Saturday, March 26, 2011

Always the Best Policy

Hanuman “In my present form I will not be able to enter the city of the Rakshasas, which is protected by cruel and powerful Rakshasas.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.33)

anena rūpeṇa mayā na śakyā rakśasāṃ purī |

praveṣṭuṃ rākśasairguptā krūrairbalasamanvitaiḥ

Honesty is generally considered the best policy, for it is easy to implement and will supposedly get you into the least trouble. Though truthfulness and lack of deceit in dealings are good principles to live by, they are not always the ideal practices. In fact, in many instances dishonesty is a requirement for success. By studying the behavior of one notable personality, a figure who had no other objective than to meet the desires and wishes of his worshipable object, we can gain a true understanding of the purposes and limits of honesty, chivalry, kindness, and any other attribute typically considered laudable and praiseworthy.

93_bigAre there circumstances where even kindness is the wrong way to go? Philosophers and spiritual leaders who speak in platitudes about the virtues of good behavior will garner respect from the attentive audience. This is certainly understandable, as one who is dishonest, mean, stingy and overly critical of others will not go far in life. According to the Vedas, the purpose of the human form of body is to separate oneself from the animal community in terms of consciousness. Since an animal lacks a high level of intelligence, its consciousness focuses entirely on sense demands: i.e. eating, sleeping, mating and defending. In the human life, the spirit soul, the essence of existence, the individual functioning unit within every living being, has the ability to transcend the animal instincts and take to acquiring the highest type of knowledge.

Dishonesty and uncleanliness, both internal and external, are signs of a low grade consciousness. Our thoughts and desires are private; they are the only personal aspects that others can’t know about without being expressly told. But our mindset and priorities can’t be shielded totally, as they are exhibited in our activities. In this way our consciousness becomes visible to outsiders simply by our behavior. Dishonesty and lack of concern for the rights and property of others shows a low level of intelligence. This behavior is indicative of a consciousness which hasn’t advanced very far from the animal tendencies inherited at the time of birth.

“The Blessed Lord said: Fearlessness, purification of one's existence, cultivation of spiritual knowledge, charity, self-control, performance of sacrifice, study of the Vedas, austerity and simplicity; nonviolence, truthfulness, freedom from anger; renunciation, tranquility, aversion to faultfinding, compassion and freedom from covetousness; gentleness, modesty and steady determination; vigor, forgiveness, fortitude, cleanliness, freedom from envy and the passion for honor—these transcendental qualities, O son of Bharata, belong to godly men endowed with divine nature.” (Bhagavad-gita, 16.1-3)

Lord KrishnaLord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, states in the Bhagavad-gita, the Song of God, that those possessing the divine nature, the attributes belonging to the saintly class of men, cherish honesty, virtue, cleanliness and a host of other qualities. As such, anyone who tries to ascend to the highest platform of activity and anyone who tries to teach others the importance of behaving in this way will be worthy of praise. But there are still limits to these behavioral characteristics. Honesty is not always the correct policy, and neither is standard virtue. The concepts of good and bad actually only apply to the specific scope of activity. Something is considered virtuous or good if it can help to achieve the desired favorable condition. For instance, virtue for a student involves attending classes on time, finishing assignments and passing examinations given by instructors. The reward for this deference to piety is the successful completion of the course, which in turn leads to further advancement towards graduation. Sin, or the behavior opposed to piety, in this situation would be constant tardiness, refusal to do assignments and ill-preparation for examinations. The end-result would then be failure in the class, which is the inverse of the intended result.

The same principles apply for every other activity. Truthfulness and kindness are considered virtuous because they are beneficial in the majority of activities performed. Moreover, since they help one break free of the animal tendencies, they serve as building blocks towards the ultimate perfection of a permanent God consciousness. One who is fully conversant with the language of divine love never has to take birth again. Actually, simply understanding the transcendental nature of the appearances and forms of the Supreme Lord is enough to put a stop to the spiritually inhibiting effects of nature, which are carried out by all-devouring time, on the spirit soul. The bodies of the living entities are constantly changing, but the souls never shift in constitution. The soul is always intrinsically linked to Bhagavan, the all-powerful Supreme Lord in the spiritual sky. But due to the effects of material forces, the resulting consciousness focused on sense demands clouds one’s knowledge of the eternal relationship to Supreme Spirit. Therefore any activity that can lead to the gradual dispersal of this enveloping, thick cloud can be considered virtuous. Conversely, any activity that causes the further fortification of the cloud of nescience can be considered sin.

Lord KrishnaRegardless of the activity undertaken and the level of intelligence of the performer, the ultimate goal always remains the same:  the satisfaction of the Supreme Lord. Does God want us to do anything specific for Him? As the Supreme Being, isn’t He above making demands? The Lord is typically neutrally disposed towards His sons and daughters residing in the material world. Among those who want to forget Bhagavan and His all-blissful nature, there is really no difference in estimations of character. One person may believe they are virtuous and adherent to piety, while another takes pride in being a rebel, but at the end of the day there is no difference between either entity because they are both lacking God consciousness. The Supreme Lord has three distinct properties that are of relevance to the individual souls residing on the material planets. The first property is that He is the original proprietor of everything. He owns every piece of land and every object of opulence in this world. Even the food that grows from the ground is His. Our material bodies, which include hands, legs, arms and a face, are also Krishna’s property.

The second aspect of God’s nature is that He is the ultimate reservoir of pleasure. When we incorporate the first truth into the second, we see that all activities are meant to be performed for the Lord’s pleasure. This should make sense, as Krishna is the owner of everything to begin with. We’re playing with His toys, so it would stand to reason that these objects are meant for the pleasure and satisfaction of their owner.

The third aspect to the Supreme Lord’s nature ties together the previous two. This feature is also the most important one to realize. God is the best friend of the living entities. Combining all three properties, we see that by using our best friend’s objects for His pleasure, we are in turn securing tremendous bliss for ourselves. God is not only the supreme enjoyer and the original owner of everything, but He is also the greatest pleasure-giver to those who associate with Him intimately. In this way the implied mission given to all of us is to return to the Lord’s spiritual realm and enjoy His company. It is the dharma of the soul to be a lover of God; it is in our constitutional makeup to crave Krishna’s association. When knowledge of the relationship to the spiritual realm is forgotten, the loving propensity gets misdirected to other areas. In every level of maturity and consciousness, the penchant for service is evident, yet only in the behavior of the bhaktas, or devotees, does the potency for affection reach its full potential.

HanumanOne famous supreme lover of God is Shri Hanuman. A Vanara warrior and pious soul, Hanuman is always conscious of the names, forms, pastimes and qualities of his dearly beloved Shri Rama. As a divine figure and a wholly capable individual roaming the earth many thousands of years ago, Hanuman was once given direct orders by the Supreme Lord. Since Bhagavan is the Supreme Object of Pleasure and the best friend of the living entities, He has a penchant for sportive activity. Though most of these pastimes take place in the spiritual world in the company of purified souls, sometimes Krishna is kind enough to descend to earth and give a glimpse of His wonderful nature to those love-starved entities looking for a way out of the doldrums of material existence. As Lord Rama, the pious and handsome prince of Ayodhya, the original Divine Being enacted blissful lila, or pastimes, and employed others in His service on several occasions.

One such opportunity for devotional service came about after the kidnapping of Rama’s beautiful and chaste wife Sita Devi. Sita’s whereabouts were unknown, so instead of handling the reconnaissance mission Himself, Rama enlisted the help of a group of Vanaras, or monkeys, residing in the forest of Kishkindha. Headed by their leader Sugriva, this band of brave warriors was very eager to serve Rama. Their most capable fighter was, not surprisingly, Shri Hanuman. Indeed, it was Hanuman who had arranged for the alliance between Rama and Sugriva in the first place.

After much effort, the monkeys finally learned that Sita had been taken away to a distant island called Lanka, a place which was the home of the Rakshasa king, Ravana; hence it was infested with ogres who were highly skilled in fighting and prone to employing deceitful tactics. Hanuman, capable of assuming any shape at will, took on a massive size and leapt his way across the ocean to reach the outskirts of the enemy city. Yet before entering Lanka, Hanuman took some time to ponder over things and decide on the best course of action after due deliberation.

HanumanIn the above referenced passage from the Ramayana, Hanuman is thinking to himself as to how he should make his entrance into the city. We see from his thoughts that honesty in this situation would not be the best policy. If we were to consider honesty in dealings as a blanket policy to be invoked universally, Hanuman would have to enter Lanka in his monkey form and announce his intentions. But this wasn’t part of Hanuman’s task. The mission was to find Sita and let her know that Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana were trying everything they could to find and rescue her. In fact, Hanuman wasn’t even asked to bring back Sita, though he was more than capable of doing so.

If Hanuman had taken the honesty route, the intended result, the ultimate favorable condition, could not have been met. The Rakshasas, evil ghoulish creatures who were so vile that they held an innocent princess against her will, surely would try to attack Hanuman if they saw him. In addition, they would likely take action against Sita, thus foiling the Vanara’s plans for meeting his objectives. Weighing these options in his mind, Hanuman decided that he had to assume a different form. He essentially decided in favor of dishonesty.

From this incident we get an idea of how to decipher which course of action should be taken and which paths should be avoided. As mentioned so nicely in the Bhagavad-gita, one who is conscious of God at the time of death will be eligible for liberation, the end to the cycle of birth and death. Gaining release from the tumultuous and miserable whirlwind known as reincarnation forms the basic mission in life, something that will lead us to the most favorable of conditions, a return to our original position. Piety, therefore, on the highest level, cannot be narrowed down to any specific traits or attributes. Rather, the benefits of a certain action should be weighed against the effect the behavior will have on the final outcome. Shrila Rupa Gosvami, an acharya and giant of the Vaishnava literary world, advises us to accept everything that is favorable towards the performance of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, and reject anything that is unfavorable.

The activity of bhakti-yoga that is the most favorable is the regular chanting of “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex are the most unfavorable in terms of purifying consciousness. Thus these four activities, known as the pillars of sinful life, should be avoided at all costs. A Vaishnava, or devotee of Vishnu or Krishna, through their dedication to bhakti-yoga, automatically becomes the most honest, trustworthy and virtuous person. They also become the most benevolent welfare worker, for they kindly share the secrets of the religion of love to everyone they meet.

Hanuman In the same way that Hanuman had to mask his true form while entering Lanka, the devotee sometimes has to pretend to be taking part in fruitive activity, giving the appearance of being an ordinary worker who is disinterested in spiritual matters. Though Hanuman sometimes took to different forms, neither his objectives nor his consciousness ever changed. He used whatever form he was in to carry out Shri Rama’s business. In the same way, the pure devotee adjusts their behavior to match the specific situation, keeping the end-goal of luring others to God consciousness in mind. Because of his kind dedication and bravery, not only was Hanuman eventually successful in his mission, but he also forever endeared himself to Sita, Rama and Lakshmana. By remembering the wonderful Shri Hanuman, his resourcefulness and dedication to the service of Rama, and his benevolent nature towards all of humanity, we can make great strides in our progression towards the param dhama, the supreme abode in the spiritual sky, a place where everyone lives by the best policy, that of always loving God.