Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Antaryami

Hanuman praying to Rama “How shall I be able to alone see the daughter of Janaka in secret, without anyone seeing me, so that the mission given to me by Shri Rama, who is self-realized, does not get foiled?” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.38)

na vinaśyetkathaṃ kāryaṃ rāmasya viditātmanaḥ |

ekāmekaśca paśyeyaṃ rahite janakātmajām

These thoughts of Shri Hanuman, the faithful and powerful Vanara warrior, are quite interesting to note. Faced with a most difficult task, one that would surely bring him fame should he emerge successful, Hanuman’s thoughts remained focused on the interests of the two main parties involved: Sita Devi and her husband Lord Rama, the prince of Ayodhya and a fully-featured incarnation of the original Divine Being in the spiritual sky. Hanuman, knowing that God is all-pervading and that He sees what actions everyone takes up, focused his attention on pleasing the most loveable object in the world, an entity who had kindly bestowed upon him a divine mission. Such a mindset would not only bring Hanuman success in the endeavor, but it would also secure him eternal fame, as Shri Hanuman today remains forever linked with Rama, His wife Sita, and His younger brother Lakshmana.

“One who is equal to friends and enemies, who is equiposed in honor and dishonor, heat and cold, happiness and distress, fame and infamy, who is always free from contamination, always silent and satisfied with anything, who doesn't care for any residence, who is fixed in knowledge and engaged in devotional service, is very dear to Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 12.18-19)

Lord KrishnaThe Bhagavad-gita, the Song of God sung on the battlefield of Kurukshetra some five thousand years ago by the same Shri Rama in the form of Lord Krishna, states that one who is equal in both honor and dishonor is very dear to the Lord, a feature which automatically makes them eligible for fame and respect. The title of “saint” and the characteristic of “saintly” are typically applied to those who are kind, generous and show concern for others. The loving propensity, which is a product of the constitutional position of the soul, exists in every person. Not only is there a potential for love, but the resulting affection also visibly manifests in some way or another in every form of life. Even if you take the most brutal dictator, one who is prone to killing millions of his own innocent citizens, there is at least a natural affection harbored towards sons, daughters, and other family members.

As the intensity and scope of the loving feelings increase in the resulting outward behavior, the more esteemed the person becomes. One who loves not only their family members, but also their neighbors and friends is considered to be a good member of the community. One who loves their fellow coworkers and students like their own community members is viewed as even more saintly. Ascending the levels of saintly behavior that are linearly related to the scope of fraternal feeling, we finally reach the platform of sainthood secured by the greatest of welfare workers, those who show their loving propensity to everyone, including the downtrodden, the poor and those deemed to be suffering. In this way we see that the label of sainthood is tied directly to how intense the natural loving propensity of the soul is exhibited through external acts performed by the outer covering of the spirit soul, the body.

If an individual is equal in both honor and dishonor, their behavior and outlook do not depend on the opinions of others. This surely seems like a nice state of mind to achieve, but it is one not very difficult to adopt. We may scoff at the notion that the opinions of others can affect us, but it would be very difficult to find a person whose state of mind isn’t altered in some way or another by the negative opinions and hate speech directed at them. Only the true saint, one who understands the equality shared by all living beings, can remain firmly established in their position of pure consciousness through thick and thin, the good times and the bad, both honor and dishonor alike.

Consciousness is our most dedicated friend, that one thing that no one else can affect or have access to. Certainly our thoughts and desires manifest in the activities that we take up, but at the end of the day, when we are falling asleep at night, our consciousness is the only thing we have to keep us company. Not surprisingly, it is the contamination of the workings of the mind that serves as the greatest impediment towards achieving the ultimate objective in life, that of returning to the spiritual world. The spirit soul within the body forms the basis of identity. When we use terms like “I” and “Mine”, the object of possession is the soul and not the body. We can jump from one body part to another and keep using the term “my” and not be violating any rules of semantics. But if we say “My soul”, we create a logical confusion, as the term “my” already implies the essence of identity, the soul.

Though the soul is eternal, it jumps from one body type to another through the workings of karma. In fact, this constant changing is witnessed within one lifetime, as every day one’s body goes through various changes. Throughout this shift, the identity still remains the same, as the soul does not change. At the time of death, our thoughts and desires developed over the many experiences within the current life are measured, similar to the concept of one’s life flashing before their very eyes, and based on the nature of our consciousness a new body type is provided. When the thoughts at the end of life are focused on the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the Divine Being we all know as God, a new spiritual body is crafted. The spiritual form, unlike the material one, bears the properties of bliss and knowledge throughout every sphere; hence no contamination of consciousness can result.

“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 KrishnaIf one is forced to again take birth in a material body, their consciousness from the previous life travels with them. It is for this reason that individuals exhibit specific behavioral traits in their childhood. One person may be prone to acting piously, while another is always a thorn in the side of the elders. Such natural inclinations are inherited from desires formed during previous time spent in material bodies. A saint is one who understands these subtleties of nature and thus sees everything clearly. Moreover, they understand that in addition to the individual soul residing within the heart, there is also the Supersoul, the eternal witness. In the Vedic tradition, the Supreme Lord is addressed by thousands of names that identify His numerous features. These names are helpful because they bring tremendous bliss to those who invoke them. “God” is a generic term, sort of a blank canvas that others can paint as they choose; hence the very invocation of this word can cause some to delight and others to scoff. Some have taken God to be an angry man who mercilessly punishes sinners, while others have made Him out to be an order supplier for sense gratification. But the Vedas kindly reveal that in His original form, the Supreme Lord is the greatest well-wisher of every living entity. But this benevolence doesn’t apply to anything material, i.e. anything related to furthering the interests of the perishable body. Rather, the Supreme Person is the foremost object of pleasure, so His association itself serves as the greatest benefit anyone could receive.

Being keenly aware of these facts, the bona fide saint always aims to act in the Lord’s interests. This means that whatever the ultimate reservoir of pleasure asks him to do will get done, or at least a good faith attempt will be made towards the task’s successful completion. Shri Hanuman, who can be considered a saint among many other things, is Lord Rama’s favorite person in the world. Actually, Hanuman is viewed as the favorite individual by many sincere worshipers, for who wouldn’t develop an undying attachment to such a wonderful, heroic and charitable person after hearing about his exploits? Unlike the saints of society who deliver objects of sense gratification to others, Hanuman doesn’t secure anything related to maya, or illusion, to his devotees. Rather, his greatest gift to mankind is the example he sets of perfect execution of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service.

As the Supersoul, the Supreme Lord expands Himself into a non-different form that resides next to the individual soul in the heart of every living being. Therefore we are never separated from God in a physical sense, just a mental one. This distinction brings us back to the consciousness issue. One whose consciousness is purified realizes the presence of the Supersoul, and thus their behavior does not deviate in any way from the path that seeks to meet the Lord’s interests.

“The Supersoul [antaryami] within everyone's heart speaks not externally but from within. He instructs the devotees in all respects, and that is His way of instruction.” (Ramananda Raya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 8.265)

Vishnu - the SupersoulWhat does God want us to do? It seems that there are so many opinions on this matter. Some declare that God wants everyone to send money to various houses of worship. Doing so will guarantee a better “seat” in the afterlife, entry through the pearly gates of heaven. “The only way to the heavenly realm is through handing over your hard earned cash to a preacher carrying the message of the Lord.” Others similarly concoct their own ideas of what God wants, but we can actually find the real answer by understanding the nature of the Supersoul. Since the Paramatma resides within the heart of every living being, the Supreme Lord is known as antaryami, or the greatest witness. He is conscious of the thoughts, words and deeds of every form of life, existing past, present and future. The Supersoul knows of every action that we take and of every thought, positive and negative, that goes through our mind. Since He already resides within us as the Supersoul, it would be safe to assume that God would want us to associate with Him. This linking between the two souls is known as yoga, and one who can maintain the bond between the soul and the Supersoul all the way up until the time of death will immediately be transferred to the imperishable realm, where God’s association will be experienced and enjoyed for the rest of eternity.

But it’s difficult to understand the presence and nature of the Supersoul without actually seeing Him. The Supersoul is sometimes described as the nirguna form of Brahman, or that which is unmanifest. Guna is a Sanskrit word which can mean “material quality” or “rope”. The Lord is always nirguna, but from the perspective of the living entity, there are differences between the manifest and unmanifest forms. To provide insight into His transcendental nature, the Supreme Lord sometimes descends to earth in spiritual bodies, forms which are referred to as saguna. God is never with material qualities, but the saguna designation is crafted from the perspective of the living being to aid them in their spiritual understanding, similar to how we say that the sun is rising and setting, when in reality its position never changes.

One of the most celebrated saguna forms of the Supreme Spirit, a direct manifestation of the very same Supersoul, is Shri Rama, the prince of Ayodhya who appeared on earth many thousands of years ago during the Treta Yuga. Since God simply wants us to connect with Him through love, it shouldn’t surprise us that Rama created several scenarios where others could offer that affection in an outward manner. One such situation involved the rescue of Rama’s kidnapped wife Sita from the clutches of the Rakshasa demon Ravana. Rather than find Sita Himself, Rama sought the help of a band of Vanaras, forest dwellers who had bodies similar to those of monkeys. The most powerful Vanara was Hanuman, and when on the precipice of finally meeting Sita, he had some very tough decisions to make.

HanumanIn the above referenced passage from the Ramayana, Hanuman is pondering over what the next course of action should be. He has just arrived on the island of Lanka, the home of the demon Ravana and the place where Sita was being held captive. Getting to Lanka was no picnic, as no one else in Hanuman’s party was capable of crossing over the massive ocean that separated the seashore from Ravana’s island. Yet getting to Lanka was only one small piece of the puzzle. Hanuman’s mission was to find Sita, inform her of Rama’s intention to come and save her, and then return the information of Sita’s location to Rama. Obviously Ravana didn’t want anyone to find the beautiful princess, for that was why he kidnapped her through a ruse hatched up in the Dandaka forest.

Being privy to Hanuman’s thoughts, we see that he wasn’t interested in his own glory at all. His only concern was success in the mission, a victory that would lead to the happiness of both Sita and Rama. Hanuman refers to Rama as the knower of the self, or one who is aware of the differences between body and spirit. Moreover, as an incarnation of the Supreme Lord, Rama was the very all-pervading Self, or Paramatma, in a manifested, spiritual form. Therefore Rama was automatically the knower of all individual souls, or atmas. As the all-pervading witness, Rama understands everyone’s disposition and their eternal link to Him. Since Rama is the all-knowing witness, He automatically becomes everyone’s well-wishing friend, a cheerleader of sorts in the sincere soul’s spiritual endeavors. Knowing Rama’s divine nature, Hanuman would have rather quit his body than let down his beloved Lord.

Rama darbar As a true saint, Hanuman’s loving propensity, even during times of duress, is always at the highest level. Sometimes even acts of violence and deceit are required to get a labor of love accomplished, as was the case with Hanuman. He would end up finding Sita and giving her some solace through an otherwise tumultuous and fearful situation. Returning to Kishkindha, Hanuman would relay all the relevant information to Rama and the other monkey warriors. Not surprisingly, Rama would then rescue Sita and destroy Ravana, glorious acts which were aided by the heroic exploits of Hanuman. Hanuman is the greatest of saints because not only does he exhibit his loving propensity to the fullest degree in his service to Rama, but he inspires others to similarly step up to the plate and dedicate their lives to God. Hanuman is the deliverer of fallen souls, and his method of rescue is the holy name of the Lord, which he chants on a regular basis. Anyone who is fortunate enough to think of Hanuman and his glorious exhibitions of transcendental love even one time should consider themselves extremely fortunate. Whoever associates with this divine saint, the carrier of the message of peace, love and eternal felicity emanating from the transcendental world, will never have their spiritual growth retarded in any way. Just as Shri Rama, the eternal witness, is ever worshipable, so is His greatest devotee, Shri Hanuman.