Friday, February 11, 2011

Strength of Conviction

Monkeys building bridge to Lanka “I tell you this directly: All these monkeys will never follow you. Just as with this Jambavan, Nila and the great monkey Suhotra, I too along with all these monkeys can never be turned away by you from Sugriva’s mission, even if you employ means of diplomacy such as pacification [sama], giving in charity [dana] and so on, or even through punishment [danda].” (Hanuman speaking to Angada, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 54.10-11)

tvām na ete hi anuyunjeyuḥ pratyakṣam pravadāmi te |

yathā ayam jāṃbavān nīlaḥ suhotraḥ ca mahākapiḥ ||

na hi aham te ime sarve sāma dāna ādibhiḥ guṇaiḥ |

daṇḍena na tvayā śakyāḥ sugrīvāt apakarṣitum

Is there one path for success in spiritual life that is universally applicable? Since every person takes on different qualities at the time of birth, different ultimate conclusions, or reasons for living, result. A person may read from a specific philosopher’s book one day and be thoroughly convinced of their ideas, but then the next minute something else will be heard that causes the mind to completely shift. The constant changes in philosophies, priority systems and desires make the path in life much more difficult to decide upon. In order to find the proper roadmap, one that can be followed without deviation, an exemplary character with strength of conviction is required; an individual who not only strongly believes in a particular philosophy, but also abides by its principles. The role model must be free of any doubts relating to the supremacy of their adopted path in life, and they must be able to defend their position against detractors and their passionate counterarguments. There can be no better role model in this regard than Shri Hanuman, a divine figure and supremely intelligent living entity, the faithful servant of Lord Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. During the prosecution of the missions assigned to him, Hanuman never wavered from the righteous path, even when faced with the greatest opposition. Moreover, he stood up against detractors and protected those sincere souls who became doubtful of the chances for success due to bad association.

Hanuman worshiping Sita and RamaWhat is the meaning of life? Why are we put on this earth? By default, the living entity, in any form, takes to sense enjoyment as their main business. The proclivity for stimulation of the mind and the various aspects of the body doesn’t have to be taught, for the behavior is seen even in infancy. Enjoyment of the senses involves meeting the demands of the tongue, stomach, eyes, ears, and overall body. The animals are involved exclusively in seeking sense gratification. They have no concept of tapasya [austerity], niyama [regulation], or dhyana[meditation]. When an animal wants to eat, it will search for food and then eat. When they want to sleep, they’ll sleep. When they want sex life, they’ll go find a complementary sexual partner. The mature human being, armed with a higher intelligence level, has the ability to think critically and analyze both the cause and effect of unregulated sense gratification. The infant can play all day and do whatever it wants, but unregulated behavior ideally doesn’t continue into adulthood; the reason being that overindulgence in sense gratification leads to unpalatable conditions. Eating too much leads to disease, excessive sleep, and a mental and emotional imbalance. Increased sexual activity leads to lust, anger, rage and extreme disappointment. Excessive sleeping results in attachment to inactivity and the loss of ability to earn a living. Excessive fighting leads to the severing of friendships, loneliness and physical harm.

Based on these results, which are commonly encountered and readily perceptible, we see that the human being, in order to live a peaceful life, must regulate their activities in some way or another. This fact alone debunks the theory that human life should be all about sense gratification. We see that too much enjoyment in the material sense can be very harmful. So if sense gratification is not the aim of life, then what is? The inquisitive mind, wanting to transcend animalistic tendencies, will go searching for higher truths, answers to the most puzzling questions of life. In the arena of ideas, there will be many competing theories that aim to solve the timeless riddles of life on earth. One of the more popular theories is that the true aim of life is to serve humanity, or mankind. “After regulating activities to the point that the basic demands of the body are met, one should take to acts of charity, philanthropy and benevolence.” The belief is that if the down-trodden are helped, life will remain peaceful, and both parties, the givers and the takers, will feel mental satisfaction. Yet the superiority of the service to man model falls apart based on the transient nature of sense gratification. If the enjoyment we feel from satisfying our own senses is limited, then surely the same would hold true for those that we help ascend to the identical platform of enjoyment.

When material enjoyment is tossed aside as a viable aim of life, the inquisitive soul may look to the other extreme, the path of severe austerity and restriction on enjoyment. “Since sense activity brings so many unwanted side effects, it is better to just remain in a neutral state, keeping interactions with the outside world limited.” The objectives under this model can vary. Some simply want to avoid any pain and trouble, while others are looking for a spiritual awakening, a nirvana if you will. The benefits of the path of least resistance seem plausible enough, but cessation of activity also has several puzzling aspects to it. If we sit in meditation all day and hope to one day merge into a state of nothingness, how is this any different than remaining in a coma? If we had the misfortune of receiving traumatic head injuries that caused us to remain in a catatonic state for an extended period of time, wouldn’t there be an absence of discomfort? If we’re not even conscious, there is no way for us to feel pain. Surely the aim of human life can’t be to one day reach a permanent state of coma?

Yoga practice Based on identified limitations of their ideal outcomes, we can rule out sense enjoyment and dry renunciation as being the ultimate activities in life. There is another championed discipline that appears to be unique, but actually has results similar to those of sense enjoyment. This philosophy posits that the ideal outcome in life is to acquire mystic perfections, or powers that transcend the limitations put on the soul by the body and the senses. The positive engagements prescribed in this model involve meditational yoga coupled with austerity of fruitive engagement. As an example, a yogi may sit in one position for days on end without eating any food. Some yogis will remain fixed in trance and test their dedication under severe hot and cold scenarios. These practices are indeed successful since the influence of the senses is severely limited. When the senses are controlled, including the life breath, a larger portion of the natural potency of the individual spirit soul is revealed. The body, which includes the outer covering and the internal senses, is simply a shell, a temporary dwelling for the individual. Individuality is rooted in the atma, or spirit soul. Spirit is extremely powerful and the driving force to all activity, a fact evidenced by the limpness of a dead body. When the soul exits the body, the same individual is deemed a corpse, a fact which proves that the soul is the catalyst for activity, the essence of life.

When yoga is practiced properly and to fruition, siddhis, or mystic perfections, are acquired. The resulting perfections can include the ability to travel through space, become infinitesimally small or large, and even hold one’s breath for days at a time. But to the keen observer, these wonderful abilities are simply enhanced versions of sense enjoyment. The resulting happiness is fleeting, for the derived enjoyment is still dependent on the time factor. Time will eventually empty any reservoir of enjoyment. Our pleasurable interactions with nature can be thought of in terms of a car with a gas tank. In order to enjoy, we must fill the reservoir of energy through various activities. Since the resulting enjoyment is limited and thus requires constant repetition of activity, the reservoir eventually empties out. To refill the tank, we must repeat the same difficult activities that were performed before. In this way, we are constantly toggling between favorable and unfavorable conditions. When you add equal parts favorable and unfavorable, you get nothing, or a neutral state.

“I shall now explain the knowable, knowing which you will taste the eternal. This is beginningless, and it is subordinate to Me. It is called Brahman, the spirit, and it lies beyond the cause and effect of this material world.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 13.13)

Lord KrishnaFrom the nature of the results, we see that meditational yoga, pure sense enjoyment and dry renunciation all essentially lead to a neutral state, one that is dependent on all-devouring time, kala. The purpose of life can’t be the achievement of a neutral footing; otherwise there would be no need to take birth. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, through a variety of forms, present the real meaning of life. A conditioned living entity must first realize that they are not their body; they are spirit soul. The soul is a product of Brahman, or pure spirit which is full of knowledge and bliss. Individual instances of Brahman have a companion, a life-partner if you will. Though the constitutional makeup of the soul is purity, power and knowledge, there is another soul, known as Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is more knowledgeable, powerful and pure. In His most complete and original form, Bhagavan is Lord Krishna, who is all-attractive in every area imaginable. Krishna was never created, nor will He ever die. As part and parcel of the original storehouse of spiritual energy, we living entities are also eternal in our makeup. In addition to being uncontaminated and knowledgeable at the core, the individual spirit soul has an active propensity: love. This love is nothing like what we are accustomed to. Since this love is originally directed at the proper object, one who is able to wholly accept and reciprocate feelings of affection on the grandest of scales, it leads to the greatest benefit.

If we love Krishna, why are we put into the material world? Moreover, why isn’t everyone aware of their supposedly natural attraction to Supreme Spirit? When the inherent loving propensity is directed at Krishna, it is pure and uncontaminated. But when it is directed at any other object or entity, it becomes contaminated. Tainted love goes by different names such as affection, benevolence, lust, romantic love and kindness. Even hatred is rooted in love; it is simply the inverse of the natural loving propensity. The contaminated variety of love can only exist in a world that is devoid of God’s personal influence. Since Krishna is everything, His influence is certainly everywhere, but there are specific realms He takes no direct interest in. The world we currently occupy is one of those places. In the material world, the natural loving propensity is clouded through affection and rejection of perceptible temporary objects and enjoyments. The aim of human life is to reawaken the natural spiritual spark, the burning for divine love that is currently in a dormant state. Those who have achieved the constitutional position are deemed liberated and thus become candidates for returning to the purified spiritual realm of the Personality of Godhead.

Radha Krishna To rekindle our natural love for God, many of our present activities can be taken to but with a change in the ultimate object of enjoyment and service. Instead of viewing ourselves, friends, family, pets, countrymen, etc. as the ultimate objects of affection and power, the focus must be shifted to Krishna. When we perform fruitive activity, or karma, there are both unintended and intended consequences. When we take to acquiring knowledge, or jnana, there are similarly various intended results. The same goes for yoga practice. When we take to the same activities prescribed by these various disciplines, but pay no attention to the favorable and unfavorable results, and work for the benefit of Supreme Spirit, or God, we will be purified of all contamination. Purified activities, be they visible work or mental effort, go by the name of bhakti. Since purified work involves linking the individual soul with the Supreme Soul, it is also known as yoga. Therefore the most pure form of work, which is based on the highest philosophy, the sublime engagement, is known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service.

Devotional service can involve nine different processes, the simplest and most effective of which is the regular chanting of the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Another process of devotional service is carrying out the Lord’s orders, or becoming His servant [dasyam]. Usually these orders are provided by a bona fide representative of God, the spiritual master. For the most exalted individuals, however, the orders come directly from the Supreme Lord in His personal form, as was the case with Shri Hanuman, who had the great fortune of associating directly with Lord Rama, a celebrated incarnation of the original Divine Being.

“The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal, fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 15.7)

Lord RamaMany thousands of years ago, Rama roamed the earth in the guise of a powerful and kind prince. On one unfortunate occasion, His beautiful wife Sita Devi was kidnapped from the forest of Dandaka. After forming an alliance with a band of Vanaras, Rama gave His new friends the difficult task of finding Sita’s whereabouts. Rama is God, so He most certainly doesn’t require any help from anyone. Yet due to His kind nature and His knowledge of the ultimate objective in life for the living entities, who are His spiritual sparks, He creates situations which allow others to kindly offer service to Him. In Kishkindha, Rama gave the Vanaras, who were headed by their king Sugriva, the opportunity to directly carry out God’s orders.

Sugriva’s most powerful and trusted servant was Shri Hanuman. In the Vedic tradition, Hanumanji is worshiped and adored as one of the most exalted divine figures. This worship came into being as a result of his sincere dedication to Rama. Tasked with finding Sita, the monkeys divided into groups and scoured the earth. Sugriva gave specific orders that no monkey should return to Kishkindha without information of Sita’s location. Moreover, they had one month to find her, and if they didn’t, they would be severely punished. After a month had passed, Hanuman’s party, which included powerful monkeys such as Angada, Jambavan, and Nila, was unable to find Sita. They made their way to a beautiful seashore after having escaped from a majestic cave that had every amenity available.

Hanuman Seeing that they weren’t getting anywhere and that the time for their mission had expired, Angada thought it might be wise to give up. One option presented to him called for the monkeys to return to the demon Maya’s cave and live out the rest of their days in illusory comfort. Angada was leaning towards remaining by the seashore and starving to death. After all, the monkeys had run out of time, so they couldn’t return to Sugriva and inform him of their failure. Hanuman, for his part, was ready to continue searching. As a great devotee, Hanuman’s only interest is to serve Rama and make Him happy. Yet he found himself in a tough situation. The other monkeys looked to Angada as their leader, so the starvation proposal carried some weight. Since Hanuman is extremely intelligent, he decided to employ an authorized tactic of diplomacy known as dissension [bheda], which is described in the Vedas as dividing and ruling, i.e. turning members of a party against one another.

Hanuman began his psychological game by first praising Angada and calling him the most powerful monkey. But then immediately Hanuman changed course and reminded the son of Vali that all the members of the group were monkeys by nature and thus fickle-minded. Since they were away from their wives and children, they would not be able to remain steady on the path of starvation for long. After a while, they would have no reason to listen to Angada anymore, and thus the seemingly peaceful condition of avoiding Sugriva would be ruined. In the above referenced statement, Hanuman is further stirring the pot by praising members of Angada’s army, saying that they are not inferior to Angada in any way. This was a beautiful tactic by Hanuman, since he was essentially encouraging others to continue the fight for Rama’s benefit. Hanuman easily could have chastised everyone for their weak-heartedness and their violation of the mission assigned to them, but he chose a more appropriate tactic. The other monkeys weren’t very convinced of Angada’s position, but at the same time, they didn’t have much confidence in themselves. Hanuman bucked up those sincere souls who really had no desire to give up. He gave them a viable alternative to quitting, and he substantiated his viewpoint with words of praise and logic.

Hanumandeity_cartoonIt must be noted that Hanuman’s statement is also very humorous in one sense. He asserts that even if Angada would employ different diplomatic tactics such as pacification, giving in charity, and even punishment, the monkeys still would never divert their attention from Sugriva’s interests. Yet conspicuous by its absence from Hanuman’s list is dissension, the very tactic he was employing against Angada! “You can try persuasive tactics on us monkeys, but none of them will ever work. Oh by the way, I’m trying out the divide and conquer method on you right now.”

Angada certainly can’t be blamed for his transgression. The material world is governed by maya, or illusion. She is the sincere servant of Krishna; she facilitates the perverted love that the condition living entities want to act upon. Since maya is very difficult to overcome, the aid of one who is immune to her temptations is required. Hanuman is one such individual; he is never tainted by material nature in any way. He is a pure lover of God, and that loving propensity never changes or diminishes. Indeed, the monkeys who helped Rama are also very dear to him, as Angada’s slight lapse in judgment served primarily as an opportunity to allow future generations, present company included, a glimpse of Hanuman’s glorious nature. The monkeys were fortunate to have Hanuman there; as he would be the one to eventually cross over the massive ocean, their greatest obstacle towards success, and find Sita.

Hanuman The competing theories and ultimate conclusions posited by intellectuals, government leaders and scientists certainly can leave the sincere soul seeking the Truth very confused. The proper path can only be found through studying the exemplary behavior of the sincere devotees. Shri Hanuman shows that the aim of life is to always serve the Lord’s interests through the practice of bhakti-yoga. Since the soul has a natural inclination to bhakti, once devotional service is adopted with any level of sincerity, success, that of attaining an eternal link with God held tight by the bond of transcendental love, will surely come. Those who practice bhakti on a regular basis can teach others by their example and their precepts, for there are many sincere souls in this world who are not convinced of abandoning hope for spiritual enlightenment. Shri Hanuman can never be praised enough for his kind services and his loving nature, as he continues to teach generations of sincere souls how to tie all the various pieces of Vedic information into a singular path that can guide all behavior, thoughts and deeds.