Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mission Statement

Hanuman “In every respect, I will do whatever is necessary to find Sita. If I am unsuccessful, I will uproot the city of Lanka and bring it back here with Ravana.” (Hanuman addressing the Vanaras, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 1.42)

sarvathā kṛtakāryo'hameṣyāmi saha sītayā |

ānayiṣyāmi vā laṅkāṃ samutpāṭya sarāvaṇām

Shri Hanuman is here stating the objective of his mission, the purpose behind the most transcendental of promised acts, that of leaping across the massive ocean to the island of Lanka, where the Rakshasa king Ravana was residing with his band of ogre cohorts. Hanuman was the most powerful and capable warrior in a group of soldiers asked to find the whereabouts of a missing princess, a sweet lady who was taken away from her dear husband through a backhanded plot. Though the mission was difficult, Hanuman was up to the task. And lest anyone doubt his chances for success, Hanuman gave assurance that even if he couldn’t find the beautiful princess of Videha, he would uproot the massive island inhabited by her captor and bring it back with him.

HanumanWhy was Hanuman given this task? Moreover, who was the divine princess that garnered so much attention? During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, a handsome and pious prince took birth in the exalted Raghu dynasty, a family which traced its lineage back to not only the notable King Raghu, but also Maharaja Ikshvaku, one of the first kings on earth. Anytime a child was born in this dynasty it was a big occasion, but the birth of one particular prince was especially noteworthy due to the fact that the king at the time, Maharaja Dasharatha, was without a son. For the family line to continue, there must be a son, a successor to whom the reigns of the government can be passed down. Not only was Dasharatha’s son fit in every respect to handle the control of the leadership, but He also happened to be an incarnation of Godhead.

God can incarnate? The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, accurately note that the human being constantly goes through changes resulting from the forces of nature, which work to alter the surroundings consisting of matter. Something as simple as water can change in appearance and utility depending on the temperature and the container it is placed into. When a large amount of water is placed in a recessed area of the earth, the result is a pond, lake, or river. When the same water is put into an earthen pot, we have a pitcher of water. When poured into a container used by the human being for consumption purposes, the water turns into a drink. When the same water is cooled to the freezing point, it turns into ice, something which can be used to cool a beverage or give comfort to a wounded portion of the body. When the same water is heated to the boiling point, water vapor results, something which can be used to steam vegetables and provide comfort to ailing muscles.

“The five great elements, false ego, intelligence, the unmanifested, the ten senses, the mind, the five sense objects, desire, hatred, happiness, distress, the aggregate, the life symptoms, and convictions-all these are considered, in summary, to be the field of activities and its interactions.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 13.6-7)

Krishna speaking to ArjunaThe identity of the individual, the basic functional unit within all forms of life, is the spirit soul. Yet just like water, the spiritual spark can give the appearance of different forms based on its outer covering. It is not that the soul can change in property, but rather, its container can shift in makeup. Sometimes the container is that of a plant, while at other times it can be one belonging to a ferocious animal. Only in the human form of body can the knowledge of the nature of the container and its owner be realized. The owner of the body is also known as the knower. The body and the matter on which it operates are known as the field of activities.

“The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: This body, O son of Kunti, is called the field, and one who knows this body is called the knower of the field.” (Bg. 13.2)

Why the need to understand the distinction between the field and the knower of the field? Is there any advantage to knowing this information? If the aim of life is taken to be repeated indulgences in sense gratification, wherein the tongue, genitals, eyes, ears and taste buds are satisfied to the extreme at all times of the day, then there is no difference between the animal form of life and a human one. In fact, in the absence of knowledge of all things spiritual, the argument can be made that the animal form of life is more beneficial. After all, an animal enjoys eating, sleeping, mating and defending just like the human being except without all the hassle. There is no concern over tax rates, the mortgage payment, unrequited love, and most importantly, fear of death. The animal has no knowledge of these things, for the focus is solely on sense gratification.

Human beings are given advanced intelligence for a reason. Through logical deduction and observation of the events around them, man can tell that their containers are constantly changing. At the time of birth, the covering of the soul is considered fresh and full of potential. As time goes on, the shell gradually develops and partakes of activities. There reaches a point, however, when the covering stops growing and starts to dwindle. The last step in the decaying process is death, where the spirit soul within the body finally exits. The future destination of the soul is then determined by the desires of the entity at the precise time of quitting the body and also the results of the work that were previously performed.

“The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another as the air carries aromas.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 15.8)

Lord KrishnaBased on the nature of these changes, we see that the soul is not affected by any processes of growth or diminution. In fact, the soul never changes in properties. From the knowledge passed down through a tradition of spiritual enlightenment which began from the first created living being, Lord Brahma, we understand that the soul has a life partner, an ideal loveable object if you will. There are actually two souls within each body, one identifying the individual and the other identifying a Superior Entity. In most circles the superior is addressed as God, but this term is very vague and not providing of any bliss or sweetness. Why is there a need to take pleasure from God? Actually, knowledge, bliss and sweetness are always tied to the soul’s qualities and desires. In order for true pleasure to be found, there must be a complimentary entity, one that interacts with the soul and provides it happiness.

In the conditioned state, one where the soul is placed into a temporary and ever-changing container, the search for love leads to all areas except those where God’s personal presence is felt. The plenary expansion of the Lord known as the Supersoul resides within the heart of every living entity, side-by-side with the individual soul. The Supersoul is different, however, in that it doesn’t take part in any activities driven by the individual, nor is it beholden to any of the laws of nature. The soul’s destination is determined by its consciousness at the time of death, but the Supersoul’s is not. What is the purpose of God’s incarnating inside the conditioned entity then? Why, pleasure of course. Though the individual will misdirect its loving propensities towards external objects, simply looking inside itself is enough to find the real form of the bliss that is so desperately sought after.

Understanding the presence of the Supersoul is not easy, even for those who are sufficiently trained in a spiritual discipline which touches on the relevant topics of life, death, karma and the constitutional position of individual spirit. To help the illusioned living entities understand who God is and how He exists inside of everyone, the Supreme Lord appears in a manifested form, one that is visible to the external senses of the living entity. If the spirit soul can reside in a container which is visible to others, then surely the Supreme Lord can as well.

Lord RamaA key distinction with the bodies possessed by God’s manifested appearance on earth is that there is no difference between the knower and the field of activities. For God, there is no difference between body and soul, matter and spirit. He is always spiritual. In fact, the manifested form of the Supreme Lord is no different than the one residing within the heart as the Supersoul. The cause for the difference in understanding is the angle of vision of the conditioned entity, who is trapped inside a container which clouds the natural, transcendental vision.

Lord Rama, the prince of Ayodhya, the eldest son of Maharaja Dasharatha, is one of God’s most celebrated manifested forms to have appeared on earth. In addition to playing the role of a prince perfectly, Rama took part in many wonderful pastimes aimed at attracting the hearts and minds of those sincere souls who were desperately looking to connect with the Supreme Lord through the process of yoga. In order to further the attachment felt by the citizens of the time, and also future generations of devotees who would read about the accounts of Rama’s life found in wonderful books such as the Ramayana and Ramacharitamanasa, the Lord took to divine activities, some of which outwardly seemed to be unpleasant and the source of heartache and pain.

Sita and RamaOne such incident involved the kidnapping of Rama’s beautiful and chaste wife Sita Devi. The king of Lanka at the time, a ghoulish figure named Ravana, was very lusty and intent on enjoying as much sex life as possible. Hearing of a beautiful princess residing in the forest of Dandaka, Ravana became intent on having her. Since he couldn’t defeat Rama in a one-on-one battle, Ravana hatched up a scheme which momentarily lured Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana away from Sita’s side. Pouncing on the opportunity, Ravana forcibly took Sita back to his kingdom of Lanka.

To help in the search for Sita, Rama teamed up with a group of Vanaras living in the Kishkindha forest. Their king was Sugriva, who had a massive army of soldiers at his disposal. Dispatching them around the world to look for Sita, Sugriva hoped to please Rama by finding His beloved wife. One search party in particular was considered the most capable. They were headed by Sugriva’s nephew, Angada, but the true strength of the group lay in the wonderful power, perseverance, courage and devotion to Rama found in Shri Hanuman, Sugriva’s most faithful servant.

Not surprisingly, Hanuman would be called to step up to the plate when the monkey group came upon their most troublesome situation. Learning that Sita was in Lanka, the monkeys were prepared to march forth, but they first had to figure out a way to get across the massive body of water that separated them from Ravana’s island. At this time, it was discovered that only Hanuman, who was capable of assuming any sized shape at will, could leap far enough to make it across the ocean and thus reach Sita.

Hanuman In the above referenced quote, Hanuman is openly declaring the objectives of his soon-to-be completed mission to the monkeys. He had just assumed a massive size and climbed atop a mountain peak. He was ready to leap into the sky, so before going he wanted to state clearly what his purpose was and what he would do if different obstacles stood in his way. First, he said that he would find Sita in Lanka, and that if she wasn’t there, he would leap all the way up to heaven and find her there. If Sita couldn’t be found in heaven, Hanuman would bring Ravana back to the monkeys as a captive. Finally, Hanuman reassured his friends that in every respect, with whichever route he would follow, he would do whatever it would take to find Sita. If, after exhausting all his efforts, he was still not able to find her, he would uproot the entire city of Lanka and bring it back with him.

Such wonderful and inspiring sentiments emanating from the lotus mouth of a dear servant of the Lord are uttered with a purpose. The aim is to show others just how dedicated the performer is to a particular mission. In the movie Batman Returns, one of the lead villains is played by the actor Christopher Walken. Towards the beginning of the film, Walken’s character, who is a businessman, is involved in a secret meeting to put something into place that would be damaging to the city he inhabits. His secretary accidentally overhears his nefarious plot, and instead of trying to silence her, Walken pushes her through a window on one of the upper floors of the high-rise office building. Being a fictional movie relating to superheroes, the secretary is able to survive the great fall after being resuscitated by cats. She then turns into the villainous character, Catwoman. When she returns to her secretary post a few days later, Walken’s character is shocked to see her alive. Though somewhat phased by the development, Walken’s character later openly quips that if she should try to blackmail him over what had happened, he’ll just push her out of a higher window.

Christopher Walken in Batman Returns This line aroused great laughter in the theater that we happened to be watching the movie in. The reason for the humor is quite obvious: the character was so set in his evil ways that he was firmly committed to killing all his opponents, no matter how hard he had to work. If one method didn’t succeed, he would just put more power into the job the second time around. A similar mindset, though in a purified form, existed with Hanuman. If Sita wouldn’t be found in Lanka, Hanuman would go to wherever she was residing. If he couldn’t find her anywhere, he’d take Ravana back to Rama. If Ravana didn’t want to go, Hanuman would carry the entire city back with him; such was the dedication of Rama’s dearmost servant.

Though Hanuman was a soldier engaged in a reconnaissance mission, he was actually performing a form of yoga known as bhakti. As mentioned before, true bliss for the soul is found through interaction with the Supersoul within the heart. The linking of these two souls is known as yoga. Since there is more than one way to achieve this link, there are different names ascribed to yoga. Bhakti is the discipline which aims to connect with God, in any of His non-different expansions, through acts of love and devotion. Hearing and chanting are the two most effective processes, but carrying out the orders of the Lord is also a tremendously potent and authorized method of bhakti. Hanuman constantly hears about Rama’s glories and chants His name on a daily basis, so in this sense his mood of bhakti is never broken.  Nevertheless, he also had the wonderful benediction of being able to personally carry out the Lord’s orders given to him through the proxy of Sugriva.

Rama Darbar Bhakti is transcendental love, so when carrying out God’s orders, there must be determination and a sincere will to achieve success. As displayed by Hanuman, perseverance and dedication is the key. Even if success is not achieved, there must not be any hesitation in the intent. Hanuman didn’t say, “Oh, perhaps I will succeed, and maybe I will find Sita and return the information of her whereabouts to Rama.” He was acting for the pleasure of the Lord, so he took the mission as his life and soul. In a similar manner, we should take full advantage of the human form of body by making success in devotional service, bhakti-yoga, our only mission in life. Dedication to chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and refraining from the most sinful activities will help put us on our way. Difficult times will surely be encountered every now and then, but if we remember the wonderful determination of Hanuman, the great love he feels for Sita and Rama, and the unbreakable bond of affection that Sita, Rama and Lakshmana have for him, we will never fail in our mission.