Monday, April 11, 2011

Rama Navami 2011

Mother Kaushalya with Lord Rama “Today is the most auspicious day; the time and circumstance are joyous and beautiful. Shri Rama, the abode of beauty, character and divine qualities, has appeared in the king’s palace.”  (Gitavali, 1.1.1)

āju sudina subha gharī suhā'ī |

rūpa-sīla-guna-dhāma rāma nṛpa-bhavana praga।ta bhae ā'ī ||

Shri Rama Navami, the appearance day anniversary of the compassionate Lord, the abode of all virtue and good qualities, Shri Ramachandra, the jewel of the Raghu dynasty, the only savior for those who have abandoned all hope for finding satisfaction in a temporary world full of ups and downs, defeats and gains and losses and victories, is especially honored, remembered and celebrated by the devotees. While worshiping God and dedicating our lives to His service entails a daily dedication to action and routine, the holidays of the Vedic tradition, the special occasions that bring an added emphasis on remembrance, help to both maintain the devotional mindset and also bring others into the celebration, allowing everyone in the world to feel the transcendental bliss that can only come through mental association with our dearmost friend, the living being who never undergoes birth or death and who remains steadfast in His vow to always protect the surrendered souls.

Lord RamaMore than a mere process of religion or spirituality, complete and total surrender to God enacted voluntarily in a mood of love and affection represents the true dharma of the soul, the constitutional mindset for every form of life. Yet only in the human species can the distinctions between lifestyles and activities even be made. This assessment will ideally be followed by a sober evaluation, where tasks are properly prioritized. Of all the priorities we may think take precedence, none is more important than the maintaining of the fidelity of the relationship with the Supreme Spirit, the spiritual entity who resides within our heart next to the individual soul. For all of eternity, it’s just the two of us, ourselves and the Supreme Lord, who never leaves us for even a second.

Does this mean that God is with us right now? The Supreme Person’s presence can be felt during every second of every day within every sphere of life. But only through an advanced level of intelligence, one secured through rigorous training following humble submission to a bona fide spiritual master, an authority figure who has himself abandoned all other engagements in life that have no relation to bhakti, or divine love, can this omnipresence of the Supreme Lord and His accompanying worthiness of worship be properly understood. At the time of birth, these concepts remain unknown to us, especially if our accepted body type happens to be a lower form, like that of an animal. If it eats, sleeps, mates and defends, it’s a form of life. If the autonomous entity goes through birth, old age, disease and death, it is a life. Never mind its level of intelligence or whether or not it knows who or what God is. Indeed, many human beings take to stupid activity, reckless and nonsensical behavior that doesn’t further any tangible purpose. Despite the presence of such fools, we would never consider them to not be living beings, to not have souls inside of them. Similarly, even the animal kingdom, though not having anywhere near the intelligence levels of human beings, are God’s children, spirit souls who have every right to be in the association of the Supreme Lord.

“The intelligence of the individual soul is exhibited like fire in wood. Although fire is always fire, it is exhibited in a size proportionate to the size of the wood. Similarly, although the individual soul is qualitatively one with the Supreme Lord, he exhibits himself according to the limitations of his present body.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 32)

Hanuman worshiping Sita and RamaThrough bhakti the divine consciousness can be awakened. Knowledge of God and His spiritual attributes is currently resting in a dormant state within the heart, like a book that hasn’t been opened for a very long time. Just like their Supreme Father, every living being is eternally blissful and knowledgeable, but since God is superior, only He can retain these properties at the highest levels at all times. The individual spirit souls, when choosing to leave the personal company of the Ultimate Reservoir of Pleasure, have their attributes deprecated by both the natural effects of material nature and the competing forces vying for supremacy. A fire can burn at a great intensity provided it has enough fuel and objects to consume. The living entities have potencies that function similarly, but in the conditioned state their abilities are limited to the body type they accept. In the spiritual land, however, where everyone wants to serve the Lord, there are no limitations on action or enjoyment. Therefore through a simple shift in consciousness, wherein thoughts and desires are turned towards meeting the interests of the Supreme Lord, from whom all our wonderful qualities emanate, the supreme destination can be attained. With that return to the spiritual realm, the primary source of all miseries in life gets removed, thereby allowing the soul to enjoy a permanent blissful condition.

Sharanagati is the process of full and complete surrender that brings about this bliss. Realizing the need for surrender is quite difficult, especially if we have been programmed otherwise through many lifetimes on earth. Therefore explicit processes of bhakti are required to help train the mind properly. The most effective method of devotional service for the people of the present age is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The word “Krishna” describes the Supreme Lord’s form as the all-attractive wielder of the flute and the delight of the residents of Vrajabhumi, the spiritual land of Vrindavana. Rama addresses the jewel of the Raghu dynasty, the pious and handsome prince who appeared in the family of King Dasharatha on the wonderful occasion of Rama Navami. The key benefit of chanting the names of God is that time is spent engaged in devotional service, and thus consciousness can get shifted.

King of AyodhyaAll processes of bhakti-yoga have the same objective, that of keeping the thoughts of the mind focused on the Supreme Lord, His names, activities and pastimes. As consciousness is the key ingredient in attaining spiritual salvation, it would make sense that remembering, or smaranam, would be another important tool employed by the sincere transcendentalist following the bhakti tradition. Indeed, remembering alone can solve all problems, as the mind can travel millions of miles to another land, and even many years into the past. Goswami Tulsidas, the celebrated Vaishnava poet, in his Gitavali seemingly travels directly back into time with his spiritually infused mind to delight in the occasion of Rama’s appearance in Ayodhya, an event which occurred many thousands of years ago during the Treta Yuga.

In the above quoted verse, Tulsidas is declaring the day of Rama’s appearance to be all-auspicious. Having mentally transferred himself to the city of Ayodhya on the wonderful day of Rama’s advent, the poet notes that during this time all external conditions are favorable and conducive towards good fortune. Though according to our estimation Rama was a historical personality who appeared on this earth in the past, the comings and goings of the Supreme Lord and His various incarnations constantly take place in other universes as well. Therefore remembering God and His pastimes doesn’t necessarily have to involve focusing on the past. Somewhere at this very minute Shri Rama is appearing on an earthly planet, and His beloved devotee Tulsidas is gladly watching the scene and noting the behavior of the wonderful citizens of Ayodhya-dhama.

Dasharatha performing yajna for attaining a sonShri Rama appeared in a royal dynasty, one descending from the first king on earth, Maharaja Ikshvaku. Due to the family’s exalted status, whenever a son was born into their line, it was a big deal. At the time of Rama’s advent, the present ruler of the dynasty, Maharaja Dasharatha, was without a son. Therefore the birth of the first son from the womb of Queen Kaushalya, the king’s wife, was a grand occasion, one that signaled the beginning of the transfer of ownership of the kingdom to a new generation. But this was no ordinary son. As the Supreme Lord, Rama is the abode of all good qualities, character and beauty. It is a mistaken belief by some transcendentalists that the material world is false and thus the cause of only misery. Any object, without knowing how to make proper use of it, can certainly be damaging. And it is indeed a fact that the material universe was created to facilitate the desires of those souls who wanted to imitate God in the areas of creation, maintenance and destruction. In the material land, the pure spirit souls are enveloped by gunas, or material qualities, which can be of the goodness, passion or ignorance variety.

“The Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is greater than all, is attainable by unalloyed devotion. Although He is present in His abode, He is all-pervading, and everything is situated within Him.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.22)

But gunas can immediately become spiritualized if they are used to further one’s God consciousness. Since matter comes from God, when it is associated with Him, it becomes glorious and completely spiritual. Indeed, the spiritual world is not filled with void or formlessness. There is to be found every variety of engagement and beauty within the transcendental sphere. Distinctions are made between the two lands because matter in the imperishable realm is considered divine, or daivi prakriti. Shri Rama is the origin of all gunas, or the abode of all qualities. Wherever He goes, all His transcendental traits come with Him.

Lord RamaRama is also the most beautiful, as that is one of the features possessed by Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead who is replete with the six opulences of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, wisdom and renunciation simultaneously. Just one look at the smiling face of Shri Ramachandra is enough to defeat the pride of even the staunchest devotee of gross matter. Rama is also of the highest character, both under the spiritual estimation and also under the regulative principles of piety. In reality, religious principles, or the most important law codes, only exist to allow one to eventually understand the Supreme Person and His worthiness of worship. But Rama, as a ruler of a pious group of citizens, made sure to uphold the dedication to dharma so nicely passed down to Him from the previous members of the Ikshvaku dynasty.

Since Rama is the abode of every wonderful quality, it is to be understood that He is never bereft of anything. The devotees who associate with Him get to bask in these transcendental features and realize the true benefit to having an existence. In all other spheres of life, we are attracted by wonderful qualities such as beauty and character. These features factor in how we form our friendships and decide on which engagements to take up. Since the Supreme Lord is the storehouse of all energy, material and spiritual, anyone who loves Him with all their heart will have no need to turn towards any other activity, as the attractiveness of Rama is enough to maintain the steady link in consciousness to the transcendental world that is yoga.

Lord RamaRama’s appearance took place in the Vedic month of Chaitra, which is based on the lunar calendar. Because He appeared on the ninth day of the moon cycle, His appearance celebration is known as Rama Navami. All signs were auspicious on this day, as the exact constellation of stars at a particular time can forebode evil or great fortune. Not surprisingly, Rama descended to earth at a time where everything was auspicious. All the creatures in Ayodhya, both animate and inanimate, were thrilled, for they were about to gain the direct audience of the Supreme Lord. The brahmanas of the community, those of the priestly order, were also ecstatic, so they started to chant the glories of the Lord as a way to welcome His appearance. Just as an exalted guest is welcomed with well-wishing words and sumptuous food, the residents of Ayodhya made sure that Rama knew that they were thrilled to see Him.

The celestials, the demigods managing the material affairs, were on the scene playing songs and dropping flowers from the sky. Mother Kaushalya was especially thrilled, for her first son was about to be born. Through Him she would gain eternal fame, as she would go on to be respected as the most wonderful mother, a sweetheart of a lady who never deviated in thought, word or deed from her vow to love Shri Rama. Tulsidas says that the happiness felt by everyone on that first Rama Navami was too great for him to even describe.

Though Maharaja Dasharatha was very excited to have his first son, he nevertheless made sure to abide by all the regulative principles, calling in the priests to perform the perfunctory rituals and regulations. Dasharatha purified himself in every way, as the opportunity to witness the appearance of the Supreme Lord in the form of a small child represents the most wonderful benediction. Just as we bathe in the morning and prepare ourselves nicely before going out in public, the emphasis on purity is enhanced when one is about to see Shri Rama face-to-face.

The wonderful birth of Rama and His brothersThe royal palace was filled with singing and glorification of the Supreme Lord. In the Vedic tradition auspicious occasions are typically celebrated by giving charity to others. As the mission of human life is to understand God and the need for worshiping Him, every prescribed regulation is aimed at minimizing the effects of the senses and the possessive mentality assumed at the time of birth. Giving in charity is a great form of sacrifice, a way to loosen attachment to possessions which originally belong to God. On this occasion the primary wealth that was distributed was the sweet singing of the devotees and their constant attention on the holy name.

Outside the palace, everything was wonderfully decorated, with opulence and extravagance visible everywhere. At the palace gates, bards, their disciples and well-wishers were all present singing the praises of Shri Rama before He even appeared. The women of the city decked themselves out very nicely and arrived in throngs at the front of the palace, bringing with them all sorts of gifts for the new child, hoping for His long and prosperous life. Under a government not driven by God consciousness, the citizens are always leery of sending money to the state, for taxes are considered the greatest burden. But in the wonderful kingdom presided over by Maharaja Dasharatha, the women, the maintainers of the family, were enthusiastic to celebrate the wonderful occasion of Rama’s birth and bring Him the most wonderful gifts as a sign of their appreciation.

The roads were so filled with sprinkled liquid preparations, such as saffron and water mixtures, that there was a slush created. But everyone was so jubilant in their dancing that they didn’t notice anything around them. They had transcended the effects of their material bodies through transcendental ecstasy borne of anticipation of the appearance of Shri Rama. Only in bhakti can something as innocent and simple as dancing be a source of supreme felicity, providing a benefit greater than that found through meditational yoga,  study of the scriptures, or any other engagement.

Maharaja Dasharatha gave away many cows, horses, elephants, jewels and gold in charity to the proper recipients. This was the happiest day in his life, so he was going to share his joy with others. It is said that all the siddhis, or perfections in life, could be found in his palace, as there can be no perfection greater than having the Supreme Lord visit your home and be welcomed in such a wonderful way by so many people.

Lord Rama Tulsidas says that the saints, demigods and brahmanas were all delighted at this time, while the miscreants were very unhappy. This foretells of future events, as Rama would go on to destroy the most powerful enemy forces terrorizing the innocent people of the world. The saintly class of men, the suras, are always delighted just to even think of Shri Rama, while the demons are always trying to undercut His authority and His Supreme Position. During even the most auspicious occasion of Rama’s birth, the demons could find no joy.

A small drop of the Supreme Lord’s limitless transcendental energy has empowered wonderful figures like Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva with divine abilities and tremendous fame, but the same energy was in such great abundance in Ayodhya on Rama Navami that it was flooding the entire city. This comparison by Tulsidas points to Lord Vishnu’s supreme position as the origin of all life and the worshipable figure of even great personalities like Shiva and Brahma. Though they are divine entities in charge of the material modes of passion and ignorance, they sometimes must break their concentration and their focus on the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord. The residents of Ayodhya, however, were fully swooning with transcendental ecstasy, for the very same Vishnu was coming to grant them His darshana. This comparison also indicates that Shri Rama is a non-different form of the original Personality, so He is not lacking anything in terms of features. Energy expansions, or transcendental sparks, emanating from Vishnu create the innumerable living entities and also give them their power. But the origin of all energy, the reservoir of pleasure Himself, had personally descended to Ayodhya.

Worshiping Sita and Rama Tulsidas says that the evidence of the wonderful results that come from remembering the Lord was seen that day in Ayodhya. God consciousness secured through the bhakti mindset is a force like no other. Through remembering the divine appearance of Shri Rama and the wonderful activities He would go on to perform in the company of His dear associates like Sita Devi, Lakshmana and Hanuman, we can get a taste of what the residents of Ayodhya felt on that wonderful day, the time the Lord of their life came to rescue them from the doldrums of material existence. May the same level of devotion found in them awaken in our hearts, and may we never forget such a wonderful and benevolent master as Shri Rama.