Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Moon and The Stars

Hanuman “Then taking with him the leading monkeys of great strength, that monkey, the brave son of the wind-god, looked like the moon of pure orb in the sky after the parting of the clouds, brightened by a cluster of stars. (Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 44.16)

sa tat prakarṣan hariṇām mahat balam

babhūva vīraḥ pavanātmajaḥ kapiḥ |

gata aṃbude vyomni viśuddha maṇḍalaḥ

śaśī iva nakṣatra gaṇopaśobhitaḥ

The sight of the glowing moon in the sky accompanied by bright stars is a thing of beauty. The brilliance of the scene reaches true perfection when the clouds have parted, allowing for the natural radiance of the celestial bodies to shine down to earth. This most beautiful occurrence of nature best compares to the wonderful beauty and glow that radiated off of Shri Hanuman, who was accompanied by his Vanara associates, when he embarked on a special task, the locating of a lost princess. Since the assigned duty involved service to the one person who is more worthy of our service than anyone else, the inner light of devotion and love shone through in these great personalities.

Hanuman Shri Hanuman is one of the most celebrated divine figures in the world. Though he has the outward appearance of a Vanara, which is a monkey-like human, he possesses not a single defect. The Vanara form of body is certainly not perfect, and neither is the human form. Any material body has limitations, so what really counts is what one makes of their current condition. There is the famous saying that if life gives you lemons, make lemonade. From the material point of view, Hanuman certainly was handed a lemon of a body. A monkey is known for its insatiable appetite for intoxication and sex life. When these two activities are at the forefront of consciousness, intelligence naturally suffers. Hanuman lived with a band of other Vanaras in the forest of Kishkindha on the top of a mountain many thousands of years ago. The monkeys themselves would often point to the deficiencies borne of their race when making mistakes. An example of this was seen with Sugriva, the king of the Vanaras at the time, and the mistake he made of not repaying a favor owed to the Most Favorable.

The monkeys lived on Mount Rishyamukha for a reason. Sugriva had a brother named Vali, and the two had become mortal enemies. On one occasion, Vali was engaged in a fight which led him into a cave. Vali told Sugriva to wait outside the cave for him to return. After a short while, Sugriva heard the sound of someone dying. The voice sounded quite similar to Vali’s, but Sugriva decided to wait outside the cave anyway. After a long while had passed, Sugriva finally decided to leave. He made sure to close up the hole in the cave to keep Vali’s killer from escaping.

Not surprisingly, Vali had actually come out victorious, and when he saw that the cave was closed up, he became irate. He accused Sugriva of hatching a scheme to kill him and take over the kingdom. Thus a fight ensued, and since Sugriva was inferior in fighting ability, he was driven out of the kingdom. Sugriva surely would have died were it not for a curse a sage had previously laid upon Vali. This curse kept Mount Rishyamukha off-limits to Vali, thus making it an ideal sanctuary for Sugriva and his associates.

Rama and Lakshmana meeting Hanuman While residing there, Sugriva was once visited by Lord Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead in human form. The incarnation of God is certainly a wonderful benediction provided to the conditioned living entities. The Vedic assertion, one based on information passed down from the highest authority figures, is that the spirit souls residing in the material world are here due to their desire to imitate the Supreme Lord. This viewpoint is affirmed in the behavior exhibited by the conditioned souls. It is our natural penchant to think that we are God in varying magnitudes. The husband thinks he is the supreme controller of the house, the businessman of his company, the mayor of his town, the president of his country, etc. Even the social welfare worker thinks they are God in the sense that they believe they can successfully redistribute income amongst society at large. The welfare workers feel that through the proper efforts of government action and charitable giving poverty can be eliminated. A similar mentality is adopted by those who wish to eradicate other unpalatable conditions, such as diseases, abuse against the innocent, and environmental destruction.

While the intentions of the champions of each of the aforementioned causes may or may not be noble, there is an inherent ignorance that serves as the catalyst for action. We may have certain control over a particular field of activity, but there is no way we can control the behavior of the millions of entities in the universe. Moreover, nature is much more powerful than we are. Yet the mindset of “I am God” continues perpetually even when faced with defeat, chaos, despair and disappointment. To allow the conditioned living entities who are trying to imitate Supreme Spirit to understand their true purpose in life, God often comes to earth in the guise of an ordinary human being. The Divine appearance, known as the coming of an avatara, allows the conditioned soul to take up their natural engagement, loving service to God. Devotional service didn’t become a “natural” occupation at any point in time. It has always existed and will continue to exist in the future; such is the meaning of dharma, or an essential characteristic. Dharma never changes. The law codes provided by the Vedas are as good today as they were millions of years ago.

The “I am God” mentality is the cause of the flawed notion that somehow man today is more evolved and thus requires a new set of law codes. To those following this model, the Vedas have become outdated. They are viewed as scriptures providing rules and regulations that don’t make sense anymore.  But in actuality, not only are the pearls of Vedic wisdom timeless in their effectiveness, but they are even explained in ways that never become outdated.  For example, the Mahabharata and other famous Vedic texts go into great detail about how society should be managed by government, including with respect to the issue of taxes. In today’s world, taxes are a hot-button issue. If you are in favor of low taxes, you gain the good graces of the producers, but then the vulture-like competitors, those purely driven by envy, will hate you. They will accuse the low-tax advocates of siding with rich businessmen who are exploiting the common man. The vulture believes that an entity should be taxed very highly as a form of punishment and as a way of transferring wealth back to the proper owners.

Lord Krishna with cows Though this issue is insignificant in the bigger picture, the Vedas don’t gloss over it.  Rather, Vedic tenets call for taxes to be set at a certain amount; a fixed measure that is rarely to be raised. The typical tax rate listed is one sixth of a producer’s income. This number wasn’t just hatched up on a whim or imposed as a way to benefit a certain class of men. Rather, there is logical reasoning behind it. The purpose of a government is to spend money on necessary expenditures, the primary of which involve protecting the innocent. If the government doesn’t protect innocent life and property, who will? In order to spend money, the government needs a source of income, i.e. taxes. But if you tax a person or business too much, they will lose their incentive to produce. For example, if we were to raise the tax rate to one hundred percent for a given year, the amount of tax revenue collected would actually be zero. The intended result would be a huge windfall in tax dollars, but since the money is essentially being confiscated, there would be absolutely no production. The Mahabharata uses the analogy of milking a cow to describe how to properly tax. If all of a cow’s milk is taken, there will be none left for the calves; hence there will be starvation. Yet if the cow is allowed to roam freely and have enough milk to give to its dependents, it will produce a seemingly endless supply of milk for the owner. When taxation is described in these terms, the tenets can be universally understood, in any era. The principles of taxation and good governance don’t change based on time, circumstance, or which political party currently holds office.

Just as the ancient law codes of the Vedas have the same efficacy today as they did in the past, the natural disposition of the soul remains the same regardless of time or circumstance. There are certainly differences in the makeup and behavior of society at particular times. In some eras, man is generally pious, while in others he is not. Therefore the incarnation tailors its appearance to fit the mood of the time. During the Treta Yuga, society was quite deferent to dharma and law codes, so the Lord appeared as an extremely pious and chivalrous prince named Rama. Ironically enough, the Lord had also previously appeared in the guise of a warrior, who was named Parashurama, yet His demeanor was quite different. Parashurama dealt with a degraded kshatriya order by killing them twenty-one times over.

Lord Rama Rama had a different demeanor, one that was appealing to the people of the time. Yet His life was not without mishap and misfortune. God can never suffer in any way, but during His time on earth, the divine power known as Yogamaya comes and gives Him a helping hand. This energy is supremely powerful and works under the direct supervision of the Lord. Yogamaya gives the appearance of inflicting ordinary suffering and calamity, but since her effects relate to the Supreme Lord and the devotees, there is really no discomfort to the incarnation, who is always aloof from the effects of material nature.

Yogamaya’s workings led to Rama’s exile from the kingdom of Ayodhya. Forced to roam the forests as a recluse for fourteen years, Rama took with Him His younger brother Lakshmana and wife Sita Devi. The illusory energy operating directly under God’s orders would work her magic again when Sita would be kidnapped from the forest by a Rakshasa demon named Ravana. Rama and Lakshmana, in their search for Sita, eventually made their way to Kishkindha. Rama met up with Sugriva through Hanuman’s efforts. The Lord agreed to help Sugriva defeat Vali in return for his help in finding Sita. Rama held up His end of the bargain, but Sugriva got lost in the enjoyments of regal life. When a good period of time had passed since Rama’s help was offered, Lakshmana angrily approached Sugriva to find out what was going on. Sugriva apologized and blamed his monkey nature for his transgression.

Rama shooting Vali After regaining sight of the task at hand, Sugriva dispatched his enormous army of monkeys around the world to find Sita. Hanuman was his chief minister, so Sugriva knew that if anyone would be able to find Sita, it would be Hanuman. After Sugriva extolled the heroic monkey’s virtues, Shri Rama did the same and then gave him His ring to give to Sita. In the above referenced passage from the Ramayana, Hanuman and the Vanaras are embarking on their journey. Hanuman is described as being exquisitely beautiful, like the bright moon in the cloudless sky accompanied by multitudes of stars.

The more pure a devotee becomes, the more their natural luster shines through. Hanuman and the Vanaras, though possessing outward appearances that seemed wild and uncivilized, were engaged in pure devotional service. They were given a task by God Himself, and they took the completion of their assigned mission to be their life and soul. Since their motives were pure, their dharma, or essential characteristic, came to the forefront as they began their task. In a similar manner, if we adopt our proper life’s engagement, that of returning to the spiritual world by linking our consciousness with the Divine’s interests, we too can shine bright. Though dharma never changes, the exact methods of practicing it can vary due to changes in effectiveness. The end-result, thinking of God at the time of death, is the same, but the exact roadmap for achieving this result can vary based on time and circumstance. In the current age, the recommended process for rekindling God consciousness is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Hanuman and his pastimes Chanting certainly seems like a simple, child-like process. The effects, however, are anything but inferior. As a result of regularly saying the Lord’s names with love and dedication, our natural proclivity towards service to the Supreme Spirit will eventually come out. The cloud of ignorance currently shields our natural inner-beauty. Through chanting and devotional service in general, the clouds of nescience can part. When they do, the Supreme Lord will appreciate us in the same way that He was endeared to the Vanaras and Hanuman for their selfless dedication, bravery, sincerity and singularity of purpose.