Saturday, May 14, 2011

Good Things For Bad People

Hanuman“Beholding Lanka, which was unimaginable and had an amazing appearance, that great monkey [maha-kapi] became morose and also delighted, as he was very much anxious to see Vaidehi.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.55)

acintyāmadbhutākārāṃ dṛṣṭvā laṅkāṃ mahākapiḥ |

āsīdviṣṇḍo hṛṣṭaśca vaidehyā darśanotsukaḥ

Seeing good things happen to bad people can certainly be the source of great anger and sadness. Life involves a struggle of emotion, the constant fluctuation between favorable and unfavorable circumstances, but seeing those who are overtly sinful and who pay no regard to even the lowest standards of decency rise to any elevated position of power or opulence is enough to make one’s stomach turn. With these visible outcomes faith in the system - one governed by higher authorities who are spiritually empowered figures working under the dictates of the original Divine Being - gets lost. Though jealousy, envy and resentment are not good traits to possess, sometimes we can’t help feeling these emotions when witnessing the seemingly successful triumphs of the gross miscreants, those who challenge the authority of the Supreme Lord at every step. But as long as we maintain an even stronger eagerness to associate with people of the divine nature, the pure devotees and well-wishing friends of all living entities, whatever despondency results from witnessing the temporary gains of the demons will never be able to take us off the proper path in life. Shri Hanuman, the most capable, kind, courageous, intelligent and perseverant servant of the Supreme Lord in His form of Lord Rama, had to deal with anger and resentment harbored towards the king of demons, the ruler of Lanka, Ravana. But due to his eagerness to please Rama and meet His beautiful and chaste wife Sita Devi, Hanuman was never taken off course. The power of divine love always trumps the inhibiting forces instigated by the uncontrolled senses, which act like wild horses that drive the cart known as the body and its operator known as the individual in every which direction.

HanumanWhy do we get angry upon seeing the success of the sinful? The intelligent among us understand that the essence of life is the spiritual spark residing within the body. As such, no amount of temporary gain or loss can affect the nature of this autonomously powerful entity, a force which is immune to the constant changes of the phenomenal world. Nevertheless, there is a general expectation that those who go against the established law codes will be punished. If an individual commits a heinous crime like murder, there is the inherent understanding that they will be punished properly. In the absence of swift and appropriate justice, there will be less faith in the system and an increased anger and resentment harbored towards authority figures by the law-abiding public.

Indeed, this is a primary source of the discord that exists in nations where illegal immigration is a problem. All land in this world originally belongs to God, but in a civilized society, property rights of individuals are respected, as one is allowed to borrow the Lord’s property to maintain a simple lifestyle. In order to protect property and shield a particular area from the influence of potential foreign enemies, immigration laws are adopted. Those who wish to enter a nation from the outside follow the procedures laid down for being granted immigration status.

But there are also others who, through noble or ignoble intentions, flaunt the law by illegally entering a country. When the population of illegal entrants rises too rapidly, discord will result. To the honest citizen, whether or not the illegal occupants should be granted entry is actually not the issue, for the law was openly violated. Therefore it is understandable if the law-abiding public, which includes those who legally migrated to that country, becomes angry when the law-breaking is allowed to continue. This and many other examples of selective application of the law highlight the general expectation that law-breakers not be rewarded.

“In this material world we desire sense enjoyment, but without Krishna or without Krishna consciousness there is no possibility of sense enjoyment. We may have strong arms and legs, but when there is no consciousness—when there is no Krishna consciousness—we cannot even utilize them.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Queen Kunti, Ch 21)

Lord KrishnaThe material world is full of dualities, though, so not every issue is black and white. Sin and piety are relative terms in the grand scheme of things, for they represent actions which lead to favorable or unfavorable conditions in a particular venture. The law codes instituted by the Supreme Lord represent the ultimate system of piety and virtue because they aim to bring the conditioned entity to the highest platform of understanding, a state of being where consciousness is always fixed on the lotus feet of the Personality of Godhead, who is the full and complete manifestation of the original Divine Being. Religion, in the true sense of the term, has nothing to do with blind faith, following rituals on a specific day of the week, or openly pledging allegiance to a particular spiritual personality. Consciousness is the essence of life, the indication of the spiritual spark residing within a body. Consciousness is derived from the Supreme Lord; hence there is only one way to purify it. Krishna consciousness, or that mindset which is always focused on the names, forms, qualities and pastimes of the Supreme Lord Krishna, is the only pure form of religious practice. All other categories of activity, spiritual or otherwise, are subsidiaries of this divine mentality; they are disciplines which can hopefully one day lead to ascension to Krishna consciousness.

Accompanying sin are consequences that are detrimental in the progression towards the ultimate goal. In the largest scheme, which incorporates the highest dharma, or a set of religious law codes aimed at bringing about Krishna consciousness, any activity which brings one further away from their purified consciousness can be deemed sinful. From the definition we see that a negative condition is concomitant with the activity. As such, a specific future consequence is not even required. For instance, focusing the mind on objects of the temporary world is considered sinful because through the conditioned lens these objects are divorced of their relationship with the original creator of matter, God. The Supreme Lord is everything, but He is not personally present within the material elements that constitute each object. Rather, matter represents a separated aspect to His multifarious energies. Krishna consciousness aims to keep the mind totally fixed on the Lord’s personal feature, an aspect which brings direct interaction with Krishna, thus providing the greatest rewards. Devotion to matter, or anything not God, leads only to misery, as the consciousness required for such devotion is completely separated from Krishna.

“By Me, in My unmanifested form, this entire universe is pervaded. All beings are in Me, but I am not in them.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.4)

Krishna's lotus feetPiety is any activity which brings one closer to their constitutional position of eternal servant to the Supreme Spirit. Therefore Shrila Rupa Gosvami, a giant of the Vaishnava literary world, recommends that we adopt any activities that are favorable in forging Krishna consciousness and reject any engagements which are unfavorable in the march towards ultimate freedom, the state of mind where hankering and lamenting are removed due to complete and full surrender, or sharanagati, to the lotus feet of the Personality of Godhead. All other systems of piety and virtue derive from the topmost discipline known as bhagavata-dharma, or devotional service. Since even realizing the need to adopt a purified consciousness is very difficult for the living entities mired in an endless cycle of reincarnation fueled by material desires, there are smaller, more specialized dharmas that are instituted. Even something as simple as the instructions required to build a safe and secure housing structure can be considered a type of dharma.

For those who are not aware of the differences between spirit and matter, or those who are temporarily taken off of the proper mindset by the allures of the material world, there is the expectation that those who go against the established codes of conduct, or dharma, in a particular activity will be punished in the aftermath. When the overtly sinful, such as killers, perpetrators of violence towards women and dependents, and liars and cheats, are allowed to prosper in spite of their nefarious behavior, there is some bewilderment on the part of the pious.

kurukshetra-war-DC74_lFor instance, after the great Bharata War, which saw the deaths of millions of soldiers, King Yudhishthira, the leader of the victorious Pandava family, naturally expected to have favorable results in the afterlife. Yet upon ascending to heaven, the first person he saw there was Duryodhana, the leading fighter for the defeated Kuru army. Duryodhana had a long history with the Pandava family involving many sinful activities. Duryodhana tried to kill the five Pandava brothers and their mother, Queen Kunti, many times but each plot was foiled through the divine intervention of Shri Krishna, who was the ever well-wisher of the Pandavas. Finally Duryodhana was killed in a battle by Bhima, the physically strongest of the Pandavas. Knowing Duryodhana’s nature, Yudhishthira was very surprised to see him enjoying life in heaven. To remove his concerns, Narada Muni, the greatest reformer the world has ever seen, informed Yudhishthira that those in the material modes of life accumulate both pious and sinful credits during their time on earth. Since there are so many different dharmas for those not on the platform of Krishna consciousness, there are varieties of good and bad reactions to work. Those who are overly sinful get to enjoy the fruits of their limited meritorious behavior by first going to heaven. After residing there for a short time, they get sent to the hellish realms where they will have to suffer longer.

Duryodhana had died on the battlefield, which is considered one of the most glorious deaths. This is not simply a belief of the Vedas, but rather a fact easily understood. A soldier is working under a higher authority, so his actions are not judged in terms of the worthiness of the mission. The soldier is simply a servant who risks their life to meet the interests of the commanding officers. Duryodhana, though a sinful man, still bravely fought on the battlefield following the standard protocol of warfare. Therefore he accumulated pious credits despite his sinful nature. In the end, King Yudhishthira would forget about Duryodhana and what happened to him. Lord Krishna highly favored Yudhishthira, so the king derived more pleasure by always remaining Krishna conscious.

Lord RamaA similar situation occurred with Shri Hanuman, the faithful servant of Lord Rama. Many thousands of years ago, the Supreme Absolute Truth, the entity the majority of the world refers to as God, appeared on earth in a divine incarnation known as Rama. Not to be confused with an ordinary figure who later proclaims himself to be God, Rama’s divine nature is mentioned in the authorized Vedic texts like the Ramayana and Shrimad Bhagavatam. Rama also had all of the unique bodily measurements and markings belonging to the Personality of Godhead known as Narayana, or the source of all men.

Bhagavata-dharma sounds nice in concept, but those who are eager to alter their consciousness are helped further when they are given specific activities to take up that result in benefits that can be realized quickly. Shri Hanuman, as an eternally liberated figure, is always eager to serve the Lord. Since there is no fighting in the spiritual realm, when there is a desire for conflict God must come down to earth and bring with Him close associates to act as sparring partners. Ravana, the king of Lanka, played the role of a sinister villain perfectly, as he was a demon who lived off of eating meat, drinking wine, and cavorting with countless beautiful women. His lifestyle was only harming himself for the most part, but he couldn’t contain his demoniac nature for long. Hearing of a beautiful princess residing in the forest of Dandaka, Ravana was intent on making her his chief queen. Even though she was married to Rama at the time, Ravana was not deterred in any way; such was the strength of his lust. In general, if a man sees an attractive woman and then later finds out that she is married, he will lose interest and turn away. Yet Ravana was so infatuated with Sita that he kidnapped her through a carefully executed plan.

Sita DeviRavana’s heinous act created an opportunity for Hanuman to shine. Rama gave the monkey-warrior the task of finding Sita and giving her His ring. Ravana lived on an island kingdom known as Lanka, which could not be easily reached by even the strongest of men. Hanuman, making use of his mystic powers, intelligence and prudence, made his way to the outskirts of the city. But the difficulties were just beginning. Now he had to figure out a way to enter the kingdom and find Sita without being noticed. Finally deciding upon a course of action where he would assume a form having the dimensions of a cat, Hanuman was ready to enter the city. Just prior to crossing enemy lines, Hanuman noticed the beautiful surroundings consisting of golden buildings and archways adorning Lanka.

In the above quoted passage from the Ramayana, we see that Hanuman was quite disheartened upon seeing this opulence, which was both amazing and inconceivable to the mind. The material world is governed by an illusory force known as maya, which is a Sanskrit word meaning “that which is not”. The Rakshasas living in Lanka were kings of illusion, so their entire city and lifestyle represented that which was not God. Their opulence seemed inconceivable, giving off an amazing aura that would serve to weaken the will of any potential enemies thinking of mounting an attack. It’s strange to think of Hanuman as an enemy, but that’s exactly what he represented to Ravana and the interests of his Rakshasa community.

Hanuman was disheartened at the fact that such a cruel demon - one who had the gall to take away the most innocent woman, the religiously wedded wife of Shri Rama - could live in such opulence. Aren’t the bad guys supposed to be punished? There is a saying, “Only the good die young”, which speaks to the fact that the pious tend to have the misfortunes in life and the demons tend to strive materially, even though the opposite should be true. How was Ravana living in such luxury, while Rama, who had been ordered by His father to leave the kingdom of Ayodhya and not return for fourteen years, was living like a hermit ranging the forests without any ties to a royal army? Rama was the epitome of virtue and Ravana the poster child for sin, so why the large discrepancy in fortunes?

Hanuman thinking of Sita and RamaHanuman was also disheartened because the grand illusion of opulence made for a formidable opposing force. Hanuman was tasked with finding Sita, but he knew there would be opposition if he were to be discovered by the Rakshasas. They would not take too kindly to anyone acting in the interests of Rama, their greatest enemy. Seeing the grand opulence of the city, Hanuman thought that maybe he wouldn’t be able to withstand the enemy attacks and successfully carry out his mission.

So what did Hanuman do? Did he quit? Did he throw in the towel? Was he disheartened to the point that he just marveled at Lanka’s opulence and did nothing else? While the above referenced passage references Hanuman’s despondency, it also says that he was excited about the prospect of meeting Sita. Hanuman’s love for Rama naturally extended to the Lord’s immediate family members like His younger brother Lakshmana and Sita. Sita was Rama’s wife, so Hanuman looked to her as his affectionate mother. His mother was being held captive by a demon, so Hanuman was very eager to see her and allay any fears she had. This love, which beams throughout Hanuman’s body at all times, was a much stronger force than the despondency caused by the intimidating opulence of the grand city.

Sita DeviWhat was the reason for Ravana’s great success and Rama’s misfortunes? Just as time heals all wounds, it also serves as the great equalizer, the agent that distributes the change that is due an individual based on their past deeds. As God, Rama is never subject to the forces of nature, while Ravana’s opulence was simply a temporary illusion, one that was soon to be destroyed by Hanuman himself. The great Vanara warrior would successfully find Sita and give her Rama’s ring. On Hanuman’s way out, Ravana managed to capture the monkey-warrior and set his tail on fire. Parading him around the city with a burning tail, Ravana tried to embarrass Hanuman in front of others. Seeing this, Sita immediately asked the controlling deity of fire, Agni, to not burn Hanuman and to allow the fire on his tail to feel as cold as ice. Sita Devi is the epitome of chastity, piety and virtue, so when she asks a demigod for a favor, they are obliged to immediately respond. In fact, Sita only asks as a formality, for her requests are taken as commands. As the ever-devoted wife of Rama, all the suras, or demigods, are constantly at her service, though she never asks for anything that is not in the interests of Rama or one of His devotees.

Feeling his tail to be nice and cool, Hanuman realized that it was the work of Sita. He then quickly escaped from his shackles and assumed a massive form. Now his tail was enormous in size, and it was still burning with a flame. Though the city had appeared formidable to him before, Hanuman now had a tool, a burning tail kindly provided by Ravana, that he could use to fight back. Hanuman then kindly flew around the city and set it on fire with his massive tail. The punishment for Ravana’s sins would come in the form of the exquisitely beautiful, powerful and perseverant Hanuman. Hanuman would later return to Lanka with an army led by Rama, Lakshmana, and the monkey-king Sugriva. Ravana would meet his deserved death, Sita would be safely rescued, and Rama would triumphantly return home to rule over the kingdom of Ayodhya.

Hanuman burning LankaIn the end, Hanuman’s eagerness to please Rama and meet His wife was enough to get him past the illusory, impeding forces erected by Ravana. In a similar manner, the leniency shown towards miscreants and their temporary ascendancies to positions of prominence can be given secondary importance by those who are constantly practicing divine love through the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Good things sometimes happen to bad people, but since they always remain bereft of Krishna consciousness, even their temporary gains ultimately serve as sources of misery. On the other hand, for one who follows the example set by Hanuman - that of always remaining God conscious - every condition becomes favorable. The devotee perpetually remains eager at every new opportunity to see the Lord, think of Him, worship Him, and offer service to one of His dear servants. Since the ultimate favorable condition is reached through this practice, we can confidently assert that bhakti-yoga, the ancient art of the religion of love, represents the highest form of dharma.