Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Transcendental Touch

Hanuman “By what means shall I be able to see Maithili, the daughter of King Janaka, without being recognized by Ravana, the evil king of the Rakshasas?” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.37)

kenopāyena paśeyaṃ maithilīṃ janakātmajām |

adṛṣṭo rākśasendreṇa rāvaṇena durātmanā

Shri Hanuman, the exalted Vanara warrior and one of the kindest entities to have ever graced this earth, wasn’t allowed to see Sita Devi, the goddess of fortune in human form, without opposition. Who would object to such a meeting? After all, even the most popular of celebrities, be they a rock star, politician, or movie actor, have public meetings every now and then where they greet their fellow fans. Sita Devi is the well-wisher of every living being residing in the three worlds; yet one grossly foolish person in particular wouldn’t allow anyone to see her, not even Hanuman. Despite this restriction, the servant of Lord Rama, the faithful and courageous devotee, Shri Hanuman, would not be deterred. Not even the most powerful of demons could stop him from accomplishing his task of meeting Sita and relaying information to her about her husband’s fervent desire to rescue her from danger.

Sita DeviWho was this cruel person impeding Hanuman’s path? It should be acknowledged from the outset that this figure had no idea of Hanuman’s presence in his city. Rather, he had taken Sita away from her husband, Shri Rama, under the cloak of darkness, through a ruse that would embarrass even the most cowardly of fighters. Wanting Sita, who was another man’s wife, all for himself, this demon, who was aptly given the name of Ravana by Lord Shiva due to his terrorizing abilities, kept the princess of Videha safely guarded to prevent others from seeing her. Was Ravana love-starved? Did he not have a sufficient number of women at his beck and call, tending to his every need? On the contrary, as the ruler of the island kingdom of Lanka Ravana had every material amenity available at his fingertips, including the association of hundreds of the most beautiful princesses in the world. But this world has never seen a more beautiful woman than Sita, for she is a divine figure and the eternal consort of Lord Rama, an incarnation of Godhead.

Ravana, not believing in the highest authority of the Supreme Lord, who is always full of form, bliss and knowledge, stole Sita to enjoy for himself. This is certainly the behavior of an ignorant person, for one who is in knowledge understands that originally everything in this world belongs to the Almighty Creator. Not a blade of grass moves without His intervention, direct or otherwise. The possessions that we do acquire and inherit during our time on earth are simply on loan from the Lord. Any property that we do have can only be utilized properly when the aim is to further one’s awareness of the presence of the Supreme Spirit, who is within every sphere of this and every other creation. Through activities driven by the proper objective, the individual blinded by the allures of the sense objects clears their vision and eventually learns how to see things as they are.

RavanaKnowledge is not meant just for satisfaction of the mind however. A lawyer may have a law degree, but he doesn’t take on his true potency until he actually practices law and helps defendants and plaintiffs argue their cases. A doctor may have spent many years in medical school, but if he can’t help a sick person, his knowledge of medicine is useless. By the same token, all the rules and regulations of religious life, which involve knowledge-acquiring processes and dedication to austerity, are meant to alter one’s consciousness. A purified consciousness then leads to pure activities; hence there is always an outward indication, or result, coming from a change in mindset. One who forcibly takes another’s wife may have great education in the material estimation and terrific prowess as it relates to fighting, but their skills are essentially meaningless. Theft and impiety are acts of the ignorant, products of the animal instinct.

Ironically, the “everything belongs to me” mentality is not even very prominent in the animal species. For example, a dog may go up to another dog and start sexual relations without any thought, but there is no subjugation involved. The dog doesn’t drag its sexual partner back to some home and keep them there as a prisoner. Similarly, another animal may look for food from certain areas, but it will never take more than it needs because it is worried about running low on supplies. In the human species, the potential for intelligence is far greater, but when acquired knowledge is used for any purpose other than service to the one entity deserving of our eternal love and respect, the resulting activities take on varying degrees of impiety.

Since the human being is capable of taking shelter of logic and argument, even the thief’s mentality is sometimes given credence, as is seen in elected governments around the world. Under the vox populi system, politicians must get elected to their posts. Once in office, the best way to guarantee reelection is to hand out favors and special projects to members of your community. But the government doesn’t generate any revenue on its own; all wealth in the treasury must be accumulated through the tax dollars of the hard working citizens. Since spending levels perpetually surpass receipts to the government, there is always a need to generate more revenue from the taxpayers. In these instances, rather than curbing their own spending habits, the politicians will take to demonizing various members of the population who serve as easy targets for punishment. “The rich aren’t paying their fair share. We have certain people making billions of dollars, while others are without a job. How are we not increasing taxes to level out this discrepancy?” Obviously these are all fallacious arguments, for one man’s salary which is earned honestly has no bearing on another’s distressed condition. Moreover, if all the money of the so-called “rich”, an identification which can vary based on time, location and circumstance, is taken from them, there will be no benefit whatsoever to the middle class or the poor, aside from maybe schadenfreude, or the pleasure derived from another’s misery.

A thief, trying to justify their stealing, will resort to similar baseless arguments. “It’s okay if I steal from this store because their prices are way too high. Plus, they make so much money as it is, so what’s it going to matter to them if I take this insignificant item and walk out of the store?” This mindset is completely based off ignorance, for the laws of nature don’t spare anyone. A fire burns whoever’s hand is placed into it, even if the hand belongs to an innocent child who doesn’t know any better. Because of the impartial workings of nature, as soon as money is unjustly taken from one individual, that thief will be forced to suffer the same fate in the future. In Sanskrit, short-term enjoyment is referred to as preyas and long-term benefit as shreyas. The thieves, operating under complete ignorance of the laws of nature, work hard for the preyas that comes from taking another’s property, while completely ignoring the lack in long-term benefit. One in knowledge, however, always takes to meeting the interests of the Lord, and thus they receive the highest shreyas, or long-term and long-lasting benefit.

HanumanOne individual who always acts in knowledge is Shri Hanuman, the celebrated divine figure of the Vedic tradition. Many thousands of years ago, during an ancient time known as the Treta Yuga, the Supreme Absolute Truth, the original Personality of Godhead, the entity we all know as God, descended to earth in the guise of a pious and noble prince named Rama. Lord Rama is not a Hindu figure or a sectarian myth, but rather a prince who exhibited all the divine qualities possessed by the Supreme Lord. If there is a God, He must certainly possess every beneficial quality simultaneously and to the highest degree. Since it is the natural quality, or dharma, of the soul to be a lover of God, there must be activities provided to individuals to allow that characteristic to remain predominant. Just as everyone is looking for pleasure in their activities, the spirit soul is meant to always feel a thrill through an active engagement. When in the company of the Lord, which is established through acts of devotion exhibited through thoughts, words and deeds, life becomes a thrill at every moment for the devotees.

In order to give the most exalted associates, the purified souls who always act in knowledge, a chance to remain in His direct association and feel the ultimate thrill of transcendental life, Rama created various circumstances which required outside help, with Sita’s rescue being one of them. Rama’s stated purpose for being on earth was the demise of Ravana, for the celestials in the sky, the demigods in charge of managing the material affairs, had petitioned Lord Vishnu, another non-different form of the Almighty, to come to earth to alleviate the distresses felt by the people of the world at the hands of this evil king of Lanka. As a pious and chivalrous prince, Rama refrained from outwardly destroying Ravana. Instead, He set up a situation which gave Him an excuse to take on Ravana in a fair battle.

Rama giving ring to HanumanThe first business in Sita’s rescue was finding out her location. Enlisting the help of a band of monkeys living in the forest of Kishkindha, Rama was confident in a successful outcome. This assuredness was due entirely to the fact that the lead army of monkeys included Hanuman, the faithful servant of Sugriva, the king of the monkey party in Kishkindha. Not surprisingly, Hanuman braved every obstacle and impediment thrown his way and eventually made it to Lanka. Just getting to the island, however, was not enough; he had to find Sita. Ravana, ever the miscreant, had well-protected his kingdom, disguising his lifestyle based on gross ignorance with tremendous opulence. Hanuman was quite taken aback by the grandeur of the city, so much so that he doubted whether anyone could take down the formidable Rakshasa force.

In the above referenced passage from the Ramayana, we see Hanuman posing a series of questions to himself about what strategy should be undertaken. He surely is in a quandary, as he needs to find Maithili, which is another name for Sita, relay information to her about Rama, and then safely leave Lanka and return back to Rama and Sugriva with information of the princess’ whereabouts. Normally, gaining direct audience with Sita was not that difficult, as she was extremely kind, courteous, polite and charitable to all the noble souls of the world. Just prior to embarking on His fourteen year trek through the woods, Rama asked Sita to distribute all of the couple’s wealth in charity to the brahmanas, the priestly class of men. Sita Devi, while in the forest, several times promised sacred rivers and trees that if they allowed Rama to successfully return home after His fourteen year stint in the forest, she would come back and honor them in the highest possible way.

Sita DeviHanuman, as the dear friend of Rama’s, surely should have been allowed to see Sita. After all, she was Rama’s wife, and Hanuman was sent by Rama. But Ravana, knowing he had done something wrong, kept Sita carefully tucked away in an ashoka garden. All Hanuman wanted to do was execute his service to Rama, but the demon wouldn’t allow for it. Not only did Ravana erect walls blocking Hanuman’s path, but the king of Lanka would also surely kill anyone who dared even try to see Sita.

Did Hanuman just give up? Did he say, “Oh well, I tried my best, but what can I do? Too many obstacles are in the way.” It would have been understandable if that was the route he would have chosen, but Hanuman is no ordinary creature. He feels a thrill at every moment due to his constant connection with the Supreme Lord through yoga. Hanuman can never be separated from Rama in thought, word, or deed. He would rather have died in battle than abandon the mission of finding Sita. Hanuman would end up deciding upon a sound strategy, one that would allow him to meet Sita and give her some hope as it related to Rama. Through Hanuman’s courageous efforts, all would indeed end well.

HanumanThough we may be unaware of it, we all find ourselves in a situation similar to the one presented to Hanuman. In this day and age, the adherence to religion is very lax. Even in religious circles, spirituality has turned into a game of politics, one more geared towards adherence to established sectarian traditions and their dictates formed through legislative acts than actually purifying consciousness. As spirit souls, our identities come from our relationship to the Supreme Lord, a bond whose properties are not dependent on any rules, regulations, or stipulations put forth by governing bodies. The aim of human life is to always maintain the bond to the transcendental world in the face of all obstacles. The rules and regulations of spiritual life are a means towards achieving that goal and not an end.

In order for the relationship to the Supreme Lord to be rekindled, consciousness must first be altered. Therefore the Vaishnava authorities, the celebrated devotees of Vishnu, have advised every person in this age, regardless of their family history, race, gender, religious affiliation or financial disposition, to regularly chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This simple, yet powerful mantra is the life and soul of the devotees. The general recommendation is that one recite this sequence of words at least sixteen rounds a day on a set of japa beads. Obviously this regulation may seem onerous, especially since it is difficult to concentrate on God for such a long period of time. One may raise the argument that it is better to chant one round slowly and with attention than it is to chant sixteen rounds. Yet the Hare Krishna mantra and the recommendations for chanting it have tremendous potency, a power that can only be unlocked through regular practice. The beauty of this mantra is that chanting it automatically brings retraction, or renunciation, and a clear vision. Hence knowledge and detachment are automatically acquired simply through reciting the most sacred formula for sixteen rounds daily.

Hanuman Just as Hanuman was presented obstacles from enemies of the Lord, the conditioned entities who are ignorant of the true mission in life may not encourage one’s practice of chanting Hare Krishna or the desire to visit temples, read books, listen to Krishna stories, etc. In fact, excuses in the form of concerns relating to attention span and time will be raised to try to dissuade the sincere individual from regularly chanting. But as we saw with Hanuman, there was nothing that could stop him from executing Rama’s orders and from seeking to please the Lord. As a purified soul, there is no difference between Hanuman’s body and spirit. He is always beaming with devotion, so to take away his propensity for service is to take away his very existence.

In the same way, for those who regularly abide by the principles of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, there is no enticement or offer that can be made that will stop them from chanting their rounds and worshiping the Supreme Lord. If one is insistent on dry meditation and only chanting one round of the maha-mantra without impediment, the recommendation is that they take to chanting this one round after having chanted their sixteen rounds for the day. Just as the child is hesitant to follow the good counsel of the parents, the wayward soul is reluctant to take the advice passed down by the Vaishnava authorities, those great historical personalities who set the standard for devotional service, the pinnacle of all religious practice. Hanuman is one such authority, and to this day he spends all his time chanting the glories of Sita and Rama. His devotion is uninterrupted and unmotivated; not even Ravana could stop him from succeeding in pleasing his beloved object of service, the prince of the Raghu dynasty. Though there are many such impediments in the path of the sincere souls looking for spiritual satisfaction today, if the integrity and perseverance of Shri Hanuman are remembered regularly, success will surely come. Hanuman and the humble Vaishnavas have the touch of devotion, and if we are kind enough to honor them and remember their examples, that touch will be passed down to us.