Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Little Help From Our Friends

Hanuman “At that time the sun did not burn that topmost Vanara, and the wind helped him, who was working to successfully meet Rama’s interest.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 1.84)

tatāpa na hi taṃ sūryaḥ plavantaṃ vānarottamam |

siṣeve ca tadā vāyū rāmakāryādthasiddhaye

The managers of the vital external elements in this world are often taken for granted. The controllers of the wind, earth and sun are much more powerful in their abilities than any collection of ordinary individuals, yet their benedictions and dedication to duty seem to get lost in the shuffle of everyday life. An individual may think they are quite capable in a particular area of interest, but when compared to the abilities of the sun and the wind, any boasting of material strength must be laughed at. These two wonderful objects, elevated living entities in large forms, can be very helpful to those whose aim in life is the rekindling of the most intimate of relationships. Though the sun and the wind are equally disposed towards everyone, when the individual takes to its natural engagement, the material elements turn divine and come to help ensure eventual success.

The sun godWhat is a divine element? How can the wind and the sun be compared to people? Does this speak to pantheism or some mythological tradition derived by those desperately seeking answers to life’s most mysterious questions? The living entity, the jiva, is a spirit soul at the core. Individuals are described by the term jivatma because they can suffer through the pangs of material existence, whereas the Supreme Soul, Paramatma, cannot. Both entities are atmas, or souls, but one is superior, while the other is inferior. Much more than just a heavenly figure that is feared and bowed down to out of sentimentalist and sectarian traditions, the Supreme Soul has distinct qualitative aspects. The Original Person’s features are strikingly similar to those of the jivas, but the similarities dissipate when the discussion turns to quantitative powers.

We have certainly heard the inhabitants of earth described as God’s children, so there already is familiarity with the concept of similarities existing between the Supreme Lord and His countless progeny. Just as a son takes on the features of one or both of his parents, the living entities inherit the characteristics of knowledge, eternality and bliss from the Supreme Father. Just as the Supreme Soul is not limited to one particular form or body type, so the individual souls cannot be accurately identified by their current outward features. Even if a temporary identification is formed off the outer covering of the soul, the body still always goes through changes. When we speak of “that” person, who are we referring to? After all, the form of the individual in question completely changes over the course of their lifetime. This makes identification based solely off outward features silly, for we know that through surgery and other medical practices the skin covering, which affects the outward appearance, can drastically shift. A man can grow a beard or decide to shave every day. Regardless of the path chosen, his individuality remains unchanged.

Simply from outward perceptions we can deduce that an individual’s identity comes from the driving force of their activity and not from the appearance of the outer dress that accompanies the performance of work. The autonomous spark that serves as the impetus for action is known as the soul, the existence of which should not be a novel concept to anyone. Regardless of one’s spiritual inclination and religious tradition, the idea of a soul is generally accepted. Those with a limited understanding and narrow vision only perceive the presence of spirit in the human species, but the workings of the eternal fragments emanating from the imperishable land can never be so limited. After all, outer coverings may change even in the human species, so to say that a soul can only reside in a particular body type is silly. Just as the Supreme Lord, who is omnipotent and omnipresent, can live in any place and at any time, the individual soul, which inherits its grandiose qualities from the Supreme Soul, can assume any type of body composed of specific material elements. The nature of these elements, their size, shape and weight, don’t have any bearing on the soul. In fact, since the spiritual spark comes from God, it is always the beacon of light, a torchlight of knowledge and bliss which is self-illuminating.

Unlike with Supreme Spirit, the illumination that beams off the individual soul can be covered up. The intrinsic knowledge and potency for action are also limited by the specific dress occupied at any given time. In this vein the species have different capabilities and varying levels of matching intelligence. The Vedas, the system of transcendental knowledge instituted by the Supreme Soul in His original form at the beginning of time, cap the number of specific types of species at 8,400,000. While this is certainly a large number, the count speaks to the seemingly unlimited combinations of matter that can surround an individual spiritual spark in the embodied form.

Lord KrishnaEven the animals, plants, fish and reptiles have spirit souls residing within them. They too are living entities, part and parcel of the Supreme Lord. Their levels of intelligence are certainly lower than those of human beings, but this does not disqualify them from being related to God. Just as a son may disavow his father, the living entity has a choice as to whether or not to associate with God. Yet, at the same time, the father is still always the parent of the son, irrespective of the outward acknowledgements and regardless of the mood either party is in. The Supreme Soul, as the original father, is always intimately related to the fallen soul, regardless of the individual’s aversion towards acknowledging such a relationship. We may renounce God, but the Lord will never disown us.

God’s status as the most benevolent is further solidified through His accompanying descent to the perishable and ever-changing world with the individual soul. When separation is desired, the jiva is placed in a playground of sorts, an area where the surroundings are constantly changing, thus allowing for delusion in terms of consciousness. The resulting mindset is referred to as bewildered or clouded because it is completely devoid of information and acknowledgement of the presence of the Supreme Soul, which resides within the heart of the living entity alongside the atma. Only in the temporary world, where pursuits for sense gratification and material acquisition are given free license, can the individual’s consciousness be contaminated to the point that it completely forgets about the influence of God.

“Forgetting Krishna, the living entity has been attracted by the external feature from time immemorial. Therefore the illusory energy [maya] gives him all kinds of misery in his material existence.” (Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 20.117)

Lord ChaitanyaNot only is the divine influence ignored, but so is other logical information that is derived from the acknowledgement of God’s tangible presence. For instance, in the conditioned state, where one’s consciousness is focused on sense gratification and the pursuit to surpass the Supreme Being in the areas of creation, maintenance and destruction, information of the quality of the soul and its vitality in every form of life is forgotten. The practice of unnecessary animal killing facilitated through slaughterhouses is only possible through this altered consciousness. To excuse their behavior, deluded individuals have concocted the notion that animals don’t have souls, or that since animals are not intelligent in any way, they can be killed at a whim for food without incurring any sinful reaction.

In addition to the recognition of the soul’s presence within all forms of life being absent, the power and potency of the agents who manage the governing elements of the world are also neglected. Gross matter is made up of earth, water, fire, air and ether, with there being a presiding deity for each element. There is a sun-god, an exalted living entity whose soul has been placed into a body of fire. Similarly, there is a wind-god, an individual who is responsible for the workings of air. Those with a poor fund of knowledge or a closed mind will dismiss such information as being mythology or some mentally concocted idea, but as mentioned before, the soul is the driving force behind the activities of the individual body. If even an ant has a controller guiding behavior, why wouldn’t a much larger entity such as the earth or sun have a manager? A car is incapable of moving on its own. It does not take on any value until a spiritual force, a human being, sits behind the wheel and operates the vehicle. In a similar manner, sunrays, wind and earthly elements are dull and lifeless. It is impossible for us to capture sunshine in a container and get it to work on its own. These elements require the injection of spiritual energy in order to function properly.

Krishna rescuing the fallen soulFortunately for us, the Supreme Soul, our original life-partner in the spiritual world, is not spiteful over our having neglected Him. The path to rekindling our loving relationship with Him is quite simple. Just as the kind-hearted parent will welcome back with open arms the child who has returned after going astray, God will take back the wayward soul at any time. For the reunion to take place and remain permanent, there must be a change in consciousness. No other requirement is there save for this purification of thoughts, words and deeds. Consciousness is not tied simply to an allegiance of faith or the performance of rituals and functions. While these activities certainly can provide a jumpstart towards the ultimate goal, consciousness is a state of mind measured by outward symptoms. The best and most obvious indications of the differences between a purified consciousness and one based on simple professions of commitment can be seen in the arena of romantic love. If a man says that he loves a certain woman but then takes to engaging in extramarital affairs, or if he constantly gawks at other women, the avowed allegiance in emotion essentially becomes meaningless. In many instances, saying, “I love you”, is simply a roadblock, a hurdle that needs to be crossed in order to get what is desired: sexual relations.

Worshiping the Lord out of fear of eternal damnation in a lake of fire is not real surrender. Such a practice is employed just to get out of pain, so the devotion is of little to no value. The consciousness of the individual doesn’t change under this model either, for the material thoughts and workings of the mind don’t cease. True surrender can only be had when there are acts of devotion. Just as we take the necessary steps to please our loved ones, be they family members or paramours, similar strides should be taken to please the Supreme Soul. How can a spiritual entity we can’t see be satisfied? What is required to please that one person who is above desire and mundane pleasure?

In our present surroundings love is a universal language, something spoken in every part of the world, in every type of community. Similarly, Krishna-prema, transcendental affection, is the only language of the spiritual world. While in the mundane world affection can come and go and be based off tit-for-tat mentalities, spiritual love is of the purest variety. Directing our natural loving propensity towards the transcendent Lord is the only business of the soul in this world, and when such a course is adopted, other powerful entities, who are working at the pleasure of the Supreme Soul, will help the individual along. Such was the case with Shri Hanuman, the eternal servant of Lord Rama.

Lord RamaGod belongs to everyone. One group may address Him by a particular name and thus refer to Him as “My God”, but that doesn’t mean that the Supreme Lord is the exclusive property of any one set of individuals. Philosophies and ideals formed off of blind sentimentalist and sectarian mindsets go against the basic properties of spirit. The original Divine Being, who is by constitution supremely powerful in quality and quantity, cannot be limited to any corner of the material creation, an area which is temporary and destined for destruction. Therefore God is for everyone; He is the only entity worthy of worship by people of all ages and faiths. The Supreme Soul, who is already manifest within each jiva of this world, kindly makes an outward appearance from time to time. The manifested form, which is completely spiritual, allows the fallen conditioned entities to get a glimpse of what Supreme Spirit is like, what His actions are, and how one can interact with Him. Shri Rama, the handsome and pious prince of Ayodhya, was one such outward manifestation of the original Divine Being in the spiritual world, the same entity who kindly personally expands and resides within the heart of every living being.

Seeing God in an outward form is one thing, but harboring an attachment for Him is another. To facilitate the exchange of transcendental love in a mood of pure service, Rama took to many activities which required difficult tasks to be completed and perseverance from others. For God, there is no task too difficult and no work that can’t be performed, but due to His causeless mercy, He allows other eager and willing servants to make their contributions to transcendental lore. Lord Rama’s activities would be talked about until the end of creation, so whoever would help Him would be eternally linked with Him, His family and the ultimate occupation in life, devotional service.

Hanuman with Lakshmana and RamaOf all of Rama’s well-wishers, none was more eager to serve than Shri Hanuman, a divine living entity in the form of a monkey. It seems odd that Rama would enlist the help of monkeys, but such are the workings of the one person who is impossible to understand fully. A ghoulish king by the name of Ravana had taken away Rama’s wife Sita Devi through a backhanded plot. The jewel of the Raghu dynasty, though of the princely order, was serving out an exile punishment at the time, so the stipulation was that He could not have ties to the royal kingdom. Unable to go back and fetch His army to punish Ravana and rescue Sita, Rama enlisted the help of a band of monkeys living in the Kishkindha forest. Headed by their pious leader Sugriva, these monkeys were eager to serve Rama in any way possible. The first mission was to find Sita, so Sugriva dispatched his army in groups to search the world over for the princess’ whereabouts.

The most capable search party consisted of Shri Hanuman, who was also the most eager to serve Rama. These two conditions were not randomly paired, as desire and passion greatly increase the chances for success in any endeavor. Devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, is practiced best when the individual is unmotivated and uninterrupted in their mindset. This was the case with Hanuman, as no obstacle was too great for him to overcome, nor was there any desire for personal honor or glory. He wanted to find Sita just because that would make Sugriva, Rama and Lakshmana, Rama’s younger brother, happy. Hanuman’s services would be required at the most critical of junctures, when the monkeys in his party reached an impasse. They found out where Sita had been taken, the island kingdom of Lanka, but the problem was that the island lay across a massive ocean. No one was capable of bounding over the lengthy body of water besides Hanuman.

HanumanThe divine servant, the most faithful and sincere devotee of Rama, expanded his outward form through the powers given to him as a child. Taking on a massive stature, Hanuman prepared for launching into the sky by ascending a tall mountain peak. Leaping into the air, Hanuman appeared exquisitely beautiful. The accounts of his journey to Lanka are described in the Sundara-kanda of the Ramayana of Valmiki. This section of the poem is aptly named, as the title references the beauty of Hanuman’s figure as he flew across the ocean and also the glorious nature of his selfless and heroic acts performed in Lanka while searching for Sita.

In the above referenced passage, we see that as Hanuman was travelling across the ocean, both the sun and the wind helped him. The sun is the very essence of neutrality. It rises and sets at the proper time and dissipates heat and light equally across all spheres. In fact, the sun doesn’t’ even rise or set; these are simply the observations of those on earth who have to deal with the globe’s constant rotation. The wind is equally as unbiased in its approach, as it blows or remains constant at intervals evenly distributed across time and space.

If both of these entities are neutral by default, why did they help Hanuman? As children of the Lord, the deities in charge of the wind and the sun are forever linked to Rama in the same way that Hanuman is. Seeing another faithful servant involved in devotional service, these two great beings had no choice but to help Hanuman. The wind-god also happened to be Hanuman’s father, so naturally there would be a bond of affection there, but the real impetus for the aid was the nature of Hanuman’s mission.

This incident also reveals a hidden secret to the workings of spiritual life. When the jiva turns its back on material sense gratification and sincerely makes an effort to change their consciousness by engaging in devotional service, other divine elements will surely lend a helping hand. In the beginning stages, there will be allurements from other aspects of nature, including interference from some celestial beings, or demigods, but there is no question that help will eventually arrive. Even Hanuman was thrown some obstacles by other devas, but as we see from the behavior of the sun and the wind, the most pious divine entities, those who are more closely tied to Bhagavan and His interests, will always help the sincere servant of the Lord.

93_big Hanuman would come out successful, as he is never tainted by material nature or selfish desires. As a reward for his kind service and the role he played in Sita’s ultimate rescue, Hanuman received from Rama the boon of always being able to remember the Lord and His family. Such a gift is unmatched in its potency, brilliance and ability to please, for it fills Hanuman with transcendental bliss at all times. Always in the mood of pure God consciousness, Hanuman can never be led astray. He is such an exalted figure that other powerful entities such as the sun and the wind serve at his pleasure instead of the other way around.

Anyone who makes a sincere effort at altering their consciousness for the better through outward activities of bhakti is guaranteed of success. The individual may not be very powerful, but through the help of other managing entities, no effort goes to waste. The best way to remain fixed up in transcendental love is to always hear about Rama and the glorious activities of His dear servants. When there is no opportunity to hear of the wonderful nectar contained in the classic Vedic texts such as the Ramayana, Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam, there are still other options, with the most powerful one being the regular chanting of the holy names of the Supreme Soul, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.