Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pulling Rank

Hanuman “Therefore, reducing my own form to a small size, I will enter Lanka at night for accomplishing Raghava’s task.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.46)

tadahaṃ svena rūpeṇa rajanyāṃ hrasvatāṃ gataḥ ।

laṅkāmabhipatiṣyāmi rāghavasyārthasiddhaye

“Do you know who I am?”, is the question angrily posed by the righteously indignant blowhards who are too full of themselves to ever endure even the slightest bit of maltreatment or disrespect directed their way. Rather than accept the good and bad points of life like everyone else, the elite, those thinking themselves to be of a higher stock than the rest of the so-called peons of the world, will quickly pull rank by pointing out their high social standing, even though it is a temporary one, to get out of unpleasant situations. This behavior is, not surprisingly, quite common, as who wouldn’t be proud of their lofty position? But those with the highest level of intelligence understand that real pleasure in life can only come through service to the only entity truly deserving of it. High and low positions are merely vehicles for service, menial or otherwise. Whether one is in a lofty position or of an insignificant stature, the desire to serve is still present. Only when the dedicated activity is offered to the most worthy entity is the proper attitude maintained. When in such a purified state, the individual becomes willing to do anything, including deprecate their natural strength, fame, position and beauty, in order to get the task done.

Krishna with Mother YashodaWhat’s wrong with being proud of a respectable position? Shouldn’t a government leader, king, or office-boss be treated differently than others? Doesn’t the respect shown them allow for a peaceful coexistence? Those in important positions are certainly worthy of respect, but does this mean that one should be falsely puffed up by their standing? After all, isn’t everyone’s starting point the same upon exit from the womb? The infant child is wholly incapable of doing anything, except maybe crying. Relying on the parents and guardians for everything, the ignorant child, who possesses a level of intelligence that is inferior to that of many animals, must get an education and follow the proper path, enduring many of life’s ups and downs before reaching a respectable position. Even within an office or government infrastructure, those in the position of power have to earn their way to the top. A President or Prime Minister usually starts out as a mayor, state government representative, or governor before ascending to the highest post in the system. When a person goes from being a governor to president overnight, does anything about their character change? Do they put their pants on in a different way after becoming the leader of a community?

The constitutional makeup of the promoted individual doesn’t change, and neither does their source of individuality. Though the presence of the spiritual spark, the essence of life, may be imperceptible to the human eye, the signs of life are visible in outward symptoms. “I think, therefore I am”, is a valid statement, but going one step further, “A body has a spirit soul inside; therefore it is alive”, is an even more accurate and complete statement. Such a conclusion, though capable of being deduced by the sober individual, isn’t originally concocted by any ordinary brain. Rather, the concept of aham brahmasmi, or “I am a spirit soul”, descends from the Vedas, the original scriptural tradition of the world. Religion is not merely about following rules, regulations, edicts, and putting on strange outfits. Such practices aid in attaining the final goal, but the essence of spirituality is the service offered to the original Divine Being. The loving inclination is ingrained in spirit; hence it is not a tendency that needs to be taught. Through the principles of religion, the natural loving propensity lying dormant within the heart is aroused. Those who awaken the fiery passion for spiritual love thus secure for themselves the greatest freedom, the only true version of liberty. In that purified state, everyone else is viewed equally, and the bodies of the entities are taken for what they are: temporary and ignorance-inducing coverings.

The spirit soul is the basis of individuality in every form of life; therefore any position of power, stature, or respect is simply a temporary manifestation borne of the qualities of a body which is destined for destruction. If a puffed up individual gets maltreated at a restaurant or other public place and then asks, “Do you know who I am?”, an acceptable and valid response is, “Yes, you are a spirit soul just like me and every other form of life.” If the elitist retorts with, “No, I am the president of such and such country”, a counter-response can be, “Yes, but were you the president when you were born? Will you continue to be the president forever? Will not your body eventually become food for a crow? As such, how are you any different than anyone else, and why should you get preferential treatment in this instance?”

“The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste] .” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 5.18)

Lord KrishnaLord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, reveals in the Bhagavad-gita - the most concise and complete treatise on spirituality, which is free of any defects, including sentimentalism, sectarianism and blind fanaticism - that the learned man, the pandita, views all forms of life equally. Whether the object of interest is a brahmana, one of the priestly class, or a cow, the pandita does not change his viewpoint. This doesn’t necessarily mean the specific treatment offered is the same. For instance, we would not go up to a tiger and pet it thinking that it is equal to human beings in behavioral tendencies. Rather, the equal vision, sama-darshinah, is applied towards understanding and seeing the spirit soul within the tiger. Therefore, the pandita, the learned man, knows that there is no reason to feel superior or inferior to anyone else, nor is there a need to unnecessary kill any other form of life. Maltreatment and offensive words offered by others is actually a great blessing, as it keeps one humble and knowledgeable of their fixed, eternal position.

Besides being the basis for identity in all forms of life, including those residing outside the phenomenal world, individual spirit also has intrinsic properties, natural proclivities, which, when let loose, lead to the highest gain. After all, everyone takes to activity to reach some positive condition. Even the altruist and do-gooders are only looking for personal pleasure through their charitable efforts. The key, however, is to find the one entity whose satisfaction will rain down showers of bliss and happiness on all forms of life. Such an individual would have to be the best friend of every living entity in order to deliver universally applicable results. Fortunately, this is the exact position held by the esteemed Divine Creator, the origin of all life, the most loveable and blissful person, who never knows any diminution in any of His abilities, large or small. Only His satisfaction, brought about through humble, kind, uninterrupted and unmotivated service, can benefit all of humanity.

Lord KrishnaIn the Vedic tradition this Divine Being is given thousands of names, each of which speaks to His specific abilities in various areas. One name, Krishna, references the Lord’s all-attractive nature. Since Krishna is capable of enchanting the hearts and minds of all forms of life, He naturally becomes the ideal object of worship. How does one go about offering their service to Shri Krishna? The easiest way is to simply remain in His association. In the visible world, company is best had through personal contact, having the object of interest in one’s close proximity. A second option is to have verbal or written communication, such as through phone, letters, or email. The Supreme Lord, being the all-powerful Absolute Truth, can grant His association to anyone simply through thoughts. If one focuses their mind on Krishna by meditating on His transcendental form or remembering His sublime activities, which are too numerous to count, the Lord’s association is immediately granted. Even meditating on the Absolute Truth is a way of gaining association, though only to the impersonal feature. Yet one aspect of God is so powerful that it automatically arouses loving feelings and association of both His manifested and unmanifested aspects, along with His activities and features. This aspect is the name of the Lord, a sound vibration which is so powerful that it is even greater than the Person it addresses.

The name, which is found in sacred chants like the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, is so sublime that it collectively carries the names, forms, qualities and pastimes of the Supreme Person it represents. Goswami Tulsidas notes that the unmanifested form which is meditated on within the mind by great yogis and devotees and the visibly manifested form of the deity which is worshiped by divine lovers are like the top and bottom of a jewelry box, with the holy name being the jewel that is protected inside. Whether one wants to worship the deity or simply sit in meditation all day, the pleasures derived can be greatly increased by keeping the name of the Lord on the tip of the tongue and firmly establishing the sound vibration that results from recitation of that name within the mind’s ear. When we hear an audible sound, naturally the vibration will enter the ears through the external holes. But when we think to ourselves, the same sounds are heard, except from within. When the name of God is chanted out loud, the sound vibrations travel to the insides of the ears of the chanter and whoever else is within audible range. But even if direct chanting isn’t performed, if the name is recited within the mind, the same benefit is there to the individual.

HanumanFor the exalted souls, those who are not haughty in the least bit, there is absolutely no attachment to the body, even though they possess an outward dress that remains completely spiritual. Matter is only viewed as temporary and debilitating when it further clouds the natural intelligence of the pure spirit soul. When one is firmly fixed in their rightful position as eternal servant of God, the material elements become servants of the service offered by the bhakta, or devotee. Bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is the natural occupation of every form of life. In order for this divine engagement to be taken up by a conditioned soul, the aid of material elements is required. Indeed, once the outward elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether, and the subtle elements of mind, intelligence and ego are employed towards seeking the pleasure of the master of the senses, Hrishikesha, they become immediately spiritualized. Since the devotee knows no other business except bhakti, their entire body beams with spirituality. Such is the case with Shri Hanuman, the faithful servant of Lord Rama who is endowed with every beneficial and noteworthy characteristic that can be enumerated.

Several thousands of years back, the master of all senses, the one entity who is intimately attached with every essence of spirituality, kindly descended to earth in a form visible to everyone, though not every person would see this individual for who He was, a divine incarnation of Krishna. Roaming the earth in the guise of a warrior prince named Rama, the Supreme Lord allowed the exalted spirit souls inhabiting earth at the time the chance to offer direct service to Him. There were many noteworthy personalities who made the most of this opportunity by dedicating their lives to Rama’s happiness, but none is more celebrated today than Hanuman, a Vanara who happened to be engaged in the service of the monkey-king Sugriva at the time of Rama’s sojourn through the holy land of Bharatavarsha.

Lord RamaRama not only gives others a chance to see a non-different, blissful and transcendental form of God, but He also creates situations that allow others to offer sincere service. A guru, or spiritual master, is unique in his ability to both impart spiritual instruction to others and create opportunities for service. It is seen that exalted gurus are sometimes driven around in fancy cars and waited on hand and foot by servants. For those gurus who are bona fide, those following in the line descending from the original spiritual master, Shri Lakshmana, the younger brother of Lord Rama and an incarnation of Ananta Shesha Naga, such service offered to their lotus feet doesn’t take away from their stature or purity of thought in any way. Indeed, such treatment allows the shelterable, those needing rescue from the pitfalls of material existence, a chance to offer their services to the Supreme Lord through a proxy. The guru, by accepting service and providing instruction, proves to be the most inclusive welfare worker, as he doesn’t just provide theoretical postulates that need to be contemplated on. Practical knowledge, or vijnana, that is exhibited by the guru’s daily business is more important, as it leads to changes in behavior. A shift in habits brings a purification of consciousness, which by itself is enough to grant the conditioned soul liberation from the cycle of birth and death.

Shri Rama, as the origin of knowledge and religious practice aimed at understanding Him, similarly created many wonderful opportunities for those eager to offer their service. One such opportunity involved the finding of the exalted princess of Videha, Sita Devi. Sita is Rama’s wife for all of time, and while on earth she had been taken away by a Rakshasa demon named Ravana. Sugriva’s task, which would be ultimately turned over to Hanuman, was to find Sita’s whereabouts and return the information to Rama. Hanuman, as the most capable Vanara of Sugriva’s army, made the brave voyage across the ocean to Lanka via the aerial path. Just leaping across the ocean was enough to land Hanuman in the annals of history as one of the most dedicated servants, spiritual or otherwise. Still, setting foot on the outskirts of Lanka was only half the battle. He still needed a way to get into the town and find Sita.

Hanuman crossing the oceanThe wrinkle in the equation was the mighty force of the Rakshasas. These were no ordinary demons; they were elitists who had no justifiable reason to think themselves better than anyone else. They lived a life of depravity, though they thought themselves to be religious. Though they regularly took to killing innocent sages and eating their flesh, the Rakshasas would also perform religious functions aimed at procuring material benefits. Though they were always intoxicated off of wine, they considered themselves the most cultured due to their gold palaces and fancy living arrangements. Hanuman was actually deserving of the highest respect from others because of his stature as Rama’s servant and his ability to teach others about the meaning of life. Yet from the passage quoted above, we see that despite his standing he was more than willing to take on a diminutive form to accomplish Rama’s task.

In this situation, a puffed up individual might be tempted to think along these lines: “I just crossed the ocean in one jump. I fought off several demons and didn’t even break a sweat. I can kill all of these Rakshasas in an instant, such is my power. What need do I have to hide my beautiful form? These demons can learn a thing or two just by looking at me.” Indeed, Hanuman is exquisitely beautiful. Any day that we have the opportunity to see Hanuman, recite his name, or even think about him we should consider ourselves fortunate. If one were to dedicate their whole life to simply glorifying Hanuman, chanting his name, and thinking of his transcendental activities, it would be a life well spent.

Nevertheless, Hanuman, in all his glory, had no attachment to any of his features. Rather, he looked at all of his qualities as instruments for service to Rama. One of his many abilities allowed him to change sizes and shapes. Through harnessing his mystic powers, Hanuman could become very small in an instant. The small form is what he would choose for his entry into Lanka. An individual driven by false ego, being clouded by their ignorance brought on by fame and adulation, would scoff at the idea of becoming small. They would consider it beneath them. But the only thing shameful to Hanuman would have been to quit or see Rama’s mission fail. His dedication to God is his greatest quality, one that cannot be praised enough.

Hanuman Not surprisingly, Hanuman would go on to successfully find Sita, and rough up the Rakshasas a little bit in the process. Then returning with Rama, Lakshmana, and Sugriva’s army, Hanuman would play a vital role in the defeat of Ravana and the Rakshasas. To this day, he is one of the most widely worshiped divine figures in the world. He is the most humble of warriors, and not surprisingly, one of the most powerful as well. Where there is Hanuman, there is always victory in devotional service. Where the presence of the name of the Lord is strong, there is no chance of ignorance, hypocrisy, pomposity, or false identification. One who always adopts the mood of humility, courage, and perseverance exhibited by Shri Hanuman will always be in the good graces of the Lord, the most merciful and deserving of worshipable figures.