Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Recognizing Their Own

Hanuman “Even if one has a Rakshasa form, what to speak of others, it is impossible to stay anywhere here and not be detected by the Rakshasas.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.43)

na hi śakyaṃ kvacit sthātumavijñātena rākśasaiḥ |

api rākśasarūpeṇa kimutānyena kenacit

A lion will notice if another lion is lurking around the corner coming to take its food in the form of a carcass. Certain carnivores only eat once every few weeks, so they have to make sure that when there is an opportunity for being fed, others don’t come in and swoop the bounty away. Such is the nature of competition in the animal kingdom, where the species are incapable of judging between right and wrong, piety and sin, innocence and guilt. The lions and tigers can be excused for their behavior, as killing is their business for survival. But in the human species, if the ignorant behavior of the animals is imitated, the activities are viewed in a negative light. The meat eating of the human being represents one level of transgression, but one race in particular, the Rakshasa, is so vile that they live off human flesh. Needless to say, members of this species are also keenly aware of any other Rakshasas that might get in the way of their enjoyment.

“There are various living entities, movable and inert. Birds, beasts, men and many other living creatures are moving living entities; trees and plants, however, are inert—they cannot move, but only stand. Every entity is contained within the scope of 8,400,000 species of life; some of them are moving and some of them are inert.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 7.10 Purport)

Shrila PrabhupadaThough scientists for centuries have studied the different species that are known to exist, their tabulated list is very small compared to the total number of unique life forms to be found. How do we know this? Knowledge acquired through the descending process, that information taken in from authority figures, provides us insight into how many different species there are and why there is such a variety. The Vedas, the oldest scriptures in existence, the original set of law codes originally passed down through an oral tradition, declare that the essence of life is the soul. This certainly isn’t a novel concept, as most theistic traditions agree that there is a soul within the body. Where the Vedas depart from other fields of study is in their detailed analysis of the different body types and the actual makeup of the soul. It is said that the spiritual spark, the atma, within a form of life is equivalent in size to the measurement of a very small fragment of the tip of a human hair.

If the soul is so small, why are life forms much larger in size? This introduces the difference between matter and spirit. The spirit soul is the source of identity, but its outer covering has no relation to it, save for appearance sake. A soul does not change its constitutional makeup at any time, but the features which are used to identify the presence of life, external combinations of matter, do vary and go through shifts. The souls populating the material world are ensconced in covers composed of varying combinations of the three modes of material nature: goodness, passion and ignorance. Just as you get new compounds by changing the proportion of the ingredient chemicals, when you mix the modes of nature by varying percentages, you get up to 8,400,000 types of material dresses. This is a large number, but the variety speaks to the array of engagements found in the material world, a realm which facilitates the spirit soul’s desire to enjoy their senses.

The Rakshasa is one of the many species in the material realm, with their noteworthy characteristic being their enjoyment in eating human beings. Those in the mode of goodness are known as suras in the Vedic tradition. If a body is composed mostly of passion, the life form is known as an asura, or the opposite of a sura. Suras are devoted to God; hence they are usually pious and adherent to the laws of material and spiritual life passed down by the Vedas. Since the asuras are only interested in passionate activity, such as sex life, gambling and fruitive ventures involving much struggle, there is little attention paid to spiritual life. The asura may know of religion and the presence of the soul, but they assign this field of study secondary importance while favoring the desire to satisfy the demands of the senses. Because of their opposing natures, there have been struggles between the suras and the asuras since the beginning of time, the good versus the evil.

The Rakshasas are completely in the mode of ignorance. In one sense, a Rakshasa is also an asura because they don’t act according to any established system of guidance. Rather, they take passionate activity to the extreme, not even considering the detriments and future harm that will come their way. One in the mode of passion knows that there are many struggles involved in securing sense pleasures, but these troubles are considered worth tolerating in the end. For example, gambling inflicts much toll on the brain and lack of focus. Yet all this mental turmoil is endured in the hopes of gaining the quick payout. The Rakshasa is completely unaware of the mire they are in. They look to satisfy the demands of the senses immediately, irrespective of what their behavior may cost them down the line. Therefore they have no problem killing innocent human beings and eating their flesh.

“They are serving as the food for the Rakshasas, who are fiendish creatures that subsist on human flesh. While being eaten away, the sages residing in Dandaka-aranya, those best among the brahmanas, said to Me, ‘Please rescue us’.” (Lord Rama speaking to Sita Devi about the brahmanas in the Dandaka forest, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 10.6)

Lord RamaThe Rakshasa race had an especially strong presence many thousands of years ago during the Treta Yuga. For sport, they would harass the innocent sages, the suras, residing in the forests. Who could ever imagine being bothered in a quiet wilderness by other human beings, especially when the purpose of such a residence is religious in nature? It’s understandable if there would be some opposition to the preaching efforts of the pious, but these sages were simply looking for peace and quiet, a place to execute their penances and austerities. Not only would the Rakshasas harass the sages, but they would kill them and then eat their flesh. In this way, the ogres proved to be the vilest of creatures.

The leader of the Rakshasa clan was Ravana, whose island kingdom of Lanka was a sinner’s paradise. Wine flowed from the hilltops, and beautiful women were found at every corner. Indeed, every allure of material life was found in full abundance, keeping the ogres firmly grounded in ignorance. Ravana was so enamored by sex life that he finally went too far by trying to take the one woman he couldn’t have, Sita Devi, the wife of Shri Rama, the divine incarnation of Godhead and warrior prince of Ayodhya.

Shri Hanuman, Rama’s faithful servant, Ramadutta, made his way to Lanka to search for Sita, to make sure that she was alright and return the news of her whereabouts to Rama. Just prior to entering the city, Hanuman consciously thought things over, reviewing what action should be taken and what should be avoided. In the above quoted passage, we see Hanuman’s concern about being discovered by the Rakshasas. Who wouldn’t be flustered in such a situation? Hanuman was on the side of the good guys; he wanted to find a princess who was forcibly taken away from the company of her husband. Hanuman shouldn’t have expected any troubles at all during his noble endeavor. In fact, others should have been willing to come to his aid, helping him achieve success in the mission given to him by Rama.

For the average person, buckling under the immense pressure of a tough assignment is quite understandable. These Rakshasas wouldn’t just be disturbed by an intruder entering their confines. Rather, they would punish any foreign element, innocent or otherwise, with death. The sages of the Dandaka forest had previously not been bothering anyone, yet the Rakshasas killed and ate them. From Hanuman’s thoughts, we see that he is keenly aware of the cunning nature of the ogres of Lanka. Even if he assumed the form of a Rakshasa, something Hanuman was more than capable of doing due to his mastery over yoga, the demons would likely ferret him out. A devotee, a lover of God, can never hide their true nature. Even when mixed among the vilest of creatures, the devotee shines bright. Just as the Supreme Lord is described as maha-tejah, or highly effulgent, one who is in constant contact with the Supreme Energetic, Bhagavan, is similarly full of glow and splendor. When Hanuman first met Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana, he assumed the false guise of a mendicant out of respect for Sugriva, the leader of the band of monkeys in Kishkindha. Sugriva was worried that Rama and Lakshmana may have been sent by an enemy to kill him. Therefore he asked Hanuman to kindly approach the two brothers and find out the purpose of their visit.

Hanuman meeting RamaHanuman, though in a false guise, couldn’t help but praise Rama and Lakshmana. In the same way, if he were to enter Lanka in the guise of a Rakshasa, his pure devotion for Rama could never be hidden. The Rakshasas also can sniff out any person who is sympathetic towards the interests of the Supreme Lord. Ravana’s younger brother Vibhishana, though born an ogre, was completely in the mode of goodness. He had not a tinge of impiety in him. Eventually, his affection for Rama and His servants would cause him to be outcaste from the kingdom by Ravana. Hanuman’s influence on Vibhishana would later result in his joining Rama’s side.

Hanuman, faced with the difficult task of making his way into Lanka undetected, didn’t succumb to the pressure. He would be excused for thinking, “Why me? What did I do to deserve this? I have been playing by the rules, so why should I constantly be faced with these obstacles?” But Hanuman didn’t have the luxury of quitting or giving way to lamentation. Success lay in his hands, as Shri Rama and Sugriva had full faith in his abilities. No ordinary entity could cross the vast ocean in one leap as Hanuman did. Therefore at this critical juncture Hanuman chose to forge ahead, eventually deciding on taking a form that was undetectable to the Rakshasas but still capable of gathering the necessary intelligence.

HanumanThrough his behavior, Hanuman shows honor, determination, and dedication in the highest mission, meeting the Lord’s interests. A human birth is considered the most auspicious of the millions of life forms because of the potential for intelligence. One who acts under the direction of the divine consciousness performs every activity for the benefit of the Supreme Loveable Object. The move towards spiritual life isn’t adopted out of fear or out of the desire for some personal reward, or even the potential for the alleviation of distress. From Hanuman’s example, we see that once the sublime engagement of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is adopted, the troubles encountered actually increase in number. The difference between activities in bhakti and acts of any other type of engagement is that divine love brings about supreme pleasure at every step. The Lord is the best friend of the living entities, so pleasing Him has a reciprocal benefit, even though that is not the intent of the devotee going in. Success may be had in a material venture, but the rewards provide second class happiness and no guarantee of immunity from future distress.

For those of us struggling to stay afloat in the turbulent waters of the ocean of nescience, the only life-raft is the humble instructions provided by the Vaishnavas and the wonderful example set by Hanuman and other devotees. Hanuman always keeps Rama’s interests at heart; whatever Rama asks of him gets done. When apart from Rama’s company, Hanuman always keeps the Lord and His family in his thoughts. The best way to maintain the divine consciousness is to take shelter of the holy names of the Lord found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The name of God is the mother, the father, the guru, and the ocean of nectar. Holding on to this name as our life and soul, no opposing elements, demonic or otherwise, can thwart our business. The Rakshasas were no match for Hanuman and his strength, and in a similar manner, the opposing forces ignited by the asuras, Rakshasas, and those lost in the ocean of nescience can never stop the humble sage from chanting their beloved’s name.