Saturday, April 9, 2011

Respecting the Predecessor

Hanuman with Rama “Even a decision made after carefully considering what should be done and what shouldn't doesn't come out successful (when undertaken by a careless messenger). Messengers who think themselves learned (but act carelessly) kill all chances for success in the mission.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.40)

arthānarthāntare buddhirniścitāpi na śobhate |

ghātayanti hi kāryāṇi dūtāḥ paṇḍitamāninaḥ

Shri Hanuman, the faithful servant of Lord Rama, is always conscientious about what course of action should be undertaken. In ordinary activities, the fruitive worker may not pay as much attention to what should be done, for the results will only affect their personal life. But when carrying out the desires and hopes of others, including their closest confidantes and worshipable objects, devotees like Hanuman never want to do anything that will jeopardize success. Rather, they take every precaution necessary to avoid haughtiness and pride, two emotions which lead to blinding ignorance. As Hanuman so accurately states in this passage, no matter how intelligent or powerful an authority figure may be, even if he is following a proper course of action decided after due deliberation, the entire plot outlined for success can be foiled in one second by a messenger who fails to honor and respect the wishes of his master. In a similar manner, the inquisitive transcendentalists of this age have been passed down the most confidential and potent spiritual information from exalted spiritual leaders of the past. One who simply follows these instructions without deviation will surely rescue themselves and anyone else they have the wonderful opportunity to teach. But if haughtiness, greed and feelings of supremacy creep in, all the benefits accrued through the hard work of predecessors can go for naught.

Hanuman thinking of Sita and RamaWhat was Hanuman’s mission? The Supreme Lord, the original form of Godhead, had descended to earth in the guise of a human being to mesmerize those looking for divine enchantment. Regular dog and pony shows are a dime a dozen; there is no shortage of entertainment of the material variety. Due to the potency of the individual spirit soul, human beings, should they set their minds to them, are capable of quite extraordinary feats. The vision of the transcendental body of the Personality of Godhead evokes different sentiments though, feelings not aroused through any other interaction. In the Vedic tradition, the spiritual form of the original Divine Being is described by the Sanskrit word “Krishna”, which means all-attractive. Not only is God the Almighty and the greatest order supplier, He is the very reservoir of pleasure. For His pleasing, countless transcendental associates always remain in His company. In this way we see that God is the primary object of pleasure and that His happiness serves as the source of the greatest comfort for His dependents.

For those who are not purified enough to reside in the spiritual realm, a place where the effects of material nature are absent, the mercy of the Supreme Person is still available. According to time and circumstance, He periodically descends to earth to enact pastimes and grant His darshana, or divine vision, to those who are eligible to have it. Do we need to pass a test to see God? Do we have to pay money to a certain spiritual institution to gain this eligibility? Our sentiments towards the Supreme Lord are measured by the sincerity of our thoughts, desires and wishes. These feelings remain in the heart for safe keeping, with only God knowing how to find them. For those who are the sincerest of the sincere, the individuals who have abandoned any hope for finding lasting pleasure through material contact, Krishna shows special favor.

During the Treta Yuga, which occurred many thousands of years ago according to the timeline of the current creation, Krishna took the outward appearance of a warrior prince named Rama. Roaming the earth for many years, Rama not only displayed His exquisitely beautiful and attractive body to the exalted residents of the town of Ayodhya, but He also created situations that allowed other souls to kindly offer Him service. Goswami Tulsidas, the prolific Vaishnava poet and dear servant of Hanuman, writes that just as otherwise ordinary trees become worshipable when they line the path to heaven, so those born into a low cast become objects of worship when they take to chanting the holy name of Rama. Cast distinctions are not only prevalent in India, but in every corner of the earth and throughout all times in history. Varnas, or qualities, paint different colors on different people. Some individuals are stronger than others, while others are more prone to acquiring intelligence. These differences will always exist, but the commonality of purpose and the equality shared in the nature of spirit never change. Every individual, regardless of their occupation or family lineage, is eligible to practice the art of divine love known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service.

When one is not spiritually conscious, they can be illusioned by these colors, taking them to be part of the individual’s identity. Depending on what aspect of a company an individual works for, they will receive little or great respect. The secretary of the CEO of a successful business may not receive much attention, but the CEO certainly will. Similar variations in outward behavior are seen in virtually all areas of material life, but in the spiritual sense, everyone is equal. Tulsidas states that even if one is born in a low family, meaning their occupational duty is one that doesn’t garner much respect or attention, if they take to chanting the holy name of the Lord on a regular basis, they not only become respectable, but they become worshipable. A great example of this was seen with the Vanaras of the Kishkindha forest.

Rama and Lakshmana with the VanarasLord Rama, through His yogamaya potency, created a situation where He required the help of others to rescue His kidnapped wife Sita Devi. Abiding by the exile order previously laid upon Him, Rama did not return to His kingdom of Ayodhya to fetch the soldiers that were part of the royal army to aid Him in the search for the beautiful princess. Instead, He enlisted the help of a band of monkeys, Vanaras to be exact. Their king was Sugriva, and his chief minister and warrior was Shri Hanuman. The mission given to the monkeys was quite straightforward: find Sita, give her Rama’s ring as a sign of authenticity, and then return to Kishkindha with information of her whereabouts.

Obviously these weren’t easy tasks to complete, for the Rakshasa demon Ravana had taken Sita and didn’t want anyone to find her. But no task is impossible for Hanuman, who, while leading the most capable division of the Vanara army, leapt his way to the majestic island of Lanka where Sita was staying. Only Hanuman was capable of this extraordinary feat, so he found himself all alone right at the time he needed the most help. Reaching Lanka was one thing, but now he had to enter the city unnoticed. He had to create a guise which would not be detected, but at the same time would allow him to carefully comb the city in his search for Sita. Hanuman, though in the form of a monkey, which is considered a low birth compared to a human being, is a unique individual and soul, a powerful spirit capable of assuming any shape at will. Hanuman can marshal any of the siddhis, or perfections, of yoga, one of which offers the ability to assume a diminutive stature at any time.

HanumanFrom the above referenced passage, we see just how careful Hanuman is about ensuring success in the mission. He very accurately notes that haughtiness and excessive pride of messengers can foil the mission of even the most capable of leaders. From his thoughts we see that Hanuman never considered himself to be smarter than Sugriva or Rama. He never thought, “I am God; I am the most powerful. I can simply destroy this town and rescue Sita all by myself in defiance of the orders given to me.” Deep down, he certainly wanted to do this. He loved Rama so much that he couldn’t stand to bear the thought of His wife being held against her will in some enemy territory. Yet he kept all this anger in check and carefully considered the success of the mission given to him. Not surprisingly, Hanuman would end up finding just the right course of action to take, a path which would eventually lead him to Sita. When he first located her, he was tempted to bring her back to Rama all by himself, but she rejected the idea due to the dishonor it would cause her husband. In this way both Sita and Hanuman showed their true colors as thoughtful, kind, sweet and caring devotees of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

The benevolent Vaishnava acharyas, the devotees of Vishnu/Krishna, have kindly passed down the secrets of the ancient science of bhakti-yoga, which has been practiced since time immemorial. The pinnacle of religious practice eternally remains the sole engagement for Hanuman, Sita, and Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana. In fact, that same level of dedication to devotion has been passed down from generation to generation ever since the beginning of time. More recently, some five hundred years ago, Krishna again appeared on earth, but this time as a preacher named Lord Chaitanya. Shri Gaurahari is the most unique incarnation of the Lord because instead of taking to physically attacking the demons of the world, His weapon of choice was a sound vibration. Lord Chaitanya inaugurated the sankirtana movement, wherein the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, would be chanted early and often every single day. Through their unselfish efforts, Lord Chaitanya and His dear associates spread the holy name of God all across India. In the following few hundred years, a bhakti movement spread like wildfire across India, producing some of the sweetest transcendental nectar in the form of literature and poetry ever tasted.

Lord ChaitanyaIn more recent times, the sincere followers of Lord Chaitanya have managed to extend the reach of the holy name throughout the world. Some of the particulars of the practice of bhakti may have changed, but the foundational elements have not. At the core, devotion to Vishnu involves chanting the maha-mantra at least sixteen rounds a day on a set of japa beads, all the while refraining from meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex, which are considered the four pillars of sinful life. Transcendental sound vibrations are so powerful that one who chants any bona fide name for the Lord will be similarly benefitted. Since Shri Gaurahari exhibited the greatest devotion to Krishna, none of His prescriptions bear any hint of blind sentimentalism or irrational sectarianism. Krishna is a name for God which describes the features of His original form. Similarly, the word “Rama” describes the form of Hanuman’s Lord, and it also speaks to God’s ability to provide the highest transcendental pleasure. Therefore anyone can chant these two names and become liberated from the clutches of material existence.

“Whomever you meet, instruct him on the teachings of Krishna. In this way, on My order, become a spiritual master and deliver the people of this country.” (Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 7.128)

Those who regularly follow the bedrock principles of bhakti-yoga are advised to at least try to pass on the secrets of divine love to others. Lord Chaitanya wanted every person to become a guru by talking about Krishna’s instructions to anyone they would meet, wherever they would go. From this order, we see that the followers of vishnu-bhakti have a mission similar to the one assigned to Hanuman. As a great Vaishnava, a sweet and dedicated servant of the Lord in the form of a monkey, Hanuman reveals in this passage from the Ramayana just what it takes to achieve success in a transcendental mission and what pitfalls to avoid.

HanumanSince the knowledge passed on by Vedic texts such as the Bhagavad-gita, Shrimad Bhagavatam and Ramayana is so profound, it is natural for an individual to become a little proud after understanding it. The way bhakti works is that it is a constant mental pursuit, one where new ideas and thoughts sprout up at every second. The conclusion, however, always remains the same: abandon all varieties of religion, or dharma, and simply surrender unto the Lord to receive the highest pleasure. But when one remains in constant association with Krishna through thoughts, words and deeds, it is natural that new ideas and ways of explaining the sweetness of the sublime engagement of devotional service would creep up. Nevertheless, humility must always be there. False pride comes from the ego, which is one of the subtle elements of material life. This ego is deemed unreal because, by default, it is based off the attributes of the gross body. Similar to how varying levels of honor are shown to different members of a company based on their specific occupation, the mind tends to get puffed up when great physical strength or high knowledge is acquired.

False ego is solidified through taking pride in our own abilities, even though the highest stature we can reach is that of a measly messenger carrying information of the Divine. But real ego comes from taking pride and confidence in the transcendental message, its originator and our predecessors who kindly passed on this information to us. This was the example set by Hanuman. If one falls victim to false pride and an inflated ego, all the hard work performed by predecessors can go for naught. The prescriptions provided by Lord Chaitanya and the acharyas in His line are quite simple to follow, but if an individual all of a sudden thinks they are smarter than their guru, they are essentially thinking they are smarter than God. This challenging spirit is the root cause of the existence of the material world, a realm where every individual is competing for the title of “supreme ruler”, one that is not up for grabs. Therefore it is of vital importance to follow the example of Hanuman and remain committed to the mission at hand. For the people of this age, the highest dharma, the single regulative principle that trumps all others, is quite straightforward: chant, chant, chant the holy names.

Hanuman thinking of Rama Depending on what transpires during the actual implementation of the mission, certain remedial measures may be adopted, but deviation shouldn’t be the goal from the outset. For example, Hanuman only had to find Sita and return to Kishkindha. He was not tasked with taking down Ravana or destroying any members of his army. Yet while in Lanka, Ravana would find Hanuman and set his tail on fire. In this instance, Hanuman was obviously justified in fighting back, for if he didn’t, Rama’s mission would be thwarted. If Hanuman never returned to Kishkindha, how would Rama ever find out where Sita was? This was Hanuman’s guiding thought process, and it secured him the intelligence needed to handle any and all adverse situations, including the most unexpected ones. Similarly, if we keep at the forefront of the mind Lord Chaitanya’s mission, that of maintaining the powerful flame emanating from the fire composed of the transcendental names of the Lord, we will always have the knowledge necessary to deal with whatever impediments come our way. Hanuman is never defeated in his devotional efforts, and his success rate is owed entirely to his unwavering sincerity of purpose. By remembering and honoring Hanuman on a regular basis, we too will never fail in life’s mission.