Saturday, March 5, 2011

Positive Thinking

Hanuman “Just as the arrows released by Raghava travel at the speed of the wind, so I will travel swiftly to Lanka, the city protected by Ravana. If I do not find the daughter of King Janaka in Lanka, with the same force I shall go to the realm of the demigods.” (Hanuman addressing the Vanaras, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 1.39-40)

yathā rāghavanirmuktaḥ śaraḥ śvasanavikramaḥ |

gaccettadvadgamiṣyāmi laṅkāṃ rāvaṇapālitām ||

na hi drakśyāmi yadi tāṃ laṅkāyāṃ janakātmajām |

anenaiva hi vegena gamiṣyāmi surālayam||

The power of positive thinking is not a myth or a pipe dream. The chances for success in any venture are increased when the end-goal can be visualized, when the mind attempts to understand the potential feelings of elation that come after the proposed plans have been successfully implemented. In the absence of this picture, the visualization of victory, the chances of failure will only increase. But thinking positively is not easy, especially as the tasks increase in level of difficulty. Of all the jobs standing before us, none is more compelling and full of urgency than the gaining of release from the repeated cycle of birth and death. To picture perfect success in this venture, the mental image of the great warriors of the past, who, come hell or high water, never viewed defeat as an option, is required. Of all such warriors, none is more glorious, wonderful and beautiful to behold than Shri Hanuman, the faithful servant of Lord Rama.

HanumanWhy does positive thinking work? The simplest answer is that pessimism is much easier to adopt. Just as the laws of inertia state that a body at rest will stay at rest, it is the natural tendency of the fatigued living entity to sit back on the sidelines and not even make an attempt towards victory. The sleeping state, one of ignorance and inactivity, is much easier to embrace than is an active one. In order to remain fervently engaged, there must be passion, and in order for the reservoirs of eagerness to remain at full levels, there must be an end-goal, a driving force to push the passionate individual across the finish line.

If positive thinking was so easy, there wouldn’t be so many books written on how to succeed in life. Entering a library or bookstore, you can’t find a section on how to sit back and relax your way to financial freedom. There is no section of the store devoted to the great procrastinators in history. On the contrary, volumes upon volumes of books are written about positive thinking and the keys to achieving success through hard work and perseverance. If we study the famous success stories of the past, we’ll see that all of the climbs to the top involved highly motivated and perseverant workers. The successful weren’t going to tolerate failure under any circumstances, even if it meant suffering through defeat after defeat.

The pioneers take all the arrows. The trailblazers in any field of activity suffer the most in their pursuit for perfection and success. Others who follow in their footsteps often have an easier time because the path has been laid out for them, with the potential pitfalls already identified. A glaring example of the benefits of one man leading the pack is seen in the talk radio industry in America. Around twenty five years ago, AM radio, which features news, talk, weather and anything besides the playing of popular music, was deemed a dying brand. The only talk shows that did succeed were local ones that focused on providing recipes to housewives and giving basic news rundowns.

Fast forward to today and talk radio has become one of the most popular mediums for information exchange and discussion. It seems that everyone who has any fame wants to get their own show. The stark change in popularity came about primarily through the success of one man, a person who was determined to be on the radio since his very childhood. Rush Limbaugh’s parents were of the World War II/Great Depression generation, so they wanted their children to become educated and land steady jobs. Through earning a college degree, one could have the financial security they needed to avoid the pangs of economic depression. The Limbaughs’ eldest son Rush had no affinity for school though. After dropping out of college after a brief stint, Rush was determined to make it in the radio industry, his life’s dream.

Yet success wouldn’t come easy; he would be fired seven different times from different radio gigs. One station manager told him that he didn’t have the necessary skills to be on the radio. The natural inertia and penchant for negativity in the average human being would have caused most people to quit at this point. After all, nothing inflicts a stronger bruising to the ego than does getting fired. Yet Rush, driven by a passion, persevered and eventually landed a radio show that allowed him to do the program the way he wanted. The rest was history, as the popularity of talk radio surged as a result of Limbaugh’s tremendous success and unique model of syndication.

Rush is not the only success story to cause a dramatic shakeup to an industry, as similar triumphs over adversity are witnessed in virtually every field of interest. It is said that Wayne Gretzky singlehandedly made ice hockey popular in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas after he was traded to the Kings franchise. While entertainment, business, politics, and sports all require positive thinking and perseverance in order to attain success, the realm of spirituality is much tougher. Reaching the pinnacle of spiritual practice requires a change in consciousness, a drastic shift to the predominant thought processes. In the conditioned state, the individual takes itself to be the ultimate object of enjoyment; thus all activities are geared towards self-satisfaction. On the surface this makes sense. After all, we have to live with ourselves, so we might as well make sure we are happy. No one else is going to love us as much as we will. While it is certainly important to meet the needs of the self, how one can go about doing this is where problems arise, as the proper identification of the self is necessary in order to find lasting satisfaction.

Lord KrishnaThe Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, reveal that it is the nature of the spirit soul to serve. For all the interests we are trying to meet, the catalyst for action is the penchant towards service. This tendency is derived from the natural constitutional position of the soul, that of a sincere servant of the Supreme Lord. Just as some people are born to lead, while others are born to follow, every spirit soul is made to act for the pleasure of Supreme Spirit. God’s original and only position is that of the ultimate worshipable object and reservoir of pleasure. The original position of the sparks emanating from the giant fire of energy known as God is that of loving servants; individual entities whose pleasure comes from tapping into the glories and pastimes of the supremely nectarean, all-blissful Personality of Godhead.

So this seems simple enough. Become a servant of God and all happiness will be achieved. Ah, but there’s a catch. Since time immemorial the soul’s aversion to divine love has steadily increased. The longer one remains in the material world, the stronger the aversion becomes. The more one drifts away from their constitutional position, the more they will take to serving other interests, such as those of their fellow man. Even sense gratification is a type of service, wherein the allegiance is to the senses.

While service to others may seem like a noble enough engagement, the enjoyment derived is inferior. Material nature is the cruelest of mistresses; she tells us that we’ll be happy associating with her, but her promises are as empty as the air. The illusion leads to a voluntary enlistment in her service, but all we get in return is a repetition of the miserable cycle of birth and death. Therefore, the aim of life is to gradually shift consciousness, moving away from serving unworthy worshipable objects, while simultaneously inching closer towards servicing that one person who never lets anyone down.

Lord KrishnaThe Vedic seers, those who have no other business besides divine love, have documented their thoughts, revelations and prescriptions on the matter of purified service in the classic Vedic texts. Though the instructions can be quite comprehensive and multi-faceted, the sum and substance is that the living entities must engage in God consciousness through a discipline known as bhakti-yoga. Acts of sense gratification involve allegiance to the senses, those belonging either to the personal self or to others. Bhakti is the purification of all activity since it is a faithful dedication of not only action, but also consciousness, to the master of the senses, Hrishikesha. “God” is too generic a term for describing the Supreme Being, so the Vedas give us many more names for the same Person. Familiarity with these names is helpful because it serves to further increase the attachment to Supreme Spirit. The more one is attached to God, the more they will be willing to serve.

The quintessential act of bhakti is harinama-japa, or the chanting of the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Regular recitation of the sound vibration representations of Supreme Spirit is also the most effective spiritual activity because it can be universally instantiated; it can be practiced at any time and at any place. As such, our consciousness is eligible for purification at all times throughout the day. The more one takes to chanting, the more their consciousness gets fixed up.

HanumanYet just as the Supreme Lord doesn’t limit Himself to only one form, there are other outlets for service to Bhagavan which are just as powerful as japa. Carrying out the Lord’s orders is another aspect of devotional service, and it is something that has been practiced to perfection many times in the past, including by Shri Hanuman, the powerful, courageous, sweet, humble and learned Vanara warrior who roamed the earth at the same time as Lord Rama, a celebrated avatara of the original Personality of Godhead. Attachment to God is nice in theory, but the practical application is more difficult due to the influence of the senses. To lend credence to the teachings put forth by the Vedas, Krishna kindly appears on earth from time to time to enact pastimes. By appearing in a personal form, the Lord also allows other exalted personalities to directly offer their service to Him, thus showing others what it means to be Krishna conscious.

To accept service from other sincere souls, Bhagavan must place Himself into apparently troubling situations from time to time. As mentioned before, it is the natural position of God to reign supreme over all. Yet if He appeared on this earth and simply pounded His chest and imposed His will on others, there would be no chance for anyone to offer their love. If a person is deemed extremely powerful and in need of nothing, others will not have any desire to show their love in the form of aid and assistance. Even in the arena of romantic love, it is seen that the greatest service is offered by those who view their significant others as downtrodden and incapable of maintaining themselves. A good wife is one who lovingly views her husband as being an idiot, a viewpoint often exhibited in the presence of others, wherein the wife will constantly correct and make fun of her husband’s shortcomings. Not surprisingly, husbands will not appreciate such behavior, but the actions of the wife are indicative of the highest loving sentiments. If the wife viewed the husband as superior and completely independent, she would have no need to come forth and offer assistance.

Lord RamaIn Lord Rama’s case, the most troubling situation He encountered was the kidnapping of His wife, the beautiful princess of Videha, Sita Devi. Sita was taken from Rama through a backhanded plot hatched by the demon-king of Lanka, Ravana. In His subsequent search for her whereabouts, Rama forged an alliance with a band of human-like monkeys known as Vanaras living in the forest of Kishkindha. Their leader was the monkey-king Sugriva, and his chief warrior and most trusted aide was Hanuman.

After allying with Rama, Sugriva dispatched a search party to look for Sita, with the lead group including Hanuman. Though initially faced with great difficulties, the monkeys finally made some headway when they learned of Sita’s whereabouts through the kind words of a bird named Sampati. The catch was that Sita’s location, the island of Lanka, was across a vast and deep ocean, one that couldn’t be crossed by any ordinary entity. Though at this point it seemed that all hope was lost, Jambavan, one of the elderly monkeys in the party, informed Hanuman of his divine lineage, the circumstances of his upbringing, and his immense powers.

HanumanUpon learning of his mastery over all mystic perfections, which included the ability to expand or contract his physical stature at a whim, Hanuman gradually increased the size of his frame. Though a kind and humble servant who always thought of Sugriva’s and Rama’s interests, Hanuman was not weak in any way. He knew that the hopes of the monkeys, Rama, His brother Lakshmana and Sita rested with him. Rather than be timid and just wish for success, Hanuman took assertive action by boldly altering his bodily size to match the difficulty of the task and mentally preparing himself to meet and overcome any and all obstacles.

From the above referenced passages from the Ramayana, we see Hanuman confidently declaring that nothing will stand in his way of finding Sita. These statements were uttered while Hanuman was standing atop a mountain peak, from which he was to make his giant leap across the vast ocean. Since he had assumed a massive size, many trees were destroyed and animals scared away in the process of his ascension to the top of the mountain. Others looked at the beautiful, giant figure with awe and reverence. Fear is the impulse reaction when witnessing such a phenomenal event, but the inhabitants of this land knew that Hanuman was performing devotional service for Shri Rama.

The confidence and unwavering attitude that jump off the page while reading Hanuman’s statement are wonderful to behold. Hanuman was born of the wind-god Vayu, so by saying that he would travel to Lanka at the speed of the wind, he was honoring his father. The comparison to the wind is actually made in reference to the speed of the arrows shot from the illustrious bow of Shri Rama. Taking birth in a pious royal family, Rama was a warrior by trade. His arrows were no ordinary weapons; they were the most powerful agents of destruction for the targets they always reached. Not only was Hanuman faithfully serving Rama, but he had the good Lord always on His mind. He not only boldly declared that he would be successful in his venture, but he made sure to invoke Rama’s name and attributes. Krishna consciousness is not just exhibited through pledges of allegiance and the performance of rituals. It is a way of life. A pure devotee is incapable of deviating the mind from thoughts of Bhagavan. Rama’s arrows are also His dear servants, so when they are released from the bow, they are on their own to act for the Lord’s pleasure. Hanuman, adoring every aspect of his beloved Rama, kindly compared himself to the divine arrows that never fail to make their marksman proud.

Hanuman’s determination was so strong that even if he couldn’t find Sita in Lanka, he would boldly jump up to the heavenly region to look for her. The assumption here is that if Sita wasn’t in Lanka, Ravana might have already killed her. Even if she wasn’t in the middle planetary system, Hanuman was prepared to fly to the heavenly realm to safely return Rama’s wife to Him. Obviously such an action wasn’t necessary, as Sita is the most powerful divine mother, an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi and the eternal consort of Shri Rama in the spiritual world. Ravana was as much capable of travelling back in time as he was of even touching Sita, let alone killing her.

Rama Darbar From Hanuman’s glorious attitude we see that success in the most difficult task of remaining God conscious requires sincere dedication and confidence. Just as the expert golfer about to make an important putt will envision the ball dropping into the cup, the expert devotee will see the finish line of the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord. If such positive thinking is absent, there will be no chance for success. Laziness, inertia and negative thoughts are maya’s most powerful weapons in her steady assault on the psyches of conditioned living entities. The only way to break free of illusion is to focus the mind on something permanent, real and ever-blissful. The lotus feet of the original, transcendental and eternal form of the Personality of Godhead meet these qualifications. Lord Hanuman always kept his mind focused on Rama, and due to this dedication, his devotional efforts always satisfied Rama, Lakshmana and Sita. Attachment to God never goes in vain, and anyone who remembers the positive nature of the thought processes of devotees like Hanuman will never meet with defeat in their spiritual endeavors.