’s association, but this time for all of eternity.

“One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.9)

In order to facilitate the purification of desire, the Supreme Absolute Truth descends to earth from time to time. Since He is the creator of matter, which is the predominant agent of the temporary realm, the Lord cannot be subject to its forces. There is an energy that governs this world which fools us into thinking that there is no God and that mundane enjoyment is actually of the topmost level. The influence of this energy is best seen in the activities of lower grade animals. A pig rolls around in its own stool all day. Yet the pig is not concerned at all with the uncleanliness of such a living situation, nor is it worried about what others will think of their behavior. To the intelligent human being, such a lifestyle is repugnant.

Just the ability to compare and make judgments on behavior shows that the human being has a heightened level of intelligence. The higher potential for knowledge acquisition was given to man for a reason. It was not meant to be squandered away through acts of sense gratification, which bring a level of enjoyment already available to the less intelligent animal species. Rather, the mature human being has a chance to see the temporary nature of the world and the influence of overindulgence in sense gratification. Yet even with the heightened potential for intelligence, mankind still falls victim to maya’s influences. Even those who are directly engaged in God’s service can fall off the straightened path when faced with temptation. The Vanaras of the Kishkindha forest many thousands of years ago had a brief departure from the path of dharma, but fortunately they had one of the Lord’s dearest servants with them to keep the torchlight of transcendental knowledge ablaze.

Lord RamaDuring the Treta Yuga, God appeared on earth as Lord Rama, the jewel of the Raghu dynasty. Roaming the earth alongside His wife, Sita Devi, and Lakshmana, Rama took up residence in the forest of Dandaka for some time. On one occasion, Sita would be kidnapped by a demon named Ravana. Not at the hermitage at the time, Rama and Lakshmana returned to see that she was missing. In their subsequent search for her whereabouts, the two brothers made their way to the forest of Kishkindha, which was inhabited by a group of Vanaras, an elevated race of monkeys. The ruler on Mount Rishyamukha in Kishkindha was Sugriva, and through the efforts of Hanuman, Sugriva’s chief minister, Rama and the monkey-king forged an alliance. Rama first delivered on His promises, which then left the burden up to Sugriva to come through on his. Sugriva had agreed to help Rama find Sita, so in order to achieve this end, the monkey-king dispatched his massive army around the world. The task was pretty straightforward: the monkeys had one month to find where Sita was and return that information to the camp.

Hanuman was part of the strongest group dispatched by Sugriva. Yet after a month had passed, the monkeys were unable to find the missing princess. Making their way to a beautiful cave and then to a seashore, the leader of the group, Angada, decided to abandon the mission and not return to Kishkindha. Though he was deputed by Sugriva to perform a task of devotion for Shri Rama, Angada fell victim to maya’s influence. Ironically enough, an actual demon named Maya had constructed the cave and filled it with wonderful material opulences. The comfortable lifestyle was very appealing to one of the monkeys who was advising Angada and also to the other soldiers. As such, they decided to stop the mission and either take refuge in the cave or simply starve to death on the seashore.

Hanuman Hanuman did not like the decision at all. He had no desire to stop, for he is not influenced by maya in any way. In order to convince Angada and the other monkeys to continue the mission, Hanuman took to the ancient tactic of diplomacy known as division. His goal was to create dissension amongst the ranks, raise doubts about the validity of the decision to quit. In the above referenced statement, we see Hanuman correctly reminding Angada of Lakshmana’s powers. Lord Indra is the king of the heavenly realm, which, as a part of the material world, is only a land of increased enjoyment. The demigods, or suras, are always in battles with the asuras, or demons. The struggle between the pious and the impious has been going on since the beginning of time, and there is no end in sight to the hostilities. Good and evil will always clash, so in order for the good to win, they must be very strong. Indra, as the leader of the “good guys”, uses his thunderbolt to attack the demons. He had even previously attacked the same demon Maya in the cave that the monkeys were now thinking of taking refuge in. Indra was able to make a small dent in the cave, as is the case with thunder and lightning. The amazing mountain structures that we see around the world are all the result of natural forces. We could never think of making a beautiful mountain ourselves, but with the help of thunder and lightning, these structures are carved out very nicely, as their original forms split on impact.

Hanuman here states that Lakshmana’s arrows are each like thunder and lightning in impact, and since his quiver is filled with arrows made of iron, Lakshmana can hurl weapons of destruction at will. The intent of this statement is quite obvious. Lakshmana is Rama’s faithful younger brother, and should he find out that the monkeys abandoned their mission without due cause, he would most certainly be angry. In attacking the demon Maya, Indra was only able to make a small dent with his weapon of choice, the thunderbolt, in the illustrious cave. But since Lakshmana possesses even greater strength, he would most certainly destroy the entire cave and whoever was seeking refuge in it. In this way Hanuman is trying to sow the seeds of doubt in the minds of the monkeys who had failed to carry out their prescribed duties. Though Angada would subsequently choose the suicide through starvation route, Hanuman’s tactic would eventually bear fruit after the monkeys got further information of Sita’s whereabouts. Not ironically, it would be Hanuman tasked with jumping across the ocean to Lanka, where Sita was. Finding her location and successfully returning to Kishkindha, Hanuman and the monkeys would end up completing their mission and satisfying Rama.

HanumanThough they were presented through a psychological tactic, Hanuman’s cogent words of advice, which were grounded in the highest truths, show that there is no safe haven in this world from tasks and responsibilities. We cannot seek refuge in one area and hope to forever be free of pressure, loss and heartache. Rather, the exact nature of the material world is one of misery and pain. Despite this gloomy outlook, the more potent positive aspect of the human form of life can be discovered from studying the behavior of the same monkeys who were ready to quit. Through Hanuman’s efforts and dedication to action, the monkeys were eventually able to see the light and continue with their prescribed duties. All of mankind shares a common occupational duty, that of returning to the spiritual land after the time on earth is finished, which trumps all other responsibilities. Maya’s influences are very strong, for she repeatedly attempts to lure us into taking to intoxication, gambling, meat eating and illicit sex life. But these activities don’t represent any real refuge. Though Lakshmana may not personally attack us for our transgressions with his iron arrows, the punishing forces of all-devouring time will knock us down from whatever lofty position we ascend to.

To fend off maya’s advances, strength of conviction that is reinforced through the association of saintly personalities like Hanuman, someone who is above the influences of duality and the allurements of the contaminated senses, is required. Therefore one of the central Vedic tenets is that we should try to associate with pure souls, those who are devoted to always serving the interests of the Supreme Lord. In this day and age the true mission of life can be accomplished by taking to positive activity, those actions which are part of the sublime engagement of pleasing Bhagavan, the most fortunate entity in all the worlds. The quintessential act of devotion is the chanting of the names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Though these names come from the Sanskrit language, the sound vibrations are open to any person to produce. The material world is not miserable only for Hindus or those born in a family with Indian traditions. The constitutional position of the soul is absolute, and so are the truths relating to the flawed material world. Therefore the incidents documented and described in the Ramayana can help all of us stay on the straightened path.

HanumanAs an added bonus, if we sincerely take to devotional service, the mission entrusted to all of us, Lakshmana will use his same iron arrows to protect us. Though Hanuman correctly pointed out the potential of Lakshmana’s wrath to those transgressing the Supreme Lord’s dictates, during the subsequent battle with Ravana and his Rakshasa army, Lakshmana would use his arrows to protect the same band of monkeys. Devotional service is never overlooked by the Supreme Lord. If He sees someone sincerely trying to please Him, He will take whatever steps are required to ensure that such service continues uninterrupted. It was no accident that Hanuman was sent with the party of Angada and other strong monkeys. Hanuman is forever the Lord’s messenger, the spiritual guide that keeps maya’s influence at a distance. For this and many other reasons, Hanuman is deserving of the highest adoration, worship and love.