Thursday, April 7, 2011

Finish What You Start

Hanuman “That task which is about to be completed successfully gets harmed by the thoughtless messenger who acts against time and circumstance, just as darkness is dispelled by the glowing sunlight.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.39)

bhūtāścārthā vipadyante deśakālavirodhitāḥ |

viklabaṃ dūtamāsādya tamaḥ sūryodaye yathā

There’s nothing worse than starting a project, making tremendous progress on it and almost completing it, only to then have it completely destroyed in the end. From these cogent thoughts of Shri Hanuman, the kind-hearted soul carrying the torch of devotional service and shining the light of divine love across every boundary of time and space, we can see that if a messenger undertakes a certain task for his master and that the task is almost complete, one small misstep, a careless act that doesn’t take the auspiciousness or inauspiciousness of the specific time and circumstance into consideration, can lead to ultimate destruction. Hanuman aptly compares the nature of this dissolution to the dissipation of darkness at the outset of morning. The night sky is fully dark, with no hint of light anywhere, save for maybe the moon and the artificial light generated by electricity and fire. Though the darkness may be very dense, as soon as daylight comes, the previous blackout completely vanishes, such is the power of the almighty sun.

sunThe lessons that can be taken away from Hanuman’s analogy are far reaching, and not only for those involved in fruitive activity. Any action undertaken with a desired goal in mind can be considered to fall under the paradigm of karma, or fruitive activity. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, label material activity in this way because the resultant rewards are referred to as phala, or fruits. There is no better comparison to the cause-and-effect nature of action than the growing of plants. Hard work is undertaken to find just the right plot of land, wherein the soil will be fertile and ample water and sunlight will be available to nourish the seeds. All the difficult labor that goes into turning a small seed into a plant is devoted to achieving the final result, that of seeing and enjoying a fruit.

Any endeavor that we take up in relation to sense pleasure follows the same sequence. There is great effort undertaken, with the enjoyment of the manifested end-goal serving as the primary impetus for action. Certainly we will be successful in some of our fruitive ventures, while we will fail in others, but the worst feeling comes from being on the precipice of success and then failing. Sports franchises that make it to the final round or final game of the season and then lose can attest to the pain that results from a near brush with success. The agony of defeat is further increased for those who were directly responsible for the loss. Sometimes victory seems like it’s in the bag, but a player or team makes one grievous error at the worst possible time, costing them the championship. This has been witnessed in many Olympic events, with a notable example occurring in the sport of snowboarding at the Winter games several years back.

Mariano Rivera - closerIf we are about to succeed in the most difficult of ventures, it is important not to ruin everything by making a careless mistake. To this end, time and place must always be considered. Acting hastily is quite silly. For example, in the game of baseball, a closer usually comes in to pitch the ninth inning, which is the final inning of a game that is not tied. The difference between a closer and any other pitcher on the staff is that the closer is geared towards only pitching one inning: the final one. In this regard, he doesn’t have to worry about setting up hitters for future at-bats, or about going long into the game. Based on his assigned duties, his strategy is usually quite straightforward: throw the ball as hard as you can at the strike zone.

An effective closer is one who adapts to the time and circumstance of the game with which he is presented, knowing exactly what is required of him. If, however, he were to adopt the mentality of a starting pitcher or middle reliever, his success rate would not be the same. Every pitcher is colored with a certain hue as far as qualities go. These features are matched up to a particular circumstance in the game. If the same closer were to be brought in earlier in the game, he wouldn’t be as effective. It is often seen that closers have a difficult time pitching in non-save situations, circumstances where the team isn’t leading per se, but they just need someone to keep the game from getting out of hand. Bringing the closer in to pitch in the seventh inning or before also wouldn’t lead to favorable results, as the closer is accustomed to pitching two innings at a maximum, if that. If the closer is brought in at the wrong time, the manager of the team is forced to bring in another pitcher, one not accustomed to finishing out a game, into the ninth inning to secure the victory.

HanumanShri Hanuman, the faithful servant of Lord Rama, was very close to achieving his objective: that of finding Sita Devi, the beloved princess and wife of Shri Rama. Sita had been taken away by a Rakshasa demon named Ravana to the island kingdom of Lanka. Hanuman was the only member of the Vanara force in the forest of Kishkindha who was capable of leaping across the massive ocean to Lanka. Shri Rama, an incarnation of the original Divine Being in the sky, roamed the earth many thousands of years ago to give pleasure to the faithful adherents who had their eyes anointed with transcendental love. It is one thing to say that we love God and that we think of Him all the time, but it is another to actually be able to see Him in a visible form. Only those who are true to the path of bhakti, the ancient art of spiritual love, are granted the supreme benediction of association with the Lord face-to-face.

Interaction with God can involve different rasas, or transcendental mellows, the most basic of which is similar to idolatry, a mood of pure reverence and adoration. Anyone who takes to such worship is certainly very advanced, for they understand the greatness of the Supreme Lord. But personal association goes beyond this, for it is rarely seen in human circles that one person worships another entity by simply sitting still and marveling at the object of interest’s greatness. Rather, love manifests in the form of activities, service offered for the pleasure of the person that is loved. In the same way, when the Supreme Lord descends to earth, it is not for the purpose of allowing only reverential worship, for such a practice can take place in the temple with the deity form. Just as a picture reminds us of our loved ones even after much time has gone by, carved statues and paintings of the Supreme Lord remind the love-starved individual of the greatness and imperishable nature of the Supreme Absolute Truth. Since God is omnipotent and all-pervading, the deity is non-different from Him.

asvādhīnam katham daivam prakārairabhirādhyate |

svādhīnam samatikramya mātaram pitaram gurum

“How can we properly worship our deities, who are not manifest before us, if we neglect our guru, mother and father, who are manifest before us?” (Lord Rama speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 30.33)

Rama honoring His fatherThe prime ingredient in fruitful worship of the deity is devotion, something difficult to maintain in the neophyte stage, where the mind is still accustomed to viewing the wood or stone statue as being just that, material elements. Therefore, in the Vedic tradition, sincere devotees are advised to first learn to worship their superiors, the parents and the spiritual master, or guru. Lord Rama once appropriately remarked that if one can’t worship those animate beings that are naturally worthy of reverence, parents and gurus, how can they properly worship devas, or divine beings? Parents who are Vaishnavas, devotees of the all-pervading Lord Vishnu, serve as initial objects of worship for their children. As the children grow older, the preceptor, the instructor who is also an ardent devotee of Vishnu, becomes the primary object of worship. One who offers service to such individuals will be honoring the Supreme Lord as well. Just as a pet owner is made happy by the kindness shown by others towards their beloved pet, Rama is even more gratified by the love, respect and services offered to His dear servants.

Honoring the parents and guru is surely the way to go, but for those who have advanced to the highest level of divine consciousness, a state of mind where all thoughts and desires focus on the Supreme Lord and His transcendental form and pastimes, the most worshipable person in any room He walks into personally descends to earth and grants them His association. Just as mundane love is recognized through dedicated offerings, divine love, or devotional service, takes the shape of direct services rendered to the Personality of Godhead. In Rama’s case, He was a powerful and noble prince, one who had every amenity available to Him. As a king, the normal method of offering tribute for inferiors was some type of reverential worship. Though this sort of respect surely indicates a proper mindset, the pleasure felt by the object of worship increases as one further ascends the chain of rasas. To facilitate more love-evoking exchanges of emotion, the Supreme Lord set up circumstances that allowed Him to temporarily renounce His princely form and assume a more average one.

Sita and Rama in the forestRoaming the forests for fourteen years as an exile from His kingdom of Ayodhya, Rama was supremely happy in the company of His wife Sita Devi and younger brother Lakshmana. Rama is always seen smiling in pictures, and the source of His pleasure should not be surprising in the least bit. Lakshmana and Sita are of the highest character, two divine figures who bear no similarity to any conditioned entity whatsoever. It is understandable that non-devotees and those opposed to Vedic traditions would think that the historical events documented in the Ramayana are part of some mythology, for no one could ever imagine that individuals as pious, noble, kind and dedicated as Sita and Lakshmana could ever roam this earth.

But based on the fact that there are countless pure devotees roaming the earth today, and many from the recent past as well, we can understand that Sita, Rama and Lakshmana are real in every way. Their behavior and qualities exhibited were unique, but not out of the realm of possibility for personalities descending from the spiritual realm. Always enjoying the company of Sita and Lakshmana, how could Rama not be the happiest person in the world? Rama’s pleasure and supreme stature as the original Personality of Godhead are further enhanced by the close association of one other divine figure, one who is as faithful, kind, dedicated, strong, courageous and learned as they come. That individual is Shri Hanuman.

Rama meeting HanumanJust as Rama’s exile to the forest facilitated the pure devotion offered by the likes of the Nishada chief Guha, a kind boatmen in the forest, and various female entities, Sita’s kidnap by Ravana facilitated the kind offerings of service made by the Vanaras, or monkey-like figures, residing in Kishkindha. After Sita was taken away from Him through a backhanded plot, Rama frantically searched for her whereabouts, which eventually landed both He and Lakshmana in Kishkindha, a forest inhabited by monkeys led by their leader Sugriva. Through the diplomatic efforts of Hanuman, an alliance was formed between the two parties, where Rama would help Sugriva gain back his kingdom from his brother Vali and Sugriva would help Rama find Sita.

When the time came for Sugriva’s end of the deal, Hanuman played an integral role. As part of the search party dispatched to find Sita, Hanuman took Rama’s pleasure and mission to be his highest dharma, or ultimate occupational duty. After making his way to Ravana’s kingdom of Lanka, Hanuman was almost at the point of success. One more obstacle, however, lay in his way. He needed to enter Lanka and find Sita without anyone finding out about it.

HanumanFrom the passage above quoted from the Ramayana, we see that Hanuman is very aware that success is close. He’s worked so hard to get to Lanka, crossing the ocean through the aerial path and defeating several obstacles thrown his way. If Hanuman were to act hastily at this point, the entire mission could be dashed, with the hopes of Sita’s rescue vanishing at the same time. In this way we see that in devotional service to the Lord, the sublime engagement of bhakti-yoga, there is no room for haste or blind sentimentalism. Successfully shifting one’s consciousness to the transcendental realm takes dedication and thoughtfulness driven by concern for the ultimate objective.

Hanuman, taking shelter of his divine intelligence, which was a byproduct of his pure love for Rama, eventually figured out a way to enter Lanka without being noticed. Finding Sita in the ashoka garden, Hanuman relayed information to her about Rama and His commitment to rescuing her. Eventually all would end well, as Rama and the entire army of Vanaras would march to Lanka, defeat Ravana and rescue Sita. To this day Hanuman is always tied to Shri Rama, a pairing of the devotee and the object of devotion.

From Hanuman’s behavior, we see that the consideration of time and place is very important. As spirit souls, our current life is not the first one we’ve had. The human form of body was earned through many lifetimes spent in other species, an evolution driven by the laws of nature. Only in the human form can the living being inquire about God and take the necessary steps to understand the superior nature of divine love. But if this opportunity is squandered, we will have to start all over again in the next life. In the human form of body, all times and places are favorable for the most effective practice of devotional service, 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”.

“One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.9)

In material endeavors failure at the final stage usually equates to complete destruction. If our daily activities are tied only to eating, sleeping, mating and defending, our behavior is really no different than the animals. Moreover, by maintaining this mindset an animal form of body will surely be granted to us in the next life, thus destroying the wonderful opportunity given to us in the present human form. The wise realize the urgency of the moment, the need to avoid having to start over from scratch. For one who is purely God conscious at the time of death, whose thoughts and desires are fixed at the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, there is no chance of rebirth, only a guaranteed return trip to the spiritual realm.

Krishna's lotus feetThe beauty of devotional service is that no effort goes to waste. If we take to regularly chanting the maha-mantra and avoiding the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex, we will surely be purifying our consciousness. But if our maturity hasn’t peaked by the end of life, there is still no loss. In the next life, we’ll take birth in a high family, one that provides conditions conducive to spiritual awakening, and rekindle our divine consciousness ignited from the previous life. This is all the more reason to take to bhakti in lieu of any other activity. Shri Hanuman’s efforts never went to waste, and he never failed in any endeavor aimed at pleasing Rama. Ravana and his forces tried their best to thwart Hanuman’s mission, but just as the darkness is dispelled at the dawn of a new day, the bright transcendental light of Hanuman led to the complete destruction of the darkness of ignorance that pervaded the Rakshasa kingdom.