Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Starting a New Task

Hanuman with Rama and Lakshmana “Thereupon taking the ring and placing it on his head, with folded hands, that foremost and best of monkeys, praised Rama's lotus feet and then departed.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 44.15)

sa tat gṛhya hariśreṣṭhaḥ sthāpya mūrdhni kṛtāñjaliḥ |

vanditvā caraṇau caiva prasthitaḥ plavagarṣabhaḥ

Shri Hanuman’s exemplary behavior in this scene shows the proper way to start any new task. The more important the mission, the greater the impetus for surrendering fully to the Supreme Loveable Object, the only entity worthy of our obeisances. Humble submission to the most worthy recipient reminds the performer that success in the mission is not determined strictly by their own effort. Rather, the underlying cause to every event in nature is the hand of the most powerful and original person: God. We may take the impetus for action, but the results are determined by the nature around us, which is under the control of the divine energy. Just as the soul is the driving force behind the activities of the body, the giant soul is the spark behind the complex and unimaginable inner workings of nature. Not only should every task begin with the offering of obeisances to God, but the same level of spiritual consciousness should be active throughout the performance of said tasks. Following this model, the performer is doubly benefitted.

“This material nature is working under My direction, O son of Kunti, and it is producing all moving and unmoving beings. By its rule this manifestation is created and annihilated again and again.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.10)

Krishna's lotus feet The obvious benefit to performing a task correctly is the realization of the desired result. For example, if we put in long hours at the library and study very rigorously, the likely result is that we will perform well on exams and thus earn a high mark in the class. If we put great effort into building a home, the resulting fruit will be an aesthetically pleasing and peaceful dwelling. Regardless of the complexity or simplicity of the task, the importance of first invoking the names of God and surrendering ourselves fully to Him does not diminish. Goswami Tulsidas, a famous Vaishnava poet, states that following this pattern of behavior will allow us to reap the greatest rewards in life. The desired fruit is not as important as the procedures laid down to procure them because, as we all know, nothing lasts forever. What goes up must come down. Therefore the fruits of our labor will be flickering in two areas. The enjoyment derived from the reward will certainly be short-lived, a fact evidenced by the many different engagements taken up in the course of one’s lifetime. If the fruits of action provided unending bliss, there would be no need to take to new activities in the hopes of acquiring new rewards.

The fruits of labor are also flickering in the duration of their existence. A nice house can last for several decades, but eventually the structure will start to decay and eventually collapse on its own. The current dwelling of the soul, the body, is destined for destruction at the time of death. No object is given more attention than the body, which is a sort of tree that gets watered on a daily basis. The desired fruits come through the enjoyments resulting from engagements in various activities like eating, sleeping, mating and defending.

Since the fruits of action are temporary, as are the enjoyments derived from them, it is more important to go after permanent rewards. By invoking the holy name of God and paying homage to His lotus feet prior to undertaking any important activity, we not only increase the chances of success in the endeavor, but we also ensure that our consciousness will be altered. If we think of the Supreme Lord prior to taking an important examination, when we succeed, we will not only reap the reward of a passing grade, but also that of remembering God. Vishno-smaranam, or remembering Lord Vishnu, throughout a single endeavor increases the likelihood of remembering God again in the future. While the enjoyment from the passing grade on the exam may not last very long, the change in consciousness from the material to the spiritual world can lead to the greatest boon imaginable: liberation.

“Anyone who quits his body, at the end of life, remembering Me, attains immediately to My nature; and there is no doubt of this.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.5)

Lord Krishna Those who think of the Supreme Lord at the time of quitting the body no longer have to suffer through birth and death, a reward which also marks the end of fruitive activity. Without the need to associate with karma, one no longer has to work hard for fruits that are unseen and flickering in nature. In the spiritual world, the soul assumes a spiritual body and thus engages full-time in service to the Lord. Transcendental service is not categorized as karma because there are no perishable results that come from it. Moreover, service to the Supreme Spirit is the natural engagement of the liberated soul. Surrender brings about true bliss because it is our constitutional position to be completely dedicated to the one person who will not let us down.

Offering obeisances directly to the Supreme Lord, His authorized deity form, or His representative is a practice adopted by those who are serious about spiritual life. Often times the practice of prostration in spiritual life is shunned by others who are unfamiliar with its purpose. The issue boils down to love, which, when practiced purely, involves complete surrender. The optimal loving relationship between a man and a woman involves complete surrender by both parties, which involves the shedding of all inhibitions and the voluntary relinquishing of control over one’s emotions. When we are surrendered to our senses or to our own well-being, we are essentially in charge of our emotions. Happiness and sadness are determined by the activities that we take up and the mindset that results. In a loving relationship, responsibility for one’s happiness and sadness is handed over to the other party, the object of affection. No one forces us to make this transfer of ownership; we voluntarily give it up.

It is certainly an important step to put someone else in charge of our emotions. So why do we do it? As with any other activity in life, the intended result is pleasure. By loosening our inhibitions and becoming completely vulnerable to our paramour, there is a potential for tremendous bliss. The ideal resulting happiness culminates in the act of making love. It is for this reason that sexual relations in their purified form are referred to as love. In the absence of emotional exchange, the act is no different than animal sex, where the impetus for action is the raw desire to satisfy the demands of the genitals.

So the key ingredient to love is surrender. Issues arise, however, when surrender doesn’t bring palatable results. Indeed, the act of making love doesn’t last very long, so afterwards both parties are left in a state of uncertainty. “Does she still love me? Is she happy with my service to her? What if she leaves me? What will I do?” If the emotional needs of just one party in a loving relationship aren’t met to the proper level of satisfaction, anger, resentment and hatred can result. When the negative emotions become predominant, the loving relationship quickly dissolves, and the parties are left to return to their previous guarded states. Additionally, both individuals will think twice before voluntarily giving up control over their emotions to someone else again.

The flaw in the mundane loving relationship traces directly to fallibility. Love is certainly a natural emotion, as is the desire to surrender fully. Problems arise when the objects of affection are themselves fallible. If we surrender to someone who is incapable of handling the responsibility of our emotions, we will certainly meet frustration. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that the natural characteristic of the soul is that of a lover. Every single life form, from the insignificant ant to the resident of the heavenly planets, is a lover at heart. The essential characteristic, or dharma, involves a loveable object as well. That person is the Supreme Lord, the Supreme Soul who resides eternally alongside the individual spirit soul.

Radha and Krishna The Supreme Soul is so powerful that He can act as the complementary lover to every single soul in existence. The qualitative makeup between the individual soul and the Supreme Soul is the same, but one entity is superior and the other is inferior. One is meant to serve, while the other is meant to be served. This is the natural order of things. When the server thinks itself to be the served, or if the server decides to offer its service to another server, the resulting condition is unpalatable and not ideal. True bliss and harmony come when the individual soul takes to its dharma, or natural characteristic, by serving the Supreme Lord.

By offering obeisances to the Supreme Lord or one of His authorized representatives, one can slowly but surely come to understand the Supreme Loveable Object’s fixed position. The more fully one surrenders, the more vulnerable they become. The more vulnerable they become, the more the Supreme Lord takes charge for their spiritual well-being. When the served is always remembered by the server, the resulting condition is that of perfect yoga. When one is in perfect yoga at the time of death, the nescience that caused the server to think itself supreme is forever removed.

No matter how strong we are and no matter how big or small the task, we should always offer our obeisances to the Lord first and remember that success in any venture comes through His effort. The great authorities on spirituality and bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, follow this model of behavior. One such devotee is Shri Hanuman. A long time ago, the Supreme Lord incarnated on earth in human form. The Supreme Lord, as the energetic spiritual fire, can never become subject to the forces that He creates. Since He is always worthy of service, when He assumes a body of a human being, the natural order of things is not altered. There is no difference between the Lord’s body and His soul; both aspects are identically spiritual.

Lord Rama with Hanuman Lord Rama was a warrior prince, so He naturally took to protecting the innocent. As mentioned before, the dharma of the individual soul is to serve the Supreme Soul. Keeping this in mind, Rama also created situations which allowed other sincere souls to offer Him their service. One such situation involved the finding of the Lord’s wife, Sita Devi. A demon named Ravana had taken her to his island kingdom of Lanka. Rama was residing in the forest at the time with His younger brother Lakshmana. Due to orders given by His father, Rama was not allowed to go back to His kingdom and collect His army. Not to worry though, as He enlisted the help of a band of Vanaras living in the forest of Kishkindha.

The leader of the Vanaras was Sugriva, and his chief warrior was Hanuman, a divine figure and pure devotee of Rama. Lord Rama knew that Hanuman would be the one to find Sita, so the Lord gave him a ring to deliver to her. The ring had Rama’s name inscribed on it, thus it would be recognizable to Sita. In the above referenced passage from the Ramayana, we see that Hanuman offered his obeisances to Lord Rama before embarking on his journey. Just prior to this, Sugriva had extolled the virtues of Hanuman, listing all of his wonderful capabilities and strengths. Lord Rama concurred with Sugriva’s assessment, so Hanuman essentially had both of their blessings.

Hanuman offering obeisances Since Hanuman possessed amazing strength, courage and firmness of resolution, success in the venture was guaranteed. Rama was actually overjoyed simply by thinking of Hanuman going to search for Sita, for the Lord knew that success was to come very quickly. Yet as endowed with divine prowess as Hanuman was, he still made sure to offer obeisances to Rama and invoke His good name prior to starting his task. Through his behavior, Hanuman showed that he was always God conscious, not letting a second go by without remembering the lotus feet of his dear Lord.

Not surprisingly, Hanuman would be successful in executing his tasks. Sita would eventually be rescued through his noble efforts. For his undying devotion, dedication and adherence to piety, Hanuman is viewed as one of the greatest Vaishnavas, a humble and dear servant of Shri Rama. We can certainly never equal his heroic feats, but we can learn a great deal from the example he set. He proved that the most important activity in life is to always remember the Lord. Doing so ensures success in any effort that involves devotional service. In our struggle to purify our consciousness, we should always remember Hanuman and his behavior towards Shri Rama. Before taking up any task, small or large, the Supreme Lord, the guru, and the great devotees, all liberated figures in their own right, should always be offered obeisances, either personally or at least within the mind.