Thursday, April 28, 2011

In Every Village

Hanuman “Entering at night the city ruled by Ravana, which is very difficult to approach, and searching inside every palace, I shall find the daughter of Janaka.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.47)

rāvaṇasya purīṃ rātrau praviśya sudurāsadām |

vicinvan bhavanaṃ sarvaṃ drakśyāmi janakātmajām

Shri Hanuman, the most faithful, dependable, kind, trustworthy and perseverant servant of the Supreme Lord, herein makes a pact with himself about his future course of action. Having decided on a proper plan, where he will enter the city of the ogres during the dark of night, when no one else will be able to see him, Hanuman declares his belief and determination in accomplishing the task handed to him, that of meeting the princess of Videha, the daughter of King Janaka, Sita Devi, who was suffering greatly at the time due to separation from her beloved, Shri Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Hanuman boldly asserts that he will enter every dwelling inside of the enemy city of Lanka to look for Sita. Should he fail to find Janaki in one palace, two, or three, he will not be deterred in any way. Not until he meets Sita, allays her fears, informs her of Rama’s ardent desire to see to her rescue, and hands her the sacred ring belonging to Rama entrusted to him will Hanuman rest in the least bit. Through this unmatched exhibition of dedication and mental fortitude, Hanuman establishes himself as the greatest role model, the hero of all heroes, an undying object of worship and adoration.

HanumanWhy exactly did Hanuman have to sneak into a city in the dead of night and look inside palaces for a princess? The city in question was named Lanka, and it was inhabited by a race of demons known as Rakshasas. Rakshasas sound like mythological creatures, but they are simply a human-like species prone to nefarious behavior. Their most noteworthy behavioral characteristic is their penchant for meat eating; and not of the ordinary variety either. Certain animals are carnivores, while others are herbivores, and within each species there are specific foods of taste. In the human community, there are individuals who enjoy the taste of animal flesh; thus they will take to eating beef, chicken, fish, etc. Yet these Rakshasas were famous for being man-eaters. They were the worst type of cannibals, for the human beings they would kill were the most exalted sages, embodiments of innocence. A child is considered innocent because it doesn’t know any better; so it is incapable of having ill motives and committing sin. For adults, there is motive, desire, competition, cheating, lying, duplicity, and a host of other practices employed to gain the acquired objective. Nevertheless, one class of individuals, the sages, or rishis, renounces all desire and attachment for worldly gain. Their only wish is to please the Supreme Lord. In order to accomplish their objective, they often seek refuge in the quiet surroundings of the forest.

In the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, such an austere and isolated life was possible, as there were minimal requirements to maintain a living. In the modern age, so many obligations are placed upon the average citizen in the form of taxes, insurance, appliance and automobile purchases, and home heating oil and gas. For one who lives in the forest, the bare essentials are provided for without much endeavor. Food can be found in the fruits that fall on their own from the numerous trees and from the roots that are readily available in the earth. Clothing is provided by simple rags, which can be cleaned daily by the river banks. Even shelter can be found quickly in neighboring caves or by erecting a thatched hut. With a simplified lifestyle, there is more time for higher thinking, contemplation on the Supreme Absolute Truth. Generally, mankind has some vague idea about God. This immature concept then brings them to worshiping the Lord out of inquisitiveness, the desire for knowledge, the alleviation of distress, or the procurement of some reward. These initial steps taken towards the Supreme Lord are done so without much knowledge of His fixed position and full feature set. As such, the method of worship employed by those given to meditation and those seeking solitude for their religious practice is of the impersonal variety, wherein one thinks about God but doesn’t necessarily know who or what they are focusing the mind on.

“O best among the Bharatas [Arjuna], four kinds of pious men render devotional service unto Me—the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.16)

Lord KrishnaSo how do we find out the full feature set found exclusively in the Supreme Lord? Is there even a way to gather this information? The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, were initially passed down through an aural tradition, with the first set of information implanted into the heart of the first created living entity, Lord Brahma. That information was subsequently passed down to Brahma’s descendants, which include all life forms on earth. When the written word was required, the Vedas made their way into book form. The authority and superiority of the Vedas are only enhanced by the format in which they are transmitted. The original Vedas only consist of hymns, short prayers that succinctly and completely describe the Absolute Truth as being an entity with an ever-existing, transcendental, blissful and knowledgeable form. The hymns are the best way to connect with this Personality because they directly speak to His glorious features. The names of the Lord, of which the most complete is Krishna, which means all-attractive, are included in these hymns, thus there is no need for any other type of religious reference tool.

As further time elapsed from the beginning of creation, more detail was required to keep the unsteady mind of the human being focused on the task at hand, that of becoming Krishna conscious. One who is fully cognizant of the Lord’s features, His supreme nature, and His position as the best friend of the living entities does not, upon exiting their body, take birth in the phenomenal world again. Rather, they return immediately to the spiritual sky, where the association of the primary object of thought, the entity that the human being was trying to think about at all times, is found and is never to be lost again. The Puranas, or accounts of historical incidents pertaining to God and His various pastimes, came into being as a supplement to the Vedas. The only purpose of the Puranas is to enhance one’s attachment to God, i.e. to increase Krishna consciousness.

Lord RamaThe sages residing in the forests during the Treta Yuga were doubly benefitted because not only could they seek refuge in quiet surroundings to practice their sacrifices and austerity, but they were also gifted with the darshana of the Supreme Lord. God created this world after all, so He is more than free to make appearances in it every now and then. Since He is self-satisfied, or atmarama, there is no driving force to Krishna’s appearances and disappearances other than His ultimate, undisputed, uninhibited and fully-fixed property of free will. On the surface, the appearance of Lord Rama, the sight for the sore eyes of the sages in the forest, seemed to be caused by the harassment endured by the saintly class at the hands of the Rakshasas.

On the one side you have the humble rishis looking for perfection in spiritual life, and on the other you have the lowest among mankind, those who steadily drift further and further away from the original source of knowledge, heat, and light: Shri Krishna. With a life already dedicated to meat eating, wine drinking, and illicit sex, the Rakshasas living in Lanka had no reason to bother the kind sages who renounced everything in favor of forest life. But sinful life is considered detrimental for a reason. Not only does it fail to bring any tangible benefit, but sinful behavior also further shrouds one in ignorance. Because of their lack of knowledge, the Rakshasas were deluded into thinking that the sages were their enemies, as religious life is always the greatest threat to the sinful.

Mirabai worshiping KrishnaIt is certainly interesting to note the difference in behavior between those who are in knowledge and those who aren’t. For one who is connected with the ultimate source of information, the Supreme Lord and His scriptures, the Vedas, there is nothing that can convince them otherwise of their belief system. This means that a devotee, a bhakta of Krishna, will remain steadfast on the path towards eternal spiritual life, devotional service, without any deviation. Regardless of what others may say, good or bad, in favor or against, the devotee continues his practice. Even if one hundred percent of the world’s population were to go against the regulative principles of freedom that constitute bhakti, the devotee would still continue their practice.

The demon, however, is so unconvinced of the validity of their sinful way of life, one that fails to bring any lasting pleasure, that if they simply hear a competing philosophy, one which derides the practice of attachment to sense gratification, they will immediately feel threatened. Evidence of this fact is seen today in the behavior of those who are offended at the very mention of the word “God” in public. “How dare you impose your religion on me?” Those wanting to pray in public or thank God for His benedictions certainly aren’t imposing any belief system on anyone else. Yet the miscreants feel threatened at the mere mention of spirituality. This further proves that they are not confident of their mentally concocted systems of maintenance which call for lying, cheating and stealing to gain whatever you need or desire.

The Rakshasas couldn’t stand the sages performing rituals in favor of the enjoyer of all sacrifice, Yajneshvara [Krishna], so they decided to attack. The demons would wait until the dead of night when the sages couldn’t properly recognize them for who they were. The ogres would also strike at the opportune moments, just when a sacrifice was about to be performed. Taking to different shapes at will, the demons would pounce when the rishis were most vulnerable. Not surprisingly, the rishis were helpless, as they didn’t want to waste their accumulated spiritual merits on cursing the Rakshasas in retaliation. Fortunately, Shri Rama, the warrior prince incarnation of God, came to the rescue to save the sages. He and His younger brother Lakshmana dispatched thousands of demons to the abode of Yamaraja, the god of death. Seeing his army depleted, the Rakshasa king, Ravana, decided to retaliate by hatching up a plot to take Rama’s wife Sita Devi.

Sita and RamaWith the plot successfully executed, Sita remained a captive on Ravana’s island kingdom of Lanka. What Ravana didn’t know was that Rama had subsequently joined forces with the monkey-king Sugriva living in the Kishkindha forest. The king’s chief emissary and servant was Shri Hanuman, who was capable of singlehandedly destroying Ravana and his entire clan. Hanuman’s assigned mission was more basic: find Sita. Since the daughter of King Janaka would be in a precarious situation and hesitant to trust others, Rama gave Hanuman His ring to present to Sita. In this way the mother of the universe, the goddess of fortune, would be convinced that Hanuman, who was in the form of a monkey, was indeed fighting for the good guys.

Hanuman, after assuming a massive form, leapt his way across the ocean, swatting aside all opposing elements along the way. Through this feat alone Hanuman became worthy of adoration and praise, but his business was only beginning. Now that he had reached the outskirts of Lanka, Hanuman had to figure out a way to enter the enemy territory unnoticed. In the above referenced passage from the Ramayana, we see that Hanuman has decided on a plan of action. He will first mask his original form by becoming very small in stature and then creep into the city during the nighttime, just as the Rakshasas had behaved when attacking the sages. Hanuman would be coming in peace, though, performing a mission that would make him famous for all of time. In his thoughts, Hanuman vows to search every palace in Lanka, which itself was no easy task, as the city was gorgeously decked and immensely opulent. Through his hard work and perseverance, Hanuman would successfully find Sita, temporarily allay her fears, and then return the information of her whereabouts to Rama. Eventually, all-devouring death in the form of Shri Rama and His monkey army would come to destroy Ravana’s kingdom and end his life. Sita would be safely rescued, and all would end well.

HanumanIn the present day and age known as the Kali Yuga, the circumstances for practicing spiritual life are a little different, as they are less favorable. The opportunities for taking to renounced life or contemplating on the Supreme Lord by meeting Him in person aren’t widely available. Yoga, meditation, and study of the scriptures are beneficial activities in leading one towards the ultimate platform of Krishna consciousness, but these engagements are considered inferior due to the difficulty in practicing them perfectly. For example, one who lives in a big city or even a suburb may be able to practice yoga for an hour a day, but what will be done with the rest of the time? Studying scriptures is also helpful, but how will the information acquired be used? The sages living in the forest were performing devotional service twenty four hours a day, even while sleeping.

For those of us faced with the impediments brought on by the age of Kali, the religion of love, bhakti-yoga, can still be practiced anywhere and at any time by simply chanting the glorious maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Lord Chaitanya, the preacher incarnation of Krishna who appeared in Mayapura some five hundred years ago, specifically empowered this mantra to deliver all the fallen souls of this age. Not only did He put the principles in place for how bhakti should be practiced, but He also took assertive action in bringing this spiritual potion to the people of the world. In days past, the sages would set up ashramas that others could visit to find spiritual enlightenment. But for the tough tasks, Rama sent Hanuman to go and bring spiritual elixir in the form of information about Him and His paraphernalia to those who were outwardly suffering due to separation from Him. In the modern age, the brahmanas, or the highest class of learned priests, are either not very well respected or are themselves not on the highest platform of devotional consciousness. Therefore it is up to the humble saints, the devotees at heart, to take to outwardly preaching if they can.

Lord Chaitanya and associatesHanuman infiltrated the enemy territory in the dead of night to deliver the message of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and in a similar way, the preachers of the gospel of devotional service kindly canvass from village to village, inducing others to take up the chanting process. Who could be against chanting God’s names? After all, people are already accustomed to singing various pop songs in their head. During the holiday season, Christmas carolers are generally treated very well, and all they do is go around from house to house singing different songs about Jesus and Christmas. So in this light, how can those asking others to regularly chant God’s name every day of the year be treated with disdain?

Just as the Rakshasas were clouded in ignorance by their sinful way of life, so those who are unaware of the highest objective of human life and staunchly set in their ways will not take too well to the preaching efforts inaugurated by Shri Gaurahari. But just as Hanuman vowed to search every single palace in Lanka until he found Sita, the humble devotees vow to do their best to spread the most powerful weapon of knowledge, the holy name of God, to every village and every corner of the world. There are millions of individuals in the world who are suffering from separation from the Lord, and they are just waiting to hear news of His activities and pastimes. The names of Krishna and Rama are complete in that they automatically bring the Lord’s forms, pastimes and activities with them. Even Shri Hanuman today engages in chanting the glories of Sita, Rama and Lakshmana as his most pleasurable activity. Those who take to the sublime engagement of bhakti-yoga and kindly teach others about the glories of spiritual life are worthy of the highest praise and adoration. They follow not only the calling of Lord Chaitanya, but also the example set by Shri Hanuman, whose glories and fame know no end.