Sunday, March 20, 2011

Just Another Day At The Office

Hanuman “After downing her [Simhika] by using his vision, determination and dexterity, that brave monkey quickly again grew in size.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 1.195)

tāṃ tu dṛṣṭvā ca dhaṛtyā ca dākśiṇyena nipātya ca |

sa kapipravaro vegādvavṛdhe punarātmavān

Forming a daily routine to manage the performance of one’s necessary tasks is certainly beneficial. After all, with each new day come new responsibilities that must be met. Failure to execute these tasks results in very unpalatable conditions afterwards; therefore the wise prioritize their different activities each day, ensuring that the most important responsibilities are completed in a timely manner. If there is a wrinkle to be found in this system of regulation and timeliness, it comes from the increased difficulty in coping with adverse and unexpected conditions. If we are focused on our agenda at hand, with each specific job having a corresponding time of execution, the unexpected responsibilities will, by definition, get in the way of something that was already planned. Surely frustration will arise from the sudden change in plans, and depending on the tediousness of the obligation presented, lamentation and sorrow can soon follow. For those who are resourceful and steady of mind, any and all unexpected obstacles can be dealt with successfully, with the end-goal remaining at the forefront of the vision. Though such miracle workers are few and far between in this world, the past exploits of some of the most amazing souls to have ever roamed this earth have been wonderfully documented in the historical texts of India. Of such resourceful-minded persons, none is more exquisite, beautiful, kind, pleasant, heroic, powerful, and saintly than Shri Hanuman, the eternal servant of Lord Rama.

The practice of keeping a daily routine and remaining faithful to it can be classified as niyama, or regulation. In the Vedic tradition there are various principles applied to the wide-ranging discipline of yoga, or the linking of the soul with the Supersoul. The present human body doesn’t represent our only life or even our identity. Rather, the spirit soul inside is the “I” we refer to when we invoke possessive terms. The hands, legs, arms, feet and other body parts cannot refer to our identity because we use the term “My” and “Mine” to describe them. We could go from one part of the body to another and still use “My” to describe everything. However, this doesn’t apply to one particular aspect of the physical structure used to carry out our desires and needs. This tiniest of objects is actually so powerful that it serves as the basic functional unit in all forms of life. Indeed, it is the essence of existence. This entity is the soul.

“Some look on the soul as amazing, some describe him as amazing, and some hear of him as amazing, while others, even after hearing about him, cannot understand him at all.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.29)

Lord KrishnaWe could still say “my soul”, but the statement wouldn’t be validly constructed. The word “I’ already implies the soul; it incorporates all possessiveness. Not only does the soul identify us, but it remains our source of being for all of eternity. Long before we entered the womb of our mother, the individual soul was fully potent, and long after our exit from this current body the spiritual spark will continue to remain a beacon of light, bliss and knowledge. In the temporary world, however, the soul’s potencies are shielded by the particular type of body it occupies. Since the spirit’s outer covering is composed of material elements and is thus temporary, the body is considered a product of ignorance, something not inherently meant to interact with the soul. Indeed, the more the soul associates with such ignorance, the longer it will remain in a conditioned state.

How can we tell if we are in a conditioned state? By default, this is the disposition of all forms of life at the time of birth. Anyone who is acting off the demands of the senses can be considered to be associating with their material body. Is there any other way to act? Is there a way to go beyond the senses? This is where yoga comes in. The sense demands surely will always be there, but one who can learn to control them will have a better chance of transcending the effects of material contact. Steadiness and control in spite of the impeding forces of nature is acquired through the practice of yoga. More than just a way of reducing the effects of the senses, yoga is meant for attaching the soul to something real, an object which is not illusory and not permeated with ignorance. Fortunately for us, this tangible beneficiary of all service already exists within the heart, as it resides adjacent to the individual soul. This more potent spiritual entity is God’s manifestation, and is thus known as the Paramatma.

Radha and KrishnaIndividual spirit is known as atma, and when the spark accepts a material body, it is known as a jivatma. Yoga brings the union of the jivatma and Paramatma. This isn’t to say that both entities become equal or merged into one another, but rather, they stay always connected. Just as a devoted husband-and-wife pair can be thought of as a singular entity, the purified soul connected with God’s expansion of the Supersoul can be considered one supremely potent form of spiritual energy. The husband never assumes the position of the wife, nor the wife the husband, but since they are acting in the same interest and deriving great pleasure from each other’s company, there is a oneness in the relationship.

In a similar manner, the soul in the company of its spiritual counterpart, its complement in divine love, will always be happy, blissful and full of knowledge. In the conditioned state the influence of the senses, which are stimulated by the forces of maya, or illusion, causes perpetual forgetfulness of the existence of the Supersoul. Maya is a Sanskrit word which means “that which is not”, so she allows the soul the association of anything except God. Of course everything is part of the Supreme Lord, but maya is the separated aspect bereft of the Lord’s personal association. By practicing yoga, the necessary steps can be taken to gradually eliminate the harmful influence of the senses, and simultaneously eradicate the soul’s penchant for association with maya.

“There is no possibility of one's becoming a yogi, O Arjuna, if one eats too much, or eats too little, sleeps too much or does not sleep enough.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 6.16)

Lord KrishnaAs long as the jiva is conscious, the influence of the senses will be there. Actually, there is really not a need to eliminate the effects of the senses, just a requirement that they be purified. In perfect yoga the senses are used to help the soul connect with the Supersoul. Therefore one of the first requirements of yoga is regulation. As Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, states in the Bhagavad-gita, a yogi is one who doesn’t sleep too much or too little. He also doesn’t eat in great abundance or unnecessarily starve himself. Either one of these extremes indicates behavior driven by the influences of the senses attached to maya. Through regulation in yoga, one only sleeps as much as required and eats whatever is necessary to maintain the body. After all, the ultimate aim is to connect with God, so if the body is always tired and hungry how can there be any dhyana, or concentration on the Supersoul? Similarly, if the stomach is stuffed to the hilt at all times and the body is constantly lazy due to oversleep, the condition will pose a major hindrance towards the ideal union in consciousness of the individual with God.

Niyama, or a set of regulative principles, is certainly beneficial towards achieving the ultimate goal. In fact, many people employ the technique of using a routine in areas of life outside of yoga. Bodybuilders, family men, authors, athletes, and so many others follow a strict daily schedule in order to meet their goals. But what happens if there is a wrinkle in the plans? Let’s take the working family man as an example. On a typical work day, he gets up at a certain time, prepares for going to the office, spends time at work, and then finally comes home. What if all of a sudden he sees that there is a crack on the windshield of his car? He now has to call up his insurance company and schedule an appointment for someone to come and fix the glass. In addition, he will have to make sure someone is around to interact with the repairman, a condition which might cause absence from work.

clock What if right before the family man is ready to drive home after a tough day at the office, the wife calls him and says, “Honey, can you pick up some milk from the supermarket? Can you also stop by the drycleaner and pick up our clothes? Thanks. I love you.” The man has been working hard all day and was so looking forward to going home, but now he has to run errands. Similarly, what if during the ride home he notices that the fuel tank in the car is low on gasoline? He now has to make an additional stop at the gas station.

These are just small nuisances, but even greater ones such as family emergencies and traffic accidents on the road can arise . With these wrinkles to the daily routine, frustration surely can set in. “What the heck? Why do I have to deal with all this stuff? What did I do wrong? I don’t understand.” The understanding is actually there in all of us; it’s just that the tunnel-like vision of focusing on the routine gets in the way of anticipation and expectation of unforeseen circumstances. Since the conditioned entities live off bodily designations and the effects of the senses, not everyone will adhere to a regular schedule. Not everyone is after achieving yoga, so the results of the activities driven by sense demands can often collide with the interests of those who are sincerely making an effort at experiencing the bliss that comes from sharanagati, or full surrender to God.

Hanuman deityShri Hanuman, the faithful servant of Lord Rama, is always engaged in yoga. Sometimes his spiritual practice involves meditation, while at other times it consists of chanting the glories of the Lord. During the Supreme Godhead’s famous time on earth as the prince of the Raghu dynasty many thousands of years ago, Hanuman got to perform yoga by carrying out the Lord’s orders. Hanuman’s chanting Rama’s name, remembering His glorious activities and serving His lotus feet are all part of the sublime engagement of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Just as niyama and dhyana are central aspects of yoga in general, they play an integral role in bhakti as well. Part of Hanuman’s yoga practice involved a difficult reconnaissance mission, wherein he and his fellow monkey-like figures, or Vanaras, were tasked with finding the whereabouts of Rama’s kidnapped wife Sita Devi. Though the other monkeys in his party were very powerful and brave, none of them could match Hanuman in strength and abilities.

As a powerful yogi, Hanuman has a firm grasp of the wonderful abilities to become excessively large in stature and minutely small within in instant. Depending on the specific situation, he can make use of either perfection, or siddhi. Though his mastery of yoga is quite remarkable, his greatest attribute always remains his devotion to God. His allegiance to the interests of his beloved Rama would be tested in many situations, with some being more dire than others. When the monkey group finally learned that Sita was being held on a far away island called Lanka, they became even more determined to find her. Yet only Hanuman was capable of crossing over the giant ocean that separated the monkey host from Lanka. Taking on a massive form, Hanuman assumed a perch atop a mountain peak and then thrust himself into the air. Coursing through the sky, the beautiful son of the wind-god speedily made his way towards Lanka.

HanumanWhile in the air Hanuman was in complete meditation and wholly deferent to his prescribed regulative activity of coursing through the sky to reach Sita. Yet, as is seen in life, unexpected obstacles come in the way of even the most carefully thought out plans. After maneuvering past a giant female serpent named Surasa, Hanuman’s next obstacle came in the form of a ghoulish female ogre named Simhika. This female Rakshasa was previously given the special benediction of being able to catch anyone by their shadow. Remaining in the water, Simhika stopped Hanuman’s flight by grabbing on to his shadow. Seeing that his progress was impeded by a demon in the water, Hanuman immediately remembered who she was and what her abilities were.

Simhika then insisted on eating Hanuman, for that was her nature. At this point, it would be understandable if the devoted worker would become despondent. Especially if we are engaged in religious affairs, the expectation of peace and lack of disturbances will surely be there. But Hanuman loved Rama so much that he wouldn’t let anyone get in his way. Even if there were unexpected obstacles, he wasn’t going to lament his condition. Instead of giving in to defeat, he used his tremendous intellect to find a way out of the situation. Hanuman immediately assumed a massive form, thereby forcing Simhika to similarly increase the size of her mouth. Her enhanced size could then accommodate Hanuman’s enlarged form. Seeing her newly enlarged wide open mouth, Hanuman then decided to take a diminutive form and fly into the ogre’s stomach. From within her body, he ripped her insides to shreds, thus ending her life.

Hanuman Though the incident with Simhika was quite troublesome and unexpected, Hanuman treated it like just another day at the office. He would eventually reach Lanka, find Sita, return to Rama, and then help the Lord and the Vanaras defeat the king of Lanka, Ravana, in a fierce battle. All would end well, due in no small part to Hanuman’s efforts. Shri Sankat Mochan is always fixed in yoga, and he is always full of bliss due to his intimate association with Rama, His wife Sita, and His younger brother Lakshmana. If our dhyana and niyama should happen to include focus on Hanuman and his divine activities, only wonderful benefits can result. By always remembering Rama’s beloved friend, servant and well-wisher, our hopes for spiritual salvation will certainly become a reality.