Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Soothing Light

Hanuman thinking of Sita and Rama “How can I ensure that the purpose of my task does not get destroyed? How shall I avoid mental disparity, and how do I ensure that my crossing of the ocean does not go for naught?” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.41)

na vinaśyetkathaṃ kāryaṃ vaiklabyam na kathaṃ bhavet |

laṅghanaṃ ca samudrasya kathaṃ nu na vṛthā bhavet

Have you ever forgotten to do something that was very important? Have you ever made a mistake that just seemed inexcusable, a transgression as simple as forgetting to fill up the car with gasoline? These careless mistakes can lead to damaging results, leaving us scratching our heads as to why something so simple could have been overlooked and what could have been done to avoid the mistake. “I can’t believe I let that happen. How on earth could I be so absent-minded? I need to do something in the future to avoid making the same mistakes again.” Invariably, the solutions will involve reminders, hints from friends, and maybe even personal notes left in strategic locations. But if we study the issue a little more closely, we’ll see that the key ingredient to carelessness is the caring itself. When the mind gets diverted to other areas of interest, the initial primary activity immediately takes on a secondary importance, thus increasing the chances of error. Only one individual, one supreme entity, brings about so much sublime pleasure that those who fix their thoughts on Him never get diverted from the tasks that are aimed to please Him.

driver talking on cell phoneA classic example of carelessness is seen with the motorist talking on their cell phone while driving. Operating a motor vehicle is a serious business, as mistakes made on the road can be fatal. While driving on the road, it is very easy to spot another motorist who is not paying attention. The first indication of their lack of awareness is a very low speed in their driving. Generally drivers travel at or above the posted speed limit; so if a car is seen travelling unusually slow on a local road, it is an indication of some problem. The driver may be looking for a particular building or house that they have never visited before, searching for something on the passenger seat, or combing their hair; or perhaps they are simply just poor at driving. In many instances, the motorist is talking on their mobile telephone, or in other words, they are distracted. Such behavior is seen on the fast highways as well, where drivers plant themselves in the left lane, the lane used to pass slower cars, and don’t move out of it. Pretty soon a giant row of cars starts to line up behind the slower driver, and if these obstructed cars are fortunate enough to pass on through the right or middle lanes, they look back at the slow car and notice that the driver is talking on their cell phone.

From the driver’s perspective, talking on the phone is beneficial because it makes the time go by very quickly. Driving is a necessity and not necessarily a pleasant experience. Who would want to sit in traffic all day or have to drive for an extended period of time just to get to work? Working is itself a chore; something we do out of necessity more than desire. Therefore we’ll jump at any opportunity to make the time in the car pass more smoothly. Conversation is arguably the best way to keep the mind engaged, so the motorist on the cell phone enjoys not having to remain conscious of time and the length of their trip.

But an inattentive driver is more prone to accidents and other issues. Therefore it is wiser to remain focused on the task at hand than to divert the mind towards other interests. This principle holds true in virtually every sphere of life where attention to detail is required. Carelessness and recklessness only come about through a diversion in desires, the mind wandering off in a direction not related to the present realm of activity. The only surefire way to remain focused on the task at hand through its completion is to develop a sincere desire to adopt that activity.

Lord KrishnaIn order for desire to remain active, the end-goal, the soothing light at the end of the tunnel, must bring a supremely tangible benefit. No one takes to activity that will knowingly harm them in the end. Even self-destructive behavior has an end-goal of seeing some type of favorable condition. Therefore the higher the pleasure, the greater the desire will be to perform the activity. The more intense the desire, the greater the attention to detail there will be. No reward is higher than the association of the Supreme Divine Entity, that person who provides the most pleasure to the pleasure-seekers.

Labeling this person as God is too simplistic an identification. In the Vedic tradition the original Divine Entity is known by three primary characteristics. He is the original proprietor of everything; so all the possessions that we lay claim to actually belong to Him. This makes sense because at the time of birth we are penniless and without any possessions. Just because we find objects of matter or are given them through the exchange of work and money doesn’t mean that we can claim to be original owners of anything. The Supreme Lord, as the Almighty Creator, holds the property rights to every object of matter, which is nothing more than a manifestation of His external energy.

The Supreme Lord’s second feature is that He is the ultimate reservoir of pleasure. Presently service is offered to ourselves, friends, family, coworkers, children, pets, paramours and communities. Each recipient of our service can be considered an object whose pleasure we seek. But God is so sublime that He is the most inclusive and largest reservoir of pleasure, for He accepts the humble service of every living entity inhabiting the innumerable universes. This fact firmly establishes Him as the only entity worth serving.

The Lord is also the best friend of every living entity. This feature ties the other two together. From these facts we can deduce that the most sublime engagement in life is to take whatever possessions we have and use them for the pleasure of the reservoir of all energy. Since He is our best friend, God’s pleasure automatically equates to increased happiness for us. In this way the activities of transcendental love bring about the highest rewards, the most spectacular enjoyment. Those who are keenly aware of these properties never get diverted in their business. They remain fixed in the constitutional activities that are bhakti-yoga, or devotional service.

HanumanOnly those who are firmly fixed in bhakti can avoid recklessness at all times. Carelessness comes from not caring one hundred percent about the activity that one is engaged in. If the Supreme Lord, whose original form is known as Krishna, provides full sweetness to the living entity, there is no chance that other “cares” will take precedence in the engagement of bhakti. Similarly, through the strong bond formed to the transcendental world and its proprietor, mental disparity, anguish, lamentation, and other ill conditions brought on by the mind can be avoided. Full knowledge of the beauty and supremacy of the Supreme Lord keeps the mind firmly interested in meeting the objectives of the most important mission. Shri Hanuman’s behavior in the enemy territory of Lanka perfectly illustrates this fact. Many thousands of years ago, a divine creature, one in the form of a monkey, took up bhakti-yoga by directly serving the Supreme Lord, who had appeared on earth in human form as Shri Rama.

This faithful servant of Rama, or Ramadutta, known by the name of Hanuman, was given the task of infiltrating a formidable enemy’s home territory and locating a missing princess, the wife of Lord Rama, Sita Devi. Hanuman braved his way across the massive ocean and reached the outskirts of Lanka. But now the battle was really beginning. How was he going to get into Lanka without being noticed? What type of form would be both beneficial in masking his appearance and allowing for keen observation?

HanumanFrom the above quoted passage of the Ramayana, we see that Hanuman was indeed concerned with all of these issues. He especially wanted to avoid mental disparity, or carelessness, for that would squander any opportunity to find Sita. In actuality, just the mere fact that Hanuman was worried about being careless is proof enough that he can never behave in a way that diverts his attention from serving the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord. Rama had created this situation so that Hanuman would have an opportunity to act out his pure love for God. A general without a mission is never happy, for the important title he owns loses its meaning unless it can be acted upon. In the same way, a lover of God needs an outlet for their emotions, a way to exhibit their love for the ultimate reservoir of pleasure.

To those who are sincere enough, Krishna provides all the opportunities for service. Since Hanuman was engaged in an activity that was to bring him the highest pleasure, his mind never diverted to other areas of interest. He had no reason to think of anything or anyone else, for in his mind the rewards resulting from activities devoid of devotion to God paled in comparison to the ultimate benediction of seeing the Supreme Lord and His wife happy. Not surprisingly, Hanuman would figure everything out and be able to successfully enter Lanka and find Sita. Returning back to Rama with his intelligence information acquired through great difficulty, Hanuman would later come back to Lanka with Rama, His younger brother Lakshmana, and a massive army of monkeys. They would soundly defeat the king of Lanka, Ravana, and all his associates, rescuing Sita in the process.

Rama DarbarThe mood of devotional service exhibited by Hanuman is actually every single person’s natural proclivity. Only when acting in divine love can we avoid the pitfalls of carelessness and recklessness. In an activity that brings about the highest pleasure, there is no need for distraction or assuaging the passage of time. But since we are so accustomed to adopting subordinate activities, in the beginning stages of devotional life there must be strict attention paid to particular behavior and actions. The most effective exercise of bhakti is the chanting of the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”

“From whatever and wherever the mind wanders due to its flickering and unsteady nature, one must certainly withdraw it and bring it back under the control of the Self.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.26)

Revisiting the example of driving a car, it can be asked how taking to bhakti will help us avoid carelessness on the road. The chanting of the holy names of the Lord is the most potent form of religious practice because it brings about a change in consciousness. Contrary to prevailing thought, happiness is not determined by the size of one’s bank balance, the amount of material possessions, or the nature of personal interactions. Rather, happiness is directly tied to consciousness, or thought processes. One who can control the mind through steady practice in bhakti can unlock the secret to eternal bliss.

Lord KrishnaSince Krishna, or any one of His non-different expansions for that matter, is the ultimate reservoir of pleasure, thoughts fixed on His lotus feet or His activities naturally brings tremendous bliss to the mind. One whose consciousness is always focused on the Lord’s form, pastimes and attributes will be in a happy state. Yet since we have so many activities to perform to maintain our body, it is easy to withdraw from this purified consciousness. Therefore the highest authorities, especially the acharya of the chanting of the holy name, Shrila Haridasa Thakura, say that the Lord’s name is His most powerful feature. Unlike the other individual aspects of God, the name automatically awakens thoughts of the Lord’s pastimes, attributes and forms. Indeed, Goswami Tulsidas remarks that the form of God that one keeps in the mind and the form that one outwardly worships in the temple or in person are like the top and bottom of a jewelry box, while the name itself is the jewel. As such, the name can be invoked anywhere to remember and associate with other features of the Lord. The name is non-different from God Himself.

HanumanThus the best way to avoid distraction is to chant the holy names as often as possible. God has thousands of names, each of which addresses a specific transcendental feature. There is no requirement that one exclusively chant Rama and Krishna, for reciting any authorized name regularly can bring about the same shift in consciousness. But Lord Chaitanya, the most merciful incarnation of Godhead, has specifically empowered the names of Krishna and Rama found in the famous maha-mantra. Therefore those who chant this sacred formula on a regular basis will have the best chance at permanently shifting their consciousness towards a sublime state. Whether driving in the car, working in the office, taking care of children, or even sleeping, holding on to the holy name for dear life is our only hope for success. Those who respect the sound vibration representation of the Supreme Spirit and treat it like the valuable jewel that it is will never have to worry about carelessness or failure in any important endeavor.

To this day Hanuman always chants the glories of Sita, Rama and Lakshmana. Therefore it is not surprising to see that he is a celebrated figure of the Vedic tradition, one who is ever-worthy of our love, adoration and respect. Hanuman never fails in his tasks because he always works in the interests of Rama. There is never a chance of carelessness because Hanuman doesn’t concern himself with anything except Rama’s happiness. Since the Lord is the best friend of the living entities, His happiness results in the pleasure of others, just as the water poured on the root of the tree nourishes all the branches and leaves. The Supreme Lord is kind enough to reside within our heart as the Supersoul. Those who realize His presence can understand their inherent link to God and the affectionate relationship that exists. The Lord never stops being our friend, and through adopting bhakti as a way of life, we can remember this fact every day.