Friday, April 22, 2011

Careful What You Wish

Hanuman “It is my thinking that not even the wind can pass through here unnoticed. Certainly there is nothing here that is unknown to the mighty Rakshasas.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.44)

vāyurapyatra nājñātaścarediti matirmama |

na hyastyaviditaṃ kiṃcidrākśasānāṃ balīyasām

As the saying goes, “Careful what you wish; you just might get it”, the thief who acquires his possessions through ill-gotten means gets more than what he bargained for through the incessant worry of getting caught that follows. Even the most harmless of entities, such as the wind, causes great trepidation to the miscreant who has achieved the passionate end he was so desperately seeking. Buried deep in the consciousness is the knowledge of propriety, right and wrong, and the basic standards of decency. Knowing that he did something terribly wrong, the grievous offender to the natural laws of society always remains on edge, fearing punishment at the hands of authority figures. When the time for judgment arrives, their power, wealth, fame and strength come crashing down to a halt, with no one else around to whom the finger of blame can be pointed. Such was the case with a famous demon-king who made the tragic mistake of trying to have another man’s wife.

“Generally, the wealth of misers never allows them any happiness. In this life it causes their self-torment, and when they die it sends them to hell.” (Lord Krishna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 11.23.15)

Lord KrishnaIn the Shrimad Bhagavatam, the crown-jewel of Vedic literature, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, states that for the wealthy miser, there is a hellish condition endured both in the present life and the next. In the current life, though possessing great wealth, the stingy and greedy individual is constantly worrying about what will happen to his money. “I have millions of dollars right now, but how will I maintain this? What if my business goes under? What if my investments all crash and burn? I will be left with nothing.” Money is supposedly the great panacea of security, providing a blanket of protection against destitution, which itself is seen as the worst situation. Despite the fact that in the Vedic tradition, the practices of spiritual life passed down since time immemorial on the Indian-subcontinent region, the highest class of transcendentalists, the sannyasis, take to complete renunciation, there is still a general fear of poverty by most. After all, who would want to beg for food and not have any fixed place of residence? Indeed, only the most renounced person, one who has completely taken shelter of the lotus feet of the ever-blissful, always ready to protect, all-sensing, all-hearing Supreme Lord, can completely abandon every fear and exclusively spend time travelling from place to place, chanting the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Krishna’s statement to Uddhava in the Bhagavatam is so brilliant because it goes against the natural way of thinking. The normal mindset pertaining to wealth acquisition is considered correct because it is quite prevalent. But from analytically studying the causes and effects, we see that simply acquiring wealth at the cost of hard time and work doesn’t actually bring any mental satisfaction whatsoever. If the aim of wealth acquisition is the removal of distresses, how can one who is constantly worrying about what will happen to their money be considered to be in a positive condition? Even the poverty stricken man, he who is working hard to earn an honest living, doesn’t have nearly the same worries as the rich miser, as he has nothing to lose. In this way Krishna’s assertion that miserliness resulting from great wealth leads to a hellish condition in the present life proves to be completely accurate.

“That gift which is given out of duty, at the proper time and place, to a worthy person, and without expectation of return, is considered to be charity in the mode of goodness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 17.20)

Lord KrishnaSo what about the afterlife aspect? How does one go to hell by becoming too greedy and wealthy? The miserly attitude that results from the fear of losing one’s possessions leads to a certain type of behavior, for how many of us have strong fears and then fail to act on them? The miser’s impulse reaction to his trepidation over potential destitution is to hoard his money. As a result, he will fail to be charitable, even towards those who are ever worthy of it. In the Bhagavad-gita, the very same Lord Krishna declares that charity given to the proper recipient, at the proper time, and without any expectation of reciprocation is considered to be in the mode of goodness. Goodness, passion and ignorance govern all activities of this world, and therefore they also constitute the different body types of the numerous species. The mode of goodness is considered the best because it keeps one on the straightened path, one that follows knowledge. The mode of goodness can be thought of as the highest grade in a school system, a level of thought and activity which automatically incorporates all knowledge acquired from previous classes.

If an individual who has sufficient money fails to be charitable out of miserliness, there will be a negative reaction in the afterlife. Karma is quite fair, so if a transgression is made, there must be reactions in the future. Just as how when we fail to properly erect a specific beam in the construction of a building there will be negative consequences sometime in the future, acts of impiety eventually bear fruit, and the intensity of their unfavorable nature matches the magnitude of the original sin. If an abundance of miserliness in this life causes a failure to aid those who are worthy of charity, it stands to reason that suffering of a similar nature will be endured in the next life for the stingy man. In this way we see that Lord Krishna, who is known as Achyuta because of His infallibility, is indeed correct about miserliness leading to hell in both the present and future lives.

“Just as a tree starts to blossom during the proper season, so the doer of sinful deeds inevitably reaps the horrible fruit of their actions at the appropriate time.” (Lord Rama speaking to Khara, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 29.8)

Lakshmana and Rama fighting a demonWhen wealth is acquired through nefarious means, there is even greater paranoia that results. Such was the case with Ravana, the king of the Rakshasas ruling over the island of Lanka. He had everything at his disposal; beautiful women, an unending supply of the finest wine, luxurious palaces, and a kingdom strategically located. The island was so far away from any mainland that it was deemed unreachable by any worldly being. Even the celestials, the demigods in the sky in charge of the various departments of the material creation, were afraid of Ravana and his fighting prowess. Despite his abundant wealth and opulence, Ravana’s lust was not controlled. Hearing of a beautiful princess residing in the forest, Ravana decided he couldn’t live without her. There was one problem though: she was the religiously wedded wife of another man.

On the surface, this wasn’t a problem for Ravana. He was a king after all, and it wasn’t uncommon for rulers to challenge other heads of state to duels, with the winner taking ownership of the princesses and queens belonging to the defeated party. But the princess that Ravana wanted was married to the most powerful bow warrior the world had ever seen. This man, who exhibited every quality of the most powerful celestial, had previously defeated over 14,000 of Ravana’s associates singlehandedly. The one demon in Ravana’s party that happened to survive this lethal counterattack and return to Lanka then begged Ravana not to even try to fight this prince alone. Normally, Ravana would get offended by such statements, but since he wanted this princess so badly, he wasn’t concerned with his ego in relation to fighting. Instead, he devised a plan which temporarily lured the powerful warrior away from His wife, paving the way for Ravana to come in and kidnap the princess.

Sita and RamaAll went according to plan, and after bringing back the princess to Lanka, Ravana tried his best to win over her. Unfortunately, this wasn’t any ordinary princess that Ravana had taken; she was the goddess of fortune herself, Lakshmi Devi, in human form. Known as Sita Devi, the princess was more than capable of providing unlimited wealth to anyone who wanted it and intended on using it for the right purposes. Sita Devi is the wife of the Supreme Lord, Lord Rama, the pious prince of Ayodhya. Rama is non-different from the original form of Bhagavan residing in the spiritual sky. Sita is akin to the manager of all the wealth in the world, the person who manages the books in the household situated in Vaikuntha, or the spiritual realm free of anxieties. Sita, though a royal princess, loved to go to the forests and visit with sages, brahmanas who were first class devotees of Shri Rama. Instead of desiring to acquire more wealth and spend time enjoying the royal opulence of the kingdom of Ayodhya, Sita loved to bring gifts to all the brahmanas. Her husband, as the original provider for all of humanity, behaved in a similar manner. Just prior to His sojourn into the forest for fourteen years, Lord Rama, through Sita, gave away all His wealth and most valuable possessions to the brahmanas, who, according to the Vedas, are the only class of men deemed worthy of accepting charity.

Ravana could have had anything he wanted if he had humbly asked Sita for benedictions. Instead, he chose to take her away from the side of her husband and enjoy her for himself. Obviously the latter can never happen, as it is impossible for Sita to ever be with another man. After later being rescued by Rama, Sita would prove her chastity to the miscreants and doubters by surviving the test of being placed in a fire. This incident has since become an issue of controversy amongst those with a poor fund of knowledge. Those trying to discredit what they know as Hinduism will point to the incident and say that if Rama is God, the all-merciful, how could He have forced His wife to stand in a blazing fire? To those with a modicum of intelligence, Sita’s fire test actually shows the greatest mercy on the part of the Lord. As the purest woman to have ever graced this earth, Sita had the highest reputation of respect, decency, kindness, and devotion to God. Rama knew that miscreants, present and future, would always question what really happened in Lanka while Sita was held captive. To show mercy to His wife and to allow her reputation to stand above even His own, Rama created the situation which allowed Sita to voluntarily ascend a fire pit, a test which proved her chastity and devotion to Rama for all of time.

Sita passing the fire testJust after the kidnap, when Sita rebuked him in Lanka, Ravana eventually realized that she wasn’t going to change her mind, so fear immediately set in. Ravana and his Rakshasas were always worried about being punished for their horrible crimes. Aside from abducting innocent princesses, the Rakshasas were also known for harassing the sages living in the forests. By harass, we mean attack during times of religious performance. By attack, we mean kill and then eat. That’s right; the Rakshasas would kill the most harmless men at the most innocent times and then eat their flesh. Therefore it’s not difficult to understand why the Rakshasas living in Lanka were constantly on edge. They knew punishment was coming their way; they just didn’t know when.

Final justice would come from Lord Rama Himself, but to soften up the playing field, to gather intelligence on Sita’s whereabouts, and to give Ravana an indication of what he was in for, Shri Hanuman, Rama’s faithful servant, was sent to Lanka. After braving the obstacles placed in his aerial path while crossing the lengthy ocean, Hanuman successfully reached the outskirts of Ravana’s kingdom. But he wasn’t going to enter Lanka in haste. The specific mission entrusted to Hanuman was to find Sita, so he wanted to enter the city unnoticed, in a way where his presence wouldn’t be made known to Ravana.

HanumanIn the above quoted passage from the Ramayana, we see just how intelligent Hanuman is. He knows very well the nature of the demons residing in Lanka. He accurately notes that not even the wind can go unnoticed in the city; such is the trepidation and anxiety of the inhabitants. If one who is accustomed to residing in a home with other family members suddenly has to spend a night alone, there is an understandable sense of nervousness. During that night there is constant fear that someone will attack or that some other unexpected event will occur. In these situations, it becomes difficult to sleep peacefully, and if there are any sudden movements or sounds, even those caused by the wind, the apprehension will only increase. In a similar manner, the Rakshasas in Lanka were constantly on edge, so even if an unrecognized sound were caused by the wind, they would fear that someone was coming to attack them.

What need is there to be afraid of the wind? It is actually the sustainer of life, for if the wind is properly cared for within the body, there is a prolonged life. The key to remaining healthy is not necessarily to eat a certain type of food, but rather to ensure that the wind, in the form of the life breath, is allowed to flow uninhibited within the body. By eating moderate amounts of food, we can ensure that the air within continues to flow properly, thus allowing for a healthy equilibrium between the various internals of the body. In the outer world, the wind serves the vital functions of providing breezes, moving water, and carrying different aromas. Unless a tornado was known to be arriving soon, who would ever think of being put on edge by the movements of the wind, one of the central material elements?

Hanuman burning LankaFrom their behavior we see that Ravana and his cohorts, even before being attacked by Rama, were living a hellish life. Those who go against the Lord’s wishes and cause harm to His dear associates can never have any peace. Hanuman, taking shelter of his immeasurable wisdom and ability, ultimately decided upon the proper form to assume. He would successfully make his way into Lanka, find and speak with Sita, and return to Rama. Of course, prior to leaving Lanka Hanuman had to give Ravana a taste of what was coming. Before Hanuman’s exit from Lanka, Ravana would spot Hanuman and then have him bound up, something which only happened as a result of Hanuman’s fervent respect for Lord Brahma. One of Ravana’s associates had shot a weapon that was empowered by Brahma. If Hanuman had countered the effects of the weapon, Lord Brahma would have been made out to be a liar, as his weapon wouldn’t have worked as promised. Rather than insult the self-create, Hanuman allowed the weapon to bind him. Thinking that he had caught Hanuman, Ravana set fire to the Vanara’s tail. That turned out to be a big mistake, as Hanuman later easily freed himself from the shackles and then used his burning tail to set fire to the entire city.

Ravana wished for something so strongly that he didn’t care who he insulted and what he had to do to get it. He got what he wished for, and so much more. Sita Devi, a harmless princess who never raised a weapon in her life, ended up being Ravana’s downfall. In the human form of life, there will always be demands brought on by the senses that have contacted material nature. It is the tendency of the spirit soul to seek pleasure, but when this propensity is misdirected towards worldly objects, the only result is misery, both in this life and the next. On the other hand, for those who seek pleasure through association with the likes of Hanuman, Rama and Sita, there is only happiness.

Hanuman chantingHanuman doesn’t have an opulent kingdom to rule over nor hundreds of beautiful princess to cavort with nor the finest wine to get intoxicated on. He enjoys eternal bliss by simply remembering the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord and hearing stories about Him. Hanuman’s spiritual potency is so great that simply hearing of his exploits can bring us the same pleasure. Hanuman lives forever, for his glories know no end. Anyone who is fortunate enough to even see or recite his name just once and realize his true nature will be benefitted and insulated from any unfavorable conditions in this life and the next.